At Home in the World

This is the story of how our family spent an ordinary nine months in an extraordinary way: circumnavigating the earth to see, firsthand, the places we've always wanted to explore. Through paper lanterns in Thailand, three-foot-wide Venetian passageways, the community of strangers in Zimbabwe, and beyond, I unearth the dance between wanderlust and rootedness; how to be both lost and at home in the world.

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We share our stories as we simplify our lives - no guilt-trips, just love:

Reader Interactions


  1. I’m not sure If I’m doing it correctly. I posted my pictures on Simple Flickr pool. Then I posted the URL to the add your link.

  2. Great tips! I love reading this blog.

    If people find it hard to let go of the children’s art they can always take a picture of the item so they can have the “memory” without it making physical clutter. (I am a “memory keeper” and this has helped he let go of some paper memories.)

    • We put a year’s artwork up for display and then take a photo of the “artist” with his/her own work. We then frame the best for the kids’ bedroom, and dump the rest.

  3. I come from a family that never throws anything away, and I definitely have some of those traits. They are really hard to work through, I am always left feeling so guilty getting rid of stuff I’m given. Not to mention my husband doesn’t like to get rid of stuff either. Since the topic is paper, I always save cards people send me. My mom has stacks, and I always just feel like someone spent the time and money to give/send this to me, I really shouldn’t get rid of it. But another part of me would love to get rid of it all. I don’t have before and after pics, but thanks to Tsh and everyone who comments. This is really the support I needed to get my simple life moving.

    • This is the way I handle cards and personal letters from the past: Go through them all, and undertake to get rid of a certain number of them (10 or 20 etc depending on the size of your pile). Keep the most meaningful. Six months later, do the same. Continue like this until you have one, very special, box of those you want to keep forever. In a year’s time, reduce the pile further! Over a lifetime you can still keep the the box going, and you might eventually want to leave some for your kids to look at when they are grown up enough to appreciate them.

  4. This was a great project! My favorite so far, showing the most dramatic results. Can’t wait get some time to look at everyone else’s before and afters and (impatiently) wait for next week’s hot spot. Have a great weekend!!

  5. Love this project! It even had me discover a whole pile of love letters that my husband wrote me while we were dating. Obviously I’m not shredding those, but it was fun to read through them! I plan to post a blog post about it later today (I thought it deserved one all by itself!)

    Happy Friday!

  6. Just wanted to say thanks for the “hotspot” list…I’m playing along but am on my own time-frame and am still doing clothing…because I’m cleaning out all the closets, not just my stuff :) 4 bags to VVA (vietnam vets of america) a few weeks ago and so far, 3 bags waiting to be picked up on Monday…watch out closets, I’m finishing this weekend!! Unfortunately, I did not take photos when I started the purge a few weeks ago.

    Next week, paper!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. ~~Hhhmmmmmm
    ~The dog ate my homework miss Tsh…..
    ~I added the mess to the urls:0)
    ~I AM STRIVING ON TODAY,hopefully I will have caught up by monday!!LOL

  8. Okay, I’m trying to catch up on the 2 hotspots…does anyone have a recommendation on what paperwork we really need to keep? bills, checks, receipts, etc?

  9. I’m loving this!!! My house is feeling more clean than it has in a while. I’m almost nervous to clean my house over the weekend in case I might “accidentally” clean the wrong thing the wrong way. :) Can’t wait to see everyone’s results!!

  10. I’m still recovering from a cold this week and barely getting normal chores done, but I’ve been squeezing in some time to clean out our filing cabinet this week. Fortunately I hate paper clutter so much I take care of the piles about weekly already, but our filing cabinet is our untouched hotspot! I’ve only gone through a handful of files, but I’ve cleared out several inches of paper! I’m so excited I might get everything down to fit in the one filing cabinet instead of using the elfa one out in the open too. As much as I love elfa, I am not as keen as my husband on the open filing, especially since we recently turned our office into the tv and guest room as well.

  11. OK… you’re inspiring me… you should see my paper piles :( But now I want to tackle them!

  12. I have thought about scanning docs before I shred them, but I don’t haven’t yet. What kind of system does your husband use to do that? What kind of file structure does he use so he can find them again easy?


  13. I am a new follower and if we lived in Avonlee we would be kindered spirits :) I loved the rcpt idea- not a fan of drawers- they scare me since I can’t see what is growing inside of them. I live in Ethiopia so no photos etc but I have to tell you after last week I had my three interns (all beautiful young women) go thru my closet, shoes, undies, the works- and lets just say I am a new woman- at 50! so much fun and we dumped so many frumpy items. And, this is my first blog comment ever! Joyfully, sb

  14. wow, this is a def HOTSPOT for me, I am so overwhelmed with paper, kids school papers I need to hold onto for ref, I have a big problem with
    “cutouts” from magazines, my husband cringes when he hears that sound, he complains about the paper in this house, whether its my coupons, kids drawings or mag clippings its endless, I too come from a family that doesnt like to throw things away, I have so much in my attic that I keep “just because” of a memory or it was from my parents which are both deceased. I am going to take some inspiration and get to work on this. Thanks for such a great article!

  15. Old versions of manuscripts go in our scrap box and become shopping lists and fodder for my boys’ stories (My elder guy is sure he knows the storyline of some books — one he’s sure kids won’t like because it’s not funny — simply from reading the pages in that box).

    I’m still having issues with bills — how long to keep paper records (some we pay online, others still come through the mail), how long to hold onto medical papers. Any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated!

  16. This was a great week for me..I got Organized Simplicity in the mail AND I knocked out the first two Hot Spots! I already had a semi-firm handle on the paper thing, but I did do a quick refresher of the stuff that had let myself get behind on. Thanks!

    I wanted to share about my system for keeping paper decluttered ..which, as it turns out works pretty well I discovered this week! :)

  17. Yay! More empty baskets & tubs means more donations and trash out of the house! I admit I still have more to do – I didn’t dive into those boxes 2 & 3 rows back where I know there is more. But this is a great start and I feel good accomplishing the task! Baby steps…

    • One of my commenters referred me to … none other than Jennifer for sorting through and digitalizing my boxes of photos!

  18. I am by no means finished with this, but I did get a handle on the months long pile up of paper on the desk, and started working out a permanent system for dealing with it. It’s been over two years since I reevaluated our paper filing system, This was long overdue!

  19. Great post! I also read 5 books at a time…how else can you get to everything? :) We have that same Alme desk and are NOT using it well at all. I might commandeer it away from my honey and turn it into my work station. Can the fold-out part really support a sewing machine?? That would be awesome.

  20. i loved this blog, and the only thing i have to add, after weeding out 5 huge storage crates of “what am i keeping this for?” recently, is that unfortunately we can’t save everything. i go back to my reflections on the show “hoarders,” where the problem is not ambition, or creativity, or even organizing – it’s simply the problem that all those great ideas can’t be furthered in one person’s lifetime. i am all about saving a scrapbook (just one) for my future family, but i decided that letting go of more allows for more “margin.” so instead of filing, filing, filing i thought, why am i keeping records of such and such? do i really need every last thing i ever wrote in order to write a book in the future? i guess it’s at everyone’s discretion, but my point is just to be realistic and not over-commit… because it seems like that’s how the clutter comes back.

  21. I thought this one would be awful, but it wasn’t too bad, although I didn’t dare touch my basement. No time this week to do something that week, but that’s where I bring my boxes of papers when it gets too big. I will be organizing the basement this summer (it’s this years big summer project.) though, and I hope that I can minimize and organize it as well as you. It definitely has me on my toes to watch out for all this paper stuff to clutter up again.

  22. Loved this week’s Hot Spot. The piles of paper definitely needed to be taken care of. Now the house is much more organized, I’m feeling good, and my husband knows where to look for papers instead of always coming to me to ask where they might be. He is also happy I found a way to store his military documents.

  23. Again this week I’m too lazy/tired/pregnant to take and upload pictures, but I’m halfway through the paper clutter – all that’s left is to file what needs to be kept and start a box for saving kids’ artwork/etc. I’ve been trying all week to at least get all the kids’ papers into one location for sorting and boxing. I’m still going to try!

  24. Paperwork…not my favorite thing to confront, but I am so glad you named it as a hot spot!

    I cleaned up some of the bad hot spots and took some pictures, but I can’t seem to get the link to your blog work from my flickr page.

    Oh well, the most important thing is that I got it done! Thanks for the encouragement and team feel to something that is not usually any fun at all!

  25. Thanks for all the great tips – very inspirational! I thought it was so funny that you’re reading Clinton Kelly and Ann Voskamp at the same time, because I was doing the same thing a few weeks ago! Ann stayed, but Clinton went back to the library!

  26. I am just so happy to know that you live in 1100 square feet, we are a family of 5 as well (one of us is a teenager tho) and live in 1300 square feet and I feel like we are bursting at the seams at times! I am on break and look forward to decluttering, if you can do it- so can we!

  27. Thanks bunches for the inspiration! I got 2 of 4 “paper hot spots” cleaned off today, and hope to tackle the other 2 tomorrow afternoon. I was planning to do them in the morning, but got called in to work, so will work on them after. Thanks again!!

  28. I am really bummed. The closets I had cleaned the week before you posted. This has been a busy week, but in the last 1 1/2 weeks, I have conquered up to 2 years of filing! Sadly, I have no before pics. Can I still participate with after pics?

  29. Is there any reason to keep receipts? I collect receipts in small manila envelopes by month but I’m wondering if there’s a reason to keep them or should I shred them all?

    • It really does depend…. Do you run a small business? And do you process your expenses in some sort of a budget each month?

  30. I thought I wasn’t going to do this challenge. I HATE paperwork mess.

    But my hubby helped me and together we came up with a great design for our breakfast nook that was a pile of junk. We re purposed furniture from other parts of the house and made an art station & deal with the paperwork station.

    This area is the back entrance and a true “hotspot” of all the school stuff and art stuff.

    It is neatly tucked away now and most of the big mess recycled or digitized. It feels really good. Thanks for the challenge.

    Here are my before and after pictures:

  31. This week? Massive fail. I have been fighting the paper monster for a LONG time and I still have paper everywhere. I already use a lot of the suggestions you made – like paperless billing, throwing junk mail and envelopes in the recycle before coming in the house, only keeping what’s absolutely necessary, etc. But it still overwhelms.

    We moved almost 2 years ago to our current home. Not long after the move, I put our names on the do-not-mail list. We have recieved more junk mail after signing up on the list than before! Every few months, I log in to the website and check to be sure that our preferences are correct. They are, but the junk still comes. What I really hate is that we also get mail for people who lived here before the people before us. And the people before us lived here for 7 years, I think! How do you stop that mail? The post office says there’s nothing they can do about it. Any suggestions would be very helpful!

  32. Thank you so much for the motivation this week. I’ve been in a housework funk since bub arrived and it was really starting to get me down. Just chipping away and getting my papers in order this week has made me feel so much better about things. Now I just have to keep the momentum!

  33. The “take action” box is probably the best tip for me. I’m good about recycling old papers as soon as I don’t need them, but fall into the trap of leaving important documents that need my attention scattered around the house. I always think I do it so that I see the papers and am reminded to do something about them, but it usually just ends up being a big mess of clutter I never look at.

  34. Oh I have loved the first two challenges!!! I don’t know if I should be nervous or excited for Monday… can’t wait whatever it is!!!

  35. These Hot Spots are amazing! Just being committed to tackling them each week and knowing I need/want to report and post pics on Friday totally motivates me to get to work (oh, and I absolutely love your idea of ONE container for each child’s artwork)! Can’t wait for my next challenge on Monday :)

  36. Tsh, I never realized how good at organizing you are (and I’m coming to realize that we’re quite similar despite the age and life differences — I too read several books at one time :D). As for the paper clutter, it’s even better now. While I already tackled the receipts and “other” papers a few weeks ago while prepping my taxes, I hunkered down and purged magazines and any remaining papers that didn’t make the cut the first time. It felt GREAT! I don’t have any pictures to show, but I don’t need to enter the giveaway; I’m happy with just making progress. Can’t wait for tomorrows hot spot!

  37. My “take action” box had more than just paper dumped in it. Camera cards, gift cards, pencil lead that doesn’t fit our pencils, game pieces, markers, zipdrives, etc. Makes it so hard. I decided that I won’t post since I am not done, but will keep working. I keep getting distracted and have updated my debt snowball in my binder, started making emergency evacuation kits, and moved my pantry around. It is one of my greatest downfalls that I tangent off of one task onto another so easily. All needs to be done, but then I never feel quite finished. Maybe I should have had a box that was labeled “not now”?

  38. Phew! Finally managed a post about mine. I’ve actually put mine on the Flylady forum, as I’m applying for a job and my blog is on my CV under ‘Hobbies’ and I really didn’t think it was a good idea to have a record of how disorganised I am about paperwork on a blog that somebody deciding whether or not to employ me might read!

    Sorry the link is long:

    Thanks so much for this, Tsh – as you can see, this is one I *really* needed!

  39. Love this post!! Just in time for spring cleaning! Having a full blown business and a small child can create a lot of clutter and tons of paper piles,,, LET ME TELL YOU! I have to routinely go through tons of mail, junk mail, to do piles, piles to read, bills piles. OMG, you name it. I do love the idea in the first comment by Rachel O.. I have to keep it in mind — take a digital photo of the child’s art work and either frame it or make a collage. Thats a great idea!

  40. We also have the ALVE desk and LOVE it! We had to turn our office into a bedroom for baby on the way….so this desk is perfect for our new den/office area. I love that we can just close it up and everything instantly looks nice and neat :)

  41. Your ‘results’ post was very inspiring to me! I love seeing how other’s organize/manage their lives/homes…makes me realize that I am ‘normal’ after all (we all are!).

    Anyway…I’m proud to have posted–better late then never. And I encourage everyone not to stress about not getting it all done perfectly–progress is SO important even if our ‘after’ pictures aren’t of dramatic changes!

    Thanks again Tsh!

  42. Just wondering who makes that desk- I have major desk envy and need something similar (with the top portion and all) for our living room! :)

  43. Oh I just finally posted about this – way behind schedule, I know. But I still can’t reign this in – as my post discusses. If you have thoughts on getting this under control if you don’t happen to own a scanner, a shredder, or a personal assistant, please post on my blog!

  44. Oh you have no idea how this is going to help me. I’m late to the party but I want to come too! Love the white boxes for the kids art and the idea of keeping a few things per year – genius!
    Now, help me some more. Do you keep bills?? I have file folders full of utility bills, visa bills, etc. Papers are hard to get rid of!