Hey friends!
Okay, if you missed PART ONE of the organic Instagram growth series, click [HERE] to catch up!  I think it’s pretty important to peek at the first part, because it kind of shows you why this series might be a bit against the grain, and it gives you some background on my own IG journey, too!  Take a sec to catch up with us, and then let’s move on to the next in the series…outline below:

Part One: Behind the Scenes
Part Two: Who Are You? (style + boundaries)
Part Three: What Do You Post? (pics + stories)
Part Four: How Will You Grow? (growth tactics)
Part Five: Pro Tips! (advice from your fave IG-ers)

In this second installment, we’re going to chat about figuring out WHO you are in regards to personal style and taste and exactly HOW much you’re going to give to the online world…



Knowing your style + your boundaries while organically growing your Instagram.

Today we’re going to discuss two topics that are vital to not losing yourself as you try to grow on social media: your style + your boundaries.  Social media is such a great tool, but it is also a time-suck, a comparison game and a self-confidence crusher…if we let it be these things.  Knowing who we are and who we AREN’T before ever dipping a toe into social media is so vital, because…once that toe is dipped, errrrrrybody’s got an opinion about it.  And they will tell you.  Sometimes with tact, lots of times not.  It’s so important to know WHO YOU ARE before you open yourself up online to others telling you who you are.  Know yourself before the online world tries to define you.  Staying true to yourself and setting your boundaries before you begin will save you a ton of heartache and distraction, so let’s chat!  Each topic will be broken down into the categories of DO YOU and then BE KIND….


No matter your genre on IG (fashion, lifestyle, home decor, food, beauty, mom life), we can all agree that there are SO MANY talented people out there!  So much inspiration with every single scroll, and I’m constantly impressed with the level of creativity, hard work and beauty I see from my IG buddies!  Because there is so much gorgeousness online, it can be easy to second guess your personal style, tastes and loves.  What if the style you prefer isn’t as popular as another?  What if you see a certain genre skyrocketing at the moment, while your own seems to be less “in” than others?  Or what if you have a crazy, out-of-the-box idea, but you’re afraid to share it because it’s not quite in line with the mainstream?  Totally get all of these questions, and to them I answer with…DO YOU!

It’s certainly cliche, but most cliches ring with truth: you are the only you there is. ❤ Your eye for design, your taste in fashion combos, your writing style, your way of editing photos, your color schemes, your web layout….they are unique and special and should be celebrated, because they represent YOU!  Here’s a silly example from my early days of IG but one that shows what I mean: if you scroll back all the way to the start of my feed, you’ll see that I used to edit my photos way differently.  What I saw happening around me at the time were lots of beautiful pictures that had the exposure cranked way up, the saturation pulled way out and a soft haze cast over the image.  Certainly a lovely way to edit….but it didn’t feel like “me” for some reason.  Want to know why?  Because I was just trying to match what I saw going on around me, instead of putting in the work and finding my own style!  Not a big deal, and it does take some trial and error as we find our personal style.  I’ve since gone through two other methods of editing photos (the second was basically NO editing and the third somewhere in between), and the journey of finding what I love has been pretty fun!  Nothing at all wrong with having a style similar to another or asking advice from someone else on what works for them….not at all!  You’ll find that many within your creative genre tend to have similar styles and tastes, and that’s all good.  As long as you TRULY love what you are doing, what you put out there, then DO YOU, man!! 🙌🏻 It’s just when we try to emulate someone else without knowing ourselves enough to know if WE truly love it…that’s when things get murky.

Another reason to be fearlessly YOU in what you put out there on Instagram is that unique ideas and fresh perspectives are what we all crave.  In this age of social media image sharing, there seems to be no new idea left under the sun, but…when one comes along, people are so inspired and can see the YOU behind the concept.  For instance, the weirdest ideas I’ve had and the ones I was most nervous to put out there have become some of the farthest reaching, most reposted images to date.  And…on each and every one, I was so scared to hit that “publish” button, because what if it was too weird?  Too out of the box?  Too different?  Gotta tell ya, super glad I pushed myself to push that button.  The book wall that represented my love of and former career of teaching literature (long before I’d seen another book wall online….I was so nervous about that one so new into my IG journey, you guys!!), cutting off some logs to create a faux fireplace insert with moss, hanging embroidery hoops lined with greens and flowers behind my bed, vintage copper tea kettle “pumpkins” in place of the orange real deal, creating a “naked” Christmas tree forrest, and filling up a larger than life dough bowl full of summery lemons were some ideas that gave me the most butterflies in my tummy before showing the world, but you know what?  They represented ME.  The swirl going on in my brain, the need to create or bust, the things that inspired and moved me…and because they were different and unseen at the time, I think that was what spoke to others, too.  Certainly not bragging on my weirdo tendency to nail odd objects to walls, BUT…I am giving these examples from my own journey to urge you to DO YOU within your own style, your own genre, your own creative path!  Create and be unique!  Show us what you truly love, what moves you, what defines the real YOU!


Since this is a DO YOU + BE KIND series, let’s look at this idea of knowing yourself from another angle.  While it is SO important to be self-confident and stay the course while forgoing the temptation to be like everyone else, it’s also important to celebrate the creativity of others and never put people down because they might do things differently than us.  Being an encourager on Instagram goes a long way towards driving out the effects of mean trolls and their untimely comments, and you never know who could use the encouraging word that day.  Find someone doing something creative, new, different, strange, brave, out of the box and send them some love!  Repost them, tag a friend on their post to show them off, leave behind words of encouragement and kindness.  Whether we are in the same genre or not, community over competition goes a freakin’ long way, even if we don’t always get to see the outcome of the kind gesture.  And you just never know what new style might inspire you in the future….


Next, let’s discuss something pretty convicting for me personally: boundaries.  It’s so dang easy to get lost in a mindless scroll on Instagram, and it’s certainly a temptation for me on days when I’d really rather not change another poopy diaper or answer that millionth seemingly inane toddler question, thank you very much. 😩 Escaping to Instagram to see what the rest of the world is up to can become a dangerous habit, and, on the flip side, creating content and trying to GROW on Instagram can be just as addictive.  We talked a lot about this IG culture of GROW GROW GROW on the previous post in the series, and I stand by what I said: growth is not the most important factor.  It IS an important factor, but not the MOST important.

I’m not here to tell you exactly what to do, what boundaries to set in place, or to try and sound preachy.  All I know is that I let myself go to a pretty dark place [read more about that experience HERE] before I finally set up boundaries with regards to Instagram/social media.  If I can save any of you sweet readers from that path, then I’m out to do so with this series!  Here are just a few of the boundaries I’ve put in place that work for me, my particular family structure and my personal lifestyle…use these as examples and then create your own!

1 – WEEKENDS OFF OF IG/SOCIAL MEDIA: this has been a complete game changer for me, you guys. Instead of day-in and day-out posting and commenting and answering DM’s and trying to keep up and worrying about post performance, now…?  Now on the weekends, I delete the app (and all other social media apps), put my phone away and SEE MY FAMILY with my actual eyeballs. 🙌🏻 This creates a breather, a moment away, a true weekend like others take who work M-F jobs.  My job is Instagram and blogging, but I wasn’t giving myself ANY time off, time away, weekends.  This has been the best change I’ve made to date, and you know what?  If my growth suffers slightly from a short period of inactivity, so be it.  (It hasn’t, by the way for those nervous about a day or two of no posting.  In fact, I think people need a break from us IGers, too.  😉  Give them a minute to miss us instead of being in their face 24/7, ha!)

2 – TRY TO POST WHEN KIDS ARE ASLEEP/AT SCHOOL:  I was listening to all the articles telling me the ONLY TIME I’d get a good response from my posts on Instagram was, you guessed it, the times my kids and hubby needed me most.  Well, crap on a stick. 😩 I’m 100% all in for making our posts count and being wise with post times and such, but you know what?  I got sick of posting during dinner, posting during our evening family time, posting when it was crazy getting the kids out the door, etc.  Made me grumpy and distracted, and my kids were bugging me…by just needing their Mommy.  Gross, Erin!! 😥 That had to change.  It doesn’t always work out exactly perfectly to post ONLY when they are asleep/at school and I still post in the evenings, etc, but I now know how to find more appropriate pockets of time for posting, no matter the time of day.  The way I view post times has shifted in a BIG way, plus it’s lead to positive changes in how I treat my kids…and how much less they see Mommy glued to her phone.

3 – MAKE THE “YES” COUNT BY SAYING NO:  Social media and Instagram specifically are so much FUN most of the time that I found myself saying “yes” wayyyyyy to often: YES to this hashtag group, YES to working with this company, YES to sharing other Instagrammers, YES to repping small shops, YES YES YES…until I found I was so in over my head that I wasn’t doing anyone any favors. 😳 All good things to say yes to, don’t get me wrong.  But too many “YES” answers leads you away from your purpose and doing you.  Now I try to consciously keep track of what I’ve said yes to: small shops, other IGers and teaming up, working with larger companies, blog tours, etc.  I try to save a certain number for each category per season or month, and once I’m full up, I’m full up.  If we YES ourselves to death, what’s left of our time or creative energy to pursue our own passions, dreams, creative plans?  Make the yes’s count by saying no sometimes.

Those are just a few of the boundaries I set for myself, and I have others in place for personal reasons, too (turning off story DM’s unless I know you after my child was attacked there – not how I want it to be but how it’s GOING to be for IG to remain a healthy place for me and my family; spending my time commenting publicly with IG buddies on photos rather than in private DM’s, because private, unknown DM’s are where I’ve received 99% of all hate notes and degrading messages.  Not a healthy place for me so not really going there as much anymore, whether that’s a popular choice or not.👍🏼) For me, boundaries keep the most important people in my life the most important.  Social media boundaries help keep this IG/blogging adventure a fun and healthy place to spend some of my time, rather than letting it suck me into the addiction that it can become.  Boundaries are not easy to set nor keep up with at first, but a bit of personal discipline goes a long way in maintaining a healthy balance.  Boundaries keep the main things the main things.


 While boundaries are an absolute must to maintain a healthy balance as you grow your ‘gram, another must is to use what time you do give to Instagram/social media to be a light!  You certainly can’t be everything to everybody, but when you CAN invest some time online, use it with intention.  Instead of only gobbling up your own comments and likes on your photos, spread some love outward by intentionally commenting and liking on those you follow.  Reach out on stories if something inspired or moved you, and if you THINK something kind about someone, TELL THEM!  You never know who could use a boost right at that moment, and there have been many many many times complete IG strangers have spoken a kind word over me at a time when I was super low…and they had no idea.  They were just being a light and spreading love with no benefit to themselves!  Let’s do that more.  Let’s be a light in a sometimes dark online world.

It makes me a little anxious to share sometimes-personal things like my struggles and failures with you guys, but my hope is that someone out there is nodding and thinking, “Me too.  I’ve been there, too.”  We all have, if we’re being honest, and maybe by sharing my own journey, I can help someone on theirs!  Anyone relate on fuzzy boundaries for social media…? Thanks for reading, friends!  The next post in the series will cover topics like photography, using Instagram stories and so much more…stay tuned!

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  1. Nina says:

    All the YES to this!!!! I sat down to check notifications & this email just came through. Perfect timing! I am really enjoying this series & appreciate it so very much. I am struggling with creating content right now & am working on priorities. These kiddos need me first & sometimes I get caught up & ignore that. Not my finest moments. I have eased up on the weekends because of you doing it & really love it, too! Thank you, Erin! (currently wearing my “you do you” shirt for the 2nd day in a row) 😉

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      Aww I loved reading this! Thank you for sharing your own struggles and journey with us here!

  2. Nicole Cantu says:

    Erin! I love the candor, I love the encouragement, I love the advice, and I love your passion!! I’m so glad you took the time to write this & share!! ❤️❤️

  3. Tina says:

    I’m so glad you’re sharing all of the ups AND downs. You are reiterating all of my thoughts, most times that I don’t listen to, because of the guessing game. So it’s so nice to have someone reaffirm those thoughts. Ya know?

  4. Julie says:

    Love this, Erin!
    Thank you for including & emphasizing the importance of kindness, and supporting & encouraging each other.
    So much great advice & I can’t wait to read more!

  5. Mandy says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this Erin. It is such wonderful advice for anyone in the decor instgram community trying to grow. I really appreciate on interactive and responsive you are with all you do! Thank you for shedding light on this journey!

  6. Angela says:

    Oh my WORD … So spot on! Enjoyed every single bit of this blog post! Thanks so much for the encouragement and for being so beautifully genuine ! I so enjoy following you!

  7. Angelina says:

    Great post, I’m not the most confident so hearing to be me and post even if I’m not sure what others will think will give me the confidence to push the publish button. I’m also trying to work on the boundaries part since we are so new to this world and trying to build our brand it’s hard to set them but I’m coming to realization that the IG world can most definitely wait because my kids can’t and shouldn’t have to.

  8. Love reading this series Erin.. i love the realness you bring to the table.. your right too about the unexpected kind comment or share or a shout in stories.. especially from big accounts.. can make someone’s day xoxo

  9. Debbie says:

    This post and the first are spot on Erin! I can’t believe everything you were saying I have been feeling. I think I’ve completely lost my self! My sense of what I like. I was buying things that everyone else has because that’s what I thought people wanted to see. I like so many styles that I am froze now and feel don’t know what I’m doing! I never show my kitchen because it has cherry-wood cabinets and everyone else has white. Thank you so much for sharing this. You have no idea how much I needed to hear this!! Keep being you! <3 Debbie

  10. Bethany says:

    LOVE THIS, as a start up ‘gram girl/blog (its in the works) and working mom, i have really had to set boundaries on the scrolling so that i can spend time with my family and then have a healthy relationship with insta. Thanks for making this post and the ones to come… you are a LIGHT!

  11. Crissy Cates says:

    This is all such valuable information. I can totally relate and it’s always a struggle to feel that I’m torn between my posting on my phone and giving my full attention to my family (and guilty that that is even a struggle!). Can’t wait for the rest of the series! Love you and your IG!

  12. Perfectly said! I agree with all you have said and more…you are wise beyond your years. :). Grateful for the example you are setting for others!
    God bless you and your family.

  13. Lynee says:

    Awww yess to boundaries, and yes to knowing who you are on this IG adventure. Your wisdom will bring light to so many. In knowing who we are, and being ture to ourselves we share our best selves! Bravo 🙋Thank you for sharing you light and the twinkles with your family. 💚 Lynee

  14. Boundaries are soooo important with all aspects of social media’! As a mommy of two teenagers (speaking of which, my 14 year old “baby girl” just snuggled up next to me to read what I was typing, so I showed her your girls and she said “awww they are so tiny and cute!” Anyway, I have two teenagers and a toddler and I have to be careful, I don’t want them to see me on my phone all the time and think it is okay. We have no screen days and we go off as a family and aren’t allow to bring our phones, which I love and I think deep down inside they do to (but would never admit it, haha!). Kids like traditions, at least mine do and my students do too, so we stick with the simple things in life! Erin, thank you for your sharing your Instagram with us. I am going to try the concrete resurfacing this weekend and I have you to thank for that idea. Before I started following you, I was asking my husband to actually pour me new countertops, like removing and building the form and pouring concrete in it. But I think resurfacing will save us $$! Have a great Easter 🙂

  15. Cindy says:

    I just have to tell you…you and your family are absolutely beautiful inside and out!! I truly appreciate you putting it all out there. I wear your t-shirts with pride sister! Thanks so muc for the helpful tips. I’m struggling seeing what I’m doing wrong on IG. One day I will get there, but I’m the meantime I will sit back, enjoy the process, and just be me. Have a day as beautiful as you!!

  16. You had me at kindness! Yes yes yes to all of this! I love your feed…it’s uplifting and just awesome! Keep up the great job. Loving it. Thank you for sharing! Hugs, Karen

  17. Emily M Wood says:

    I commend you for the boundaries you have set for yourself, your marriage, and your sweet girls!!! That is your faith shining through what you do! You are one of my favorite people to follow on IG!!! And the main reason….is because you are so genuine!!! THANK YOU!!! It is so refreshing!!!

  18. Cassidy says:

    I so appreciate and NEEDED this series. As someone who has suffered from anxiety attacks since age 15, I find myself succumbing to the pressures and anxiety of not being enough… but this series is helping me find the reason I started documenting the process of redoing my house — because it’s a fun thing to mix in to my work and life. At 24, I’ve found myself so nervous to post pictures measuring them against all the beauties I scroll past every day when I should be so happy I’m at the point of owning my dream house with a supportive partner. Life, my home, my insta, ME are all a continual work in progress and I’m working each day to feel less pressure to be someone else and to just be me. Thank you so much for encouraging that little light in us all 💜

  19. Amber says:

    I am so happy I came across your post! I rarely see your account on my feed 😒 But I really enjoyed reading this and look forward to reading the next ones! Thanks so much for sharing your ways of growing your account with us! I’ve read many others too but always love learning more. Blessings to you for taking time to do this!! 💗💗💗

  20. Martha says:

    Yaaas!!! It’s all true! And I love all your suggestions and take every one to heart! Love you!! 💗💗

  21. Amber says:

    I’m new to the blogosphere and Instagram world. I’m trying so hard to soak up all the knowledge I can find from folks like you who are rocking this space! This series is exactly what I needed to help me put my best foot forward while maintaining integrity and genuineness in the process. I love your writing your authenticity shines through! Thank you for “doing you” 💕

  22. Patti says:

    Another great post full of insight and intention. I love that you walk the talk. You’ve been a great example of how to stay true to yourself while shining light on others. Your creeps and two for Tuesday’s ( or whatever day 😉) have introduced so many neat feeds I may have missed if you hadn’t shared…
    Looking forward to the next post 😁

  23. Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for sharing Erin! DO YOU + BE KIND is a wonderful message and I enjoyed reading about your journey and allowing it to help me be more organic along my journey! I look forward to the next Part in the series. 😊

  24. Beth says:

    I love reading about YOU and letting your readers into your heart! Thank you😘

  25. Diana says:

    Great series and great writing! I’m really looking forward to the photography section, as I have no idea how to take and edit like all of those awesome pics I see! Instagram is just a fun hobby for me – I love the decorating ideas I get from everyone I follow and I love the positive support I see everyone giving the accounts I follow.

  26. Kelly Pickel says:

    Another fantastic post Erin! Thank you so much for sharing. I’m a little account in real life, but I’ve been working on getting bigger. You forced me to ask myself, why?!?! Why do I need to be bigger…the answer, I’m affraid, is a tad shameful. I finally realize that by setting boundaries I can stop the obsessive need to get bigger. My truth is yes, I need to create and share, but not at the cost of my inner relationship (my soul!) or the relationship I have with my husband. Thanks for your insight. I’m learning so much about myself and how to be better at life on and off social media. Love

  27. Rachel says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this series!! Great tips and things I will definitely use to incorporate in my journey ❤️

  28. Julie says:

    I love your take on this!
    I’ve loosened my boundaries & have been on my account far too often in front of my kiddos. It’s a tough habit to break 😞… but I’m inspired to start anew today!
    Keep on being a light! ❤️

  29. Maison de Ferme says:

    Absolutely loving this series! Thank you so much for sharing! ❤❤

  30. Susan Nichols says:

    Erin; I just wanted you to know that I am following your blog on BeKind Instagram set up… I will be using mine specifically for ministry. I am a missionary for Christ and the Lord has provided me many years of traveling around the World… He now has me home in Utah starting up another ministry. I want to share the skills I learned in order to help others learn about ministry and missions. I’m thinking about starting off with Instagram, videos and photos… leading into a blog. I look forward to learning as much as I can from you, and you have already taught me some things that I hadn’t even thought about. Thank you! Keep going….!!! Susan Nichols

  31. Lucy says:

    This is a really lovely series and so honest! I love your style and outlook Erin! Thank you for sharing, you’re my absolute favourite instagrammer xx

  32. Angie says:

    Thank you so much! God placed this in my path tonight..or while finally getting a second to enjoy your blog I accidentally clicked this article lol but IT was exactly what I needed. Ready for part 3!!!

  33. Monica Harris says:

    Erin, thank you for sharing your wisdom! I’m looking forward to the next segments of this series!!

  34. Meghan says:

    Erin this is awesome! I’m just starting this journey and figuring out my boundaries has already been a struggle. There is already to much mom guilt, which is just not fun. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series ❤️

  35. Jesseca says:

    Thank you for this. I need it. So good and true. Thank you.

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