I think I’ve finally arrived at the point in life where I can say … we are minimalists. (And yes, a minimalist family of eight that homeschools.)
What does this mean exactly? It doesn’t mean we live in a stark white house (although I would love that!) and it doesn’t mean I threw out all of our stuff. It also doesn’t mean every item in my house “sparks joy.”
What it does mean to our family is that we prioritize quality over quantity, because less can be more when focusing on the right things.
If minimalism with a family seems impossible, here’s a thought: don’t families with kids need it more than anyone else? With 6 kids and all that comes along with that, we knew it was high time to define our family priorities and clear the clutter.
First, let’s get clear about what I mean by minimalism and what that actually looks like for us.
In Search of the Life-Changing Magic
Before you think I’ve achieved a magical house where everything stays in its place, let me explain. Minimalism is definitely a journey … not a destination.
I’ve written before about how I’m not naturally the most organized person. Over the years I’ve done my best to get our days into an orderly routine (despite, you know, babies and toddlers) and generally I was pretty happy with the ratio of stuff to people in our house, even if it did tend to fall apart on a daily basis around the 3 o’clock hour …
Then more kids came along. And a growing business. And no matter how much I cleaned the clutter seemed to gain the upper hand.
I read books and blogs, listened to podcasts, and tried new cleaning systems. I learned a lot from the popular decluttering book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up but that didn’t seem to fit my personality overall. (Just can’t thank my purse, sorry!)
While I did learn some things that would help for a while, as kids grew and moved through different stages I would eventually end up back in the same (sinking) boat.
Reluctantly, I decided organized chaos is the most we as parents can hope for and tried to make peace with it.
But do we really have to settle? Are all our hopes of a clutter-free home in vain?
Yes, Minimalism With Kids is Possible
While I certainly took some tips from Marie Kondo’s book, it just didn’t seem practical for a family. I was happy to find this book Clutter-Free Kids by decluttering expert and dad of two, Joshua Becker, and also his awesome blog Becoming Minimalist.
Joshua’s life-defining moment happened on an ordinary day during some weekend chores (something I can relate to).
In his words:
Our story begins in suburban Vermont while I was cleaning the garage, my wife was cleaning the bathrooms, and my 5-year old son was playing alone in the backyard. I struck up a regular conversation with my neighbor who commented, “Maybe you don’t need to own all this stuff.”
The juxtaposition was striking. Possessions piled up in the driveway… my son in the backyard… my day slipping away… I immediately recognized something needed to change. My belongings were not adding value to my life. Instead, they were subtracting from it.
We began donating, recycling, and removing our unnecessary personal possessions. We embarked on an intentional journey to own less stuff.
I really latched on to this idea that minimalism is more about figuring out what’s important as a family and protecting that from things that take away from it. It’s powerful, and it can change everything.
It finally felt like a philosophy of that fit.
Making Minimalism a Family Experiment
We decided to make this a family experiment not just about getting rid of stuff but with two very positive goals in mind:
- Getting clear on what we value as a family, and
- Identifying what gets in the way of that (and getting rid of it).
It was much easier for the kids to get behind a fun family project than just being told “we’re getting rid of stuff,” and a collective family effort began.
Even now I’m no decluttering expert, but with Joshua Becker’s family-friendly advice to guide us we finally cracked the code and found a method and a result that really worked.
How to Become a Minimalist Family (Step by Step)
Since we were tackling this as a family project, there were a few natural places to start:
1. Define What’s Really Important (Do Not Skip This Step!)
This step was such a valuable exercise and has had the most lasting benefits for our family. Whatever you do, don’t skip it! Have these conversations with yourself, your spouse, and then the whole family.
Once you know what is important, you will be better able to recognize the things that are not.
Minimalist Family Quiz:
Ask yourself some hard questions and spend some time thinking creatively as a family
- What do you spend time doing that doesn’t create much value? Could you stand to do less of it?
- Think of a chore you despise. Is there a way to get rid of that thing and eliminate the chore?
- If you had to leave your house behind with nothing but a backpack, what would be in it? (These are your essentials.)
- Once you minimize, what will you maximize? Recall some favorite family vacations or experiences. What would your family do if you had fewer chores and more money in the bank?
Write down the answers on a big sheet of paper and keep it on the side of the fridge or in a place where everyone in the family can see it. Having this as a visual reminder and motivator was an important tool for keeping us on track.
2. Cut Time Wasters
Sorting and decluttering with intensity takes time. We knew it was important to make time on the family calendar if we were going to commit to this project. My husband and I agreed on a few key areas that we could easily put on hold or simplify to free up more time.
We immediately cut back on:
- watching TV (time saved: 4 hours per week)
- most of the toys (most kids in the US have 200 and only play with 12 of them)
- clothing (capsule wardrobes = less time doing laundry and folding)
Eliminating these time and space wasters gave us a huge headstart and let us get a taste of the “reward” coming once we completed our family experiment. These three areas were also easy to tackle because they didn’t involve sentimental attachments and reducing them immediately gave us more time in the day. I was amazed how easy it was (and how good it felt) to cut down on a few areas that were holding us back.
3. Forget About Organizing (For Now)
Repeat after me: organizing alone will not solve the problem. Realizing this made all the difference. If you have too much stuff in your house (and in the garage, storage unit, etc.), no amount of organizing will solve the puzzle.
Organizing is moving things around and deciding where to store them. Minimalism is about owning less so you have more time and energy to pursue the things you love.
Resist the urge to decide where things go and focus initially on getting unnecessary items out of your home and into the hands of someone who could really use them.
I love Joshua Becker’s saying “It is far better to de-own than declutter.” He explains in this post that as you go through the process of questioning what you own, you start to see things in a different light:
Removing possessions begins to turn back our desire for more as we find freedom, happiness, and abundance in owning less. And removing ourselves from the all-consuming desire to own more creates opportunity for significant life change to take place.
I can say it’s definitely true that going through this process declutters more than your house … it declutters your thinking too!
4. Put Decluttering on the Schedule
What isn’t on the calendar tends not to happen. Decide on both a daily and a weekly time to devote just to sorting and discarding/donating unnecessary items in the house. Put it on the family calendar just as you would an appointment or activity, and stick to it. We started with about 4 hours a week, the time we saved by eliminating most of our screen time.
Scheduling something the whole family can look forward to like an outing or game night after a decluttering session is a positive way to drive home the reason we’re letting go of stuff.
5. Stop Buying Things!
Ok, this is a tough one, but there’s no way around it: if the flow of goods into your home is faster than the outflow, you will never make progress.
I do a lot of my shopping online to save time, but during our family minimalism project we made a pact that we would be extra cautious about adding any items that take up physical space and aren’t consumable. When we got the urge to shop (you know, that one-click ordering high), we found it helped to put the items on a wish list and come back to them later. More often than not, we forget about the item entirely. If we remembered it later, that was a clue it was something we actually needed.
If we did purchase a physical item, we helped keep each other accountable and made sure to choose something else of a similar size from that category to get rid of.
One of the best decisions we made when beginning this process was creating capsule wardrobes, as it has saved hours of time, hundreds of dollars, and lots of mental energy deciding what to wear.
Tips for Decluttering With Kids
While it may seem hard at first, there’s a few steps that have made the process easier for our family:
1. Set the Example
Suppress the urge to start by pitching your child’s 1,000 beloved stuffed animals or their treasured rock collection from the backyard. (It’s hard, I know.) Set the example by starting with the things owned by the grown-ups in the house. (In my view, it’s only fair since we bought most of the stuff anyway!)
Starting with our own closets and bedroom worked best for us and felt like a manageable thing to tackle. Talk to the kids along the way about the process and let them see the difference it makes. (Hinting that their turn is next!) If you’re lucky, you may find the kids start to adopt some of your new outlook and practices.
2. Establish a Family Donation Station
Find several large cardboard boxes or totes and put them in a location your family passes every day (on the way from the garage to house worked for us). Make this the “family donation station” where family members can put any items they no longer want or need.
I posted this Decluttering Challenge printable next to the donation station to motivate the kids to give things away on their own. The idea is to color in a box for each item you give away with goal of celebrating every 100 items. We even make this into a kids vs. parents competition by using different colors … whoever fills 100 boxes first gets to pick a fun family activity. (This is something we keep doing for routine maintenance.)
3. Gather Items by Categories
This is a tip from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up that I did find helpful. After all, you can’t really know how much of one category you own if you don’t see all it in one place. While I didn’t find it necessary to hold each item and see if it “sparked joy,” it did help to tackle things in groups (and continue to store them in one place as much as possible).
This is the order of categories that worked well for us:
- Parents’ bedrooms
- Kids’ bedroom (this stage took a while!)
- Linen closet
Note the school room and personal/sentimental items aren’t on this list! For now, we use closed storage to house all of the things needed for school and just try for general simplicity.
4. Define Physical Boundaries
This is probably my favorite way to help young kids understand limits on their belongings in a positive way that isn’t stressful. It works like this:
- Yes, you can keep and enjoy the present 25 presents Grandma gave you, but all of your toys must fit in this toy box. Which toys should we donate to make room?
- Yes, you can have a rock/shell/Matchbox cars collection but it must fit on this display shelf in your room.
- Yes, you may have stuffed animals but they must fit in this hanging organizer in your closet.
If kids share a room, define a specific area where they can enjoy and display their personal possessions. The space could be defined by bookshelves, a side of the bed, a side of the closet, or my favorite, underneath a loft bed. (Close it off with curtains, they see a fort and you see less clutter!)
By having a defined space to enjoy their personal stuff and seeing it all in once place, kids can learn to exercise their letting-go “muscle” on a small, manageable scale.
Maximizing Minimalism (Or, How to Decide What to Keep)
Stuff is not always the enemy. In fact if what you own supports what you want to be as a family, it’s a treasure!
An awesome side effect of choosing minimalism at home is a giant increase in gratitude and contentment for the things we do own. We are blessed to own things that keep us healthy, warm, and able to learn new things.
I was fascinated to see that during this process my husband and I started to feel more confident about buying decisions because we were clear on our family goals. These are some of the things that I’m glad we kept or we’ve even bought more of in support of our family goals:
Family time outdoors in nature? Yes please! We’ve used our camping gear over and over throughout the years. Camping has a ton of health benefits and is worth the investment of time and energy to store and care for it.
One experience we decided to prioritize for our family is to travel whenever we can. We completed a (crazy) cross-country trip last summer, and actually it was a great exercise in minimalism. Nothing like packing a family of 8 into an RV to help you decide what’s really essential!
I’m not a fan of a lot of screen time for kids especially, but buying Kindle Paperwhites for each member of the family was a real gamechanger. It’s like consolidating whole bookshelves into a tiny device! We still have plenty of paper books, but the e-readers help us limit the amount of physical space devoted to them and we can now take books with us when we travel. Kindle Paperwhites are great because they don’t have a lot of flashy, graphics and games that are distracting (even addictive) for kids.
Play Equipment and Outdoor Games
We still have stuff for the kids to play with, but we prioritize quality low-clutter toys and large play equipment for the backyard. Yes, some of these items are an investment but they support our family values of getting plenty of movement and time outside for the kids. They also give us something active to do when hosting guests or having friends over to play.
There are plenty of ways to have fun and learn something new without buying a lot of material items. We love to do online classes together that teach a useful skill, like Udemy, with classes on everything from photography to playing the harmonica, or our favorite kitchen activity, the Kids Cook Real Food course.
Minimalism: The Bottom Line
In a world where it’s so easy to buy things at the click of button, controlling the flow of clutter into our homes isn’t an easy feat. With a little patience and practice (and a lot of purging), it is possible to find the right kind of minimalism for family and get back to what’s truly important in life. Isn’t that the most important skill to teach our children, after all?
- The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own
- Clutter-Free With Kids
- Minimalism for Families: Practical Strategies to Simplify Your Home and Life
- Healthy Moms Podcast 77: Minimalism With a Family to Decrease Stress and Clutter With Joshua Becker
How have you fought the good fight against clutter? Did you try a different approach? Please share!