How Minimalism With a Family is Possible (& Life Changing!)

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How Minimalism with a family is possible (and life changing)
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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 find ways to fit the KonMari method to family life, 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:

  1. Getting clear on what we value as a family, and
  2. 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

  1. What do you spend time doing that doesn’t create much value? Could you stand to do less of it?
  2. Think of a chore you despise. Is there a way to get rid of that thing and eliminate the chore?
  3. If you had to leave your house behind with nothing but a backpack, what would be in it? (These are your essentials.)
  4. 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:

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:

  • Clothing/closets
  • Parents’ bedrooms
  • Kids’ bedroom (this stage took a while!)
  • Kitchen
  • Garage/Shed
  • Linen closet
  • Paperwork

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.

For more tips on decluttering with kids, check out my podcast episode with Cas from Clutterbug.

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:

Camping Gear

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!

Kindle Paperwhites

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.

Skill-Based Classes

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?

Further Reading:

How have you fought the good fight against clutter? Did you try a different approach? Please share!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


22 responses to “How Minimalism With a Family is Possible (& Life Changing!)”

  1. Chris Kramer Avatar
    Chris Kramer

    Great post, Katie!

    While I’m not a parent, but a mere 25 year old man, I completely agree and it makes me reflect back to my childhood growing up. It’s interesting how when you start-off living a minimalist lifestyle, you realize how crazy it is how people can be so attached to the most unnecessary stuff! Although I’m not a parent (yet), I already know exactly how I will interact with my family. My partner and I are proud minimalists and, like you said, it’s definitely been a journey. Thanks again and keep it up with the insane value you’re providing!

  2. Tamara Avatar

    This post really resonates with me!! I was inspired by Joshua Becker’s “ah ha” moment too. I worried about how be minimalist with kids too.
    I love your Minimalist family quiz. It’s something we’ve sort of discussed but writing it down might be a way to better see where we are going. I also love your idea of having 1 bin of toys. We are going to try it!
    Thanks for being such an inspiration!!

  3. Daniel Avatar

    I’ve never quite understood how having a capsule wardrobe reduces the amount of laundry you have to do.
    For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you do laundry once a week. You’re going to wear 7 outfits for each time
    you do laundry. How is that reduced if you go from a total of 30 outfits in your closet down to 7?

    I do understand that a capsule wardrobe helps with decision fatigue in that you don’t have to look through
    tons of clothes in your closet looking for something to wear. But the amount of laundry you have to do is the same. You’re still wearing the same amount of clothing over the course of a week.

  4. Debbie Avatar

    I found while trying to declutter, that as I made new, more healthy versions of toiletries, that the product in my bathroom has lost weight! Soap and bubble bath are the only things around my tub. This is because the more research I did, I found out you don’t need shampoo (no poo), or conditioner, etc. and the other components that come in plastic bottles to rob you of room. My family and I are now even trying to create anything we “need” so that when we are done with the object , it does not hurt so much to recycle and move on. This includes clothing, toiletries, fixed electronics, furnishings, etc. because the money you did not spend is earned and someone else you recycle to may give that “new” item it’s true worth!

  5. Mikayla Avatar

    Wellness Mama, you spoke of how Grandma buys (25) presents for your children. Any tips on how to deal with gifts that clutter and don’t add to your value? I find sometimes that even if I know someone is going to buy me a present (marriage, graduation, etc) and I ask for something specific, I may not get the thing I ask for and end up with something I won’t use. I don’t want to be ungrateful. Any suggestions or thoughts? Thank you!

    1. Rachel Avatar


      I know I’m not Katie, but I tried this tactic for a few Christmases and it worked pretty well. What I did was (at least for the more “major” presents – himalayan salt lamp, diffuser, air purifier, etc. (yes, an air purifier was on my Christmas list 🙂 ) I found a webpage where the one I wanted could be ordered from, then included the link on my wish list, specifying that that particular one was the one on my list. That way, the person buying it didn’t have to try to figure out which one to get, or risk getting the wrong one. I know that doesn’t work in all circumstances, but I found it to be helpful for me.

  6. Carmen Avatar

    I’d love to live in a minimalist home. My mother is a pack rat and getting rid of anything is like killing a family member. It doesn’t help that I have very rude neighbors who never miss an ocassion to gawk and laugh at the piles of boxes stack of magazines etc every time we open tge front door… The house itself is clean, but the effort it takes! To make things worse i can’t even get rid of my own things because all of hell breaks loose… Oh well, forgive my ranting, but the frustration of it all is getting to me.

    1. Debbie Avatar

      I found a solution a long time ago for magazines. My method is to go loosely through them and rip out all the “keep” stuff pages and recycle the rest. The pages can the go into a scrapbook and get glued in. I hope this helps you as you seem to be almost in love with dusting as much as I, haha!

  7. MOMof8 Avatar

    We are a homeschooling family of 10, and we are planning a big move in the coming months, so we have been cleaning out and decluttering A LOT! Wow, do we have a lot of books. And toys. And stuffed animals. I realized recently, when we went on vacation, how little we actually need to just be happy and together. I packed for all 10 of us in 2 suitcases for a week’s vacation (we had access to a washer and dryer), plus each kid had a backpack for personal items, a book to read, etc. It was great! Now we are planning an extended trip of 6 months, so I need to really give serious thought to what is essential for those months. Thank you for the inspiration.

  8. Becky Avatar

    Word of caution with electronic readers…….. when I was traveling globally for work, I could not carry enough books to keep me busy on 14 hour flights (I read a LOT and FAST)…. in comes an electronic reader. HOWEVER what I found was that when I read hardcover books and the same book on an e-reader, there were parts “missing” on the e-reader version….. I physically verified this and immediately stopped purchasing e-books. Now, whether this was an isolated incident or a more global issue, I’ve never returned to e-books and won’t. Something that comes in electronic form only is too easily changed or altered by a “well-meaning” person. While this may be acceptable in children’s books (or not), it’s not for me.

  9. Victoria Avatar

    I’m a minimalist and have read many articles and books on the topic but this is one of the most informative and easy to read articles I’ve ever seen. I’ll be sharing this with everyone I know.

  10. Blythe Avatar

    Have you ever seen the blog or read her new book decluttering at the speed of life? I think it would be more up your alley after reading your post.

  11. Jennay Avatar

    Regarding defined space for children… each one of my children has a “special box” that is off-limits from anyone cleaning out. If something is super important to them, they put it in there. They periodically go through it and cull items that aren’t special to them anymore, and add new items. We use a copy paper boxes (free from the copy/office supply store) for this, and they slide them under their beds.

  12. Aaron Aukema Avatar
    Aaron Aukema

    Minimalism, another word for “the spirit of poverty”.

  13. Dana Avatar

    My husband and I are on a constant minimalism quest. It is so refreshing! It makes me love being home and the house can always be tidied fairly quickly (we have a 3yo and 4mo). I laughed at the question, what chore do you hate and can you get rid of something so as to eliminate the chore. I hate cleaning bathrooms but i don’t think I can get rid of the toilet!

  14. Rachel Avatar

    I’ve found Joshua Becker’s and Marie Kondo’s (to a lesser extent – mostly with jewelry and stuffed animals) books to be really helpful for me as well. I’ve gotten rid of 2 minivan loads of stuff in the last year, which is really good because I live in a single room, so there’s limited space, and I hope to get a dog at some point, so I want to be able to have as close to zero clutter as possible by the time that happens.

  15. Rachel Jones Avatar
    Rachel Jones

    I LOVE that you have a competition with the decluttering chart!

  16. Linda Sand Avatar
    Linda Sand

    For travel we gave our then 8 year old daughter a backpack and told her she could bring anything she fit into it but she must have enough clothes to last one week. Kids clothes are small so she still had room to bring her favorite stuffed animal and a few toys. It was interesting to see which were her favorite clothes and which toys she chose.

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