*This is part two of a series on minimalism. You can read part one here.”
I have this theory that minimalist tendencies and saver tendencies are related to each other. And I think it may have to do with how you’re raised. Apparently my grandma was the purging type and at one point in my mother’s childhood she purged some things that were important to my mom. I think that may be why my mom is more of a saver. As the child of someone who liked to save things, I grew to value simplicity and empty spaces. And I don’t think either of these approaches are inherently superior. (More on that later.)
I do think that as parents we have an ability to influence our children’s behavior and understanding of the world. Often we see our children pick up our values and imitate our choices, but sometimes what influences them is a desire to be different from us. I want to be mindful that my minimalist tendencies don’t push my kids to be hoarders. I don’t want them to feel like I cared more about having a clutter-free home than I cared about the beautiful leaf they found and gifted to me. As a parent, I’m not just shooting for clean spaces, but for teaching opportunities. I find many of these opportunities happen when I’m dealing with my kids’ toys and clothes.
So before giving any tips on how we do our own version of minimalism in a home with six kids, I wanted to remind you to have the conversations with your kids. Don’t throw away things that matter to them without talking them through it. Inspire them to declutter. Help them prioritize the possessions that really matter to them. Reward them when they donate things they don’t need. Make a big fuss over the dandelion they brought you (“So beautiful! Thank you!”), enjoy it while it lasts and then when it dies talk with them about how it served its purpose and you can throw it away now. Look for those teachable moments to help them pursue a healthy relationship with stuff instead of becoming dependent on it for happiness or agitated and overwhelmed by it.
We also need to recognize that some kids are uniquely bothered by clutter. I’ve noticed that for kids with sensory issues or kids with ADHD tendencies it can be easy for them to be overwhelmed by their own stuff. They cannot keep their rooms clean and organized and important things (i.e. HOMEWORK) get lost in the chaos. We are not doing them any favors by inundating them with toys, clothes, gadgets and papers they then need to keep tidy. While I don’t think minimalism is some kind of inherently morally good choice, I do think we need to be aware of when our kids NEED us to help them simplify their lives.
With all that in mind, here are my minimalist tips for dealing with toys and clothes:
Purge at the end of each season. When the weather starts to change, I start to purge. I go through my kids clothes seasonally and get rid of what we can’t use. Ideally, I want them to have about 7 outfits and then a couple odds and ends pieces (church shirts, basketball clothes, etc.). This clothing purge starts a cycle of season purging for me– decorations that we don’t need, kids toys they don’t play with, the fridge artwork that’s been up too long, the junk drawer that’s been accumulating stuff, etc. Take the spring cleaning idea and turn into into spring/summer/fall/winter cleaning so you’re regularly reevaluating what you own and why you own it.
Use tubs in moderation. I know some anti-clutter people are really against putting things in tubs. I’m like 90% sure those people don’t have kids, or else they have an endless pile of money they sit on while writing about minimalism. I need to keep the toys/clothes/baby supplies or else I have to buy them new for each child which is just a huge waste (as foster parents, this was especially important since new kids could come at any time and with nothing). So I have a basement area where I keep clothes in tubs labeled by size/gender/season. If I have more 2T clothes than can fit in one tub, I purge. I also keep some toys (the Little People, the hot wheels cars and tracks, the Barbies) in tubs so they can be pulled out when the kids want to play with them, but can also be easily shoved into a closet.
Have a transitional box for items to be stored. In my closet there is a box that is currently full of clothes my kids have outgrown, hand-me-downs someone gave me that I need to store, along with some baby toys I want to save for future use. It is a waste of time for me to pull out the tubs and stick stuff in them every time I run across something I want to store. Having a transitional box allows me to get things out of the drawers or off the floor or out of the closet and saved until I have enough of them to make it worth setting aside some time for folding/sorting/storing. This process also generally involves some purging as I make room in the tubs for whatever I’m adding.
Consider a capsule wardrobe for yourself. Life is easier when I practice what I preach. Over the last two years I have been utilizing a modified capsule wardrobe. I am just not strict about this stuff so I won’t give you a breakdown of how many shirts I think you should own, but I do think it can be stressful and wasteful to own too many clothes. More clothes = more decisions and I just have enough decisions to make in a day without stressing about what color sweater I should wear. As I do with my kids, I go through all my clothes each season and if there’s something that doesn’t fit me right anymore or I just don’t wear, I pass it along.
Get shoes, coats and backpacks out of bedrooms. I want to acknowledge that even offering this tip makes me feel a little twitchy because I realize how #firstworldproblems this is. Not everybody has access to a garage or mudroom or laundry room, so this way of handling things isn’t going to work in all situations. But for us, we’ve had success at minimizing clutter in the house by keeping some of these items out of it. Shoes go on shelves in the garage. Coats and backpacks go on hooks in the laundry room. This keeps the kids from walking in the house and dumping their stuff everywhere or tracking in mud.
Get toys out of bedrooms. This tip will definitely vary depending on how the space in your home is laid out. I let the kids keep just a few toys in their bedrooms (in an under bed storage box) and then all the other toys are stored in our storage room and can be taken out as needed. This keeps their bedrooms tidy (they can easily manage clean-up by themselves) and allows me free access to their toys to purge as needed. . . kidding. . . sort of. It does make it easier for me to judge what toys are actually getting played with so I know what I can get rid of without major drama. I have found this also makes them more interested in the toys they do have.
Don’t get all Velveteen Rabbit about your kids’ toys. When your kids are ready to part with something, let them. That stuffed bunny is not actually going to become real if your kid keeps sleeping with it for another decade and we won’t prolong their childhood by insisting that they keep it on the bed. There are some classic toys I’ve already made peace with keeping for my grandkids (I’m looking at you, Thomas the Tank Engine), but we need to be comfortable with realizing when our kids have moved on from a certain toy infatuation and pass those things along.
I know if you get deep into the minimalism propaganda you’ll find a lot of value judgments placed on people who enjoy things. I don’t share that perspective. As I said earlier, my mom is a saver. Consequently, she has a beautiful home with beautiful things lovingly placed in exactly the right spot. She decorates her home with thoughtfulness about what will make people feel at ease, what will be beautiful, and what is sentimental to her. She’s a great hostess precisely because she’s a little extravagant in the way she lives and the way she loves (although she’s also amazingly thrifty, so you better believe all of this extravagance was on sale and she’ll be happy to tell you about the deal she got). My minimalism is deeply rooted in my practicality. It’s just my values working themselves out in how I handle my home, but I don’t believe it’s the only way things can be done or should be done. I hope these tips are helpful for you if you’re wanting to simplify your life, but if I come over and you’ve got toys in every corner of the house, an overabundance of souvenir mugs and decorate pillows covering every couch, I probably won’t even notice. We have to find what works for our families in our homes and let our unique values shine through.