Like so many of my fellow documentary lovers, I really enjoyed the “Minimalism” documentary that’s currently on Netflix. It was definitely inspirational as I took a second look around my home and wondered if I’ve gotten too attached to my possessions. But as I started evaluating the state of things around here, I realized a major flaw of a lot of the minimalism principles– they don’t work for people who have kids.
I have always had minimalist tendencies. I love to purge. I don’t like clutter. I’m bothered by owning stuff I don’t use (I do not understand decorative pillows). This is my natural bent, so if left on my own, we would probably live in a mostly empty house and that would be fine with me. But I live with lots of other people (1 husband, 6 children) who have their own opinions about what stuff “sparks joy” for them.
My house will never look like a minimalist paradise. I will never be capable of fitting all my worldly goods in a carry-on and that isn’t ever going to be my goal. But I do want to live with less– less stress, less clutter, less financial investment in things that don’t last. I think there are lots of other moms out there like me who want to make minimalism work for them and not end up being chained either to their things OR to an unrealistic (and overly idealistic) idea of owning just about nothing.
*I’m breaking this post up into two parts– this one will be just general tips for around the house and the next one is specific to the parenting clutter problems of toys and clothes.*
So here are a few ways my family does minimalism (call it Minimalish or Minimalist Light or Mominalism):
Don’t buy stuff. I know this is basic and not very fun, but just remember stuff only comes into your house if you let it. If you want to get some cute art print for your daughter’s room, go for it with my minimalist blessing, but don’t randomly wander the cute art print aisle at Hobby Lobby when you don’t need something specific. Stuff will end up in your cart and you won’t even remember how it happened. The less you buy, the less you have. And spoiler alert– your baby does not need a heated wipes warmer. Don’t buy into the hype around all the stuff children “have” to have.
Declutter using the Three Bag Method. When I go to do a big declutter/organization of a room, I take three bags with me– one for trash, one for donations, one for stuff that belongs somewhere else in the house. This allows me to stay parked in one room until it’s done without having to run around the house to put things in the right place. When I’m done in the room, I simply tie off the bag of trash and stick it in the garbage can, throw the donation bag in my donation box (more information on that later) and then put the out-of-place items away.
DONATE. Don’t give your trash to people, but if you have useful things, go to the extra effort to find good homes for them. That lotion wasn’t your favorite scent? Your friend might love it. Your kids aren’t into those toys anymore? I bet the neighbor kids might be (especially if you’re my neighbor). I have found it is MUCH easier to get rid of something I’ve grown attached to but no longer need if I know it’s going to someone who will enjoy it.
Have a transitional box for your purges. I keep a box in my laundry room for the things I’m donating. When this box is full, it moves to the garage. When several boxes are full, we donate. This means it’s easy for me to throw something into the box whenever I realize it isn’t serving a purpose anymore (I probably drop something in the box at least twice a week). It also means I have some time between when I determine I don’t need something and when it actually leaves my home. This has been useful the one or two times I changed my mind (or my kids asked about an item I thought they didn’t care about. . . whoops).
Allot a junk drawer. Kids have treasures. And by “treasures” I mean that rock they found and half a broken pencil and a Valentine they got. As much as I may have minimalist tendencies, that doesn’t mean my kids have to. I don’t want them to have unhealthy attachments to things and I think I might push them in that direction if I make it impossible for them to have any things of their own. So they have a limited amount of space they can use for WHATEVER they want. When I do my seasonal purges, I’ve noticed they sometimes do their own so they can make room for new treasures, which is great. I may encourage them in that direction if their junk drawer is getting out of hand, but for the most part I let them do what they want with that space. When they have a junk drawer it is easy to direct them to it when you find their junk is ending up in your space. Letting them have a dedicated space for junk actually keeps the house less cluttered.
Have a keepsake box. I am a mom and I am going to keep the lock of my baby’s hair from his first hair cut. I just am and BACK OFF, Minimalists! If I have a box dedicated to that kind of stuff, then it doesn’t have to become clutter. Maybe every other year I sit down with those couple boxes and go through them which is both sentimentally sweet and an opportunity to purge things I thought I’d care about that I actually don’t. I also have individual keepsake boxes for my kids and they let me know if something is so special to them that they want it to go in there (like the birthday card from Grandma) and I put things in there, too (like their report cards).
Keep photos, not stuff. If the kids do an art piece they really love, I can take a picture of it and then we can put it in the trash (with their blessing). A really sweet photo of my daughter on the beach is better than a thousand souvenir fridge magnets from the beach. I had a lovely costume jewelry collection I’d accumulated from my grandmothers, but I didn’t want to wear anything for fear I’d forget which grandma it came from. So I took a picture of the pieces with a note about who they came from and now I can use them without worrying that I’ll forget if they get mixed in with my other pieces. Use photos to help you remember what you need to remember so sentimental pieces can become useful pieces.
Use your china. I find that sometimes I start to hate the things that take up space in my life, but I don’t deem useful. So then I have two options: get rid of the stuff or make it useful again. I do plenty of purging, but I’m also learning that I don’t hate the china as much if I actually use it on occasion. This requires making peace with the fact that it might get broken, but I am just at a place where I’d rather use it and break it than have it sit in boxes collecting dust. A bonus for those with minimalist tendencies– if it breaks, you don’t own it anymore!
Extend your minimalism to your digital life. So we get in a great routine about throwing away the junk mail so it doesn’t create counter clutter, but we forget to delete the digital junk mail and it creates brain clutter. Do you need 45 photos of that time your kids found a caterpillar or is that kind of digital clutter keeping you from really enjoying the other 2,000 meaningful photos currently on your computer? Set aside time for deleting. It’s like an instant purge high.
My house is not always immaculately clean and these tips won’t guarantee you a clean home, either. What they will do is help you simplify which I think is the root cause of a lot of our stress. Having minimalist tendencies doesn’t mean there isn’t dust under my couch (there is), it just means that I’m not bogged down by things and I’m intentional about what I own.
If you’ve got tips about how you accomplish that in your life, I’d love to hear them!