Want to practice minimalism with kids, even with a large family? The best way is to start with these three key areas, guaranteed to keep your home—and life—clutter-free. By: Rachael Robison
I’m not sure of the exact moment I lost it. Maybe I had stepped on yet another Lego, or possibly it was the sound of a toy with no off-switch and just two volume settings: loud, and ear-splittingly loud.
I had three children under the age of five and so, unsurprisingly, toys were everywhere.
Regardless of which specific toy it was, I was done. I literally broke down in tears because the toys were too much. I knew something had to change, and thus began my journey toward minimalism with kids.
Practicing minimalism with Kids
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Like any good aspiring minimalist, I first read Marie Kondo’s minimalism book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Except I noticed she had one glaring fault in her book: she doesn’t give any clues on how to apply minimalism with kids.
I’m here to tell you that not only is minimalism possible with little kids but actually beneficial to children. Not only does minimalism foster a sense of appreciation for what we have, but not being overwhelmed by choices results in more imagination and creativity.
I’m not talking about stark white walls and bare furniture. Extreme minimalism works for some, but in reality, a more moderate minimalism is a better approach for families.
If you’d like to try a minimalist lifestyle for your family but don’t know where to start, let me show you three ways to apply minimalism with kids.
When I first bought my house, I loved that it had the perfect spot for a playroom. I could picture it clearly: an immaculately decorated room where my son would spend all day playing with his toys in one perfectly organized space.
Except my son would go down there and dump out every bin of toys onto the floor. Then he’d refuse to set foot in the playroom until I had cleaned it all back up. After a few rounds of this, needless to say, my toy room did not last long.
Let’s face it: no matter how much you try to organize your toys, the best way to keep an organized playroom is just to have less stuff.
Now, I’m not saying you have to jump straight to extreme minimalism and limit your child to exactly 10 toys. Instead, minimalism with kids is all about finding the right balance for your family.
How many toys does your child really need? Oftentimes, we just assume more is better, but too many toys can actually be bad for your child.
Where to begin? I like to start my toy purge by discarding any broken, annoying or useless toys, taking out any toys your children have outgrown. Next, I evaluate the large toys. If a toy is going to take up valuable real estate on my floor, it had better be worth it.
After the most obvious choices are made, your decisions start to get trickier. My advice is to follow Marie Kondo’s philosophy: Choose what you want to keep, not what you want to discard. As I was going through my children’s toys, I realized that I wanted to keep open-ended toys that inspired imagination.
What toys you keep will depend on what your children play with. Minimalism with kids works best when you get your children involved. For instance, let your child decide what toys they want to donate to charity.
If you aren’t ready to commit to purging all your toys, a toy rotation system is a great way to give minimalism a try. By limiting the toys available to your children, you’ll find your kids enjoy their toys more. Plus, you’ll have less clutter and an easier time cleaning up.
When my oldest started school, he’d come home every day full of excitement, new experiences… and papers! Part of me feels like I really ought to go plant a tree to compensate for all the paper he uses.
If you want to achieve minimalism with kids, you’ll need to handle all the papers that come into your life.
The secret to tackling paper clutter is to deal with papers as soon as they come into the house. Just like it’s best to deal with your mail as soon as you bring it in, you want to catch all the school papers before they have time to spread and possibly multiply.
Organize your children’s papers into five categories:
- Toss: As the saying goes, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” And the place for most paper is the recycling bin.
- Return: To keep papers in check, handle the permission slips, reading charts, and unfinished homework right away, and have a place to keep them if they can’t be returned yet.
- Remind: Flyers for upcoming events, birthday party invitations, and the current school lunch menu are perfect examples of this category. Have a spot you’ll see often to hang them as a reminder (I prefer the front of my fridge). Just be sure to toss them when the event is over.
- Collect: “But, Mommy, I need it!” says every child about every paper ever. While it exasperates my desire for decluttering, you can’t force minimalism with kids. Have a small drawer or bin where your child can collect papers. Let them collect whatever they want, but once it’s full, they must clear out space if they want to keep anything else.
- Remember: As much as I am all for decluttering, I’m as guilty as the next mom for wanting to keep the hand print sun my daughter made in preschool this year. Have a specific place or file folders for sentimental papers separate from the papers, like medical records, that you are required to keep.
Trust me, if you designate a spot for all five categories of paper clutter, the tops of your desks and dressers will thank you.
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Last fall, I took a minimalist challenge to declutter my wardrobe.
In my excitement, I got a bit carried away and decided to tackle my children’s wardrobes as well. I started with my two-year-old. Between hand-me-downs from his brother, gifts from grandparents, and clothes I had purchased for him, my toddler’s wardrobe was overflowing.
I took everything out of his closet and couldn’t believe how many clothes he had (I think he had more clothes than I did!). And, surprisingly, all of it was in the right size.
Except… you can guess how many items he actually wore. Like any kid, he has his favorite few shirts that he wore over and over again. Maybe because he couldn’t discover anything new in his overstuffed closet.
I went through all of my children’s wardrobes and pared them down to a set number of outfits. Minimalism with kids will look different for each family. For me, the magic number was 10 day-to-day outfits—just enough so I can do laundry once a week and have a few extra outfits just in case.
Amazingly, my son started to want to wear more of his clothes. Instead of being overwhelmed with options, he had a limited supply of shirts he absolutely loved.
Plus, it was easier to have a cuter wardrobe since I only kept the cutest items (that he would wear). If you want to go the extra mile when applying minimalism with kids, you can create a capsule wardrobe and make all the outfits mix and match.
Less money, less laundry, and less time picking out and fighting over clothes. Win, win, and win.
Minimalism with kids starts with you.
Can you truly expect your children to embrace minimalism if you have an attitude of materialism? Be a conscious consumer: don’t buy things you don’t need or you’ll eventually feel dragged down by the weight of all your possessions. Instead, try favoring experiences over things.
While some people might think minimalism with kids a contradiction, I’ve found it to be a lifesaver. Once you get a taste of the benefits a minimalist lifestyle gives children, you’ll find yourself wanting less and less. Less stuff means less time cleaning and more time to spend enjoying your children.
Who wouldn’t want that?
Get more tips:
- Top Reasons to Rotate Toys (And How to Do It)
- 6 Not-So-Obvious Reasons You Can’t Keep Up with Cleaning Your Home
- Time Management for Moms: Tips You Can Actually Apply
- Want to Be an Organized Mom? 3 Tips That Will Actually Help You!
Rachael Robison is a stay-at-home mom of four children in Utah. She recently started the blog Pingel Sisters with her sister Jaclyn. They share advice for both stay-at-home and working moms on life, work, travel and books.
Tell me in the comments: How do you practice minimalism with kids?