I recently asked my Facebook followers about what they do to make parenting less stressful. Many of the helpful responses made their way into this post, which I suggest you bookmark to read later. But there was one answer that I thought warranted its own post altogether: living a minimalist lifestyle.
A minimalist lifestyle is far from how I would describe my family’s way of life. Our playroom is overflowing with toys and our closets are overflowing with clothes. I know I should be grateful for my family’s abundance, and I truly am. But sometimes I feel like our house is suffocating us.
Maybe that’s why I am so intrigued by the concept of a minimalist lifestyle. It might just be the key to helping me breathe.
To learn more about minimalism, I surveyed some moms who live a minimalist lifestyle. I asked them some general questions to help me understand more about minimalism and how to practice minimalism with a family. And, of course, I asked them some of my own personal burning questions based upon some of my personal clutter struggles.
Below, I share some of our minimalist moms’ insights. I hope they will be as enlightening for you as they have been for me!
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What is a minimalist lifestyle?
Our minimalist moms each described minimalism in a slightly different way, but with the same spirit. They simplify their lives by being selective about what physical items they keep in their homes. This, in turn, leads to less stress and more quality time with family.
Melissa is a mom of three with another on the way. She describes minimalism as “only having things in my home that I truly want or need.” When she organizes or cleans a part of her home, she asks herself, “Is this a manageable level, or will it be chaos in a week or two?”
Melissa’s son, who is severely disabled, helped her realize the extent to which her family’s things had begun to be a burden in their home. She says, “the only way he played at the time was to line up blocks, cars, etc. I did my first toy purge and filled the entire perimeter of my hallway several feet high of toy giveaways.”
Jackie is a stay-at-home mom to three young children four years and under in Indiana. To her, a minimalist lifestyle is “having only the necessities or items that bring true joy. This relates to toys, clothing, furniture, keepsakes, kitchen tools, and personal items. The goal is to minimalize the clutter so that I can spend more meaningful time with my family.”
On her journey into a minimalist lifestyle, she reflects, “ I adopt minimalist practices because I would rather spend the hours in my day creating meaningful experiences with my husband and children instead of cleaning and doing laundry.” She had a revelation after having her third child, and she and her husband began to think about how difficult it would be to move out of their home if they wanted to. “I want to only be surrounded with items that bring me joy and I want my children to build their imaginations through a few open ended toy,” she shares. “Clutter steals my joy and only brings stress and anxiety.”
Amanda is a mom of a “hilariously sassy but sweet” five-year-old daughter. She works as an Articled Clerk / soon-to-be lawyer and is the writer behind legallymommy.com. To her, a minimalist lifestyle is, “A more simple life. A return to things that matter most: spending time with family and not being overwhelmed by the day to day tasks that take you away from the things you enjoy doing.”
For Amanda, adopting a minimalist lifestyle was about finding peace in her home. She remembers how relieved she felt decluttering her home in preparation for a move. For Amanda, home is more enjoyable to her when there is less “stuff” around.
Best practices for implementing minimalism with a family
For our minimalist moms, their best practices boil down to a few main principles. They think carefully about what they bring into their homes, intentionally keep fewer items accessible to family members, and regularly look around their homes to think about what they no longer need.
Some specific minimalist lifestyle practices they recommend:
Be selective about toys.
A minimalist approach to toys is to only allow children to have access to a few high-quality toys at a time. Both Melissa and Jackie mentioned preferencing “open-ended toys,” that is, toys that can be used in many different ways instead of one set way.
Jackie’s family applies a standard to toys in their home — they must be “open-ended, classic, wooden, educational, beautiful.” Melissa only keeps out her kids’ favorite toys and either purges the rest or stores them to be brought back out later in a toy rotation.
Pare down the clothing.
Keep only the clothing that your family really needs, and get rid of what hasn’t been worn. Jackie describes her family’s approach to wardrobe: “We began having our children pick out three outfits to wear for the week on Sunday night and place them in the bathroom. These are their clothes for the week. It requires me to do a very small load every 1-2 days and the kiddos really like this system, surprisingly. We are still working on minimalizing their clothes down to a drawer or two, but this system works nicely so far!”
Be intentional with shopping.
Amanda shares, “I’m now moving toward trying to be more mindful when it comes to buying items and bringing them into the home.”
When it comes to shopping, Jackie mentions the importance of going to the store knowing what you want to buy, instead of browsing. She admits that shopping around at a store makes it “too easy to buy things I don’t need!”
Use fewer towels and dishes.
If a huge amount of towels and dishes are available to family members, they are likely to get used! Melissa has cut down on laundry by keeping the majority of her family’s towels out of reach and having only the minimum needed set out in the bathroom. She has also cut down on dishes. “I hid away the extra plates/glasses and gave each kid their own color plate/glass/bowl,” she shares. “As they use them for breakfast and lunch, I do a quick rinse of the plate and leave it to dry for the next meal. At night I usually stick them in the dishwasher to get sanitized.”
Get in the habit of looking around your home for things that you no longer need or want. Jackie’s family fills a bag for Goodwill every Sunday. “This gets our children involved,” she explains, and she says it also gets them asking whether each possession is necessary and brings them joy. Melissa goes on regular toy purges.
Be honest with yourself about your possessions.
Evaluate items in your home so that you are only keeping the ones you truly want or need. This requires an honest assessment. Jackie asks herself, “Does it bring joy? Do I need it? Do I use this often?”
How to get your family on board with a minimalist lifestyle
I have suggested that my kids donate some of their toys before, and this suggestion is usually met with quite a bit of resistance. How do our minimalist moms get their families on board with minimalism? The heart of the answer is that minimalism truly becomes a lifestyle.
Incorporate decluttering into your kids’ routine.
Each minimalist mom reflected about how their children have gotten into the spirit of minimalism. Both Melissa and Jackie have found that their kids will tell them about or bring them clothes they no longer like or wear and toys they no longer play with.
Amanda sits down with her daughter each week and pares down her “100000 pictures, toys and trinkets.” She says her daughter does not choose to get rid of a ton of her belongings, “but it’s a start!”
Jackie’s family’s practice of putting together a weekly donation bag has become routine for her kids. She says, “Setting up a day to get rid of a bag of stuff (big or small) creates a culture that the kids understand and is normal.”
Declutter when your family members are not around.
Although the kids seem generally on board, there is definitely some decluttering that the minimalist moms do without the kids’ knowledge. Melissa says, “I do tend to clean things out (like toys I have in storage) when they’re not around.”
Jackie takes note of any toy that has not been touched in months and will “bag it up without calling attention to it. They never ask about the toy.”
Explain and experience the benefits.
Help your family members understand that a minimalist lifestyle frees up time family time. You’ll have more meaningful interactions while spending less time on household chores. Jackie finds minimalism to be beneficial to the whole family. She muses, “There is something so energizing and de-stressing about getting rid of the clutter and non-essentials. There’s a beautiful freedom and I think the kids feel it too.”
Managing holidays and gift-giving when living a minimalist lifestyle
We have very generous family members who shower my kids with gifts on their birthdays and holidays. Gift-giving is such a kind practice. But it is certainly one that results in more “stuff.” Therefore, one of the questions I had for the minimalist moms was whether they had any guidelines for holidays, and what they do when their kids receive gifts.
Rather than material objects, give your kids experiences and ask others to do the same. Melissa and her sister threw their kids a Christmas party together last year rather than doing a gift exchange. She says, “We did a movie, hot chocolate, and a scavenger hunt for a prize (they all got matching Christmas PJs).”
Amanda has been asking family members for contributions to an upcoming Disney vacation. She says, “I also try to tell them we are looking for more ‘experiences’ and not gifts, so gift cards to the pool, or a play place are often the best.” She adds contributions to an education fund would also be appreciated.
Be specific with requests.
If you know your family members are going to want to give your children gifts, be specific with your requests. At our house, we use Giftster to make registries for our kids. Using a tool like Giftster, you can curate your requests to meet your family’s needs and lifestyle.
Melissa says, “If a family member asks for ideas, we definitely steer them towards gifts that are not battery operated, are more ‘open play’ and are things we really think the kids would want.” Jackie asks for books, experiences, needs, or project-based gifts.
Evaluate gifts after receiving them.
As with other items in your home, it’s important to honestly evaluate gifts after receiving them. Melissa realized, “even though something may new, expensive and a gift, if you don’t have a use for it… then it’s taking up valuable physical space and mental space.”
Jackie has taught her kids the importance of showing gratitude and excitement for gifts. It’s encouraged to do this even if they don’t meet her family’s requests or their standard for toys. The next step? She says, “we wait a week or two and ask the child, ‘Do you still want to keep this around? Do you play with it?’ The answer is usually no. If yes, we ask again in another week or two.”
Read next: 30+ Practical Gifts for Two-Year-Olds
How to declutter paper and kids’ artwork
Especially with kids in school, it seems like we are often swimming in a sea of papers. I asked our minimalist moms how they manage paper clutter.
Have a container for special items.
All three moms mentioned having a container designated for favorite artwork. Melissa and Amanda use a box, and Jackie uses a binder. In our house, our kids’ schoolwork that’s particularly well done or seems representative of the academic progress they’ve made goes into a portfolio.
The caveat is that it’s important to go through the container regularly and pare down. Melissa says, “Every so often I go through it with my 5 year old to see what she wants to keep and what she wants to throw away. We just did that this weekend and she wanted to get rid of about 75% of it so I was fine keeping the remainder since she liked it and I have a place for it.”
An alternative to a physical container is to store kids’ artwork digitally by taking pictures and storing them online. The Pioneer Woman shares some apps that will allow you to do this. Or, use a service such as Shutterfly that will turn the uploaded pictures into a photo book.
Rather than storing or tossing out kids’ artwork, see if there are other ways you might be able to use it. Jackie had some innovative ideas for ways she and her kids repurpose their artwork. She says, “We do a lot of watercoloring so we turn a lot of the kids’ art into cards to send to friends/family.” Another suggestion is to use the artwork as the cover for homemade books.
Go paperless and deal with paper mail right away.
Designate bills for electronic delivery to cut down on the amount of mail you receive in your mailbox. For the mail that does come in, do something with it right away. Do not let it start collecting on surfaces around your home.
Jackie’s family has a special box that letters go into. Amanda advises, “I have a rule that we have to deal with all mail as soon as it comes in. It can’t sit on a table. We either have to read it or throw it out.”
What to do with the items you purge while decluttering
All three minimalist moms said they give their purged items away. They either give items to family or friends who want or need them, or they donate them to charity. Neither Melissa nor Jackie take the time to sell items, in the name of simplicity and efficiency. Additionally, Melissa says, “I find that I can’t go back through things or try to sell little things because I’ll start to have second thoughts.”
Amanda does attempt to sell some of her things from time to time, “but it’s sometimes not worth the hassle.”
The bottom line seems to be that the purged items should get out of the house as quickly as possible.
Advice for moms who want to begin living a minimalist lifestyle
Here are some nuggets of wisdom from our minimalist moms about how to implement minimalism with a family.
Jackie warns that being minimalist won’t happen overnight – that would be too overwhelming! Rather, she suggests, “Start by getting rid of one or two things a week on a designated day! Eventually, it can turn into a whole garbage bag or ten, but just focus on creating that small habit and it will grow over time.”
Similarly, Amanda recommends you start by decluttering. “Choose one area and see how freeing it feels to get rid of the excess,” she suggests.
It’s a mindset change.
I now understand that minimalism is not simply a process of getting rid of things. Rather, it is a lifestyle choice that creates joy and freedom through simplification.
Melissa shares, “Think about it as becoming more intentional–more intentional with your time, with your belongings, and with mental space. Think about what area of your life causes you the most stress. How can you reduce the decisions around it?”
She refers to the overabundance of decisions to be made as “decision fatigue.” Narrowing her choices by simplifying all areas of her life, right down to what recipes she chooses from when meal planning, reduces this decision fatigue. Things become more automatic and less overwhelming or stressful.
Find influencers to follow.
Find some people who are living a minimalist lifestyle and blogging about it or creating podcasts. Melissa recommends two. “I really got into the minimalism movement when I found Allie Casazza and her blog/podcast/courses on minimalism and motherhood,” she says. “I feel like she’s been my biggest influencer the last couple of years.”
She also recommends following Kendra Hennessey of Mother Like a Boss for ideas and the mindset change that comes along with a minimalist lifestyle.
Prepare for freedom!
Over and over again, I got the sense that Melissa, Jackie, and Amanda have found joy and freedom through their minimalist lifestyle. They are free from clutter and less overwhelmed by stuff and choices. They spend less time on chores, and have created more space in their lives for family.
Jackie sums it up: “Getting rid of stuff is the most liberating thing I have ever done in my entire life.” She also shares, “When my husband and I moved into our current home we felt like there was pressure to fill it, but now we find joy in emptying it! We have so much more time to share together now as a family.”
I hope that through hearing these moms’ stories, you might feel inspired to begin moving toward a minimalist lifestyle. Personally, I’m excited to begin implementing some of these ideas and toning down the chaos in our home!