It started off with you and your spouse. Keeping your “stuff” managed with just the two of you seemed tricky enough at times. Then boom! You find out you’re pregnant. And more stuff starts pouring in! Crib, swings, bouncers, playpen, stuffies, blankets…As baby grows, you need more age appropriate toys. Fast forward two more kids later and you’re storing Johnny’s hockey equipment, Susie’s craft supplies, and Junior’s Lego collection (aka land mines – nothing hurts more than stepping on a pile of Lego!). Between the toys, clothes and everything else, your house is a constant hurricane zone.
So HOW pray tell, is minimalism even in the scope of possibility with a house full of munchkins?
Remember the concept of excess
In a previous post, I explained how minimalism can be a difficult concept due to the stereotype it holds. However, when we apply the idea that minimalism is simply removing the excess from our lives, it becomes less scary to approach. Remember, excess looks different for every individual and every family. The first step towards removing excess is to examine what that looks like for you.
For example, if Johnny loves hockey, don’t junk his hockey equipment just for the sake of minimizing. But his set of skis and ski boots that got used once, and sit in the garage beside Susie’s rarely used figure skates and Junior’s Batman fishing pole – maybe those things could find a new home.
The point isn’t to crush your children’s passions for the sake of decluttering. It’s the opposite. Help them discover their passions, and then support them. But too much “stuff” can trigger overstimulation in youngsters, and minimizing can help prevent that.
Steps to minimizing with children
1. Resist the urge to buy more.
We love our kids, and everyone enjoys being able to buy their kids things and see them happy. But the first step to minimizing all the kid stuff is to stop buying more. Yes, I’m sure Junior would love that Star Wars Lego Millennium Falcon (for about a day), and all those clothes on the sale rack would look adorable on Susie. But just because it’s on sale, doesn’t mean you need it.
2. Toy exchange.
Instead of stockpiling a bunch of toys and having to store them, why not start a local toy exchange? Get a hold of a few other parents in the area. Grab a set of Rubbermaid bins. Each family fills their bin with toys, then swaps bins with another family in the exchange. Voila! Brand new toys, while keeping the clutter down!
3. Thrift store bargains.
Something we love to do is hit up the local thrift shop. We pack up a box of toys and clothes we’re done with, and drop it off at the thrift store. While we’re there, we get some “new” toys and clothes. This way we never acquire more, just exchange the “old”for “new”. Tip: look for local thrift stores rather than chain thrift stores. The local stores often have way better prices, are volunteer run, and proceeds go to a local charity.
4. Get rid of the baby stuff.
Image via freestocks.org
How on earth does such a tiny human, need so much stuff!? After having my tiny human, I realized I neither needed, nor even used, half the stuff we had. This brief list offers a few ideas of items we personally could have lived without:
- Baby swing. They take up so much room. Doodle didn’t like it anyways, and I ended up just wearing him in the wrap or sling.
- Baby chair. Same as above.
- Baby bathtub. A sink, or shower with mom or dad worked just fine.
- Change table. I only used it for a few months. I realised after the fact that our bed works just as well.
- Playpen. We used ours as a storage device. Not really it’s intended purpose.
- Crib or bassinet. If you’re comfortable doing so and practice it safely, just cosleep. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it worked for us. Or use an infant mattress on the floor.
- Bottles, pacifiers, bottle warmer, bottle sanitizer. If you opt for it, you don’t ever have to use any of the aforementioned. Breastfeeding takes care of it all. We loved not having to worry about all those extra items. Of course if you can’t breastfeed or prefer not to let little one comfort-suck, that’s what those items are there for.
- Baby bullet. Do you have a blender? Ice cube trays? There ya go.
- Baby food. We went one step further and never bothered pureeing anything. We just cooked food until it was soft and gave it to Doodle whole. If you’re interested in this, it’s called baby led weaning.
- Diaper Genie. The concept is cool. But the refills are stupid expensive, and we found the regular trash bin works just as well.
5. Teach responsibility.
This applies to children who are somewhat verbal. If they can understand your words, then they can help clean up their toys. I’m a huge advocate for kids making messes, getting dirty, and experimenting. However, getting your children to help in the cleanup process will teach them responsibility, and to care for their things. It’s a good habit. And if they protest, I’m not beyond taking the “mommy bin” and letting them know that anything left on the floor goes into mommy’s bin, and disappears for a while.
6. Ditch developmentally dull toys.
Some toys are great. They help develop fine and gross motor skills, and support imaginative play. Some toys are just junk. Most of these junkers are just made to entertain, not promote development. When considering toys for your child, think about what the child can do, not what the toy can do. Red flags for me with toys, are anything that makes too much sound, is too bright and flashy, has too many distractions, and doesn’t allow the child to manipulate it in some way. Jenn Choi has a great article on this.
7. Gifts from family and friends.
You think you’ve downsized and are starting to get some breathing room. But then – Birthday! Christmas! Easter! Lost a tooth! Scored a goal! Ate all your veggies! Any excuse that loving grandparents or other friends and family can use is a good excuse to spoil their special little ones. Which is a wonderful thing, having such loving people in a child’s life. I am not ungrateful for the lovely things that friends and family have given to us, not at all. We are very blessed. But in reality, there has to be a place to put all this stuff. What are your options?
- If the toy is from Grandma, it stays at Grandma’s house (or auntie, cousin, the neighbour, whoever it may be). That way it remains as one of the special toys from Grandma, that Junior only gets to play with when he visits.
- Request specifics ahead of time. Give your friends and family a heads up. Is there something specific they can get for Johnny? Maybe he really does need a new hockey helmet?
- Focus on experiences. Rather than buying stuff, request that friends and family seek experiences with Susie. Take her to the zoo or go swimming. Instead of another Barbie doll she will only play with once, maybe they could get movie tickets, and take her to the show.
8. Get some clever organizing structures.
Image by Ben Garratt via Unsplash
I’ve heard that minimizing is better than organizing. But being practical, your child will always have some amount of toys, books, etc. So how do you best organize these things to avoid clutter and disarray?
- Use vertical space. Vertical shelving units, and floating shelves help keep stuff off the floor. More floor space makes your living area look and feel larger and less cluttered.
- Use labeled bins on your shelves.
- Have a large toy basket ready for quick cleanup. “The neighbours will be here in five minutes! Quick, everything into the toy bin!”
- Use organizing structures that are multi-purpose. The bench at the front door opens up to store mitts, toques and scarves. The footstool opens up to store the puzzles. You have a long, wide, short bin that fits under the couch to store Lego. The coffee table has drawers that house all of the craft supplies.
9. Confront sentimentality.
You have a big bin of toys you used to enjoy when you were young. But your children don’t seem the least bit interested in them. Dearly departed Great Aunt Flo gave Susie a cute tea set, but she’s outgrown it and no longer uses it. These items are collecting dust and space, but you admit there is a sentimental attachment to them for whatever reason. Maybe they remind you of a deceased relative. Maybe they bring back memories of your childhood. But face the hard truth – do you use them? Do you need them? This one is hard, and I suggest letting sentimental items go last, once all of the other clutter is cleared out. By that time, your mindframe around decluttering will have changed, and your perspective towards sentimental items may have as well. Tip: If you want to keep memories of a specific item, take a photograph of the item, and put it in a photo book so your memories remain.
10. Projects, crafts, and keepsakes.
Between school projects, Sunday school crafts, and the 3784364 proud drawings they made for you that MUST go on the fridge NOW – it’s a wonder you have any storage space in your house at all. What can you do? Guilty mom here – once the excitement has worn off, into the recycling the drawing goes. But there may be some things you wish to keep. Make a scrapbook and let your children help you choose what goes into it. Another idea: a friend of mine takes a photo of each project or craft her children make. Then she stores the photos on the computer and backs them up on a USB drive. Takes up way less space!
Image by Ashley Rowe via Unsplash
I hope that you’ve found some value in these ideas. Remember, minimizing is a process, and processes take time. Every step you take towards removing the excess will feel like a weight lifted, I guarantee it. Enjoy the process!
Do you have any tips for minimizing clutter with children? Share your ideas in the comments below!