At heart, I am a minimalist.
But in practice…I have four kids.
Minimalism and large families don’t really go together. For one, there are the clothes. Everyone has to have enough clothes to wear in between washings (which is more than it might otherwise be if I were good at staying on top of laundry). Factor in that we live up north, where we have different seasons and they each need a summer and winter wardrobe.
Then there are the toys. I have kids in three different developmental stages, so even if we only have a few items each, it still adds up to a lot of toys.
Then there’s the food.
The holiday decorations.
The homeschool materials.
Yeah. You get the picture.
So how does a minimalist at heart reconcile this with the chaos of real life?
How a Minimalist with a Large Family Copes
I can’t just let it go. When I walk through my home and it’s cluttered, I feel claustrophobic. I feel angry. I feel frustrated. In order to be a calm, happy, productive Mommy, I need my home to be uncluttered and reasonably organized. Plus, keeping track of six peoples’ things is impossible in clutter. Yet, six peoples’ things kind of is clutter, especially when four of those people are under 7 years old.
Since I need to keep the clutter to a minimum, I have taken steps towards minimalism. It’s working…so far. This is what I do.
Have Fewer Clothes
The thrift store finds have been so cute and when they cost $1, I just have to buy them. Only, then I have kids with 20+ t-shirts. What kid needs that many shirts in one size?!
So, we cut back. Each kid now has about 8 complete outfits (pants, underwear, shirts, socks) plus 4 – 5 pairs of PJs, and one pair of long pants and a sweatshirt in the spring/summer for cool days. Their drawers are less than half as full as before, which cut our laundry from 12 – 14 baskets a week (really) down to 8 – 9 — and that includes towels and sheets. Not too bad.
Do you have plans on moving in the future? Moving requires you to make countless (often tedious) decisions, not to mention the heavy physical and emotional toll it can have on you. When you hire professional movers for your move, they already have a strategy in place to solve for the chaos you may be experiencing.
Rotate the Toys (And Chuck Some)
We still have far more toys than we really need. But we have far less than we used to. I went through all of the toys we own, and they were separated like this:
- Sets of items (Legos, K’Nex, puzzles, etc.)
- Random loose items
- Stuffed animals and dolls
- Outdoor toys
- Art supplies
Once they were all separated out like this, I put the art supplies away in our “school drawers,” which are in our play/school room. Then random loose stuff was gone, for the most part. A few favorite dolls and stuffed animals were kept. The rest of the ‘sets’ of toys were put away and rotated in and out. We typically have 1 – 2 sets at a time. So, Legos and puzzles, or Duplos and K’Nex, for example. This also saves my sanity when it comes to clean up time because the room isn’t so messy that they don’t even know where to start. The other boxes are out in the garage for now and we rotate whenever they ask.
Have Fewer Dishes
We now have about a dozen bowls and plates, plus a couple dozen cups. Still, a lot of silverware because we seem to go through it all every day. We got rid of all the sippy cups, though, and even the 1-year-old drinks from regular open cups, or from stainless steel bottles. Most of the cups are mugs, glass, or stainless steel now so anyone can use them. Having fewer types of cups helps too! We have plenty of dishes to get us through a day or so, but that’s about it.
Less Special Occasion Stuff
I have very little decorating stuff because it’s the sort of thing that requires storage most of the time. (More on storage soon.) We have just a couple of boxes of holiday decorations — some wreaths, ornaments, a Christmas tree, and not much else. The kids often make their own paper decorations, which often get thrown away after the season (or recycled).
I know a lot of moms love every single thing their child makes. And they want to save it all. But if I did that, with as much as my kids make, I’d be drowning inside of a week. So, we give each child a binder each year and they can save their favorite things in there. Some people use a small box each year. Whatever you choose, make sure you do it carefully and keep only the best things. Take digital pictures of all the rest so that you can keep it, without actually having something physically in your house.
Since we try to have less stuff but don’t want to “deprive” our children of the wonder that is life, we focus on experiences. We take them to parks and playgrounds a lot. We go to concerts. We go on short trips. We “do stuff” instead of “buying stuff.” They love it…and so do we!
When Storage is Necessary
The thing is, sometimes storage is simply necessary. We have to keep stuff. We have to have some of those holiday things, our favorite memories, clothes for children as they grow (I have three boys…I keep all boys things! And girl things, too, hoping I have another little girl someday…but that’s 6 years of girl clothes in storage right now). Plus all those toys that we’re not currently using? They have to go somewhere too.
Stuff has to be stored in such a way that we can get to it fairly easily but also so it’s out of the way, so we don’t have towering walls of crap (that’s what it feels like to me when stuff is everywhere).
What are we to do?
I’ve just become aware of Uncle Bob’s Self Storage. I’ve driven by places like it a lot, and I thought that the only choices were large units that were paid yearly, or which cost at least a couple hundred a month. That seemed overwhelming and unnecessary unless you were moving or something.
But actually, they have quite a lot of different options, for people with different needs.
The thing is, when you have to store stuff — stuff that truly has to be kept — there are two choices: store it at home, or store it somewhere else. Sometimes, there is just not enough space to store it at home without feeling like you are tripping all over stuff. A bigger place is not necessarily the solution because that comes with its own challenges (finding one, increased cost, moving hassle, etc.).
To me, it’s really important to have an uncluttered home. I’d pay a little bit to keep the stuff I want, but don’t want right now somewhere that won’t clutter my home.
As it turns out, Uncle Bob’s Self Storage offers spaces as small as 5’x5′ and can cost less than $40 per month. That’s really not so bad. It might be worth $40 to me not to have clutter constantly…or children who know where the toys are and “happen” to find them from time to time…
If you are actually looking for more storage space, though, Uncle Bob‘s does offer larger spaces, up to 10×30 or 20×20 (and a few even larger, that are really for business use). These spaces would hold all the furnishings from a 3 – 4 bedroom house. If you ever decided to take a trip around the world, like Stephanie from Keeper of the Home did last year…maybe one of those spaces would be for you. 🙂
How do you focus on minimalism with a large family (or a small one)?
An employee of Uncle Bob’s Self Storage helped with this post. All opinions and information are ours!