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6 Tips for Minimalism With a Large Family

admin June 13, 2014

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.

The keepsakes.

The…

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.

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).

Fewer Keepsakes

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.

More Experiences

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!

minimalism with a large family

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!

 

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9 Comments

  1. We have three kids (ages 6, almost 4, and 21 months); we live in a 1150 square foot house, with no basement and no garage; we have two sheds. The only thing I wish we had is more than one bathroom! Yep, minimalism is do-able with kids. They have learned that they need to prioritize and that we only have a limited amount of space. Each kid has 8-10 outfits plus 2-4 “church” clothes. We save one bin of each size for each gender of clothes. We have one bin of Christmas decorations and our Christmas tree is a potted house plant.

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  2. I just stumbled across this today & LOVE, LOVE, LOVE these suggestions! We have 7 kids and I’m just getting into the minimalist mind-set. Our kids are foster/adopted so we have been drowning in well-meaning donations and stuff for 3 years now. We’re finding stuff doesn’t make up for these kids’ pasts…it just makes the present chaotic. We are soon moving to a home 1/2 the size of our current one (but with a shop for storage thankfully! ) are trying to pare down. I especially like that you gave me permission to not decorate for holidays. That’s not a skill I possess and it always seemed wasteful, but I felt guilty…like my family and I were somehow missing out. I’ll stop worrying now! Thanks!

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    • I wish more people read that sentence.. that stuff doesn’t make up for the past, it just makes the present chaotic. Thank you for writing that.

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  3. Well I believe you have more stuff than we do, we only have 3 kids, but by the measure of it I think you store more. I have been gifted so much stuff and clothing is part of it. I could have easily clothed my kids for a couple more years as well as taken a few kids in off the streets. And realizing my family is doing better than the homeless is enough for me to adopt the mantra someone else could be using this. Someone else probably needs this… So, we don’t store extra clothing. Even having a 4 year old girl with a 15 month old girl behind her, I quit storing my 4 year old’s clothes. It gives my younger daughter the freedom to wear something she hasn’t already been staring at and I don’t carry any sweet memories of my 4 yo onto the toddler. The icing on the cake is that because I let it all go, someone out there who really needs it more than we do gets to have it. My kids next clothes might come from Walmart or the local thrift, or even still another friend, but that’s alright with us. We keep only the clothes we can use for this year. And we live in Alaska! I feel less anxiety about laundry clutter.

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  4. Hi! I just found this post via Pinterest 🙂 We only have two children (5 & 1.5) but I love reading all of these suggestions. We follow many of these practices including limiting toys, clothes and keepsakes. I find stopping stuff “at the door” ends up being really important – asking the grandparents for experiences or clothes rather than toys as gifts, asking for no gifts on birthday invitations, talking to your kids about why they can’t have everything they see in the shops and monitoring your own shopping habits. Oh and we also follow the one in, one out rule for most things to prevent clutter from accumulating. I have written about quite a few of these topics on my minimalist family focused blog, http://www.simplefamilyhome.com 🙂

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  5. I’m pretty hardcore minimalist. And I have 4 children under 5 as of right now. It’s the only way we stay sane. Clutter makes any person feel disheveled in the mind, that’s a scientific fact. The more you own, the more scattered your thoughts are because you literally keep a mental file cabinet on the junk/stuff you own.

    Kids clothes??? Get RID OF IT. I kept one keep sake per child, all white onsies and the rest I sold. I do not hold on to it. Clothes get gifted and can be bought so cheaply at garage sales is not worth me saving any of it. It is completely freeing

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  6. I was born a minimalist. I don’t know how else to explain it but I don’t ever remember a time in my life that I wasn’t organizing or getting rid of even the smallest amount of clutter. Then I went on to have ten children. 🙂 And yes, I’m still a minimalist. They aren’t, but I am. They love when it’s their turn to get Mama’s biannual unclutter of their bedroom. So it definitely can be done with a large family.

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  7. We are a foster family for the last 15 years. We have 3 bio children 15,12,10 and an adopted child 8. Right now we also have a 3 and 5 year old. ( months ago we moved into a bigger home – 2,200 sq ft, 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms). I home school the 4 oldest children.

    We did live in a 1,400 sq. ft home with 2-6 children and 2 adults for the 15 years before that. I have not fully adjusted to our new home and it feels more cluttered then our little home.

    I love the min. lifestyle but everyone else wanted more room:-( I have Konmari’s my house 2 years ago and am starting the process again this weekend.

    I am trying to figure out what minimalism looks like for us. We don’t keep clothes that don’t fit anyone in our home. We are a very busy family. 5 of the 6 kids are in scouts, then church groups and homeschool groups.

    I am not sure what to cut and what to keep:-0 but plodding along! We are also trying to do the Dave Ramsey Babysteps:-0

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  8. Keepsakes can be a hang up for me at times. Recently though, I received a box full of things my mother had kept for me. I got rid of/gave away 90% of it because it had no meaning to me, only her. I plan to go through my kids things soon and keep just the one baby outfit and the special blankets my relative had made for each child. Basically, I have to ask myself, “Will they even remember this five years from now?”

    Reply

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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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