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Minimalism with Kids


Hey friends! Did you miss me in the three weeks it’s been since I last posted? Did you think I’d given up on blogging altogether? It certainly feels like I did. However, in keeping with my commitment to live this life instead of exist in it, I’ve been out and about experiencing. And holy moly, there has been an awful lot of experiencing going on. I promise to share gobs and gobs of it with you in the next few weeks, if only I can keep myself seated long enough to do so.

So do you remember where we left off? If you’re viewing this in email, you’ll have to go over to the browser version to see this, but if you’re on my homepage, you can just wiggle down a few pages to see my last two posts on minimalism. The general gist of those was this: we’ve made a commitment to do less with stuff and more with each other, and we’re sticking to it by taking a serious look at everything we bring into our house. And now I’m finally ready to share some of how we make that happen with our little people- all four of them, with some inspiration from some awesome minimalist blogs, whose work you see featured here 🙂


You guys, babies have a lot of stuff. They just do. I swear it multiplies every time I turn off the lights (and yes, the same joke has been made about me, so there’s that). There are swings, bouncy seats, car seats A and B, blankets and covers for car seats A and B, cribs, travel cribs, bassinets, and…I could go on forever. And we have had four babies. The stuff-factor is strong with us. And did I mention we have lots of grandparents? And lots of grandparents who looooove their grandkids? And sometimes (read: lots of times) show their love with lots of stuff? So there’s also that. How do you teach your kids that life isn’t about stuff when your entire life seems to be a constant cycle of procuring and purging stuff?

Well, after four kids and five moves, I feel fairly confident that we have pretty consistently improved in this area. There’s room to grow, for sure, but I can assure you that our current house (at 2300 sq. feet) is not bursting at the seems with kid stuff, and that we are actually moving closer and closer to our goal of living in an even smaller place with even less stuff. Here’s how we’re making it happen:

  1. Set inventory levels. Yes, we are former retail managers. This is the gold standard in retail. Know how much space you have, and fill it accordingly. In our house, the girls share a room and the boys share a room. Which means they also share one dresser and one closet. Which means we cannot have seventy different outfit options for each kid. Instead we stick with pretty simple standards, and I like to think they still leave room for self-expression. Once we have the limits set, we stick to it. For us, it consists of:
    1. 10 long-sleeve shirts
    2. 10 short-sleeve shirts
    3. 5 pairs of pants (like jeans or khakis)
    4. 5 pairs of comfy pants (leggings for girls, sweats for boys)
    5. 5 pairs of shorts
    6. 1 heavy coat and 1 zip-up sweatshirt
    7. 1 dressy sweater or vest for church
    8. 1 pair each of boots, tennis shoes, and slip-on shoes like Toms
    9. A few dresses (seriously 4 max) for the girls and button-downs for the boys
    10. 3 t-shirt/loungy pant combos for pajamas
  2. Get the kids involved. I let the kids choose what they keep and what they don’t. If we get new shirts from grandparents in the mail, they choose which other shirts go away. We recently did a spring-reset, where we learned that the girls are 100% over “baby-ish” clothes that feature Disney princesses, Hello Kitty, or My Little Pony (thank you, God). So all of those went to our local shelter. I also realized that my two-year old son is happiest wearing three specific shirts: a dinosaur one, a fire truck one, and one with a large cement mixer (I mean, who wouldn’t like those choices?). So I didn’t even bother with keeping 10 options for him. Those are his options. And guess what? We don’t fight about shirts! (Okay, we don’t fight that much. He still prefers to wear the fire truck shirt for 6 days straight, but that’s for a different post.) When the kids pick their own options, they’re left with a few choices that they really love vs. a zillion options that wind up on the floor as they yell at mommy that we have nothing to wear.
  3. Be real about stuff. I don’t know about you, but I do this thing where I live in fantasy-land about what my life is actually like. Like, in fantasy-land, I need two jump ropes because my children will be jumping rope at the same time, together, and I don’t want them to fight over who gets the jump rope. And I need a travel highchair and a home highchair, so we won’t be discouraged from getting out and about when there are little ones who need to eat. And everyone needs a large backpack for big things and a small backpack for little things, since we will be differentiating our packing styles based on where we’re going and what we need. Newsflash: the kids fight whether I have two of everything or not, there is nowhere we go that doesn’t have a highchair already present (and if there isn’t one, it’s never problematic enough to necessitate us bringing our own), and my children will choose to pack everything that they own (with the exception of clean underwear) regardless of the length or distance of the trip. Once we owned those truths, and a few others, we were able to seriously let go and send some stuff off to consignment.
  4. Know where the kids can’t be involved. The one thing my kids cannot be involved in is the purging of toys. There is not enough coffee (or wine) in the world to get me through a toy purge where my kids are present. It’s just the worst. Instead, I watch what they play with, I ask them regularly about their favorite toys/books/movies, and do a frequent assessment of what we have. The most recent purge: DVDs. We are getting rid of the kids’ TV in our basement, and with that our DVDs are going to new homes. Since we’ve limited their screen time to one hour a day, the kids are much more judicious about what they watch, and we’ve been able to convert to entirely digital, with the exception of a few favorites (and those can all be stored on one bookshelf without issue). Having said that, even with no TV and a bunch of shows they would label “baby shows,” the girls would still lose their minds to see these things leave the house, so that’s happening in their absence.
  5. Don’t get caught in the seasonal trap. This was heartbreaking for me in the beginning. My childhood was full of happy memories of Easter Bunny shirts, Halloween skirts and tights, and a plethora of Christmas-adorned sweaters, dresses, and turtlenecks. It was hard for me to let go of a lot of these things- Christmas PJ’s, skeleton shirts, and Valentine shirts with light-up hearts on them (yes, that’s a thing). But you guys, in a house where four kids get three dresser drawers and 2 feet of closet-space each, there is just no room for clothes that can be worn for 5 days out of the year. Instead, I opt for colors that work for their holidays, and we make them more festive with a hairbow or headband for the girls, and a vest or hat for the boys (the puffer vest is a dearly beloved accessory for the boys in this house). The same is true for toys and games: we seriously stick to keeping their faves in good working condition, and then count on Netflix having holiday specials like “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown,” and make holiday-themed food instead.

And the baby stuff? It’s taken us a while, but we’ve finally realized what bare-essentials we need. Those will be different for every family, and they’ve certainly been different for us based on each child. But ultimately, we’ve identified that all the blog posts and store-suggested registries are just not reflective of what our peeps needed, and we’ve happily passed on lots of things to other families. Among the things we’ve ditched/opted out of:

  • The travel highchair
  • A huge double stroller (instead we love our Joovy sit and stand, which weighs the same as my umbrella stroller and can handle an infant up front)
  • Infant car seats (our babies have all been over 9 lbs at birth, so we start out now with the convertible car seat in rear-facing form and never look back)
  • Colorful toy-sorters (we’ve eliminated so many toys that we have one square lined basket in each common room, plus a trunk in the kids’ rooms, for toy storage, and nothing else)
  • A glider/rocking chair (I just nurse the baby in my bed. Or on the couch. Or in the shower. Or wherever I am, because that’s just how it goes.)
  • A nursing pillow (see above)
  • A baby bathtub (again, I just take the baby in the shower with me or get in the tub with them, which also a guarantee that I’ll get a shower, so win-win.)
  • A diaper bag (this was more recent, but now I can put a bottle or a snack and a diaper in my purse without issue)
  • Baby-specific items that we have in adult form: towels, washcloths, hairbrushes, etc. I seriously wash and dry my children with the towels I keep in our master bath and keep it moving.
  • Kids’ dinnerware. It took me until kid #4 to realize that by the time they’re eating off plates, my peeps aren’t doing anything that could break them. I have a few aluminum bowls for the littlest fella, but everyone else drinks from a glass with a silicone straw, and eats off a heavy china plate with regular silverware. Number of dishes broken in over a year of practice: still zero.

The big theme here is to challenge your own perspective of what is necessary. What’s necessary for me may be totally superfluous for you, and vice versa. It’s relative- so search yourself to see what the bare-minimums are for you. And in case you’re wondering, with all the things we do without, what are our kids actually doing? Well, here’s what we do keep on-hand:

  • IMG_0770Coloring books and crayons/colored pencils
  • Sidewalk chalk and gardening tools for outdoor play
  • LOTS of kids’ books, including picture books and early-reader chapter books (our favorites are Amelia Bedelia, the Amber Brown series, anything Roald Dahl, and of course Mo Willems and Eric Carle picture books)
  • Board games and card games (our kids love matching games, Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and Guess Who, and they are pretty solid at Old Maid and Go Fish. We also have some Montessori/Waldorf games geared at identifying like items with like and beginning word identification)
  • Wooden blocks and trains (these get the most use when I’m working on projects and need quiet, since apparently you can’t play with a train or make a building without mimicking train or power-tool sounds)

IMG_0083Those few toys actually go a really long way in keeping our peeps busy, and in addition to that, they can usually join me in my own activities, like folding laundry (sock matching), making dinner (stirring or even chopping for the older kids), sewing (Cora’s new fave), and putting away dishes or groceries. What typically transpires is me telling the kids we’re having a race in which they have to put all the groceries in the right place as fast as they can, and them telling me they’re going to make a puppet show in the basement, thank you very much. Either way, I win. And of course, there’s always the option for them to go outside and just be kids. It’s amazing what a little nature will do for the hormones of a tween and the crabbiness of a toddler.

Did I lose you there? I said a lot in a short amount of time, I know. I’ve been sitting on this material for a while, friends. I’ve missed you. My next post will cover the last phase of minimalism for us: keeping out the free/given-to-us stuff that could derail our minimalist lifestyle. I won’t make any promises of when it will come, or that I’ll be brief, but I hope you’ll join me nonetheless. Talk to you soon!




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