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If you follow me on Pinterest, you might have noticed that I’ve been a little extra obsessed with simplifying lately. Maybe it’s the impending holidays, how tired I am of tripping on everything, or how burned out I am with the constant upkeep of having stuff. Just where on my list of priorities is having a functional home, when I also have a family and a couple of home based businesses to take care of? Who has time for hobbies? I can’t remember the last time I saw a friend in real flesh in blood, especially not with this perpetually slow self-home remodel I’ve been doing in “my spare time”. Mmhmm.

We are all so busy today, and I’ve been so convicted lately that one of the only things that has changed in families in the last few decades is our need for more – stuff. I live in a 127 year old house that * gasp * doesn’t have any closets. Why? Our grandparents and those who came before them had a handful of clothes each, they didn’t need closets. They certainly didn’t need the massive dresser drawer of half used notebooks, like I just have to have.

But listen – as simple as those gorgeous Instagram photos of minimalist accounts that I follow for inspiration are, and as much as I dream of not having a basement full of boxes I won’t see for years, I know those simple white photos aren’t realistic for me.

(Psst – pin for later!)

If you have a toddler, you know they’re a tornado. Mine thinks pushing everything off any table is hysterically funny. Grandparents and friends are eager to contribute to the chaos at every opportunity. The husband loves to leave clothes wherever he last was, it seems like they just roll from his possession like the character Pigpen from Peanuts. I’m so much of a perfectionist, that if I can’t do it all at once the exact right way, I procrastinate indefinately, crippled by the thought of failure in my mind. I also hold sentimental value in everything, and can’t stand wasting money, even if someone else bought it. Especially if someone else bought it. Plus, I love figuring out how to fix something, so it’s no issue for me to hold onto broken things…I’ll figure out how to fix it…someday.

I want a house to look like a family lives there, but is it too much to ask to have one place to look for one of the six pairs of scissors?

Minimalism is simply not realistic for most families.

Before the torches and pitchforks come out at me, hear me out. I have some answers on what will work in a family setting. I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you are probably at least as fed up with stuff as I am. After a lot of conviction, even more thinking, some research, and trial and error, here’s what I’ve been up to to get my home under control, in a realistic way with a toddler probably on my hip.

Just start.

  • I’m telling my perfectionist diva to pipe down and just start on anything. Sort the week’s mail pile into the care about pile, the shred pile, and the recycle pile. Brainless, but makes a difference in seeing counterspace. Which brings me to the next point.
  • I’m learning to understand that it doesn’t have to get completely done all at once. Sort that mail and put the keep pile in the room where it belongs. Filing and paying bills can be done at a different time, I the next set of spare minutes you find. Simply start. Break down tasks. I find that I can’t devote an hour at a time to something because the toddler tends to demand a snack, and there’s that whole don’t neglect your kids thing, you know. Literally, I’ve been breaking down things into about ten minute sections of time. Slow and steady is just fine, as long as it’s steady.

Zero in on one area at a time.

  • Recently, I decided the cupboard my daughter’s dishes are kept in made me angry every time I opened it, because it was crammed full of stuff, mostly given to us, all mismatched and flying or falling out of the cupboard. I discovered this company that recycles milk jugs to make simple but super colorful toddler place settings. I got rid of everything except a few of her favorite character sippy cups and ordered three place settings in orange, amethyst, and turquoise. I’m going to get her a pink set too, her favorite. They all fit within each other, and I actually was able to move her stuff in with ours, so now I have an empty cupboard. Similarly, I’ve moved five times in the last five years, and we keep moving boxes that haven’t been opened all that time. Some of these boxes were the select few things I felt I needed to fit into my vehicle when I drove through Canada when moving from Alaska to Minnesota. Two of these boxes have nothing but magazines in them. Yep. Two very heavy boxes filled with 5-7 year old magazines that I keep meaning to tear out the recipe / fitness / décor articles out of so I can recycle the rest. Seriously.

Ask questions and dedicate to a customized system.

  • Even though the Marie Kondo method isn’t totally realistic in this season of my life, doesn’t mean some of its principles can’t help me out. I’ve been asking questions like “if I saw this in a store, would I buy this again?”, “can I fully envision a home for this item once I have less stuff?” and “in this area, what do I need to keep?” The last question has been difficult to accept sometimes, but I’ve been asking it instead of “what do I need to get rid of”, and it helps a lot. Scanning an area, I’ve been quickly picking out the things that still bring me joy, gives me feelings of warmth and gratitude, and things that have an absolute place and purpose in that area.
  • Every day, I spend at least a cumulative hour cleaning or decluttering. Now, I have depression, so I absolutely understand the days where we just don’t feel like it. That’s where the brainless clearing comes in. Spend time dumping advertisement emails, shove a load of laundry in, and finally throw away your sock pairs that have holes. It’s ok to save a bigger project for another, more motivated day. It doesn’t have to be an hour, either. Pick a system you can stick with – if it’s too ambitious, you’ll likely fail, and get discouraged quickly.See also:My Family Doesn’t Need Me – Depression Will Not DestroyHow I’m Managing Mom Depression Without Medication

    When You’re Drowning in Mom Life

Tackle the toys and stop the clutter gifts.

  • I still can’t get rid of any, so here’s what I did to save my sanity. I took all of her toys and boxed them up. They’re stored under the staircase, and once a week I pack up all of the toys that are out and swap in the next box. She has much less to deal with at one time, and she is so excited when she sees toys she hasn’t seen in a month. It’s like Christmas every week for her.
  • Mention to friends and family some experiences you would love to do. Now is a great time to start, because people are paying attention in what you “need” for Christmas. For example, mention to a family member how you keep meaning to look into a zoo membership, but it will now have to wait until after the holiday busy-ness. Or just let them know that this year, you would love it if they told the kids grandma and grandpa are taking them to the zoo next week for the day as part of their Christmas gift. Mention to friends the play place you recently heard about, and how nice it would be to take your kids there to burn off energy. Get where I’m going? Would you rather have experiences with your kids, or more plastic battery operated stuff for their next birthday? Pass it along too – we’re all cluttered, so give the gift of experiences to your friends and family, and start a new exciting trend.

Start slow, gain momentum.

  • I’ve been making a master list of trouble areas in each room, so I can work on one at a time, like the toddler avalanche in the cupboard that was part of a much bigger picture.
  • I’ve also been setting an alarm for ten minute intervals. Ten minutes isn’t much, but when I tap go and the timer starts counting down, I’m surprised at how fast I move before the toddler needs something. Set it and run, don’t even think about it, or you’ll talk yourself out of it. I know, because I’m in the thick of it!

Stop things from entering the door.

  • My husband is an impulse shopper. I learned early on that no matter how overwhelmed I am, I simply cannot send the man with a shopping list and expect only the few things on the list to enter the door. There will be some deal on Oreos, or some magazine he thinks he needs, or a cute beach towel with the toddler’s favorite character on it that he just couldn’t pass up, and suddenly four grocery bags come in the door instead of the simple six things I sent him for. In your family, you might be the impulse shopper. Reign that in, wherever it is, don’t sabotage your psychological hard work you have been doing. I know I get so discouraged when more junk comes in.

Get inspired.

  • I helped a friend of mine with a garage sale a year ago, where she sold her cardmaking hobby – yes, the entire room full of supplies. Although the hobby had served her well for many years and she was quite attached to many of her tools, supplies she had purchased for certain cards, and just the immense amount of money spent on it all, she decided what she really wanted in that season of her life was an office to write in, perhaps one day creating Bible devotionals. She ended up making a lot in cash from her sale, and you know what she did? She found gorgeous artwork to fill her nearly bare walls with. She was so excited to find these pieces, and they continue to make her happy when she grabs her morning coffee. They spark conversation when she entertains, and they don’t take up space. Plus, she has an office retreat she still uses nearly every day.

I am working toward not being controlled by stuff anymore. I will always be sentimental, I will have kids in this home for years and a husband that leaves laundry everywhere probably longer than the kids will be here. Having perfection and minimal stuff isn’t realistic for me in this season of life, and I know it isn’t for many families. And that’s ok. We aren’t less-than or messed up failures because we can’t get our acts together.

The key is to just start and progress. No matter how slowly, no matter how little. Stop the revolving door of impulse purchasing and simply progress. As far as I can tell, the toddler isn’t going to quit her table clearing habit anytime soon – however, I can quit sitting in my head and clear another small area of the home today.

Your turn: Do you find it easy to analyze what needs to move on, and what has a place in your home? Are you like me, desiring perfection but learning to be ok with middle ground? Or, do you not even know where to start and get discouraged every time you try? I think this is something everyone is a part of in some way, and I would really love to hear where you are in this journey in the comments!

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16 thoughts on “Why Minimalism Doesn’t Work For Families, and 7+ Things You Can Do About It

  1. This is a good article with well taken points. I totally agree, it is right near impossible to honestly declutter when you are raising kids. They go from one phase to the next and every phase has its own set of needs. Just about the time you are totally ready to pull your hair out at the sheer amount of stuff, they will be on their way out the door and you will finally be able to start cutting back. In the meantime, you have some good points for maintaining a semblance of control while the kids are cycling through those phases with their never ending and ever changing needs for more and different stuff.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Regina! Honestly, it was really bothering me, wanting the gorgeous home with the neat finds strategically placed…it’s just not realistic in this season. Some day, I can do that, while I miss having children in the home. What a trade off. 😉 This was part of my search for it all to be ok.

  2. There are a few areas in my home that need decluttering now! One room at a time keeps it from being overwhelming!
    Thank you

  3. This article has great points. I have been trying to declutter for about 14 yrs now lol. I will definitely out these suggestions to use.

    1. Robyn, I get you! My two year old makes it an utter nightmare. I can be cleaning the kitchen, while she is flinging everything out of her toybox, and then the dog decides to defluff her cushion in the meantime. Progress, no matter how slow! My hope is that ultimately, less stuff means less to have to deal with that’s spread around, 😉

  4. Well, I think I am good for now since it’s just me and my husband at home. I clean once a week. We are the un-organized organized couple lol. The clutter doesn’t really bother us much as long as we know where to find the thing we need, unlike when we have someone cleans our house, the house is really clean and organized but we need to call her when we want to use something and we can’t find it.

    1. You know, that’s a really great point. I used to have a house cleaning business actually, and that is totally true! Honestly, I love a lived in home, clean homes make me nervous to mess it up somehow. My goal is just to have a little less without a place to be – less to clean around, less for the kid or dog to tear through. It’s a work in progress, and will be for a long time. 😉

  5. love love love this!! i am obsessed with simplifying too this year! it feels so good to have that spaciousness in our life and in our home!

    1. I agree Ananda! It’s a total work in progress, but slowly and surely getting there. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. You got me with kids, throwing things away like it funny. I love your post, I surely learnt a lot and will incorporate a lot of this to my daily routine.

  7. Love this! With 5 kids it is definitely a challenge to my minimalist style.

    1. I have more than enough trouble with just one toddler, I can imagine you have about 5x the difficulty Samantha! 😉

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