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8 Tips for Minimalism and Parenting

J. Schatzel works in healthcare administration in rural upstate New York and has a master's degree in history.


8 Tips for Minimalism and Parenting

As a full-time working mom with two young children, minimalism is what helps my world run smoothly (as smoothly as life with a baby and toddler can run, that is!). There is less to clean and organize; instead, I can spend valuable time with my family and enjoy the belongings that we have. I eliminate the items that create clutter and only keep the items we deem to have a meaningful use.

Through a slow de-clutter process, it was manageable for me to remove some of the chaos from our lives, without a major disruption. By limiting what we allow into our home, it is easier to stay organized and appreciate the items we choose to keep. Using a toy/book rotation system for the kids keeps our toddler entertained without needing to accumulate new items. Careful consideration of the potential use of items has helped make it easier to part with items that would have been kept for “what if . . .” and “someday maybe . . .” uses. We treasure time with our children and experiences over accumulation of items or absorption of television.

Here's how we live in a more simplified, family-oriented home:

  1. Start with a slow de-clutter of the home.
  2. Limit what you purchase/allow into the home.
  3. Embrace a “one item in, one item out” policy.
  4. Plan meals.
  5. Practice toy rotation and donation, rather than infinite accumulation.
  6. Eliminate “toy guilt."
  7. Limit books by using the library.
  8. Appreciate experiences over items.

A Slow De-clutter Process

For the slow de-clutter process, I used two methods for the organization. First, I kept a bag or box ready to collect items for donation. Once the bag would fill, I would drop it off for donation at the proper location. Items were accumulated slowly over a long period, through regular daily living.

Dealing With Clothes

When putting laundry away, I’d empty one more dresser drawer, evaluate whether there were clothing items I no longer wear, and remove them. In doing so, I decided to put the items I couldn’t bear to part with at the top of the drawer and make sure I wore them next. If I wore an item and thought, “This doesn’t fit my body right anymore” or “I don’t like this color/pattern/style on me,” rather than putting it back into the “someday” abyss at the bottom of the dresser or back of the closet, I would put it straight in the donation bin.

For my sons’ clothing, the same process applied. If there were baby clothes that had more buttons than a typewriter, or were otherwise a pain to put on and off, they were removed from circulation. I saved the items Grandma made, Great Grandma made, etc for my kids to hand down to their kids. Items that were sentimental (the most frequently worn fleece pajamas, the hooded baby towel, the most worn sweater, etc) were used to make a quilted Christmas stocking. One of my husband’s worn-out flannel shirts was used for the stocking lining. Other items they had outgrown were sold (snow suits, Halloween costumes, and special occasion clothes), offered to friends with younger children, and donated.

Random Items

For items I had always saved out of habit, I learned to see them differently. Do I really need a jar of mismatched buttons? Unless I plan to make myself some button chainmail, NO. I donated them to my son’s school for craft projects. Do I really need 18 mismatched towels for a family of 4? NO. Those we don’ use that always stay at the bottom of the towel shelf were donated to the local animal shelter. Do I really need a jar of twist ties? NO! My son’s preschool was happy to take them for when the kids make Christmas ornaments.

One Item In, One Item Out

I embraced the policy of One Item In, One Item Out. For everything new that entered the house, something we don’t use had to go. We needed a double stroller, but no longer use the two single strollers we had, so one was given to a friend who wanted it, and another was donated.

One of the things that helped me to part with some of the items I had held onto for years, was having a list ready for where items could be donated. Once I sat down and took a few minutes to create a list of area resources that can accept my donated items, it was much easier to part with things I had formerly kept for the someday that never comes. I felt better knowing it would go someplace that could use it. I called to inquire about some items, and created a list of items each location would accept. For example:

  • Animal Shelter: Towels, bedding
  • Food Pantry: Non-perishable items, our local food pantry also accepts empty egg cartons, plastic bags, Tupperware, cookware, and toiletry items
  • Women’s Shelter: Clothing/accessories, cookware, Tupperware
  • Church Thrift Store: Household items, clothing, toys, holiday decorations, furniture
  • School: Craft items

Limit what you purchase/allow into the home

Once the initial de-clutter is completed, it is much easier to manage and limit the items coming into the home.

If you know the contents of your pantry and where to find things, it is much easier to meal plan and avoid needless spending on ingredients you already have. Similarly, if toiletry items are all stored in a specific place (designated bathroom drawer or shelf, etc), it is easier to know when you are running low on something, and need to purchase another.

Do fast food toys, party favors, halloween spider rings, and other cheap toys provide a lasting addition to your child's home? Or will they entertain them for a few minutes, then be lost under a couch, behind a dresser, or broken and tossed? I remove these items from circulation after my kids go to bed. If they remember the next day and ask about it, I let them use it. If they forget and don't mention it, I get rid of it. The same applies to cheap plastic toys received as gifts; keep reading for my rationale regrding freedom from toy guilt.

Do you really need to buy those extra baby clothes while they're on sale? It might feel like a big bargain, but if you don't need them to begin with, you're not saving yourself any money... you're only adding to the clutter. Babies and young children only wear things for a short while before they outgrow them, and with the constant spitup, diaper blowouts, food spills, crawling, learning to draw, etc., those clothes are rarely in pristine condition after they've been worn a few times... so not the best investment if you plan to sell them after your kids have outgrown them. They take up precious space, time organizing/sorting, and emotional energy that could be better spent enjoying the moment, instead of sifting through piles of clothes to find a specific outfit.

When kids bring home artwork from school, does ALL of it need to be saved in piles or bins? No; I prefer to cut out paint handprints or small doodles, to glue-stick into greeting cards when sending thank you notes from the kids. Glitter bombs and popsicle stick architechture are discarded. I keep an envelope for each child for their particularly sentimental artwork to be filed for them to keep, and the rest is recycled, composted, re-gifted to elderly relatives in a card from the kids, or cut up into Valentines, thank you cards, party/holiday decorations, etc.

Rather than being saved in a pile or folder somewhere never to see the light of day, my two year old's water color painting, was cut into Easter eggs, and sent in Easter cards to the grandparents and great grandparents.

Rather than being saved in a pile or folder somewhere never to see the light of day, my two year old's water color painting, was cut into Easter eggs, and sent in Easter cards to the grandparents and great grandparents.

Meal Planning

One thing that helped immensely with kitchen organization is meal planning. Rather than choosing a meal and having to go buy most of the ingredients to prepare it, I check on what ingredients, spices, frozen items I have, and then I only need to pick up the items needed to complete a dish. By prepping multiple meals at the same time and freezing some for later, there are less trips to the store, better savings by buying in bulk, and less food packaging to recycle.

Try a Recipe Binder

Having a binder of 30 favorite recipes (I keep them in page protector sheets so I can have them out in my kitchen without getting anything on them while cooking) to rotate through on a regular basis, is a time saver for weeknight meals. I think of it as our food uniform. It is quick and easy for me to prepare meals that we enjoy and I make often enough to be familiar with cooking. Then on the weekend, I try out new recipes, or recipes that might be more time/labor intensive.

My recipe binder is organized by the recipes I can make that use some of the same ingredients, to save on prep time. For example, if I plan on making Stuffed peppers on a Monday night, I will chop up extra bell peppers, and put them in the fridge, so that on Tuesday night I can use them when I make stirfry. When I make stir fry, I will chop some extra broccoli, and use it to make broccoli and swiss cheese meatloaf on Wednesday.


Toy Rotation

One way I keep my living area organized without having a separate designated play area for babies/toddlers, is to have a toy rotation. There is a toybox in the bedroom, and a toybox in the living room. If there are items that are no longer being played with in the living room, they are put in the bedroom toybox.

After a few days, my two year old might remember a toy and ask specifically for it, or might retrieve it on his own when in the bedroom, and it re-enters circulation. Less toys to pick up at the end of the day, less toys to potentially step on in the middle of the night (I use my living room for night feedings for my youngest, as my sons share a room).

To tackle the toy-takeover that was happening in our house, I divided toys into 3 categories.

  1. Developmentally helpful toys: Puzzles, blocks, shape sorters, play tools, play food, dolls, etc)
  2. Heirloom items: Raggedy Andy made by Gramma, Wooden horse made by Grampy, Embroidered Teddy Bear from Nan, Cow puppet that was Daddy’s when he was little, etc.
  3. Items that can be donated: Duplicates, toys the kids did not enjoy using and collect dust, toys we do not find the same developmental/enjoyment value (cheap plastic toys, party favors, outgrown items)

Developmentally helpful toys are kept in regular toy rotation, and donated when outgrown. Heirloom items are kept in the normal rotation, and saved in the kids keepsake bin (each has 1 storage bin) when retired from circulation. Items that were deemed donatable were removed from circulation and donated to the appropriate place (for example, our local thrift store does not accept stuffed animal donations; however, the local animal shelter does).

Remove Toy Guilt

I removed “toy guilt” from my life, as the experiences and time I spend with my kids is more important than that one extra action figure or stuffed animal. I had been saving every toy that was given to us with our first son, thinking that if he didn’t enjoy playing with it, maybe the next child would. After all, it was a loving gift from <insert name here>… However, if the mountains of toys from well-meaning friends and relatives were all kept, our house would look like the island of misfit toys, and require daily shoveling of toys out of the way.

Once I realized that my son did not miss the items he hadn’t enjoyed playing with in the first place, the more I saw how much he was able to enjoy the toys he truly loved. He was not bored as easily, I think due to less sensory overload. He is content to play with his fewer and more meaningful toys for much longer, than he was with a living room filled with toys.


Limit Books by Using the Library

As a family who chooses to live without a television, we value books a great deal. I read with the kids every night before bed, and often in the morning before school/work if there is time. I keep books in the car, in the diaper bag, in the stroller, in my bag for church (I call it the Shush Bag, it has cheerios, a book, and a beanbag animal that can only sit with them if they’re behaving in church). Our friends and family knows our love books, and have showered our children with their own library of all manner of books.

When my oldest was born, I had saved all of the books we were given, duplicate or not, because I figured we would find use for it somehow. However, our home started to feel like a library after an earthquake, with books tucked EVERYWHERE!

We eliminated duplicates, books we did not enjoy, and books we did not want our children to emulate. We asked our local school and library, who were both happy to take a box of books. We saved a few to exchange at area “little free library” boxes, which have popped up in abundance in our region! Our two year old always enjoys being lifted up to open the door, and put in a book or two!

We use our local library! Kids tire of books so quickly, libraries are a wonderful resource for a seemingly infinite supply of new and exciting childrens’ books. With fewer books around the house, it is easier to keep track of the books we have!


Value Experiences Over Items

Our family places a higher value on experiences than items. We would much rather take our kids to a new museum, on a train, or to a zoo, than spend that money on more toys/clothes that we don’t need.

It is amazing how many free or inexpensive activities you can find, even living in pretty remote areas. We live in rural central New York, and we have taken day trips to the zoo, a lavender farm, museums, libraries, a waterfall, a beach, playgrounds, hiking trails, bike paths, sledding, a dairy farm, an apple orchard, a vineyard, a butterfly conservatory, a pumpkin farm, and the list goes on.

Often, kids are free or at a heavy discount. For some locations, taking a family of 4 is cheaper if you purchase an annual family membership, than it would be paying for four admissions. In doing so, you can then return multiple times.

Get a Membership to Save Money

A museum membership, and a zoo membership, are among the most appreciated/memorable gifts our family has received. My two year old would much rather waddle like a penguin, hop like a lemur, growl like a tiger, color a picture of a giraffe, and tell you about the octopus he saw last week… than play with a stuffed animal. He does have a couple of stuffed animals he plays with often, but we don’t need to curate our own miniature zoo.

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