Minimalism for Families
Practical Minimalist Living Strategies to Simplify Your Home and Life
by Zoë Kim
Excerpts from the book; notes by JFR
What is minimalism?
Fundamentals: Know your Why, Questions to ask, Before you start, Methods for de-cluttering, Getting your family on board, Guidelines/habits, Resistance, Special spaces for kids
Strategies for specific rooms: Living Areas, Kitchen, Bedrooms, Clothing, Linens, Home Office, Bathroom, Holiday Decorations, Sports equipment, Craft supplies, Tools, Garden/Yard equipment; Children’s rooms: Baby bedrooms, Young child bedrooms, Toys, Children’s Clothes, Artwork, Books, School-age bedrooms, School papers, Collections, Teenager’s bedroom
Maintenance/continuation: Suggested routines/habits, Additional Next-step considerations
“There is one guiding principle for deciding what stays and what goes: figure out what brings value and purpose.”(p3)
Minimalism = trading clutter for connection; intentionality(p4)
Thoreau: “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
“Minimalism has helped [our family] identify the activities, even the perfectly good activities, that take us away from better things.”(p10)
“Clutter thrives in an environment of indecision.”(p18)
“…fantasy-self stuff can keep you from achieving your goals.” “…the truth is, the day will most likely never come [when we need our someday-stuff] and we can get by without it.”(p21)
“Know your why”:
- “On a sheet of paper, write down your reasons for getting the clutter out of your home and life.”(p18)
- define the purpose of your home
- define the purpose of each room in your home
Questions to ask:
- Are there opportunities for multi-functionality? Will one item do the work of several?(p19)
- What purpose does this serve? How is it being used? What do I accomplish with it?
- Do I enjoy looking at this, and how often do I notice it?(p62)
- What do I need during this period of my life?(p71)
- What do I want to keep? (as opposed to what to discard)
- Do I want to leave this for my family?
Before you start:
- Set aside a specific time to de-clutter. The most important thing is to get started at that time, not how much gets done in one session.(p23)
- Set realistic expectations when de-cluttering; both in terms of what can be done at one time, and in who will willingly and enthusiastically participate. When starting out, do small areas with only people interested, perhaps just yourself, doing the work.(p20)
- Determine how to dispose of items before starting to de-clutter. Identify donation drop spots, etc. This removes an additional barrier when in the thick of de-cluttering.(p45) This includes: clothing, furniture, household items, electronics, books, toys.
Methods for de-cluttering:
- Four-box or Five-box: Give Away, Put Away (keep), Throw Away, Not Sure, Sell. Using boxes means that your piles are already to go where they need to. Some categories, once separated, will then be relatively easy to deal with: Throw Away, Give Away, and Sell all probably have obvious next steps (trash/recycle, where to donate, where to sell/determine price). The people who ultimately deal with these categories may not necessarily be the people who sorted them, consider strengths of people involved. If possible, remove boxes whose next steps are determined from the house, so as to immediately benefit from the de-cluttering. Consider moving “Sell” items to “Give Away” if the effort required to sell something is not worth the value of the item. Schedule a time at a later date to go through the “Not Sure” box, applying the same 5-box method. Alternate method: take just one of the boxes and sweep the entire house.(p23)
- Packing Party (from The Minimalists): Pack everything into boxes as if you’re moving. Over the next month, unpack only the items you need. At the end of the month, discard anything left in the boxes.
- Sort-by-category (Marie Kondo / KonMari): Put every item of one kind (ex: shoes) into one pile. Hold each item and ask yourself if it sparks joy. If not, discard. Do this in order of decreasing difficulty: clothing first, books, documents, miscellaneous, and sentimental items last. This is most effective when you have a lot of of items of one category (such as shoes).
- Apply the 80/20 rule: Do you use 20% of a category of thing 80% of the time? Can you get by with just that 20%? (Example: beauty products) This can pair with the Packing Party method, by packing up 80% of less-used items.
- LUK method: Like, Use, Know.(p92) In a specific category, if you Like some but not others, keep the Likes. If you Use some but not others, keep the Uses. If you don’t even Know some items, discard them.
Getting your family on board:
- Set an example that can be modeled: Do the work yourself, with your own belongings, first(p28)
- Share your “why”
- If you use the word “minimalism,” be clear about what it means (making space for what you care about) and what it does not mean (discarding for the sake of discarding)
- Give praise for attempts and progress
- Offer rewards of experiences (when we finish de-cluttering X, we can go to Y and do Z)
- Focus on examples of positive benefits (easier to find things, more time, etc)
- Make it [as] fun [as possible] with music, challenges, [costumes,] whatever
- Focus on what is being kept rather than what is being discarded
- Discuss with your children how they want to live their lives (moving forward / when they are older / etc)
- Let people go at their own pace
Setting House Guidelines / Developing Habits:
- Express gratitude daily
- When you start with an “I Want,” see if it can be replaced with an “I Have” (is your experiential desire already met by what you already have?)
- If you realize you’ve made a mistake with a purchase, get it out of your life. Do not spend additional resources (neither financial nor emotional) trying to keep it.
- One-comes-in-one-goes-out: can work with things like clothing, books, toys; or intangibles, like activities.(p41)
- When uncertain, you can “keep” something with an added timeframe, if it is not used within X months/seasons/etc then it is discarded.(p42)
- Maintain designated spaces for “stuff”, for specific people, and/or categories. Put away used items each day, at/by a specified time.(p43) Treat overflow suspiciously, perhaps applying a de-cluttering method.
- Socks, shoes, backpacks
- “Room re-set” each day with specific people assigned to specific rooms
- Pick up clothes / set out clothes for tomorrow
- Finish what you start. Set realistic goals for individual sessions, and focus on completion rather than perfection. You can come back and de-clutter again in the future; leaving a session incomplete may be draining.(p45)
- Guidelines for gifts:
- Talk with your family about the impact of receiving gifts. Is there a burden on the receiver? Will a gift be useful? Where will it be stored? What are your thoughts about experiences vs. objects?
- If your family has an interest in receiving a specific kind of gift (such as experiences), write up a list of examples and share that list with people likely to give gifts (such as relatives). While this sort of thing can be seen as challenging to someone else’s viewpoint, it can also be an opportunity for greater connection.(p47)
- Consider writing / asking your children to write a wish-list of things that they would like to give.(p48)
- Upon receiving unwanted gifts (perhaps at a specifically designated “no-present” party), if that gift will not serve your life the way that you want to live it, you are doing no honor to the giver by keeping it. Donate it to someone who will appreciate it more, with or without telling the original giver.(p50)
If you meet resistance:
- Join communities (Facebook groups, etc) that can help support you when you’re feeling challenged(p53)
- Highlight benefits
- Model desired behavior joyfully
- Don’t force anything or discard someone else’s stuff
- If your household isn’t on board, ask for one room / specific spaces that can remain uncluttered.
- If you have the go-ahead but one or more people are not totally convinced, make sure that they have their own spaces for things that don’t fit the new de-cluttered spaces.
- Once a space is un-cluttered, use it for the purpose you de-cluttered it: if it’s a kitchen, cook! An entertainment space: entertain!
Additional considerations for special spaces for your kids:
- Set up a dedicated children’s space (playroom, craft table, reading corner, etc) rather than having items throughout the house(p74)
- This space is to encourage free and creative play, without the need for constant direction/managing by an adult
- Having “scarce” resources means opportunities for learning about sharing. Don’t force sharing, let it happen.
- Simplicity and limitations encourage creativity.
- What are the goals for the space? Will removing anything from a space help those goals?
- Is a toddler’s space for playing, resting, or learning? Or all of those things?
- Is a school-age child’s space for studying, reading, art, resting, or…?
- Is a teenager’s space for privacy, socializing, homework?
Strategies for specific rooms:
- Furniture: Can you gain some free space without compromising how well the room functions? Does your dining room have more chairs than people in your home? If so, are those chairs ever used? What is a piece of furniture used for? How much space does it occupy? Could a smaller piece do the work?(p63)
- Bookshelves will usually become filled. Why are the things on your bookshelves there? Do they add value to your life?
- Fancy dining room stuff: Do you value “special occasion” linens, crystal, and other things that might be kept in a buffet/hutch?
- Entertainment Center: Can you hang a TV to the wall instead of housing it in a bulky piece of furniture?
- Display cabinets: Is the cost of maintaining display cabinets (keeping them clean and clutter-free, space used up in a room, etc) worth the value they bring to your life?
- Coffee tables: Does your coffee table hold coffee, or magazines? Is it fulfilling its purpose effectively? Can it be removed or replaced with a multi-function piece?
- Corner tables: Are they fulfilling their purposes? Or just attracting clutter?
- Decorations: If decorations aren’t bringing you joy, they may just be increasing cleaning time. Consider removing all decorations from a room, and putting them back one at a time, until the room feels “right.”(p67)
- Do you have more devices than you need? Does it make sense to limit the number of devices per person in the household?
- Designate a charging/resting station for wireless devices
- Consider if an upgrade is necessary / will increase joy. Before replacing a device, can it be upgraded (bigger hard drive, etc) to remain relevant?
- Remember to wipe information off of devices before donating/recycling them.
- While memories are important, also keep in mind that your decisions are about the future; how a thing was used/useful in the past may no longer be how it is used now.(p70)
- Would a digital photo of a keepsake have the same benefit as the original item/document/etc? Would a photo (perhaps with an accompanying writeup) actually improve the likelihood that a thing is remembered/enjoyed? Consider: old photographs, children’s artwork, stuffed animals, costumes, perishable items, furniture, paintings, handmade items…
- Why do you keep books? To read, look at, both? Are they relaxing? Are your books read/unread? Is some aspect of your identity associated with your books?
- Do you have another potential use for the space used by books?
- Do you have favorite books? Are there books that are not favorites that you could happily live without?
- How does owning a book compare to borrowing it from a library?
- Old photos and slides may want to be digitally scanned to preserve them, before they deteriorate. This also makes it easier to share them with family members.
- Gather physical photos in one location, and sort them into categories. Pick your favorites, and discard the rest.
- What is yours used for? What do you want it to be used for?(p78)
- Before de-cluttering, bring your kitchen to a “regular state of clean.” Put everything away.
- Divide this project into realistic tasks depending on the time you have. Complete a task once you have started it.
- De-clutter / find homes for items in one drawer/cupboard/area at a time.
- Store each item in a place that makes it easy for you to use it. If that isn’t obvious, make your best guess for now.
- Practical placement = sustainable habits.
- Clear your counters regularly. They will be available for use and easier to clean.
- Have a designated place for incoming everyday items (backpacks, mail, keys, etc) so they don’t wind up on your counters.
- When possible, store appliances out of sight.
- De-clutter by category instead of location when similar items and duplicates are in various places throughout the kitchen.
- How often do I use this item? Do I have another item that serves the same purpose? Is it still in good shape? Do I even like it? Have I used this in the last week/month/year?
- Small appliances and specialized tools may be unnecessary, especially if used rarely. The most important items are used regularly.
- Keep quality cups, glasses, etc. After identifying the quality / “first to be used” items, is there a surplus of less desirable / less durable items remaining?
- Do multipurpose glasses / dishes make others obsolete? (Stemless wineglasses also used for water, shallow bowls used as small plates, etc)
- Do you have favorite vases that get used and other vases that would never be missed?
- Pantry: group food into categories (breakfast, snacks, canned goods)
- Cookbooks: Which do you use often? Which do you use for multiple recipes? If you only use a cookbook for one or two recipes, could you copy those recipes into a binder and donate the book?
- “Lack of clutter and distractions are essential for adequate sleep.”(p86)
- De-clutter your own bedroom before anyone else’s.
- What purpose does your bedroom have? Rest/intimacy? Is it also an office / craft space / reading space? Try to create visual barriers between where you go to sleep and unfinished work.
- If a bedroom is used as a catch-all for clutter, try using the Packing Party method mentioned earlier: pack everything but the essentials, write dates on the boxes, and after a certain amount of time, discard everything left in the boxes (that hasn’t been taken out to be used).
- Consider leaving out the Five Boxes and fill them for 10 minutes each day, or, if items regularly enter your room, put them into those boxes right away.
- Furniture: More is not always better. Do you need a dresser, or can all of your clothes fit in a closet? Will your dresser fit in the closet?
- Would a wall shelf perform the task of a nightstand, with just enough room for essentials?
- Decorations: consider removing all decorations, and adding them back one at a time, to see which ones are essential and which ones might distract from your favorites or detract from the purpose of the room.
- Put your clothing away before sorting and de-cluttering it.(p89)
- Avoid decision fatigue by reducing the number of options.
- Choose quality over quantity.
- Choose styles that work for you, and as long as they’re working, don’t replace them.
- Identify clothing needs before shopping a sale.
- Remember that it’s okay to “miss out” on a trend / style / sale if you don’t need something at that time. You’re keeping room in your life for other things. “You’re not missing out, you’re trading.”
- If you can’t let go of an item now, come back to it later.
- Other people may benefit from the clothing you don’t love and wear.
- If you have multiple seasons, wait to see what favorites you actually use before purging at the end of the season.
- If clothing needs repairs, make plans to get the repairs done ASAP.
- Consider trying a “capsule wardrobe”: a maximum of 40 clothing pieces. Having simple, multi-use pieces that work well together is essential. It also requires one’s personal style / color pallette to be identified and refined.
- Reverse-Hanger method: place all hangers facing the same direction. After you’ve worn an item and put it back, put the hanger on the rod in the opposite direction so you can see what has been used.
- “Last 14 Experiment”: Remove everything you have worn for the last two weeks from your closet. Box up the remaining items and put the box out of sight. Wait to see if you miss any of those items in the next 30 days.
- Recycle or repurpose damaged sheets and towels, or donate to an animal shelter.(p92)
- How many of each item do you need? Bath towels? Beach towels? Sheet sets?
- Remove everything that doesn’t facilitate productive work for you.(p112)
- What is the purpose of your office? To work from home? For studying? Another purpose? What pieces of furniture help to accomplish this?
- If a desk is bigger than necessary, swapping for a smaller desk may help to reduce clutter buildup. Or, use that space for your Four Boxes.
- Are there electronics that are not needed in this space, or have been unused for a long time?
- Do you have electronics that only serve one purpose that could be replaced by a multipurpose one? [note: multipurpose electronics often break easier.]
- Are there duplicates / redundancies in office supplies?
- You can reduce junk mail by requesting to be removed from mailing lists, and by going to OptOutPrescreen.com, DMAchoice.org, and catalogchoice.org.
- Switch from paper to electronic billing to reduce paper clutter.
- Keep recycling, waste, and shred bins nearby for quick disposal once a document is in your hands.
- Organizing papers: everything must have a home. Receipts, bills, tax returns, etc.
- Organize your digital files as well, where you can find them. Create a home for everything. Set a time for de-cluttering your computer’s desktop / Downloads / etc.
- De-clutter your digital photos and remember to back them up.
- Set aside time each week to go through papers. Regular maintenance keeps clutter low and prevents you from sorting through the same papers more than once.
- Many things can be digitized: photos, DVDs, CDs, magazines, user manuals, notes
- Often a good place to start, small room with few sentimental items(p120)
- Experiment by elimination: packing party (put everything in boxes, put back only what you’ve used in the last week, see what else you’ve taken out of those boxes after two weeks)
- Items needed for special events can be kept in a less-easily-accessible container
- Try to keep regularly used products out of sight instead of leaving them on the counter… “The sight of cleared surfaces can help you relax.”(p121)
- Medicine: check expiration dates; make sure it is accessible to those who need it and not accessible to those who shouldn’t access it (children).
- De-clutter to remove bathroom distractions from children. De-cluttering also makes bathrooms easier to clean for younger family members.
- “You don’t have to use and keep all of the decorations that you’ve been given.”(p125)
- “Focus on the purpose, experiences, and the values you want to create for your family. Now, how many boxes of holiday decorations do you need to do this?”
- “One way we’ve kept our decorations simple for our kids’ birthday celebrations is to have one happy birthday banner that we use every year for all of them. We hang it on the wall and let our child take center stage.”
- “De-owning holiday decorations might be easier in the month or so preceding the holiday because the holiday is on your mind…”
- A swap or resale program for youth sports equipment may be available in your community(p126)
- Define a space for everything
- Keep similar categories together
- Wall-mounted racks work for some equipment
- “Does my child still want to play this sport? Are these shoes really going to fit my child next season?” Let go of items as soon as they don’t fit.
- Stocking up during good deals can be counterproductive; finish one project before buying supplies for the next.(p127)
- Define the space to use for storing supplies and give each item a home.
- “How much material do I need to make three months’ worth of projects?” Canvases, paint, etc.
- Create a group of tools to go into a basic toolbox(p128)
- Define a space for any other (needed) tools that don’t belong in the basic toolbox
- Keep items out of sight as much as possible
- Wall storage can free up floor space(p129)
- Don’t keep broken items after you replace them.
- Don’t keep broken items. Replace them. (or just dispose of them.)
- You get to make all the decisions…(p94)
- Safety and comfort are even more important. Including a comfortable place for changing and soothing.
- Choose furniture (such as a dresser) that will work in an older child’s room / another room.
- Purchase baby gear as needs arise.
- Donate or resell quality baby gear once your baby has grown out of it.
- Borrow baby gear when possible.
- Determine clothing needs, considering how often you do laundry.
- If keeping clothes for another child, define your storage space first, and keep only what is in excellent condition.
- If your next child is born in a different season, newborn clothes may not be appropriate for the weather.
- Keep only favorite books.
- Define a space for keepsakes early on, and add to it sparingly. Consider using photographs as remembrances when possible.
Young Child Bedrooms:
- Encourage the idea that every item has a home/place.(p97)
- Encourage generosity / donating / giving things to others.
- Create a simple, predictable routine. [perhaps with an associated song…]
- Use simple, accessible storage that will only occasionally need tidying. [There is no suggestion given; I would think that a giant chest is not a very accessible storage solution…]
- Have a Family Cleanup Time, perhaps with rewards for older children helping younger siblings once they have finished cleaning their own spaces.
- Consider having toy storage in a room other than a bedroom (separating rest from play)(p98)
- “There is research that shows that young children actually play more when they have fewer toys” because of less distraction.
- Prioritize open-ended toys that can be used for varied ages and purposes (art supplies, balls, fort materials, dolls for pretend play)
- Asking “What can I do with this?” with an open-ended toy is better than “What is this?”
- Identify favorites in each category. Rather than having a specific number, consider if fewer will still do the job.
- Give everything a home, set limits on how big that home can be. (shelf, drawer, bin)
- Point out benefits when discussing toy limits. (such as more time and space to play)
- If giving away a toy is difficult, try packing it away for several weeks to see if it is missed.
- Consider “capsule wardrobes.”(p99)
- Make a list of perhaps 10 outfits, considering the needs of that specific child.
- Choose clothing pieces that are simple and versatile that will go with most anything in the closet.
- It’s easier to choose matching pieces if you shop from a small number of stores.
- Clothing must be comfortable, or it is unlikely to be worn.
- Store clothing in an easily accessible space.
- Consider having a designated display space where artwork rotates in/out, perhaps in the child’s bedroom.(p101)
- If you want to keep a record of the artwork as it rotates out, take a digital photo.
- Designate a space where books can be easily retrieved and returned.(p101)
- Re-reading books is beneficial.
- “The value of books is not found in how many you own.”(p106)
School-Age Child’s Bedroom:
- Help them to define their spaces(p102)
- Set realistic expectations / routines for clear floors, etc
- When a child is considering a purchase, discuss maintenance/care of that item, other options, longevity of the item.
- Consider having your child participate in a yard sale, keeping their earnings.
- Enlist their help in making a “capsule wardrobe” from their favorite outfits.
- Designate an area for school papers.(p104)
- Sort papers from this area into a folder to scan / photo and file, or into a “current tasks” tray to sign/send back/attend an event.
- Add events to your calendar right away.
- For papers your child keeps, designate a space; when it overflows, it’s time to discard some.
- Define a space for a collection, and encourage one-in-one-out when possible.(p106)
- Consider your own collections: cookbooks, DVDs, etc., and set a good example.
- Heavily targeted by marketing.(p107)
- Remind them of the benefits: especially financial freedom, freedom to spend time with friends, freedom to pursue a greater purpose
- Offer to help, or challenge them to do something independently
- Motivation may come from perceived benefit: gaining floor space for activities/hobbies may be motivation for a de-clutter/organization routine.
- Offer to help clear a space (of items, clothing, decorations) and help them re-introduce their favorites.
- Define a space for their wardrobe, and share your methods for organization / clothing choices / etc.
- Consider having them do their own laundry.
- Remind them that books/toys/clothing can be sold for $ online. They may need your help with the details, but should be able to do most of the footwork (researching prices, writing listings, etc).
Maintenance and Continuation:
Suggested routines & habits:
- Review house guidelines (and be open to suggestions for changing them)(p132)
- Pare down in stages (continue de-cluttering as needed)
- Designate a box where family members can place things they no longer need. When the box is full, donate/sell/etc.
- Do a daily “sweep,” putting items back in their homes
- Say “No thank you” if something is introduced that doesn’t fit with your life
- Don’t stock up on items if you will not remember that you have them
- Rent or borrow tools, baby gear, etc. when possible
Additional Next-Step Considerations:
- Get rid of “clutter magnets,” extra storage containers, furniture, etc(p135)
- Set a limit on the number of possessions you can hold, either for a specific category, or go hardcore minimalist and limit your total possessions
- Set a period of time where you choose not to buy any non-essentials (a “shopping ban”). Decide what items are essential beforehand. You can do this by yourself, or as a family.
- Join an online community of minimalists. (Or an in-person community…)
- Resist impulse purchases that are fueled by marketing dollars.
- Stop being “busy.” Tune out distractions and spend your energy on friends and family.
- Set long-term minimalist goals with your family: spending more time with friends, paying off debt with money saved from a shopping ban, taking a family vacation after de-cluttering the house, etc.
- Cultivate gratitude to appreciate what you have more. (perhaps with a gratitude journal)