mom holding little girl on lap, kissing the top of her head

Inside: Minimalism with kids looks so different than the picture painted by some minimalist bloggers. If you’re feeling disillusioned, you need to remember these five things.

What drew me to minimalism is what draws most moms these days:

  • the promise of a cleaner house
  • the time to do all the things I wanted to do
  • less exhaustion at the end of the day

Minimalism did give me more time and less exhaustion.

But that perfectly clean house? Well, I’m still waiting on that one.

I love Allie Casazza and Joshua Becker and most of the other strong voices in minimalism today. I agree with their message one hundred and ten percent: less stuff will change your life.

However, moms with little kids sometimes hear that message and add on to it, without even realizing it. They also forget that while single minimalists are able to make their own choices about what to get rid of and what to keep, we moms are dealing with multiple, possibly conflicting, voices and opinions.

After hearing gushing testimonials, moms jump into minimalism with unrealistic expectations about what minimalism can (and can’t) do for them.

How do I know? Because I did, too.

Related: How Minimalism Can Hurt Your Budget

parent and child cleaning up toys, kids opening gifts, with text overlay, "5 things you need to remember about minimalism when you have young kids"

For the Mom Disillusioned By Minimalism: You Need To Read This


When I first heard about minimalism from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up , I had three little kids five and under, with one on the way (if I could go back, I’d start with this book, instead, by the way).

And I was tired.

Minimalism sounded like the answer, so I went through every single thing in my house and asked the now famous decluttering question: “Does it spark joy?” (and a lot of it didn’t).

I decluttered, decluttered, and decluttered some more. I didn’t think we had that much to get rid of, but I still managed to fill at least eight huge garbage bags for donation.

We gave away even more to friends and family.

I assumed minimalism would solve all my cleaning problems. The “magic of tidying up” would be truly “life-changing”.

And it was….at first.

After a couple of months, I started doubting minimalism. Was it really as life-changing as I initially thought?

I had more time to spend with my kids, true. I wasn’t spending every minute of the day cleaning up and organizing.

But I still spent a decent chunk of every day cleaning. And I was still tired at the end of every day– not exhausted, but tired. And minimalism was starting to affect my relationship with my kids, and other people in my life.

Where was this perfectly clean house I thought I would get out of this whole minimalism thing?

Where was the promised freedom from constant exhaustion?

Why was decluttering and keeping stuff out my house so dang hard?

Here’s what I realized eventually:

I still had little kids. And little kids wipe you OUT!

Decluttering certainly helps, but it doesn’t change the fact that raising a family is still hard work. It also doesn’t change the fact that those little people have their own opinions and voices, ones I am committed to honoring, not overriding.

I eventually bounced back from my own disillusionment with minimalism. I adjusted my expectations, and I still tell people that minimalism changed my life (hence, this blog).

I’d hate for you to give up minimalism like I was tempted to do a couple of years ago. So if you’re a mom disappointed by minimalism, let me share a few important truths that I think will help you.

Related: Extreme Minimalism: How a Family of 7 Learned To Love It

5 Things to Remember About Minimalism with Kids

1. You’re not a single guy or married with no kids. You’re a MOM with kids.

Unfortunately, the stereotypical minimalist is a SINGLE, middle to upper class white guy, and the demographic trying to adopt minimalism these days is so much broader than that.

There is a pretty crucial difference between single dude and you. He can get rid of anything he wants (no one to clear it with but himself), and he can get by with a lot less than you can.

You, on the other hand, can declutter until your face is blue, but unless you want your kids to be left with sticks outside as their only toys and to own only one set of clothes, you are always going to have SIGNIFICANTLY more stuff than your “no kids” counterparts.

Also, kids equal messes, plain and simple. I don’t care how many toys you give away.

Ok, maaaybe if you only have one child can your house be perfectly tidy after you declutter. Maybe it will stay clean if your child is older than 7 and is born a clean-freak.

And that’s a big maybe.

This is coming from a homeschooling mom of four kids eight and under. My kids are home with me all day every day, and for me to think that minimalism was going to fix all my messy house problems was quite frankly ridiculous.

Kids play.

They make messes.

They’re still learning how to clean up those messes.

And then there’s husbands, who bless them, don’t always clean up after themselves. If that’s your husband, the reality is he makes messes, too. And he’s still learning to clean them up.

So that’s some more mess, right there.

Especially if your kids are small and you are planning on growing your family, your house will be messy for at least a few more years.

Minimalism will make your home less messy…but unless your wonder woman or you have fewer kids or older kids, it will probably still be at least a little messy.

2. You’re not decluttering solo.

Those little kids I mentioned are people, too. They have opinions and voices. They have physical stuff they love, as much as you might hate the sight of it. And if you want them to choose minimalism later on, you have to find a way to make that work.

I made the classic decluttering mistake that I see many moms make: I decluttered in secret. I threw away my kids’ stuff without even asking. I didn’t involve them in any of the decisions.

Let me tell you, that backfired in a BIG WAY.

Decluttering isn’t worth jeopardizing your relationship with your kids or your husband for that matter, if minimalism isn’t his thing (yet).

You can accomplish the same goals by decluttering alongside your kids, I promise. It just might take a little longer than you’d like, and you might keep more stuff than you originally envisioned.

3. You still need systems, and minimalism won’t create them for you.

Decluttering will get rid of the excess stuff, and with it some of the tidying and reorganizing that comes with clutter.  And if you truly embrace minimalism, less stuff will enter your house from that time forward.

However, there are several things minimalism won’t do.

It won’t plan your meals.

It won’t organize the stuff that remains.

It won’t deep clean your house.

You need systems for that. You need routines to make it easier. Minimalism plus routines and systems can make a much bigger difference than minimalism alone.

Posts to Help You Create Systems:

4. You might have only decluttered, not fully embraced a minimalist lifestyle…there’s a difference.

Once you finish your initial hard-core decluttering efforts, you have a choice to make: are you just going to declutter? Or are you going to become a minimalist?

People who declutter but don’t embrace a minimalist lifestyle tend to keep running into the same problem: they keep accumulating more and more stuff and need to declutter all over again.

Why? Because they don’t change the way they consume post-decluttering.

To me, the difference between just decluttering and actually becoming a minimalist is how you change your consumer habits after decluttering.

When you choose minimalism, you’re simply saying that you want to intentionally live with less.

That decision will affect what you buy and how much you buy. You commit to be much more careful about your purchases, evaluating every potential purchase to decide whether that thing you want is truly useful and worth the maintenance (i.e. time) it requires.

If you don’t change your buying habits, frustration and disillusionment with minimalism will be inevitable.

Calling yourself a minimalist doesn’t mean you need to paint your walls white and give away all your furniture (which I think holds many people back from adopting the label “minimalist”). Every minimalist home will look different depending on what people living there need and value, and the kind of lifestyle they want to live.

You really don’t need to call yourself a minimalist if you’re not comfortable with that term. Just don’t undo your hard-won effects of decluttering by not changing your buying habits afterwards.

Related: 10 Unique Minimalist Living Tips from a 5-Year Minimalist

5. Minimalism isn’t your savior.

I don’t talk about my faith all that often on my blog. I’m not ashamed of my Christian faith, it’s just that explaining how to make washing dishes fun or unschooling language arts doesn’t often require using the name “Jesus” in every paragraph, and I love my blog to be accessible to people from all walks of life.

When my faith isn’t relevant to a post, I don’t mention it.

But my faith is relevant to this post.

Why? Because I’ve noticed that the way minimalists talk about minimalism can lead people to believe that minimalism is THE answer, THE way, and that it will save them, somehow.

Many of the minimalist authors I’ve read (there are some I don’t read often), with the exception of Marie Kondo, are Christians. I know that none of them intentionally try to elevate minimalism to the same level as Jesus. We, as readers, make that mistake.

I’ve had to stop myself several times to remind myself that minimalism isn’t the answer to everything. Like I mentioned in my second point, minimalism alone won’t solve all of your mom problems. I also have friends who are intentionally NOT minimalists, and I’ve actually benefitted from their choice to own more.

Now, can minimalism change your life? Absolutely.

But anytime minimalism tries to replace the Savior, that empty place in you that Jesus was meant to fill, it will eventually fail you.

mom playing rock paper scissors with two kids - little boy and girl, with text overlay, "5 things you need to remember about minimalism when you have kids"

Moms: Don’t Give Up on Minimalism

Mom who’s disillusioned with minimalism: I’ve been there.

I thought about giving up on minimalism several times, especially after realizing the challenges of decluttering on a low income and minimalism’s potential to negatively affect my relationships, if I let it.

Instead, I took the time to really think about how to do minimalism with kids well. I stopped placing unrealistic expectations on what minimalism could or should do for me.

I decided to stop obsessing over anything and everything that came in and out of our house because with kids and a non-minimalist husband, I can only have so much control. I chose to prioritize my relationships more highly than my need to control how much stuff we had or didn’t have.

Don’t give up on minimalism! Instead, stop and think about how you can make minimalism work for you.

You. Not Marie Kondo, Allie Casazza, Rachel Jones, Joshua Becker, or any other minimalist blogger.


What do you want minimalism to be for you, with your own unique set of circumstances?

Minimalism is a tool to improve your life, not a law to rule your life.

Don’t give up on a good thing. Take what works; leave the rest.

I’m glad I didn’t give up on minimalism. I’m glad I took the time to figure out how to make it work our family and our circumstances.

I hope the same will be true for you.

Read Next: 8 Tips to Decluttering on a Low Income (from a mom who’s been there)

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    1. Author

      Thanks so much, Rachel! ❤️

  1. This was such a great article! My husband and I both have been considering how to make minimalism work, and most books, videos, blogs, etc. just make me feel like I could never really be minimalist because I refuse to get rid of my 3yo’s favorite toys or my duplicate mixing bowels or our collection of bilingual books.
    Your perspective has been a real Godsend. As a young mom, just starting to homeschool with a baby and one on the way, I just need more stuff right now. And with one lower income, we can’t afford to get rid of some stuff.
    My problem is that I often keep stuff I DON’T need or want because other people gave it to me. Once I can learn to get past that, maybe I will be a true minimalist.

    1. Author

      Hi Rachael! You are so right – as a homeschooling family, we will probably always need more stuff than other families. And that’s o.k.!

      Getting rid of stuff people give you is SO tough, especially if the people giving them give as their love language. I’ll have to think through how I have gotten rid of those types of gifts in order to write a post that can help. In the meantime, take baby steps. Minimalism isn’t a race, and it’s o.k. if it takes you longer than others. Minimalism with kids is more complicated, as you just read. 🙂

      Best to you during this season! I’m currently pregnant with our fifth baby, and I am wiped OUT. It’s such an exhausting season. But I’m sure as you work at decluttering, slowly, but surely, you will see the difference in your home, with more time and less stress.

  2. This is so wise. I tell my kids all the time (4 are adults and already moved out and 4 are still at home), “When you move out, I will miss you but I will not miss your stuff.” 😀

    1. Author

      No joke. SO MUCH STUFF – even being a minimalist! I just can’t get rid of anything else and have us actually function. 🙂

  3. Amazing post!! Love the encouragement and also the reality! I feel like many minimalist posts are all rosy and perfect but you did point out a reality.
    I feel like my house is rarely tidy, but usually clean. However, I’ve embraced it, as minimalism has made it a few minute job to tidy up. I don’t want to be that mom who always harps on her kids about keeping the house clean. I want my kids to be kids and sometimes make a big mess!
    Thanks to you ? I’ve figured out how to keep kid clutter to a manageable level.

    Also about Jesus & minimalism, I feel like minimalist is a different word for Christian. So much of what minimalism teaches, Jesus teaches! It’s made me feel much closer to God because I have time to love and reflect.
    Thanks for more inspiration!! Love your blog!!

  4. This is such a thoughtful post. I read the Magic of Tidying Up when my youngest was 4 and it was very helpful. Not life changing, Jesus is life changing! I did think it would have been better if I had read it when my kids were all little. But you are right, I probably still would have struggled with that season anyway even if I had less stuff in my cupboards.

  5. In our house, it sometimes feels like having children is the antithesis of minimalism and the two cannot coexist together. Thanks for laying it out so clearly here. You’re so right that it’s not a one person job! My son once noticed that I had put a used and long-forgotten coloring book in the recycling bin and was SO upset. But now he is much more willing to do this when he helps me pick out the items to donate/recycle/resell. Participation is key : )

    1. Author

      I love that phrase “the antithesis of minimalism”. So true! It always seems like we are needing more stuff. Add homeschooling to that and it’s especially true.

  6. I say, I’m a homeschooling minimalist with kids, so I still have a lot of stuff!

    That being said, I feel like I developed a good vision of what that could look like while reading the book, Simplicity Parenting. Because like you mentioned, being a minimalist requires a change in attitude, not just less stuff. This book helps with both and gave me permission and guidance about how to specifically declutter kids toys and books.

    I think if I had started with Kondo I would have gone bonkers and given up!!!!

    1. Author

      Hey Jen! Love having your comments – they are so helpful and insightful. I loved Simplicity Parenting! Such a good read, and for much more than decluttering kid’s stuff. The most helpful part to me was filtering out adult topics and concerns. Yes, Kondo is definitely not the best place to start when you have kids (I did go slightly bonkers)! There are much gentler and more realistic approaches.

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