Inside: What is extreme minimalism exactly and is it even possible with kids? Read this interview to find out what extreme minimalism looks like for one family of seven, and how much they LOVE it.
This year, we added a fifth child to our family. As much as I love her, she came with more stuff: more clothes, baby gear (as much as we tried to minimize it), bulky car seats, and diapers galore.
It was all necessary stuff of course, but with the influx of baby stuff came an overwhelming desire to get rid of anything we didn’t absolutely need.
I gave away what I could and dropped off even more bags of things at our local thrift store.
Unfortunately, extreme minimalism isn’t in my family’s future, since my husband is decidedly not a minimalist. I also homeschool my five kids, and while I do practice relaxed and minimalist homeschooling, we do need to own at least some resources at home.
But Kelly George and her husband have not only figured out how to make extreme minimalism work with their family of FIVE kids, but they’ve figured out that they LOVE living an extreme minimalist lifestyle.
If you’re wondering whether living an extreme minimalist lifestyle is even possible, especially with kids, you’ll enjoy this interview with Kelly!
What Is Extreme Minimalism?
Before we dive in, you’re probably wondering what exactly IS extreme minimalism?
If you asked anyone in the minimalist community that question, you would probably receive multiple different definitions. Having read multiple articles on extreme minimalism, I’m going to attempt a definition:
Extreme minimalism is intentionally owning a very limited number of possessions, including furniture. Extreme minimalists almost always live in extremely small spaces, like RVs or tiny houses.
People who choose to live an extreme minimalist lifestyle naturally gravitate towards zero waste living and homesteading. They also often choose to limit or extremely reduce recreational screentime.
Not everyone living an extreme minimalist lifestyle owns less than fifteen possessions and lives in a tiny house and adopts a zero waste lifestyle and never watches t.v.
However, once you choose to live with less physical stuff, you’ll probably find that the other alternative lifestyles start to appeal to you, too.
Why Live an Extreme Minimalist Lifestyle with Kids [An Interview with Kelly George]
Editor’s Note: Kelly is from Australia and uses Australian spelling in her responses.
Tell us a little about you and your family.
I’m Kelly George, I’m married to Daniel, and we have five children – Gabrielle 15, Holli and Asha 14, Rex 12 and Forrest 10.
We realised when our children were toddlers that we could have stuff or do stuff. We chose experiences over possessions. Since then we’ve spent over 3 years travelling Australia and are now 6 months into a 9-month trip across Europe.
We’ve also lived off-grid and self-sufficient-ish in between stints of travelling. The children have always been homeschooled.
How did you discover minimalism? Was it before or after kids? Why is that?
We had our children quite young, so it was after we had kids. We were never big consumers, but we lived the way other people did without thinking about whether it made sense.
The first lot of big changes came in 2006 when my husband got laid off work unexpectedly three weeks before I had our fourth child. All of a sudden we were on a very tight budget and he couldn’t go straight out and get another job, and we decided to treat it as a challenge.
We started using cloth nappies (diapers), ate less meat, and stopped shopping as recreation. We gave away our TV because it made the kids grumpy, and we got the internet disconnected.
We decided we liked having both parents home most of the time, and being minimalist allowed us to do that.
Over the next few years we got chickens, grew veggies, and taught ourselves many old-fashioned skills like sewing and sourdough bread making. We stopped buying everything except the essentials.
We had a lot of fun challenging ourselves and learning and got very good at living and eating well, and even saving money, on an income deemed as below poverty level in Australia.
Our second big minimalism binge was after we finished travelling the first time. We lived out of a small box trailer for nine months, and we thought we’d love having a house and our possessions again, but we hated it. It felt like we were drowning in stuff, even though people said we had very little for a family of seven.
The stuff felt like a burden – it always needed to be tidied or organised or made me feel guilty because it reminded me of a task that needed to be done. We sold or gave away most of what we owned and have been very mindful of what we own since.
We also extended our skills – we got a Jersey cow and milking goats, grew most of our own food, and taught ourselves to make cheese and soap and butcher, among other things.
Right now we own our backpacks, the stuff in our half-empty 152 square foot caravan, and a 6 cubic meter storage space that has room to spare. It’s mostly books and our self-sufficiency gear.
When we stop travelling we can have an instant garden and library, our two essentials.
What about minimalism helps you live more intentionally with your kids?
We don’t need to work as much. My husband loved being at home when he lost his job, so we worked out how to keep him home more. He’s had a huge part in their upbringing and education as a result, and most dads don’t get to do that. I also have a much easier life than I would have with a husband who works long hours!
I also believe that having less stuff reduces distractions from the things that really matter. We don’t have a lot of activities vying for our time, we’ve gotten rid of the negative ones so we only have activities and possessions that are positive for us as a family.
Minimising screen time has been the best tactic we’ve used to build great relationships – we’re not all absorbed our own separate tech world.
Over the years minimalism has added up to thousands of hours more time spent together doing things we enjoy doing. People always told us three teenage daughters would be hell but in reality they’re lovely and we all get along well, so it seems to have worked!
When did you decide to start traveling? Was it due to becoming minimalist or something else or a combination?
We started traveling accidentally! We’d always talked about it. I remember going out for dinner in 2006 and taking excitedly about buying a caravan and heading off, but at that stage we had four children under three, so we decided to wait a few years.
We lived in a few different states while they were young. In 2011 we owned an off-grid acreage that had been for sale for a year with zero interest. We thought we were going to be stuck with the place forever. We went to visit family interstate, and while we were away it sold.
We had no idea where we wanted to live next, and all our possessions were in storage apart from our trailer and camping gear, so we decided we may as well go travelling.
We ended up spending nine months in a tent with five children aged 2- 7. When we started we didn’t even have chairs or lighting! We didn’t have a fridge the entire time, two tents got shredded in high winds, we got flooded into an outback town, but we had a fantastic time.
We haven’t been able to settle down properly since. We end up living places for six months or so when we need a break, but the wanderlust wins out and we take off again. We have a caravan now though – it’s small, but it feels like a palace after a tent. And it doesn’t blow away, which is a huge bonus.
How do you incorporate tech (screens) for your kids into your travel lifestyle?
We’re very low-screen all the time. We haven’t owned a TV for over a decade and our kids don’t use the computer until they’re 12. Even then it’s only for study and research, we don’t mess around mindlessly watching or clicking.
There are so many other things to do that screens have never been a big deal – with a full life, they’re not particularly tempting.
When travelling in Australia tech use is the same as it is in a house. We have two laptops the five of us share for study and work.
We’ll watch a documentary occasionally and we also use them for music. Our two battered old phones are just phones. We join the local libraries all around the country and always have a good stash of books and activities, such as board games and archery equipment.
Overseas has been a little more difficult. Non-English speaking countries mean no books, and we’re all avid readers, so I set up a tablet as an e-reader with Libby and BorrowBox.
We all agree it’s not as good as paper books but at least we can read. We’ve also had to rely on the laptop more for education because we can’t carry a lot of books in backpacks, but it’s still minimal.
There are so many places to visit that we spend most of our time out and about, and when at home we have games, puzzles, drawing, writing, cooking, exercise, travel journalling etc. Because our lifestyle was already low-screen we take the same habits with us everywhere, we haven’t needed to change significantly.
How do your children view your travel lifestyle? Do they feel different than their friends? Does anyone ever say anything to them – how do they respond?
I think that it’s just life to them. They’re kids – whatever they do is normal, they don’t think about it very deeply.
I look forward to when they’re older, and they realise just how different their upbringing was to most people’s. They’re going to have a lot of stories to tell.
I know sometimes they feel like they’re missing out on certain things – but don’t we all?
Choosing any lifestyle and its benefits means missing out on the benefits of other lifestyles, and we talk about that. I think it helps that we always try to accommodate everyone’s interests wherever we are.
My animal-mad 14-year-old twins may not get to milk their cow every morning right now, but they do get to go birdwatching all across Europe and see flamingos up close. Each of us has learned that we need to take advantage of what we do have rather than dwell on what we don’t have right now.
What’s one thing you’d love everyone to know about extreme minimalism?
Minimalism = freedom.
If you want to travel, or want to get control of your finances, or be able to quit a crappy job, minimalism is the answer.
People always ask how we manage to travel so much with a large family, and the answer is always minimalism. We don’t buy stuff, we don’t have debt, so we have money left over to have fun with.
We can save money with patchy employment and unpredictable income. We don’t own a lot of stuff that we need to care for or worry about.
This means that we can do whatever we want. We’re never trapped, we never feel hopeless or at the mercy of circumstances.
We have freedom, and there’s no better feeling.
If you could revisit a place you’ve travelled to, where would it be?
Hmm, that’s always a tough one.
For cities, we loved Berlin but the accommodation is so expensive that we couldn’t spend as long as we wanted there. We plan to live there for at least three months at some stage, soak up the alternative vibe, and eat lots of their delicious bread.
For the outdoors, Montenegro was amazingly beautiful, and the people were lovely. We’d love to go hiking there and in Bosnia-Herzegovina in warm weather.
What’s been the hardest thing about extreme minimalism with kids?
I think there’s a perception that people like us always feel like we’re missing out, that we’re going without because we’ve stepped off the consumer treadmill and out of the rat race. They think we’re living a hairshirt existence, denying ourselves things that we really, really want, looking longingly at people with big houses, fancy clothes and clutter.
It’s not like that at all!
We don’t feel like we’re missing out on anything. We don’t want to keep up with the Joneses, they’re living a lifestyle we don’t want to be part of and we don’t envy at all.
We’ve realised we don’t need any of the stuff that others deem essential, and we’re much happier without it.
The only difficult thing is explaining to people that we don’t want stuff.
Surprising numbers of people want to give us stuff while travelling, and although we say no politely and thank them, it’s tiring to explain that we really don’t have anywhere to put it.
How has living an extreme minimalist lifestyle changed how you see the world and live with your family?
It’s made me realise that most of the stress and busyness that’s seen as an unavoidable part of modern life is completely avoidable.
When we’re working out of the home, and we’re back in the rat race of people complaining about work and their mortgage, bragging about renovations, talking about what they’re going to buy with their next paycheck, and analysing the latest reality TV show, it can feel like we’re living outside the Matrix.
We have a radically different view of the world, of what’s fulfilling, and the opportunities open to us. I’m not saying either way is better, I just find most people never even consider taking actions we see as routine.
I hope we’ve managed to show our children that they never have to accept the status quo.
They can if they want to, but there’s always another way.
Extreme Minimalism Tips: 6 Ways to Get Started
Kelly also offered several tips if you are interested in trying extreme minimalism yourself.
1) Make it personal and meaningful.
Extreme minimalism just for the fun of it won’t last: you’ll never make it without knowing why you’re doing it.
Plan what you can do with all the extra time and money you’ll have once you declutter and downsize your life.
2) Start small. Take baby steps towards the minimalist lifestyle you want.
If you want to simplify, pick one thing and simplify it. Then move onto another, and another.
Your changes can be as small as giving away 10 items from your wardrobe or as big as selling everything you own and going travelling.
Do whatever you’re ready to do.
3) Make it a challenge or a game.
Getting rid of stuff can be fun! Find someone who can get excited about it with you, preferably your partner and/or children.
See who can fill their donation box faster. Set a goal of X number of items to sell or donate, and decide on an experience that can be the reward – going out to ice cream as a family or visiting a local museum or park.
4) Monitor your feelings as you make progress towards an extreme minimalist lifestyle.
Take note of the good feeling you get, the excitement and the lightness and the reduction in brain-clutter and decision fatigue. Then keep making changes that bring you more of that feeling.
If you feel scared and resistant, work out why.
If you have a history of poverty you may have trouble downsizing stuff for fear you won’t be able to replace it. If so, you may need to eliminate debt and get some savings in the bank first to feel reassured that you won’t go without.
5) Read books specifically on minimalism (not just decluttering).
Decluttering is trendy right now: it’s everywhere you look.
The difference between decluttering and minimalism is that people who declutter are getting rid of stuff with no clear plan for how to avoid accumulating more, whereas minimalists minimize their possessions and intentionally change how they consume things.
For a list of the best books on minimalism and slow/simple living, see this post.
6) Don’t try to do it all at once.
Finally, don’t feel that you need to do everything all at once. It took us years to go from being average modern suburbanites to independent minimalists, and we’re still making changes.
Slow but steady sticks.
And once you make a few changes and see the benefits, it’s easy to gain momentum.