minimalist mom

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Inside: Curious about minimalist living, but not sure where to start? These 10 unique minimalist living tips are hard-won wisdom from a mom of 5 after five years of living a minimalist lifestyle.

Five years ago, I came across a blog post on Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, specifically how to apply it to families with young kids. I didn’t know how desperate I was at the time, or how much I needed minimalism.

But my desperation became more than apparent to me as I  read devoured first the blog post, and then the aptly named “life-changing” book. There’s a lot of debate about whether Marie Kondo is even really a minimalist, but what I do know is that her book changed my life and led me to minimalism, for which I am forever grateful.

I decluttered my home like my life depended on it. And it really did.

How I Discovered Minimalist Living

When I first read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, we had three kids, four and under. We lived in a relatively small apartment in Boston at the time.

I didn’t realize it, but I was drowning.

Drowning in stuff.

My friends knew that I was drowning (not the stuff part, just the drowning part), apparently, because when I talked about wanting more kids, they looked at me like I had gone completely crazy. I guess I looked permanently exhausted, like death warmed over (go figure).

But it was more than just the three little kids.

I spent a LOT of time, way too much time, cleaning up. When cleaning up didn’t seem to help, I organized and reorganized, but it was hopeless.

No matter how much I cleaned up, our house was never really tidy. And because we were quite broke at the time, it never occurred to me to get rid of anything.

Marie Kondo changed all that.

Minimalist Living: Five Years Later

While I am so very thankful that Marie Kondo kicked off my minimalist journey, I gradually moved on from her philosophies as her decluttering questions weren’t the best fit for me personally (get my favorite decluttering questions HERE). 

After that initial declutter, I deep-dived into minimalist living. It was a little bit like entering the Matrix (take the red pill anyone?).

I read all the books and all the blogs. I read, ate, slept, and breathed minimalism. 

Because of minimalist living, I finally had time: time to homeschool, time to start a blog, time to have a big family. 

Five years later, I finally feel like our home is where I want it to be as far as clutter goes, and minimalist living has changed how I think about just about everything: our calendar, our homeschool, even my business.

What I didn’t realize in the beginning was that minimalism is about so much more than getting rid of physical clutter and keeping it from creeping back into every crevice of your home (though for us parents that’s half the battle).

Decluttering is just one part of living a minimalist lifestyle.

Minimalist living is about living intentionally in every area of your life, about living a values-based life. It took a LOT of reading and five years of trial and error to arrive at that conclusion.

So here’s my hard won wisdom after five years of minimalist living, my best minimalist living tips for all you aspiring minimalists. I hope they help you as you start (or continue) your minimalist journey.

minimalist home

10 Minimalist Living Tips for Beginners

1. Never stop decluttering.

Unless you never leave your home and never receive mail and never make a bad purchase and never plan on having children (kids are clutter magnets), clutter is going to reaccumulate in your home. It’s pretty much as certain as death and taxes.

Even if you stop mindless and emotional shopping, clutter is everywhere!

People give you unwanted freebies, the mailbox is a paper clutter nightmare, and every organization on the planet seems bent on giving us stuff we don’t want or need.

If you believe that decluttering is over after the first go around, you’ll quickly become disillusioned with minimalist living.

But if instead, you view decluttering as a life-long habit and set up systems in your home to support that habit, you’ll set yourself up for minimalist living success.

A few simple systems for ongoing decluttering are:

  • Establish an “outbox” – a bag or bin where you and family members can put unwanted items that need to leave your home.
  • Do a deeper decluttering every 3-4 months.
  • Put a “maybe” box in storage – somewhere you can put the question mark items, things you think you can live without but want to wait six months before decluttering.

I’m not joking when I say that it’s taken me five years – round after round of deep decluttering and ruthless maintenance – to get to where I am today: [almost] perfectly content with the amount of stuff in our home. The “almost” comes from the fact that I have five kids and a non-minimalist (though relatively frugal) husband, so there will likely always be more stuff than I prefer. But I love them, so…

Side Note: My all-time favorite decluttering book is this one. I’m a firm believer that you don’t need an expensive course to declutter.

2. Be generous.

Five years ago, I saw all the bags of donations and thought I’d try to get some of my money back for all that clutter. I quickly realized, however, that trying to make money selling clutter doesn’t go so well when you mostly have only valuable to you, more than gently used clutter.

(If you happen to have the unused, but brand-new appliances, books, and gadgets, you might have more luck!).

Only recently have I discovered the joy of giving things away to people who actually need them and will appreciate them. There’s nothing like handing two bags of barely used baby clothes to a friend and seeing her eyes light up.

Because I’m the same way. When free things come my way right when I need them, I’m beyond thrilled.

The more I’ve tried to be intentional with decluttering, doing my best to make sure those unwanted items get to someone who does want and need them, the more easily I’ve been able to let go of things I think I might need…one day in the very far future.

Generosity gives you the courage to look the fear of, “What if I need this one day,” in the face, and say instead, “But this person needs it more…and they need it right now.”

This is coming from someone who’s struggled with giving all her life.

The more you give, the easier it becomes, and the more you trust that the things you need will come your way when you need them.

Related: 8 Tips for Decluttering on a Low Income (from a mom who’s been there)

3. Read about minimalist living regularly.

Every minimalist is different. They all live very different minimalist lifestyles.

I’ve read pretty much every book on minimalism and minimalist living that’s been released, and I pick up something new with each book I read.

Even when I don’t get something new, I am inspired all over again to live a minimalist lifestyle. And you are definitely going to need inspiration.

Our consumer culture’s siren call is bound to lure you back in at least a few times. When that happens, you need to remember why you’re trying to live a counter cultural lifestyle.

You can find several of the best books on minimalism and slow living HERE.

Minimalist Living Blogs to Read for Inspiration:

I don’t know about you, but as a mom of five, I don’t always have time to sit down and read, but I do have time to listen to podcasts while I fold laundry or do dishes. Here are some of my favorite minimalist living podcasts.

Minimalist Living Podcasts to Inspire You:

Did I miss any? Tell me your favorites in the comments and I’ll add it!

4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

After you finally finish that first big declutter and you’ve gone on a no spend challenge of whatever length, you can be kind of scared to ever buy anything again.

What if I make a bad purchase? What if, even after all your careful thought and research, you end up buying something that just doesn’t work in your home or your wardrobe?

What I’ve recently realized is that in minimalist living, there has to be freedom to make mistakes.

For instance, I recently went through another phase of awkward pregnancy and postpartum body. As a result, I needed to give away a lot of maternity clothes and other items that just didn’t fit properly anymore, or were completely worn out after years of use.

I knew I needed to buy new clothes because with baby messes (hello, spit up and breast milk central), I was going through my wardrobe faster than I could wash them. I love having a minimal, capsule wardrobe, but in five days, I was out of clean clothes.

The alternative to not buying new clothes was walking around naked – not an option.

But still I hesitated. After some soul searching, I realized I was scared to death of buying the wrong thing, something that didn’t fit properly or that I didn’t love. Something I would eventually need to declutter.

Fear was holding me back from buying something I actually needed. Not good.

I needed to accept that part of building a new wardrobe would be shopping with care and intention, yes, but part of it is also trying different things. If a certain piece of clothing didn’t work, it didn’t work.

I could always gift it to a friend, return it, or donate it to the thrift store.

When you’re first starting out, you may need to lean hard to the side of not buying anything new. You’re recalibrating your buying habits.

But eventually, you will need to find a healthy balance and overcome your fear of making a bad purchase. It’s how we learn what we love and what we don’t, what works for our needs, and what doesn’t.

“There are no mistakes, only lessons.” -Ruth Soukup

5. Figure out your values.

I read this book a few months ago, and I was simultaneously overjoyed and appalled. Why couldn’t this book have been around at the beginning of my minimalist journey?!

In the book, author Erica Layne explained minimalist living better in the first few chapters than I have ever heard anyone explain it before.

What was so different about this book and this author?

She unpacked the importance of values and how you can use them to make decisions about pretty much anything in your life, from what physical stuff you keep in your house, to what job you should have, to what should be on your calendar.

It’s not an understatement to stay her book was life-changing (you can find it HERE).

Since determining my top three values (simplicity, freedom, and meaningful work, if you’re curious), I’ve changed things in my business and in our homeschool to better align with those values.

I’m starting to consider our finances and if how we spend our money aligns with those values. They also help me determine what’s clutter and what’s not clutter.

You can find a list of values to choose from in her book.

6. Buy quality (quality doesn’t need to be expensive).

Many prominent minimalists talk about buying quality things, and often, the way that message comes across is that quality is always expensive.

But that’s not necessarily true.

For instance, I’ve owned this pair of dressy-ish Crocs flats (as dressy as I’m going to get in this season of life, anyway) for more than two years now and they are still going strong.

They were under $15. They can be washed off easily. They are comfortable and perfect for life with kids.

The same is true for furniture. We have a few thrifted items, along with mainly IKEA chairs and couches because they are pretty durable and the covers can be replaced if necessary. With little kids, that last feature is pretty essential.

So much depends on the wear and tear the item will take, along with judging whether or not the more expensive item will wear out just as quickly as the less expensive item.  

Take the couch, for example.

I could spend 2-3 times on a couch but it wouldn’t necessarily last any longer (my boys are ROUGH on these things – there is jumping off couch arms every day all day). I figure I might as well save a thousand dollars and buy a “quality to me” IKEA Ektorp. We’ve also found it easy to find second-hand Ektorp couches and replaced covers, too.

Bottom line? Do your research. Read reviews. Buy used quality items, if possible.

Then, just make a decision (and remember to not be afraid to make mistakes).

7. Stop comparing.

I meant what I said about reading minimalist books and listening to minimalist podcasts for inspiration, but with all that reading and listening, the line between inspiration and comparison can be very thin.

One day, I’ll read a blog post about having a minimalist kitchen and be inspired to declutter even more.

The next, I’ll see one family’s spacious and sparsely furnished living room – with far newer décor and furniture than mine, I might add – and despair of ever achieving that level of clutter-free living.

I forget that we are squeezing five kids into under 1200 square feet (by choice and for good reason).

I forget that we homeschool, so we will naturally have more school supplies and games than the family that doesn’t homeschool.

Your home and your life shouldn’t look like anyone else’s.

No one else is you, living your unique life with your unique circumstances. What is clutter to you might not be clutter to someone else.

Minimalist living is an awesome thing, but it can, if we’re not careful, turn into a competition of who can own the least.

Ironic, since its original purpose is to steer us away from the competition to own the most.

8. Learn contentment.

I became a minimalist because of Marie Kondo, but her now well-known question, “Does it spark joy?” didn’t serve me well.

Because I became a minimalist during a season of living paycheck to paycheck, what was left over after decluttering, I didn’t love. We had mostly hand-me-down, crappy furniture and odds and ends accessories and décor.

I saw the minimalist homes of people who had expensive furniture and everything that goes with it, things I wanted, and I was honestly discontented with our life.

I blamed minimalism.

Really, it was my own heart issues. I needed to practice contentment with what we had and the season of life we were in. Keeping a gratitude journal can also help you develop contentment.

Related: The Downside to Minimalism (that no one likes to talk about)

9. Find like-minded community.

One of the most challenging things about minimalist living is finding people who “get” you.

Personally, I don’t have many in person friends or family who are living a minimalist lifestyle or even interested in minimalism at all. I’ve also realized the hard way that minimalist living is a sticky subject to talk about in real life because if someone isn’t ready to declutter, talking about decluttering can make the other person feel judged – and that’s NOT what we’re going for here.

It’s also been a challenging path to walk with kids, as they tend to be the recipients of most of things that can quickly become clutter. Learning how to navigate Christmas and birthdays is particularly difficult at first.

That’s why you need community.

You need people who love talking about minimalism as much as you do! People to cheer you on as you declutter (instead of scratching their heads at your giddiness about getting rid of stuff).

Thank goodness for the internet and blogging, because it’s where I’ve found and built so many friendships with like-minded minimalists.

Ironically, Instagram – possibly the most anti-minimalist social media platform – is the place I often go to connect with other minimalists and to be inspired. I love following their journeys and sharing my own.

If you’re looking for an account to follow with not all white, marble, granite, drool-worthy home photos, come follow my Instagram account: This Simple Balance. I keep it pretty real over there for those of us trying to practice realistic minimalism.

10. Let minimalist living transform every area of your life.

If I could leave you with one thing, it would be this one. Minimalist living is about so much more than just your physical stuff.

Minimalist living is about intentional living in every way: your relationships, your calendar, your thoughts. Every area of your life can benefit from minimalism.

To be honest, it’s pretty impossible to pursue a minimalist lifestyle and NOT let it change your whole life. The longer I live a minimalist lifestyle, the more I’m drawn to parallel, intentional living movements, like the debt-free, F.I.R.E., and zero waste movements.

Intentionality with your physical stuff will inspire intentionality in every single area of your life.

Just wait and see. 

If you’re reading this and you’re farther into your minimalist journey, what minimalist living tips would you give a beginner minimalist? Share in the comments!

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3 Comments

  1. This is my life every day. I never stop evaluating what is in our small home. What might have had purpose last year, may not be useful anymore not that lil fella has grown. Also all the lovely extra “things” you get from caring people as gift for you and the kids. Their hearts are there, but the 10th bath gift pack just isn’t going to fit in our limited cupboard space. Or the excess toys that get forgotten.

    Finding community can be hard too, many just don’t understand and think you’re being picky. Which make it hard to have conversations about..well anything sometimes. I have family who love to go thrift shopping and Kmart shopping every week as a thing “to-do”….this makes it really hard to be relatable. Just because something is cheap or on-sale doesn’t mean you need it. So I have been outcasted a bit.
    I wish and have invited my SIL’s and MIL to bring my lil one’s cousins to the park for a play and coffee. But somehow that is always “too hard” because the kids won’t want to leave or “buying a coffee is too expensive” (the too expensive comment gets thrown out a lot too, despite if something is quality). Somehow taking two 2 yr olds to a shopping centre is easier than going to the park.

    Oops…ranted a bit. What I mean to say is being a minimalist is not a one time thing, and it can be a hard to relate topic for some, but it is SO worth it. The lack of stress from not huge amounts of toys to tidy or excess things to clean. I can vacuum my whole house in 10 minutes from one outlet. It’s AWESOME. Small homes and minimalist living gives you so much more time to spend with family or pursue your interests.

    Love reading your blog posts <3

  2. I so needed this! I’ve kind of fallen off the minimalist wagon the past year or so, and it’s great to have some fresh inspiration! Kids are *such* clutter magnets, and one of my daughters is quite sentimental about some really objectively junky stuff 😅 But I feel so much better when the house is less cluttered.

    1. Author

      Oh my goodness yes to all this. Kids are definitely clutter magnets!

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