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Large Family Minimalism: Is It a Realistic Goal?

How to keep a minimalist kitchen with a large family.

Large Family Minimalism and Large Families

Is minimalism possible in large families?

What exactly is minimalism?

Here’s the thing, minimalism is a fairly new word in our western vocabulary. You could scour the internet and library and find dozens of different definitions. I’m not really interested in other people’s ideas. I consider myself a minimalist (yes, I know I have 14 kids).

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What Minimalism Means to Me

My personal definition of minimalism is simple.

1. I keep only what I need or love.

2. I try to avoid excess in everything.

I don’t want 30 towels when a dozen will do (remember, we have a large family). Years ago I decided there was no reason to keep a change of sheets for every child’s bed. We have 3 or 4 extras, but generally, we wash sheets and put them right back on the bed. Chuck and I have a spare set for our bed.

Minimalism is absolutely possible for large families.

When the kids were little we bought each a towel from Land’s End and had their name embroidered on them. These are what the kids used each and every bath time. A few years ago, I bought each child a beach towel at Costco. These are the only towels that leave the house. The kids use them for playing outside here (sprinkler, pool, etc), taking to the lake, taking to the pool. I don’t know exactly how many regular towels we own, but I would guess it is 12-16 (we currently have nine people in our house).

Every item you own requires maintenance. Knick-knacks need to be dusted, clothing and dishes washed, books stacked and shelved. I don’t want to spend my days maintaining stuff.

1973 was a great year I'm sure. Today $19.73 may have saved the world.

I intentionally leave open spaces in my home.

I don’t want my cupboards and drawers stuffed to the brim.

You all know how it goes. The universe abhors a vacuum. Create a space and it will be filled. Unless, you are very, very intentional. We live in a 2,900 square foot house. It isn’t small by any means. Ten years ago we had 15 people living in this house. Back then, without the principles of minimalism, our house would have looked like an episode of (organized) hoarders.

I have empty drawers in my kitchen and bathroom. I try to always leave space.

JIMU robot kids is the perfect holiday gift to bring families together.

How Many Toys are Too Many Toys? Large Family Minimalism.

I remember when we had 7, 8, 9, and 10 kids. I would notice that my friends with two kids almost always had more toys than we did. Chuck and I have always been intentional about our kids’ toys and books. We had a few principles for toys. They needed to open-ended, they needed to be low tech (no batteries).

I don’t want to get too into it here (I will follow up with another post specifically talking about kids and minimalism) but here is a post about how to declutter toys with kids.

How to use your library and avoid library fines.

How Many Books Should I Keep? Large Family Minimalism

Books are great. We love books.

At one point we had a bedroom in our house that we called the library. We kept the vast majority of our books in that room. We had hundreds and the kids loved that room. My children were all young (think ten kids under ten, five of those being babies or toddlers). Trips to the library were hard. In that period of time, having an extensive home library was important to us. Now we utilize the library on a regular basis. Most libraries allow you to browse and reserve books completely online! If you are worried about library fines, check out this post.

Great books for kids with sensory issues.

Obviously, I am not going to give you a number of how many books you should keep. But I will share with you how we decide which books to keep and which to pass on (remember, passing on books means they will bring joy to someone else!)

  1. We keep books that are hard to find (these are often out-of-print or less common Christian books)
  2. We keep books that are our absolute favorites. Because minimalism isn’t about owning nothing. It is about the lack of excess.
DIY Dwight Schute costume.

How to Manage Clothing with Large Family Minimalism

Managing to clothes in a large family can be especially complicated. Hand-me-downs can be like gold in a large family. How much do you keep? And for how long? How do you store them?

I wrote a few years about how to manage kids’ clothes. It shows my system for storing clothing that doesn’t fit. My system has worked so well, I could find any given item within five minutes.

Tiny baby shoes. How to be minimalist with a large family.

Here is my general philosophy: fewer clothes are better. No, it doesn’t make more laundry. With a family our size (seven kids still living at home) I will be doing laundry almost every day no matter what. When my kids were small I kept a small number of clothes for them. Now, my teen girls tend to be clothes hoarders, but I choose to ignore that rather than fighting it.

Enjoying some unexpected snow here in the Pacific Apollo's favorite Primary pajamas!

I would recommend buying clothes that coordinate. I kind of capsule wardrobe, if you will. For younger kids (12 and under) I love Primary Clothing. I buy from them on a regular basis (I reviewed their clothing here). Everything coordinates and it makes laundry and dressing kids so much easier.

Here are some basic tips for keeping clothing to a minimum:

Keep the clothing you like.

Keep the clothing you enjoy wearing.

Keep clothing you feel good in.

Keep clothing that is in good repair.

There is no reason to fill your closet with clothing you rarely or never wear.

I will address this more specifically in another post.

How to manage personal belongings and still have a minimalist phone.

How to Handle Personal Items with Large Family Minimalism

Here is the thing about minimalism and personal items. You can’t control others. I mean, young kids? Maybe. But your spouse or older teens? As much as I would like to (just kidding-kind of) I have no right to dictate what items my husband does and does not keep.

I keep my own personal items to a minimum. My husband? I ignore his stuff…but the more I clear out the house the more he sees the advantages to owning less.

How to keep a minimalist kitchen with a large family.

Large Family Minimalism and the Kitchen

Thankfully, the kitchen is my domain. While I really don’t like to cook it is a necessary part of daily life. Since I don’t enjoy cooking or spending time in the kitchen this gives me the chance to have my love of efficiency shine through!

Plates and Bowls

Someone on Facebook asked how many plates and bowls our large family has, so I went and checked. We have approximately 20 plates. They are all Correlle Ware so they stack easily and if any break they are easy to replace. Ours came from Goodwill.

We found bowls were breaking frequently, so I sent our odd assortment of bowls (that didn’t stack well) to Goodwill and replaced them with two sets of these, for a total of 12 bowls.

Drinking Cups

We own 12 stainless steel cups. Ten 16 ounce size and two 10 ounce cups. If we have friends over for meals (which we love to do) we grab mason jars to use as extra glasses. This keeps things simple, I can always tell if a cup is missing, and so far, no one has been shocked or refused a meal because they had to drink out of a mason jar.

Kitchen Appliances

We don’t own a dishwasher. You can read about why in this post here. The appliances that I do keep, I love and use on a regular basis. They are a large Crockpot, and Instant Pot (read my post here about why), my Kitchen Aid Mixer, and my Ice Cream Maker (which I reviewed here).

Large Family Minimalism and Kids

I will continue the topic in a post that specifically addresses minimalism and kids. If you have a question, feel free to leave them in the comments.

More Posts about Minimalism You Might Enjoy

The Thing About Clutter

Less is More When Managing a Large Family

You can read Part 2: Minimalism With Kids here



  1. Karen

    The dishwasher in our rental home broke a while back, and after thinking about, we decided to not bother the landlord to get it fixed. Instead we use the dishwasher to store pots and pans and lids, and it’s freed up so much cupboard space! Also, we found the dishwasher never really cleaned the dishes well, and on top of that it never dried out completely between uses, and the dampness attracted this horrible big black ants (ugh). Once we stopped using it, and cleaned it out well and it dried out, the ants stopped coming by. I found I prefer to wash dishes, dry them and put them away immediately, instead of rinsing, loading the dishwasher, waiting for it to run (or not run sometimes), then dry the dishes (we didn’t use the heated dry to save energy), check them for stuff the dishwasher didn’t get, rewash, dry and put them back.

    (Caveat: when we do move, we will first replace the dishwasher for the landlord, since it broke on our watch, and it came with the lease agreement, but we will not worry about it until then. šŸ™‚

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