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Minimalism With Kids in a Large Family

Minimalism with kids in a large family.

Is minimalism with kids even possible? Diapers, toys, high chairs, baby tubs, LEGO bricks, clothes, shoes, books, backpacks. All the stuff that comes along with kids can be overwhelming.

{This is Part 2 in a series of Large Family Minimalism.  You can read part one here.}

Minimalism with kids in a large family.

What My Firstborn Taught Me About Minimalism

My firstborn was a high-needs baby and toddler. She demanded every moment of my time. She wanted to be entertained, bounced, sung to, played with. I learned so much from her. I remember watching her as a baby and toddler. Each morning and naptime, after she woke up and ate, she would crawl over to her toy shelf and pull every single toy off the shelf. Then she would dump every single container.

Left among a large pile of mixed toys she was done playing.

My first baby taught me so much about minimalism.

After observing this day after day I started rotating her toys. I left only 2 or 3 out for her to play with. Guess what? She played longer and more contentedly with only a couple of toys.

This was a lesson that I would learn over and over as our family grew. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but the few toys a child has, the longer they will play with them.

I’m Fed Up and Getting Rid of ALL the Toys

Our first five babies: Iris, Judah, Tilly, Enoch and Kalina.

I’m Fed Up and Getting Rid of ALL the Toys

One day, when we have five children five and under, I was utterly fed up with the mess. Every time I asked the kids to clean up it led to whining, crying (me and them), and frustration. I. was. done.

That day I put the kids down for naps and packed up every single toy we owned. Kalina was only about six months old at the time, so I left a small basket with a couple of teethers down for her. When Chuck came home from work that night the house was clean.  I told him I was scared.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because. I packed away every single toy. I’m worried about how it’s going to go tomorrow”.

The next morning the kids woke up to no toys. They played Titanic in the living room. Then they got out the books and made patterns on the floor with them. They build towers with books. They read the books. They played outside in the sun. They came back in and played horses (Iris’s favorite game).

They were happy. The loved the space. They loved not cleaning up (except the books of course). I was once again shown, in stark reality, that less is better with kids. They had zero problem entertaining themselves with just books and open floor space.

Iris was obsessed with pretending to be the Statue of Liberty

One of Iris’s favorite games at age 3 was pretending to be the Statue of Liberty. By the way, this home was a one bedroom suite we lived in three kids. It was also clutter-free.

How do we get our kids on board with minimalism?

In my post, Large Family Minimalism: Is it a Realistic Goal? I wrote:

My personal definition of minimalism is simple.

1. I keep only what I need or love.

2. I try to avoid excess in everything.

These simple rules can be used with children as well. Believe it or not, this is an easy concept for them to understand.

Set an Example for Your Children

This should go without saying, but if your room, closet, kitchen, car, etc is packed with clutter your children will become acclimated to clutter and excess. Whatever environment children live in is their normal.

If you have already begun a minimalism journey, you likely have experienced the many benefits of minimalism. Less clutter, an easier to clean and maintain the house, not losing things, etc. Talk to your children about this.

Our playroom in 2003. This was all of our toys for seven kids.

Minimalist playroom for seven kids.

These photos from 2003 show all of our toys for seven kids. Notice the open space left to give the kids room to play.

Show Them the Benefits of Minimalism

One way to start is to have them pick their three favorite toys (or sets of toys ie: cars, Barbies, dolls) and pack everything else away (temporarily). It won’t take long at all for them to see how quick and easy it is for them to clean up.

No matter where your kids store their toys I guarantee the will love the open space to play in. This in itself is likely to get them on board.

Let them know their other toys are not going anywhere (yet) but you just want to make their room/space easier to maintain.

Okroo lego storage bag review.

Help Them Minimize Their Belongings

Obviously, this is a task that needs to be done alongside your children. You can’t exactly tell your kids, “Hey, I want you all to Konmari your rooms this weekend”. 

Sit with them. Talk about what they like or don’t like about their room (or playroom). Clear out a day for you to accomplish this.

Apollo opening gifts at his Hobbit Party.

But My Kids Play with All of Their Toys

I am going to be blunt here. I don’t care if the kids play with all of their toys. I could have 100 shirts and wear them all, but that doesn’t mean I benefit from 100 shirts. It doesn’t mean I need them or they add to my life in any way.

Have your kids choose their favorite toys. Minimalism is about surrounding your self with a few things you love rather than piles of excess that you like.

Your child is into Matchbox cars? Cool, let them pick their favorites.

Daughter loves Barbie? Awesome…can you contain all of her Barbie supplies to one basket or bin?

My son, Apollo, has had a rock collection for two years. Some are cool geodes and rocks that were polished by my dad when he was a kid. Others are pieces of concrete he picked up from parking lots. Some are run-of-the-mill pebbles picked up from our driveway. Every one is special to him.

So, guess what? We have a bowl of rocks that are sometimes on display in our living room and sometimes packed away in his shelf of toys. He loves the rocks, so the rocks stay. But when he decides he no longer loves the rocks? You can bet they will find a new home.

Minimalist Wardrobe for Kids

Primary clothing makes capsule wardrobes for kids a breeze.

Minimalist Wardrobe for Kids

The simplest way to create and maintain a minimalist wardrobe for your kids is to make sure all the clothing coordinates. This finally occurred to me when Apollo was about three, and from then on I made sure that any clothing I bought coordinated with all of his other clothing.

The picture above is the actual order of summer I clothes I bought for Apollo last year. This along with the jeans, shirts, and hoodies he already owned, meant every single top went with every single bottom. No more clothing battles! If you’re not a fan of the neutrals pictures, don’t worry, he chose these colors, not me.

My favorite place to buy kids clothes is Primary. I have been buying from them for about two years and wrote a thorough review of them here.

Let Go of the Guilt and Don’t Guilt Your Kids

Large Family Tips: How to Have an Awesome Summer

Let Go of the Guilt and Don’t Guilt Your Kids

Please don’t make your children feel guilty for outgrowing a toy, losing interest, or wanting to pass it along. A toy given to a five-year-old isn’t meant to be kept for ten years. If your child brings you toys and says they no longer want it, have a conversation.

“Okay, let’s take a look. It’s still in good shape, but a little bit dirty. Let me wash it up and then we can pass it on to someone else who will enjoy it”.


“Wow, this has a few missing pieces and is in pretty bad shape. We should probably just throw it out”.

Usually, this step is hardest for parents who still struggle with guilt over getting rid of things themselves. Remember, saying good-bye to an item doesn’t mean you don’t still love and treasure the gift-giver. The memories, the love, you will always have.

Please Don’t Talk About the “Less Fortunate”

Jubilee and Apollo moody black and white portrait.

Please Don’t Talk About the “Less Fortunate”

This is my personal opinion, and like everything else of this blog, you are free to take it or leave it. It really rubs me the wrong way when people have their children sort through their toys before Christmas or their birthday to make room for new stuff and give their old toys to the “less fortunate” which usually means Salvation Army, Goodwill, or something similar. I don’t take this approach because:

  1. I don’t want my children picking up the message that they are giving their old, used toys away to a “less fortunate” or “poor” child while they are making room for brand new toys for themselves.
  2. I am a huge believer in buying second hand when possible. We shop at second-hand stores regularly. It is often better on our environment and better on our wallets. Therefore, I don’t want to give them the idea that second-hand stores are for the “less fortunate”.

Touring Bellingham: Boulevard Park and Mallard Ice Cream

Plan for a Minimalist Future

The easiest way to practice minimalism is to keep the flow of stuff into your home to a minimum. How do you do this?

Keep your purchases minimum. Choose your toys carefully. We have always made sure we purchase our children open-ended toys that inspire the imagination. The more simple, the better.

Encourage friends and family to give your children experiences instead of stuff. A trip out for ice cream, a zoo membership, swimming, hiking, a bike ride, baking a cake with grandma. All these things will bring a child joy and build memories…without cluttering up your home!

I hope all of this encourages you. Minimalism is not only possible with kids, but I guarantee you and your kids will both feel more peace and calm than with a house filled to the brim with toys.

More Posts to Inspire Minimalism

This post shows all of Apollo’s toys as a two-year-old and how we stored them.

Tips to Declutter Toys

This post shows every toy in our house in 2008 when we had thirteen kids living at home.

Classic Toys That Stand the Test of Time

This post shows our favorite toys that offer open-ended play and stand the test of time, both in durability and the kids’ interest.

Minimalist Baby Essentials

The Thing About Clutter

A Simple Life: Why I Care About Minimalism

Other Resources

Allie Casazza 

Smallish Blog


1 Comment

  1. bemis

    I always love your minimalism posts, and completely agree with your observations: kids with less play longer and better with whatever they have. As I look around, I see very few toys, but a decent amount of homeschool manipulatives (pattern blocks, unifix, etc.), games, and piles of books.

    I still struggle with the book thing. We are using the library and interlibrary loan much more than we have in the past, but in the area where we live, we still can’t get between a third and half of the books we request through either. Not to mention the trend in many libraries (including ours) to get rid of virtually every single Newberry and/or other classic children’s literature. This means we are buying many, many books. I find virtually all through either thrift stores or used online, but it’s still a LOT of books. Any more suggestions on books? I do have a kindle now where I read many of my own books, but I don’t like to use it reading aloud to the kids, especially as they’re young…and picture books are just not worth having on kindle, in my opinion.

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