Let’s start with a few presumptions:
1. Kids will always add extra stuff to our homes.
2. All kids are different.
3. Kids make minimalism more important.
4. Raising kids is a season of life.
By very definition, one child added to a family of two parents will always increase the amount of stuff required in the home. Two children will add more. And three will add more than that.
In fact, every individual in a home will add to the number of possessions in it. And every individual will add different things to that home.
Some kids love sports, books, nature, electronics, mechanics, or video games. Some are sentimental, others are not. Some personalities are prone to collecting things, others not so much.
Additionally, not only do different kids want or need different possessions, each individual’s process of decluttering is going to take a different route with different obstacles and opportunities.
One might think with the two realities above that minimalism is impossible with kids at home. But that is certainly not the case. There are countless examples of people pursuing the lifestyle while parenting. I hope my wife and I are considered among them.
Just because minimalism might be more difficult with kids doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. In fact, the opposite is true. Kids make minimalism more important as they learn from us the value we place on the pursuit and accumulation of physical possessions.
Finally, I always find it important to remember that in most cases, raising children is a season of life. Our kids will not be with us forever—for good or bad. While there may be 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 or more individuals living under one roof today, that will not always be the case tomorrow.
It is perfectly understandable that there will be more things in my home during the season of life when there are more people living in it.
How then do we navigate minimalism successfully with kids at home?
It comes down to just two keys.
Not easy keys necessarily, but the problem of kid’s clutter can be solved when both are applied in your home:
1. Declutter your own stuff first.
If you want to get control of your kid’s clutter, you need to get control of yours. And not after you declutter their room, but before.
It is simply unfair for any parent to get motivated about decluttering their home—and then start by making their kids (or spouse) go first.
Besides, it is always easier to see everyone else’s clutter than it is to see your own.
Declutter your own bedroom, your own closet, your own kitchen, your own living room, and your own garage before making your child declutter their stuff.
Just think of the mixed signals we send to our kids when we force them to declutter their stuffed animals… but can’t park in our own garage. It’s important to have a moral ground to stand on when trying to convince other family members that they own too much.
Besides, when you go through the process first, your kids are going to notice. They are going to ask questions why you are making the changes you are making and you will be able to explain why.
You will learn the emotions they are going to feel, and you will discover solutions that work for you that you can share with them.
If you want to declutter your kid’s stuff, declutter your own.
Be the change you want to see in your home.
2. Set physical boundaries that both make sense and empower your children to make their own decisions.
The strategy of setting physical boundaries to help kids declutter works in countless scenarios: toys, stuffed animals, clothes, shoes, collections, arts & crafts, make-up, books, video games, board games, Legos, on and on the list goes.
If your child needs help decluttering, set a physical boundary to help them with the process.
For my son, when he was five and we made the decision to become minimalist, we asked him to declutter his playroom of toys down to one wall worth of toys.
The instructions were simple, “You can keep whichever toys you want, they just need to fit against this wall.” With the boundary in place, Salem was able to pick and choose which toys he really wanted to keep and which he could donate to someone else.
The physical boundary you choose should make sense for your child. Select something reasonable that will push them to make decisions, but not so extreme that we set them up for failure. We chose one wall for my son’s toys… and would you believe he kept even less?
In other scenarios in our home, we chose one plastic bin under their beds for arts and crafts, one shelf in their closet for stuffed animals, one drawer for collections, one bookcase for books, one floor in the closet for shoes.
If you’re hoping to contain physical clutter, a physical boundary can be selected.
This process has the added benefit of teaching kids the importance of boundaries—and this life skill cannot be overstated.
All of life consists inside boundaries. We have limited space, money, time, energy, attention, even days that we are given. Life, essentially, is about choosing what goes inside those boundaries and what does not. In fact, when you think about it, adults who don’t live within boundaries are the ones who end up struggling the most.
So this process of teaching kids the value of boundaries is one we should be actively teaching any way—for both their good and ours. Empowering kids to make decluttering decisions themselves is better in both the short-term and long-term for them and us.
Want to declutter your kids’ stuff?
Start with your own stuff. And then set physical boundaries for them.
Those two steps are not easy and will require constant readjustment.
But hey, that’s parenting, isn’t it?