How to Live a Minimalist Lifestyle with Kids (And All Their Stuff)

young girl taking a basket of clothes to her parents

Minimalism is defined in the dictionary as “a style or technique that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.” Each individual and family will have a different view of what exactly a minimalist life entails—some want to live in a tiny house or own fewer than 100 items—but the guiding principle is to keep only the things that bring value and joy to your life and let go of the rest, whether in your living space, on your calendar, or in your personal relationships.

For Zoë Kim, author of ­Minimalism for Families and the voice behind the popular minimalist blog, Raising Simple, “Minimalism is about trading all of my clutter for the things I want more of: sleep, experiences, time with friends and family, and other things.” As a mom of four, she shares eight practical steps to getting started (and maintaining) a minimalist lifestyle with your family. 

1. Identify your “why.”

Before you start decluttering your home, think about what you want to accomplish with each space. Dive deep into your real reasons for keeping a tidy home and living with less stuff. According to Kim, a good way to think about the minimalist lifestyle is think of it as a trade. Perhaps you want to own fewer items to spend less time tidying up in order to spend more quality time with your kids.

2. Alter your mindset.

Living a minimalist lifestyle starts with a change in how we think. As you begin to declutter your home, look for opportunities to talk to your kids about your “why” to help them understand the value of more in owning less. “There’s a consumption mentality in our culture, and I’m trying to break my kids from that way of thinking,” Kim says. “I tell them it’s okay to not keep every gift they’re given.”

There’s a consumption mentality in our culture, and I’m trying to break my kids from that way of thinking.

3. Start small—and with your own things.

“My first thought is to start where you are most motivated,” says Kim, “but for some people, this might be biting off more than they can chew.” Instead, she says, start in a small, practical space with items of little to no sentimental value (e.g., a utensil drawer in your kitchen). It might also be tempting to start decluttering your kids’ rooms (and in particular, their toys!), but beginning with your own items allows you to model the behavior in front of your kids first.

4. Set boundaries with space.

Kim suggests creating boundaries for your kids by defining a space for toys and other items. For example, give your child one shelf for their stuffed animals, and allow him or her to choose which items they want to keep in that space. By focusing on what to keep rather than what to get rid of, you are empowering your children to think more positively about the value of their possessions.

5. Make it fun.

Even at a young age, involve your children in the decluttering process—consider making it a game to get them motivated and excited. Kim suggests doing a family challenge where each person picks five things they want to donate and the first one back gets to pick the family movie or board game for the night. Be patient with your kids and reward them for their efforts.

6. Declutter your schedule.

Create a family calendar and schedule in white space, aka downtime. In the busyness of life, things will come up and change your schedule, which is why it’s so important to be intentional about creating moments where you can simply enjoy being together. As for activities, Kim suggests picking one extracurricular per semester per kid (it could even be the same activity like a sport or art class).

7. Join an online community.

Stay connected within a like-minded online community to share your journey and receive tips, support, and accountability to stay on track. Kim compares minimalism to a muscle: “We want to exercise it, build it, and help it grow. Support from your community is essential.”

8. Create house guidelines.

Take the time to develop house guidelines to help each other achieve your family’s goals. Some examples are:

One comes in, one goes out Pick a number of items you want to have (such as toys or clothing) and make an effort to stick to that number.

The 80/20 rule This is the idea that 20% of your possessions are vital and the other 80% aren’t. The rule can help you take stock of how many like-items you own, so you can get rid of duplicates.

Put away used items each day Everything in your home should have a designated space and each family member can be responsible for their own items.

Use it or give it Set a useful time limit for unused items (e.g., for clothing, if you don’t wear an item in X amount of time, donate it).

Although it may sound counterintuitive, living simply takes work. If you face resistance from a family member, take a step back to think about your goals. “My goal is not just to get my kids to declutter, it’s to get my kids to want to declutter a space,” Kim says. Remember your why, stay connected, and keep practicing!

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of KIWI Magazine. Read the full issue here, or check out the latest from KIWI Magazine.