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Minimalist Living: Finding a Balance

Thank you to Rachel Jonat from Minimalist Mom for this guest post. This is part three of her three part series for us on minimalist living. Read post one and two. Check out her site for even more great information.

Radical minimalism, counting everything you own and moving into the smallest living space you can find, isn’t for everyone. When I first approached simplifying what we own I felt intimidated by the more extreme approaches. We love where we live, I do like my espresso machine and our 1100 square foot condominium – small for North American standards of living – wasn’t something I wanted to give up. How could I find a balance of comfort with what we own, while not

feeling that I was depriving myself by trying to live up to an extreme standard?

Reducing my wardrobe brought both clarity – wow, I really wasn’t wearing much of this! – and motivation – I can live with less and enjoy it. From our clothing I moved onto to other areas of the home, book collections, DVDs, baby gadgets and toys, furniture and long forgotten craft projects. Some areas were easy: I’ve never been much of a sewer so why was I holding onto a sewing machine and forgotten fabric? Some areas were harder: serving platters, beautiful wine glasses and kitchen appliances are my Kryptonite.

There were also some hard truths to accept in the de-cluttering phase: money had been wasted and the best of intentions had been forgotten. Impulse purchases with tags still attached were a hard pill to swallow in the face of our consumer debt. Instead of dwelling too long on mistakes already made, and instead of ruthlessly making myself part with the dearly sentimental, I reduced in layers and stages.

Stage 1

Remove just what you what you likely won’t use or wear again. If it’s broken repair or recycle it. Let go of any guilty feelings about items that were gifts that you never used. If you’re still hopeful to fit into a your dream dress that’s hanging in the closet, keep it.

When I was in an initial de-clutter phase I had several piles of items in corners of my living room: donations, to-sell and maybe. Some of the maybe items were shelved for later consideration.

After this initial purge take some time to live in your home as it is.

Stage 2

It’s been a few months since your first round of de-cluttering. With new eyes for what you really need and use, begin to reexamine what’s in your home and what you want to keep. You may carve out a few afternoons for this, or it might be a daily routine to put a few things in a box for donations or list something on eBay or Craigslist.

Stage 3

Maintenance mode! It’s true, you’re never truly done with editing and streamlining your possessions. Much like getting in shape, and creating new habits, there will always be a need to monitor your progress. Two ways to stay ahead of the clutter is to adopt the one-in-one-out rule for items coming into your home and devote a half day to evaluating what’s in your home every 3-4 months.

Tips for De-Cluttering with Children

I get a lot of questions and comments on my blog about how to tame toys and get children to simplify possessions. Here are a few tips that I have picked up via readers of my blog:

Lead by example: take them with you when you donate clothing to a women’s shelter or household goods to a charity thrift store. Tell them how your items will be used by people that need them and generate money for a good cause.

Make room for gifts: after birthdays and the holiday season, help your child make room in their closet, toy bins and book shelves for the new gifts they have received. Let them pick a charity to donate their good condition toys to.

Time, not stuff: give your child experiences instead of things. As a family, committ to activites that are free and nurture the body and mind: library trips, afternoons at the park, cooking a meal together.

Relax: there will always be toys on the floor. The question isn’t how many toys are on the floor but, can those toys be put away in time for dinner? Aim to keep a toy stash that your child can put away in 30 minutes or less.

Embracing my own level of minimalism has been a catalyst for a lot of change in my life. It’s brought my family more time and money, and most importantly, it’s given us a keen focus on prioritizing relationships and each other – not accumulating new things.

Many thanks to Mothering for providing this great venue to write about and discuss the minimalist movement.

Melanie Mayo-Laakso


Melanie Mayo-Laakso is the Content Manager for Mothering.com. Mothering is the birthplace of natural family living and attachment parenting. We celebrate the experience of parenthood as worthy of one's best efforts and are at once fierce advocates for children and gentle supporters of parents.

Comments (11)

Toys: we belong to a toy library, so for $50/yr my son gets three new toys every two weeks. It is great to be able to exchange them, because he rarely maintains interest in a toy for more than 1 week. They have lots of variety. I love that we can take out big playhouses an kitchens, but they only take up space in our small house for two weeks.
going negative here; this article is painfully white middle class in it's thinking. Mothering is very white middle class being alternative in it's thinking....please try to step outside the box more often
That's a great idea! A friend of mine has a informal sharing/trade circle for toddler toys. Great way to limit clutter and get more use out of toys.
What does white have to do with ANYTHING?
Hi Montana, I appreciate your view point on my piece. It's true, embracing a minimalist lifestyle by choice is a privilege. I'm lucky that I have this choice and that my family is not living pay check to pay check and minimalism is a necessity. While it's a choice for us to reduce our consumption and possessions, I still think it's an undervalued concept for a lot of North Americans. Spend less, consume less, own less. Sounds simple but I was living in debt and buying more than we could afford for many years. I know others are too. I appreciate that Mothering provided me with the opportunity to share my story here. From the response on Facebook and here on the blog I think many Mothering subscribers and fans enjoyed reading about moderate minimalism. Rachel
Love the article. I have a deal with my hubby that for every bag of clothing I donate I can reward myself with something that fits me (or a latte). I'm trying to get him to do the same. He comes from a family of pack rats so it's a big challenge. We also move a lot and I don't want to be hauling tons of junk ever year that we move. Oh and the toy library is an awesome idea.
We're moving overseas in two months - now I actually have to get rid of everything. Doesn't make sense to ship or store anything. Good on you!
When we built our house, the floor plan we could afford had no garage and very little storage, so we had to really pare down from the large house we were renting. Over the past several years we've streamlined more and more. What helps us is having a box or bag constantly in the corner of our dining room and adding things to it almost daily. If I have five minutes to spare I'll go through a drawer or part of a bookshelf and throw things in the donate box. Regularly seeing how much space is wasted and how much effort it takes to keep things neat helps me remember that I need to have at least as much going out as coming in. Saves money too of course. My weakness is craft supplies, but I think I'm getting better at making good decisions about what I'll really use.
Love this. This is exactly what we do about once a month. Since I am a SAHM and not a shopper, the in-laws believe our children are not getting as much as they should. So, we are constantly overcome with gifts for the kids and ourselves. We are grateful that they are so generous, however it can be too much. Especially when we are trying to teach our children to live a simpler life, with less things and more love. We live by the one-in-one-out rule. I really think this is an article that everyone can relate to, growing up we were quite poor and we still had more clutter than anyone else...not just a middle-class thing... It's not just about having too much and getting rid of excess stuff, for me it's also about making the most of what you have and realizing how little you really need.
I also don't understand what skin color or economic class has to do with this at all. This is about an individual person's lifestyle choice. If it is something you don't agree with then why come to a website just to bash the people on it? We are a bi-racial family, my husband his mexiacan american and I am white american and take great offense when people use any type of racial stereotyping.
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