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Big Family Minimalism!

post #1 of 90
Thread Starter 
Anyone else striving for minimalism with a bigger family? It seems like most have two or less children on the simple living thread! We have 4 kids and I find that to be a whole different ballgame.

Just wondering if anyone wanted to start a Big Family Simple Living thread? Or maybe I am the only one crazy enough to think this idea can work
post #2 of 90
I'm with you. I think it can work. It has to work!!!!!!!
post #3 of 90
I think having a larger family lends itself easily to minimalism in some aspects. With more kids to shop for, I find myself much less tempted to stuff any one kid's closet full. They only have the clothes and shoes they need. Toys can be shared, so each individual child has less stuff.

I think it would be a mistake to try to cut back on stuff to the level of a family of 3 though; consider the amount of stuff per person when you're trying to decide how much to get rid of. You're going to need more furniture for sitting on, more bedding for more beds, more kitchen stuff for making bigger meals, etc.
post #4 of 90
Thread Starter 
I should mention that we live in a house that is >1000sqft. Less stuff isn't optional

Glad I am not the only one. So, how much stuff for each person? That is our sticking point. The kids share rooms (2 in each) and we have a family closet in our room where we will be putting a combo washer/dryer in a few weeks. I am trying to figure out what is reasonable to expect for each child when it comes to toys, books, and other personal belongings?
post #5 of 90
we don't have a big family yet - 2 dc's and 1 due this summer - but i have minimalized everyone's stuff lately. we plan on more kids, but not a bigger house. right now we live in a 2-bedroom, 990 sq ft house. our tiny bedroom is the family sleep room, and the "master" bedroom is our office/music room/play room, but the kids play wherever we are, which is mostly in the living/dining/kitchen great room.

at this point, each child has 1 african market basket for their toys, and 1 shelf each for books. they also have a take-apart wooden dollhouse (from www.atoygarden.com) that is out for them to share. they each have a 3-drawer rubbermaid dresser for clothes, and a few things hanging up - snowsuits, jackets, dressy clothes. the baby (and future children) will have the same - 1 market basket for toys, 1 3-drawer dresser and 1 shelf for books.

although, books are really important at our house, so eventually all the kids will probably have an entire bookcase each.

i also have a tall rubbermaid "dresser" for all our art/craft/homeschool supplies. they each have a "special" blanket (a twin-size 100% cotton velvet quilt), but we have a family bed, so it's more for play-time.

family games and puzzles are in the top shelf of our linen closet - the kids are too young to be able to have access to that stuff yet.

i feel *so much better*, the difference in my stress level is truly amazing, the kids like it more, and it's just easy! they make a mess, then they can just walk around with their basket collecting all their belongings.

so that's what works for our family! i hope you can find a happy solution!

eta: dd (4) also has a really beautiful wooden box, painted with a gorgeous lotus flower, about 12" x 10" x 8" for her special/tiny stuff. i'll probably do the same for each child as well. it's very important to me that most of what we purchase/make for the kids, they will be able to take with them through their lives, even as adults. i'm old fashioned in that way, you could say! i think a market basket, gorgeous wooden box, velvet quilt and a bookcase are all things they can and will use their entire lives.
post #6 of 90
Quote:
Originally Posted by FreeRangeMama View Post
Anyone else striving for minimalism with a bigger family? It seems like most have two or less children on the simple living thread! We have 4 kids and I find that to be a whole different ballgame.

Just wondering if anyone wanted to start a Big Family Simple Living thread? Or maybe I am the only one crazy enough to think this idea can work
We are pretty minimalist compared to most people we know, especially when it comes to kids' stuff. Over time I really worked hard to figure out which toys get played with and which things can be let go of. I was stunned to see our toy collection shrink so much once I started doing this.

From the start, all of our toys are common to the family. No personal ownership of toys, with this exception: Each kid has a storage box - we just switched to smallish underbed boxes - where they can put things they want to keep, permanently or temporarily, for "theirs." Even birthday presents become common property after a day unless they are put in the box. The stuff can't overflow the box. But the boxes can't be used for hoarding things or preventing someone else's turn. If someone is in the middle of a turn with something you think should be in your box, they get to finish their turn before you start yours. This has worked well for us. It has fostered cooperation and sharing, and no need to duplicate toys, except to the extent that four might want to be playing together with something.

Of course, when the age split was such that some toys were unsafe for littles, they had to be in the big kids' boxes or specially stored by me, but we don't have a lot of that sort of thing. For awhile we had one of those four-sided Supergates and the chokable toys lived in there. As an alternative to caging the baby...we caged the unsafe toys.

As far as other household stuff goes, I got a tip here that I love: Each kid has one unique mug or cup that hangs in the kitchen. All day long they use the same cup. We mostly drink water, but if we have something else to drink they just rinse it out and hang it up. No pileup of dirty cups in the sink, no confusion over whose cup is whose, no constant all-day cup washing. Some people do this with plates, too.

My boys didn't have their own room until they were 7 and 8. The girls are still in our room. The bedrooms are for sleeping and clothes storage, and the boys have a few things in their room, but not much. I think the key there is matching storage plans to stuff, and not letting stuff overflow storage.

I think the best advice I can offer is to think things through carefully based on how they are actually used, keep just the minimum to meet the need, and make your space and stuff fit what you actually do with it. Everything else is extra and can be eliminated. And also build routines around keeping things tidy and easy to clean up.

For example, I used to think it was important to have lots of different kinds of toys (aghhh!) and keep them sorted into separate baskets (double aaaaghhh!) One of my kids' favorite "toys" is a collection of Playmobil and other little guys and things that they like to make "setups" with. It's all jumbled in one big drawer, out of sight. There was a time when I wanted the Playmobil in one basket, horses in another, etc. That was crazymaking. They get used all together, and they are much easier to clean up fast if stored that way. We periodically sort through the jumble and make a discard pile of the things that are broken or unloved/unused. Sometimes I do it myself, sometimes with kids.

From the time my kids were little, we have played a game called "Keep or Toss?" where I help them speed through sorting a pile of stuff... I think starting when they are young and making it fun has helped them not resist it. But none of mine are born hoarders, which is a great blessing (I know some kids who are.)

When the living room is a mess and no one wants to help clean up, it's a clue to me that we have too much stuff/toys (and I voice this as often as necessary, LOL). On a couple of occasions, I put EVERYTHING in the garage (like a holding tank), minus ONE toy or category of toys chosen by each child. Over the next few weeks, a few critical things got brought back into play, but not much. It became clear what was used/wanted and what wasn't, and I felt fine getting rid of the stuff that wasn't. Starting from nothing and adding things back in worked way better than facing the kids with the mountain of stuff and asking them to subtract. I guess that is not specific to large families, but I do think the resistance factor is compounded with multiple kids. I think in most cases I realized that *I* was attached to having certain toys, not my kids, and my kids were fine with downsizing them.

Also I limit clothes - I sort through handmedowns and do a seasonal change of clothes twice a year, fall and spring. And I will tell them, pick six shirts from this pile of shirts that fits you... The numbers vary based on what is needed and what is manageable.

I think I also already posted about my sock baskets. We do plain white cotton socks - Hanes even color-codes the logo on the toe based on size, which is brilliant, and it's why I buy their socks. I used to color-code them with a marker before they offered that. Each sock size has a basket. Right now I have three baskets - two kids wear the middle size. In the past I had two baskets, big and little. We just toss the clean socks in the right basket. We also have special wool socks for winter that are color-coded as well...smalls are red, mediums are blue, etc. DH and I also have distinctive socks, all one kind for each of us. We never have trouble finding pairs and we never have to discard unmatched socks.

I don't fold certain types of laundry - washcloths get jumbled in a basket or a drawer (white cloths for kitchen, colored for bathroom). Kids clothes never get folded, just dropped into drawers. All four kids have the same small set of drawers - bottom drawer is pants/shorts, next one up is shirts, next one up is jammies, top is underwear/tights. So any kid can put any other kid's laundry away.

I am a big fan of having basic systems to keep things simple. I have color-coded bins in the laundry room for darks, lights, delicates, linens, and "yuckies" (was diapers but now is things like family cloth). My kids know the system and can sort dirty laundry into the proper bins. One binful is about one load in my big washer, so when a bin gets full, a wash has to be done. The bins also have wash instructions written right on them. My 11yo does all the regular laundry and has since he was 8 (I do the delicates and yuckies).

Sorry this post is so long, but I have so many ideas. I posted about my spot system here before, too, for laundry. I can't take credit for it, but it is brilliant. Oldest kid's clothes get one Sharpie spot on the tag, second kid's get two, third kid's get three, etc. When you hand something down, add a spot. My kids could sort and put away laundry at age three with this system (and DH, too, LOL).

Also, it really helps us to have trash and recycling containers in every area where those things are generated - kitchen, bathroom, office, boys' room, craft/homeschooling area, laundry room. Stuff is more likely to get tossed promptly (instead of left lying around) if there is an appropriate receptacle. Of course, food only gets eaten in the kitchen or dining room, at a table...or so the rule goes. After years of that rule they still can't follow it 100%, but we try.

And it helps us to have a shoes-off house...helps keep the floor clean - shoe shelf and boot basket in the entryway, basket of slippers right there as well, and the sock baskets are also in the entryway (because that is where they are used).

Anyway, sorry if this is a bit disjointed, but I wanted to contribute! Maybe I will think of other things to add, or maybe I will learn new things from all of you.
post #7 of 90
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Sorry this post is so long, but I have so many ideas. I posted about my spot system here before, too, for laundry. I can't take credit for it, but it is brilliant. Oldest kid's clothes get one Sharpie spot on the tag, second kid's get two, third kid's get three, etc. When you hand something down, add a spot. My kids could sort and put away laundry at age three with this system (and DH, too, LOL).
I love this system. I think I will have to try it!

We have one unique plate for each child (each has a different animal), but we really need to do the mug thing. We were thinking of getting them each a mug with their picture on it, can't mix them up that way. Maybe for each xmas they will get a new one with an updated photo

I also color code everything. Each kid has a color and what they own is chosen accordingly. Toothbrushes, place mats, containers for homeschooling supplies, etc. Plus, I got an old school locker off of Freecycle and painted them (there are 6). Each has their own locker painted in their color. They keep coats, shoes, gloves, hats, and whatever other outside stuff they need in their own locker. I got a tip from another mom to keep socks near the door so I am going to get each child a little basket for their locker for socks as well.

We don't have many toys, mostly open ended stuff like blocks. Lots of playmobil. Handmade dolls and fairies. A few well chosen individual toys as well. But I can't control what comes into the house from relatives (my Mom is a big bargain store/garage sale shopper) and once it is in it generally sticks around until the Clutter Fairy makes her quarterly visit on the next Solstice/Equinox. And they make their own toys houses out of cardboard or even paper. Very creative, but it definitely adds to our clutter. My basement has been taken over by "Poor Town" (so named because the inhabitants were forced to make a town out of cardboard due to financial hardship of course ). A town made of boxes from my pantry and a variety of other recycled material with yarn as power lines, and all sorts of other stuff. It is an unfinished basement, but very cluttered now with boxes. They have a hard time letting stuff like that go as they have worked hard on it.
post #8 of 90
Thread Starter 
So, how many pants/shirts/dresses/socks/underwear/pajamas for each child? We do a family closet so we don't have much, but I still find very few things get worn aside from the favorites. Just wondering how many a minimalist family considers enough before I donate too much
post #9 of 90
Amanda - Your home sounds very organized and just lovely.
post #10 of 90
Quote:
Originally Posted by mamameliaISback View Post
Amanda - Your home sounds very organized and just lovely.


We're expecting baby#4 in July, and are already maxed out in this house, so I'm taking notes!
post #11 of 90
Having more kids is THE biggest reason for my needing to get more minimal. We're expecting baby #4 any day now. Between toys, clothes, rain boots and sports gear, I feel like I'm drowning. I can't imagine if x3 becomes x4, without streamlining!!
post #12 of 90


I'm expecting baby # 3 in the next month or so... and haven't done so well with the minimalism with the two I have... I do fine in the baby phase, but now their stuff and clothes (thanks to grandparents - I don't buy them much in the way of clothes) just take over.
post #13 of 90
Quote:
Originally Posted by amyamanda View Post
I think the best advice I can offer is to think things through carefully based on how they are actually used, keep just the minimum to meet the need, and make your space and stuff fit what you actually do with it. Everything else is extra and can be eliminated. And also build routines around keeping things tidy and easy to clean up.

When the living room is a mess and no one wants to help clean up, it's a clue to me that we have too much stuff/toys (and I voice this as often as necessary, LOL). On a couple of occasions, I put EVERYTHING in the garage (like a holding tank), minus ONE toy or category of toys chosen by each child. Over the next few weeks, a few critical things got brought back into play, but not much. It became clear what was used/wanted and what wasn't, and I felt fine getting rid of the stuff that wasn't. Starting from nothing and adding things back in worked way better than facing the kids with the mountain of stuff and asking them to subtract. I guess that is not specific to large families, but I do think the resistance factor is compounded with multiple kids. I think in most cases I realized that *I* was attached to having certain toys, not my kids, and my kids were fine with downsizing them.

Also I limit clothes - I sort through handmedowns and do a seasonal change of clothes twice a year, fall and spring.


I don't fold certain types of laundry - washcloths get jumbled in a basket or a drawer (white cloths for kitchen, colored for bathroom). Kids clothes never get folded, just dropped into drawers. All four kids have the same small set of drawers - bottom drawer is pants/shorts, next one up is shirts, next one up is jammies, top is underwear/tights. So any kid can put any other kid's laundry away.

I am a big fan of having basic systems to keep things simple. I have color-coded bins in the laundry room for darks, lights, delicates, linens, and "yuckies" (was diapers but now is things like family cloth). My kids know the system and can sort dirty laundry into the proper bins. One binful is about one load in my big washer, so when a bin gets full, a wash has to be done.

Also, it really helps us to have trash and recycling containers in every area where those things are generated - kitchen, bathroom, office, boys' room, craft/homeschooling area, laundry room. Stuff is more likely to get tossed promptly (instead of left lying around) if there is an appropriate receptacle. Of course, food only gets eaten in the kitchen or dining room, at a table...or so the rule goes. After years of that rule they still can't follow it 100%, but we try.

And it helps us to have a shoes-off house...helps keep the floor clean - shoe shelf and boot basket in the entryway, basket of slippers right there as well, and the sock baskets are also in the entryway (because that is where they are used).
& what a great post!

we do all that stuff too! i bolded the parts that i find especially critical for our family. also, the only person's clothes who are folded are dh's and then bath towels and blankets. literally everything else gets tossed in baskets or drawers.

i also have 2 large rubbermaid boxes for each person in the family that holds seasonal clothes. they are color-coded: burgundy for fall and blue for spring. i also numbered the boxes 1 for dh, 2 is me, 3 is oldest dc etc.,. i can see at a glance where to put clothing if i have a hand-me-down or something a bigger kid has outgrown that needs to be "filed" in a younger kids box.
post #14 of 90
Love this thread.

We're expecting #4, and I've been on a major decluttering/simplifying thread.

One of our biggest problems has been socks, so what I did was put two little baskets for each kid near the shoe rack... clean socks in one basket...dirty socks go in the next. We always take shoes and socks off when we come in...an put on slippers... so it's really helped. Each kid has seven pairs of socks at the beginning of the week...and I wash them all at the end. Seems to work well.

One of my biggest problems is DH is a horder. He doesn't want to get rid of anything "good" because we might need it some day. : Still, I've been slowly getting rid of things, donating... and he doesn't seem to mind much.

Toys we need to purge again. The good thing is that the kids are getting better about voluntarily telling me what they no longer play with, so it's easier. The one thing is deciding what to keep for the coming little one. I've put a bunch of baby things in the garage in a bin. That should be enough.
post #15 of 90
We are expecting #4 soon. Compared with most people we know, our home is fairly minimal. One family came over and the daughter wanted to trade stuff. She couldn't undertsand that my kids don't have stuff they don't care about that they are willing to trade - if they don't care about something or don't want it, they donate it to somone who might be able to use it.

My FIL will make comments about our stuff sometimes -acting like we spend a fortune on stuff. I will say that when we (dh and I) purchase something, we do purchase quality. We just rarely buy stuff because we only bring in what we need/really want and use. We would rather have a few really nice things that we enjoy than a bunch of crap cluttering our lives.
post #16 of 90
Thread Starter 
Quote:
My FIL will make comments about our stuff sometimes -acting like we spend a fortune on stuff. I will say that when we (dh and I) purchase something, we do purchase quality. We just rarely buy stuff because we only bring in what we need/really want and use. We would rather have a few really nice things that we enjoy than a bunch of crap cluttering our lives.
We do this too. I am really trying to only purchase good quality items that I LOVE. I figure that way we have stuff that lasts, but we only buy what we need. It has been a great big shift for me as I used to be an avid thrifter. I stopped going to thrift stores at all except for when we actually need clothes or something, then we only purchase what we came for. It has made a HUGE difference in what I bring into the house.
post #17 of 90
We are a family of six also... I wonder what you do in the winter? I think that has been our biggest struggle is not really having enough space for all of us to do a physical activity... I'm almost thinking of investigating a family gym membership or something? Having a big family and a small house (ours isn't really that small, it's almost 1500, by perimeter) definitely keeps us minimalist.... but then in some ways, hmm, like getting a flat screen and a family lap top! I feel like we have plenty of room, if only we had a basement to run around in, it would be perfect...

We have the adjustable shelving in our closets which has worked out so well, as the kids get older we can easily change up the arrangement to better suit them. The bedrooms are just bedrooms, because that's all we can fit in them (no room for play), there's only 25in between twin beds and the door opens into one, and a closet in front of the other, so whatever doesn't fit under or over the bed is in the closet so while we don't have any set amount of clothes (it seems like all my kids have such different needs there) it has to be less than what can fit in the closet. Having everything open in the closet really makes it easy to see what we have though (as opposed to when we had dressers we were always finding out at the last minute that something we needed was dirty or that everything was too small, etc., now we know at a glance).

We don't get presents for christmas and birthdays, etc... we just can't, if we really, really need something it usually doesn't make sense to wait and then we would just be adding unwanted and unneeded clutter 'just because'... my kids never want for anything, when others want to get them presents they have to work really really hard to get the kids to desire something. Anything we do buy is something everyone wants and can use... things like boardgames -we have a lot of those so we put up shelves floor to ceiling on the wall in our dining room (which is supposed to be the family room but the eating area could not fit the six of us) to store them on since we play at the table. Our linen closet (where they used to live), just barely fits our towels and bedding and toiletries and extra bedding for guests and heaters... I worried that having the games so accessible might result in more messes with little ones, but it actually worked out better for us because the games get put back since it's right where we are playing (many pieces seemed to get lost on their way back to the linen closet when we were four).

It's a bit overwhelming... I mean it feels that way to me (but then I was an only child hermit in my pre-parenting days), because even if I attempt to keep things to the bare minimum with six people it's still a lot of stuff, so I'm really excited to see this thread. I never know what to do with the bikes! Even if we reuse dishes we still have a full dishwasher load everyday. I don't separate the laundry anymore, I just throw everything in together to wash -we just don't have enough to make a full load otherwise without running out of something. Forget about things like having a nice coat, a rain coat, a winter coat, and a light jacket... we may end up being too wet, too hot, too cold, and/or too messy all the time, but at least we can find our coats because we've only got one each. Thank goodness for libraries!
post #18 of 90
Thread Starter 
I hear ya on the 6 people just means more stuff! I got pretty brutal with our possessions recently. 5 sets of sheets for 5 beds. 6 towels for 6 people. 6 plates, bowls, and cups (with a few put away for company). Nothing but the bare minimum. If we ever come across a need for more we will deal with it then. It has made SUCH a difference.

I also gave away nearly all our books. I kept a handful of favourites, but realistically we never looked at most of them anyway as we always have library books for new, exciting material. We are frequent visitors there as I am always needing resources for homeschooling. I went from 3 shelves worth of books to less than half a shelf. SO liberating!
post #19 of 90
Oh this thread is PERFECT for me! Baby #4 is just about 2 1/2 months old and we will be moving probably within the next year into a farmhouse. The farmhouse is smaller than our current home and the layout of it doesn't leave room for clutter. I am already of the minimalist mindset but we might need to take it a step further before we move. I'm absolutely sure we will have to downsize the amount of furniture we have...but I am SO looking forward to it!

Our kids are all very young (the oldest is not quite 6) and we homeschool...so we need a home that functions smoothly. I struggle to keep up with laundry (we use cloth for everything except TP and we have 2 in diapers), even with trying to keep to a reasonable amount of clothing. Recently I did some things to try to fix this issue. We switched to cloth diapers that require less washing and drying (pockets stuffed with flats) so that diaper laundry doesn't require so much time. I also have started using the kitchen floursack towels as handtowels in the bathrooms. This works SO great, because they dry out quickly between uses and don't take much space in the laundry. My kids seem to get the bathroom hand towels just soaking wet lol. I started using the hand towels instead to dry the kids off after their baths! So I have way less towels to wash.

I'm sure I'll think of more things to add later.
post #20 of 90
Wow, lots of families of six or soon-to-be-six in this thread! Rebecca, we have a similar oldest-to-youngest spread, about 5-1/2 years.
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