If Your House Is Cluttered Your Brain Might Be Too

Minimalism with kids. You might think it is an oxymoron. 

how to practice minimalism with kids how to practice minimalism with a family

Have you ever wondered why you walk into certain rooms or homes and feel immediately overwhelmed or instantly at peace? There’s a reason your mood can change when you enter a room, and it’s probably not what you think.

It’s about your stuff.

If you are feeling overwhelmed in life and your home is a hot mess, there may be a correlation. When you have less stuff in a room, you mental state actually improves. You have more clarity and can focus better when you aren’t overwhelmed by clutter. This is also true for children and there is research to prove it. Getting started with minimalism will not only lead to a cleaner house, but also may reduce stress levels of all the people living inside of it.

Minimalism with Kids

Sound too good to be true? Or too challenging to even attempt?

Step by step, I’ve decluttered my entire home, and it’s changed my life. In the process I expected a tidier home, but I didn't expect life to feel so much lighter as a result. Room by room, decluttering will lighten your mental load. How did I do it? I began by focusing on the four most important areas.

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Getting Started with Minimalism

The Kitchen

Let’s start with the pantry. When I decided to declutter my pantry, I found I had 17 cans of coconut milk. Seventeen! Those cans made me realize something: I don’t actually use coconut milk that often, and I barely knew what was hiding in those cupboards.

I decided to apply what I call the "grocery store method" to my kitchen and pantry, lining everything up in the front (rather than pushing it all the way to the back to "make room") and grouping like-items together so I could easily see what my options were. I figured that if grocery stores have been doing this for years and it works, then it would probably work for me, too.

The Staples Of The Grocery Store Method
  • A pantry doesn’t have to be full, no matter how shallow or deep. Only line items up at the front of your shelves so you can quickly see what you already own.
  • Keep foods that will fly off your shelves. If you don’t use it frequently, don’t buy it. Your pantry isn’t a storage facility.
  • Sales only save you money if you actually use the product. If it’s not on your list, but you regularly use the item twice a week, buy it. Otherwise, you may end up with 17 cans of coconut milk.
  • Pantry staples can be stored, but limit variety. Buy one type of rice, one type of grain, etc. Then, learn to be flexible. For example, I only have brown rice in my pantry, so if a recipe calls for wild rice, I substitute brown. Why buy an entire bag of something if I never use it?
  • Consider mimicking the international aisle. If you like to cook across cultures, group your pantry items by cuisine, creating an Italian section, an Hispanic section, an Asian section etc. Keeping these items together will help you to stay organized.
  • Holiday items only come out on special occasions. The turkey baster, the holiday cookie cutters, and all other seasonal items are stored in boxes until needed.

I’m sure your probably wondering if it really matters how much is in your pantry or drawers. They’re closed, it’s not as though you see lots of stuff whenever you walk in, right? Wrong.

Decluttering my kitchen reduced the overwhelm I felt about the kitchen.

How did this reduce mental clutter?
  • There is less to dig through on a daily basis. That means less to clean up also.
  • It’s easier to cook on the fly because I know exactly what’s available so I can simply and quickly figure out an impromptu dinner. I can easily grab what I need without having to search.
  • Making my grocery list is easier. I can clearly see what I have and what I need.
  • When I meal plan, I save tons of time.

The Closets

One of the best decisions I’ve made was creating capsule wardrobes for myself and my children. When I look in my closet each morning, I have very few choices, but I know that I love them all.  I spend less time thinking about to wear because all of my clothes fit me well, and they are cute.

My closet was transformed from the Cheesecake Factory’s menu with millions of mediocre choices, to a fine dining menu with a limited number of excellent options. I went from buying on a whim yet never actually wearing it to intentionally selecting each piece in my wardrobe, wearing everything at least once a week. And while my closet was full of inexpensive choices I found on sales and clearance racks, purchasing fewer, more expensive, high-quality clothes has actually saved me money.

So, what’s in our closets right now?

The Core of my Capsule Wardrobe:

  • Two pairs of shorts
  • Two pairs of jeans
  • Three dresses
  • Ten shirts

The Core of my Children’s Capsule Wardrobe:

  • Six pairs of shorts for each child
  • Six tops for each child
  • 4 dresses for my daughter

How does this affect our mental clutter? For my children, they know everything is comfortable and matches so it’s easy to select their outfits each day. And bigger picture, through buying intentionally, I am teaching them to be conscious consumers.

How did this reduce mental clutter?

For me, my mental clutter has greatly decreased with my minimal wardrobe.

  • Selecting what I wear each morning is quick and easy.
  • My well-fitting, high-quality wardrobe has increased my confidence and decreased those negative thoughts.
  • I splurge on items I wear daily, instead of only splurging on items I’ll rarely wear again, like a formal dress for a wedding.
  • I no longer make impulse buys, saving time by passing the sales racks each time I shop at Target.

Plus, I’m saving the environment.

How is that possible?

Believe it or not, the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing annually. Clothing waste is a real issue for our Earth, particularly when it comes to our children who grow out of clothes quickly and wear through low-quality clothes easily.

The Playroom

My first born was only nine months old when I transformed his playroom. My children’s toys are carefully selected to encourage creativity, spark their imagination and stimulate their brains.

This philosophy has become so popular that I’ve helped over 2,000 families convert their playrooms to a minimalist space. While children have the opportunity to play with everything from puzzles and building blocks to books and musical instruments, they only have a few of each item. This makes every item easy to see and accessible [see a tour here].

Research has shown that having fewer toys results in more creative play for kids. Yes, they actually play better when they have fewer toys. Removing the physical clutter of an overcrowded playroom offers immense benefits to their mental health/clarity (and mine).

How did this reduce mental clutter?
  • They aren’t overwhelmed by the amount of choices when they enter their playroom.
  • Fewer items makes each one more important, so they take better care of their toys.
  • Because they take better care, toys aren’t broken as often, puzzles have all of their pieces, etc.
  • They are able to clean up after themselves because there are fewer items to put away. (Okay, this one mostly benefits me.)

The Family Calendar

While this one isn’t physical clutter in the traditional sense, minimizing the clutter of our family calendar has greatly improved our mental clutter.

I try to keep our calendar as open as possible and rarely plan things that aren’t crucial. When I do plan, I stick to things we really want to do and avoid saying yes out of obligation.

What does this look like?

Just because one of my children is invited to a birthday party, it doesn’t mean they must go. They attend the ones that are important to them so we don’t spend our weekends party hopping.

I don’t accept every invitation to get together. In fact, I don’t accept most invitations. I have stopped feeling obligated to others and started prioritizing the need for downtime and the well-being of my family.

Instead, I make sure that we have an abundance of free time with nothing to do. 

How did this reduce mental clutter?

You see, when we’re not running around from activity to activity, we get to spend time together. And that free time is where we can connect and build relationships.

Being overbooked takes a toll on relationships. It’s a burden for everyone and it’s exhausting.

Even when we’re home, I don’t go out of my way to design special activities to do with my kids. I follow their lead. If my son wants to make an airplane out of a box...I’m there as his support. I help with the adult things, like cutting, and, taping, and spectating with a cup of coffee.

On weekends, we chill. We’re stress-free, calm, and happy.

Have you decreased the physical clutter anywhere in your home? How has it helped with your mental clutter?

I am chatting more about this topic over on YouTube!
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how to practice minimalism with a family minimalism with kids

Denaye Barahona

Dr. Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She partners with families to tackle the challenges of raising children. Denaye is a minimalist who claims to be a decluttering expert (don't let her near your closet). She loves to travel, talk health-and-wellness, and give unsolicited advice. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Minimalists, Motherly, Becoming Minimalist, and numerous other media outlets. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Clinical Social Worker with a specialty in child and family practice.