Right now, small is big. Minimalism is popular everywhere: tiny houses, 30-item wardrobes, basic food diets and simpler lifestyles. A couple of months ago I watched a documentary that showed a man living with the bare essentials in mostly empty rooms, although he did have one comfy reading chair. I was really impressed with it all until I realised one very important difference between him and me: he is a single guy.
On my own, I think I could also live quite happily with one comfy chair to sit on. I, however, do not want my husband, three kids, and cat piling on top of me to watch a movie. And right there is the rub. Is minimalism only for single 20-somethings and trendy hipster couples? How do you minimalise with a full-sized family?
Benefits of minimalism
I think the principles of minimalism are great. As a Christian, it’s encouraging to see a cultural movement that is pulling away from consumerism and is both financially and ecologically responsible. There are also significant emotional and spiritual benefits. Joshua Becker, in his book The More of Less, shows how living with fewer things can be a life-changing experience:
[Minimalism] speaks to me of freedom, of peace and of joy. It’s about space that has been opened up to make room for new possibilities. It’s truly “good riddance” because it clears away obstacles to the lives we want to live. I’m not so much interested in minimalism, per se, as I am in helping people get to the level of possessions that will enable them to live the best lives they’re capable of.
Becker goes on to sum up minimalism as “the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from them.”
Freedom, peace, joy – who wouldn’t want to try minimalism if it offers so much? But is it really possible for families? If you’d like a little minimalism in your own family life, here are five helpful tips I learned from Becker.
1. Organisation is a never-ending cycle
I’m all for the removal of distractions and general clutter in my home. That’s why, many times before, I have happily resolved to do a clean sweep – and then I walk into one of my kids’ rooms. Behind those doors is a violent eruption of toys, games, crafts, shirts, pants, and oh, the socks! How do socks end up literally everywhere except for the actual laundry bin?
In previous efforts to tame these rooms, I have set up every organisational system imaginable. I have purchased bins, I have colour-coded, I have labelled, I have come up with the most efficient locations for every item, to the point that the slightest hand gesture should land said item in the appropriate spot.
Every time the kids love it; they’re on board and promise to keep it up. They finally know what they have and where they have it. So what do they do next? Pull out all the newly stored items that they’ve just rediscovered! I can already feel the tremors of the next eruption.
Becker knows why I find myself caught in this organisational cycle: “At its heart, organising is simply rearranging,” he writes. “And though we may find storage solutions today, we will be forced to find new ones as early as tomorrow.”
2. Start with a small area
If the goal is less mess, then the only option is less stuff. As a family, when you really take stock of your stuff, there inevitably is a lot. There are the closets you don’t want to open, basements filled to the brim and attics that things go into and never leave.
You have to start somewhere, so start small. Don’t go to the attic as your first stop. In fact, don’t even choose an entire room. Go for a small closet or even a single cupboard. Sort through the items and only keep the things you like or actually use. Give away anything that’s left over, or put it in the garbage. With these small tasks come small wins, and you need some wins in order to gain momentum.
3. Shed items of small significance
Another one of Becker’s suggestions is to start with items that don’t have a lot of emotional attachment. Don’t worry about your great-grandmother’s jewellery collection, but go to the sideboard full of dishes that aren’t really your style and you don’t pull out for dinner parties anyway. Again, these are small wins that give you the confidence to tackle harder decisions down the road.
4. Having confidence is key
Over the past 15 years our family has moved many times. It’s hard every time. There is the sorting, the packing and the endless decisions. I would rather be instructed to cook with only purple food for the next year than be told to move again. Each move becomes an intense boot camp in minimalism. Do we really need this? Does this even fit anymore? Will my kids miss this if it goes by the wayside?
Many follow the general rule If in doubt, keep it – a rule meant to protect us from regret in the future. On the surface it seems like prudent advice, but it’s actually playing on our fears. We are fearful of regretting a decision. We are fearful of not having enough. We are fearful of every “what-if” scenario. And all of those fears erode our confidence to make a simple decision about a 10-year-old crock pot. Which brings us to the next tip.
5. Tap into the right spirit
We need to remember that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). That Bible verse is not often used in connection with minimalism, but hear me out. If you approach each item without the fear of missing it, you will have the power to make a decision about it. If you decide to keep it, may it be because you genuinely love it or at least love the use it provides. Or you may choose to give it away to someone who really would love to have it. In all of this, you’re exercising self-control over what you have in your home and in your life. That’s the real spirit of minimalism.
As much as minimalism is a practice, I think it’s even more so a mindset. I initially had the misperception that minimalism is about getting rid of most of your belongings, which is why I thought families could never do it. In reality, it doesn’t matter if you’re a family of two or twenty-two, you can figure out what you actually need as opposed to what you’ve just happened to accumulate.
With this perspective in mind, you can adopt a minimalist lifestyle that’s just right for your family. Now that’s a win!