How to Be a Pseudo-Minimalist with Kids

Five years ago, hubby and I were downsizing from a 1,600-square-foot home in Indianapolis to a 500-square-foot studio in Chicago. The only thing that was going to fit in our new 42nd floor, Wrigleyville box was a mattress and personal crap – the rest had to go.

I’ve never really had to pare down before. When I moved out of my parents’ house, all my possessions fit in a small pick-up. To dump our stuff, and simultaneously have one last party [before kids, our parties were legendary – now they end at 10pm], we hosted a “sell our shit” party where friends came over and cleaned us out – literally. 

We told guests in advance that everything was for sale, cash and checks accepted. Between filling solo cups from the keg and losing bad hands in poker, our friends wandered our house going “shopping”.

Those lucky bargain hunters left with furniture, weed-whackers and even the artwork from the walls. I was mostly happy to see cash coming in and crap going away – it can be addicting.

I reluctantly sold a painting I wanted to keep. It didn’t have any particular value, or have a special meaning to me… but it was mine. Looking back, I don’t even remember what it looked like.

Wasn’t my stuff an extension of me?

MY kitchen table, MY couch, MY crappy Bed Bath and Beyond artwork was a part of me. Did I see myself in all these things?

Letting go of some things made me queasy at the time, but I survived, and lived to tell the tale.

I guess my shit doesn’t define me. Couches are for sitting on, beds are for sleeping in and artwork is for admiring.

My new life motto smacked me in the face after all this…

Less space = less stuff = more life 

I’ve also moved 9 times in 12 years. Downsizing, upsizing, and downsizing again. Moving is the hands down, most efficient way to own less stuff. If I don’t care about something enough to pack it, move it, and unpack it, it’s not coming with me.

I haven’t always been a purger

After almost two years in a 1,800 square foot townhouse, we rented a 10-yard bin that sat as an eyesore in the driveway for a weekend. I thought there was no way we’d fill that thing, and whined to my husband about what a waste of money it was to get such a stupidly huge bin.

I was wrong. We tossed, donated or sold things we didn’t use in a year, things we forgot we had and things we could easily live without. We filled the bin.

To help simplify and prepare for our unfussy, pseudo-minimalist with kids life, we sorted everything into one of these categories:

  1. Sell
  2. Donate to charity
  3. Give to specific family and friends (and do it right away)
  4. Garbage
  5. Keep until we don’t use it anymore

We’re back up to 2,200 square feet of living space, which still feels like a lot for the four of us, but could have ended up with something much larger. During our last home-hunt, our goal was finding a nice little plot of land. The house was the bonus [except when it wasn’t, but I’m not going to get into that today].

Having less space forces us to buy less shit.

Ever look around your house and wonder, "where did we get all this stuff?" Here's how to live like a minimalist with kids, without being a total hippie.

8 rules to live with less and not feel like a hippie

  1. When you’re done with something — donate, sell, trash, or recycle it right away. Don’t store it just in case you’ll need it. You won’t. I’ve never regretted anything I’ve gotten rid of – ever.
  2. One in, one out. Buying something new like toys or clothes? Donate or trash an old piece.
  3. Opt for experience gifts first. Think dinners out, theatre, movies, theme parks, vacations, painting, classes, or hockey games, before toys and decorations that end up as clutter.
  4. If you use something only once a year, like pumpkin carving tools – get rid of it. Next year just paint pumpkins, or buy a new carving kit for $4.99.
  5. No multiples — do you need 4 spatulas, 8 serving spoons, 3 can openers and 6 contraptions all with the goal of extracting garlic from it’s annoying paper wrapper?
  6. Everything must serve a function to validate its existence — it must actually do It needs to clean something, keep you warm, or make you really happy.
  7. Purge regularly – with the change of the seasons is an easy time, or once a year.
  8. Take it easy. No need to pare down to 100 things today. It’s a process, remember.

Living with less is a process. It’s a constant, daily, weekly, and annual process. The good news—you can start right now.

Your homework

Look up from your phone, tablet or computer. Scan the room. Find three things that don’t light you up (and it’s totally okay if they lit you up 10 years ago or 10 minutes ago). If it’s not serving a purpose now, give it away – someone else will love it.

Public safety announcement: If you’re reading this in a public space, please don’t throw someone else’s crap away. We’re not responsible if you do this.

In the comments below, let us know what you got rid of.

7 thoughts on “How to Be a Pseudo-Minimalist with Kids

  1. I like most of your post, but I think it’s incredibly wasteful and non enviromentally friendly to suggest buying things for once a year and then throwing them out, to just buy them again. It’s funny pumpkin carver is your example, as I threw mine out and just can’t bring myself to buy another one no matter how cheap it is because it seems so wasteful.

  2. Jacqueline Fisch says:

    I totally agree Megan. Definitely suggest donating, re-purposing, or recycling everything first. Trash always my last favorite option. Happy minimizing 🙂

  3. Jen Staciwa says:

    Love the article-trying to do this now, just need Rich to get on the same page as me.

    1. Jacqueline Fisch says:

      Thanks Jen! I find the best strategy is to put Ry’s stuff out of sight for a while. If he doesn’t miss it for a few months…then I make it go away for good 🙂

  4. Emile Gibson says:

    Our first move after we got married I threw out an entire box of stuff my husband had insisted he needed to keep from his days of living at home. Eight years later he still has no idea it’s gone! I grew up as an Army brat and we had a major dejunk every year or so when we move and I’ve found the purging process has stuck with me. Thankfully my son-of-hoarders husband recognizes the benefits of it, even if I have to do it while he’s out of the house. 😉

  5. I have as of late, gotten the purging bug. My husband was amazed at the 4 trips I took droppingthings off at goodwill. I feel soooo much better when I purge unused stuff, and if someone else can benefit from it, all the better. Thanks for the post!

  6. Anne in Canada says:

    I think the first thing is to NOT buy things that are ultra-specialized. Who needs a pumpkin carving tool? use a knife! We are purging a whole bunch of stuff, such as kids’ toys they have outgrown, clothing, etc. What is sometimes difficult is that I don’t like the waste of throwing out, but I found a few places I can donate to, as well as saving some toys and books for my younger nieces, and some of my students.

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