You might remember, we were inspired by Marie Kondo’s Netflix show in January and started a major overhaul of our house. I shared month 1 and month 2 earlier this year. This month we continued, focusing mostly on our office, the girls’ room, and the kitchen.
We have five children, and over the years we have collected quite a bit of stuff! Because we are a foster/adoptive family, sentimental items can be especially challenging because a few of our kids have items that were given to them by birth family or other people who are no longer in their lives and the kids can be very attached to those items. Obviously, we want to be sensitive to that. We do not ask them to part with those items. Although we have managed to clear a lot out of our home, I’m not sure we will ever be truly minimalist, and I’m ok with that.
Case in point: books. This is the after photo of the girls’ book shelf. Our girls love to read at night, so most of the children’s books stay in their room. I’m not sure it’s actually “minimalist” but we did manage to reduce our book collection by more than half, and it’s what works for us. They used to have two additional small Ikea shelves filled with books in addition to this one! The teacher in me had a very hard time letting go of the books, but they are going to a good home and, really, this is still plenty of books for kids to have in their bedroom. Plus, there’s always the library.
Cons: One area where I do struggle when it comes to downsizing is the kids’ items. Several of our children have special needs and developmental delays. Our children are very close in age, which helps with things like clothes because their sizes are similar, but books and toys are tricky for us because of their developmental ages. We need books and toys ranging from preschool levels through middle school.
Here is Abby helping to sort through our children’s books and put them into categories.
The way we deal with that is to sort each item into sub-categories and have the kids help us go through the items. With the example of the books, my oldest daughter and I made piles of books by category: chapter books, picture books, series like American Girl or Harry Potter, etc. Then we had the other kids help us decide what to keep. I told each of the kids to choose their top 5 favorite picture books.
We do NOT go through the pile one by one, because they would say yes to every item if I held them up one at a time. I just pull out the entire pile and say, “Wow, this is too many! It’s not fair that we have so much and some kids don’t have any. We should each pick our favorite 5, and share the rest with other kids who need them.” Our kids do very well with that language/method. Since we have 5 kids, once they each picked 5, we ended up with about 25 picture books. We had approximately 800,000,000 of certain series like Junie B. Jones. When it came to most of our series, I told the kids who read those books to each pick 2. (You could use whatever number you feel comfortable with.) We made some exceptions for books we all enjoy, like our Harry Potter series. We kept all of those (not pictured because they are with our adult books). But we did get rid of duplicates.
They were honestly completely fine with that. They know they still have access to other books at school or the community library. Abby, my oldest, was mature enough to decide on her own which books she felt like she was finished with and could benefit other kids more than they could sitting on her shelf. She liked the idea that she could help other kids who didn’t have as many books as she did. We donated most of our books, but we did set some aside to try to sell through a buyback program. The kids liked the idea that they could earn some pocket money that way as well.
Tip: I find it also help to be honest with myself about why we own certain things. We had quite a few classic books like Little Women, Little House on the Prairie, or Newberry winners that my kids have tried but didn’t particularly like. I was keeping them just because they are classics and I wished my kids liked them. And I liked the idea of having our very own library. When I was little, I was the kid who would sit in my room reading C.S. Lewis. But none of my children are, even though in my imagination that would be great. They prefer more modern stories, and honestly that’s okay. In reality, my kids, even the avid readers, just aren’t very interested right now in spending their free time reading classic literature, and if they are in the future it is very easy to find those titles at school or our local library. Some classics, like just about everything I read in high school English, are in the public domain and can even be downloaded instantly for free on Amazon if/when we decide we’d like to read them. Even though a small part of my brain was telling me I should keep some things for what if or one day, I let many of them go.
We also found that we have been spending quite a bit more time looking for free family activities that get us outside. We have been frequenting our local parks more (it does help that the weather has improved quite a bit). But even at our house, the kids have discovered some activities they really enjoy. Our younger son found a kite in the garage during our clean-out process and has been flying it just about every day since. The kids have developed healthier habits this way as well. We are packing a picnic dinner or taking our reusable water bottles, whereas in the past we might have just stopped for fast food on the way home.
This month we cleared out an additional:
2 bags of linens
2 bags of trash from the kids’ linen closet (expired medicines, etc)
3 boxes from the garage
2 bags of misc trash
1 box of picture frames + several large frames
2 boxes of keepsakes
3 bags of trash
**We found $75 in unused gift cards while going through a shoe box of old birthday cards
1 dresser- Our boys’ dresser was broken. Eddie and I had cleared out so many clothes that we were able to consolidate our stuff into one dresser and pass the extra dresser from our room onto the boys. This saved us at least $100 because we didn’t need to go buy another dresser for the boys.
4 boxes of clothes from our master bedroom
2 large Ziplock freezer bags of jewelry.
1 bin of miscellaneous
1 truck load of broken electronics
1 bin of Girls’ clothes
2 boxes of kitchen items
That is only the stuff we gave away or threw in the trash. It doesn’t even include any of the items we sold on Craigslist or the Facebook Mom Swap, and there were several of those as well.
That’s 25 boxes more and bags of stuff that left our house, plus at least one truckload of stuff to the dump and some large items like the broken dresser and some outgrown bikes and scooters that were sold or donated, which are not on this list.
That brings our total to about 75 boxes and bags that have been donated or trashed, plus a few large items and other stuff we sold. How in the world did we have that many boxes of extra stuff just lying around? I have absolutely no idea. But the good news is that we haven’t missed any of it. At all. In fact, months into this journey I really couldn’t tell you what was in any of the boxes we donated in month 1, but I know I haven’t needed any of it.
Since January 1st, we have made almost exactly $900 selling things online. Plus that extra bonus $75 in gift cards we aren’t counting in that total. (One was $25 for a restaurant, the other was a $50 Visa gift card.) We’ve sold a few big-ticket items like music equipment, and a new-in-the box sewing machine, but mostly it’s been several smaller things. Eddie has been meeting people a few times each week. Twenty bucks here and there for a toy the kids outgrew or some household items adds up pretty quickly! Our goal was to make $1,000 this year selling things we no longer needed, and I think we are going to hit it, or most likely surpass it, within the next week or two.
How It Trickles Over:
So far, we have found that we still have quite a bit of everyday clutter on our kitchen counters and pretty much all flat surfaces. I think as we continue throughout the year, that will dwindle a bit, but with a large family I don’t think it will ever completely disappear.
Where we really see a difference is in regular household management and how it has a trickle-down effect into other areas of our lives, which are becoming much more manageable and less stressful. Particularly the finances, which was a welcome surprise.
- As I said in previous posts, it’s much easier to keep up with dishes and laundry simply because when you have less stuff in the first place, there is less stuff to wash.
- It’s also much faster and easier to straighten a room. The kids’ playroom has stayed straight for the past month, since we did a huge overhaul in that room. The fact that it’s clean is a small miracle, but I am still shocked by how much more they actually engage in imaginative play now than they did before.
- We are saving so much money! I told you last month, we paid off out student loans! Minimalizing has revolutionized my shopping habits, if only because I really do know what we have now, whereas before I only sort of had a vague idea. I know which kid actually needs shorts for summer, and how many bottles of ketchup are in the pantry, so I’m not wasting money buying duplicates. I’m also not tempted to buy impulse items.
- We are being more practical when we do need to purchase new things. This year for Easter instead of a basket, each child is getting a new bike helmet filled with a new bathing suit and a few pieces of candy. They needed new helmets and they will use the suits all year. Hopefully making small changes like this will reduce the amount of clutter because we are eliminating unnecessary stuff like plastic baskets and tiny stuffed animals that have come along with this holiday in the past.
- It has also changed my grocery shopping, oddly enough. I will do a separate post about this, but I have streamlined my meal planning and shopping habits and we are eating at home more, which has cut an average of at least $400 per month off our grocery budget! In the meantime, check out my post on affordable options for organic food.
- We are dressing better. We only own things we like that look good on us and are comfortable, so we feel better and look more put together. We also took time this month to make an actual inventory (spreadsheet and all) of Eddie’s clothes, and he was able to fill in with just a few pieces he needed to wear to the office. I think he only bought three things (one shirt and 2 pars of pants), but it revamped his entire work wardrobe. The kids also tend to look more put-together because, for the most part, we only kept pieces for them they could easily mix and match.
- We have more free time. This weekend we spent quite a bit of time going through our stuff and dropping off donations, but we didn’t really need to spend much time at all actually cleaning. We are finding we have more time for trips to the park or fun outings for the kids. Yesterday we used some gift cards the boys received for their birthdays to go to Chuck E. Cheese for the afternoon.
- It really makes you confront your privilege head-on. There are so many people around the world who live with so little, and here we are in middle-class America where one of our biggest sources of stress is that we have too much. So much, in fact, that we simply can’t be bothered to take care of most of it. It’s really pretty ridiculous.
- You subconsciously start minimalizing other areas. I notice I’ve spent much less time on social media and watching tv. The kids play outside more often. Everyone is just generally a bit less distracted, and that can’t be bad!
Phew. That was a lot. What do you think? Are you hopping on board the minimalism train? Do you think it’s just a trend? I have to say, I’m so happy with the changes we’ve seen already, I’m pretty sure we are in it for life now.
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