5. From Clutter to Curation: Minimalizing Your Home – Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less

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From Clutter to Curation: Minimalizing Your Home

You know that ahhhh feeling when you spend time in a tidy, organized room? Space that contains just what it needs to be functional and comfortable—but no more—lets you relax and think in a way you just can’t in a cluttered environment. The same is true for kids: when the playroom (or homework desk or art project area) is clear and only a few toys or supplies are on display, creative thinking and imagination have room to run.

You’re about to transform your home into that retreat. It won’t happen overnight and it won’t happen without effort, but it will happen and we’ll help you get there. In this chapter, we’ll show you how to declutter your home, organize what’s left, keep it maintained, and, most importantly, get the whole family involved.

Decluttering: How to Unstuff

As families grow, so—typically—does the clutter. Stuff multiplies like rabbits, and empty spaces fill with crap (yes, crap). Kids complain about having nothing to play with, when they are actually overwhelmed by the volume of toys available. No more! It’s time to cut the crap and declutter. (Don’t worry about organizing for now—when you declutter first you won’t waste time organizing stuff you’ll ultimately toss.)

Getting Started

The mere idea of decluttering can be overwhelming. We get it, which is why we lay out a series of small steps for getting started. Whether you have an hour or just fifteen minutes, you can make a difference. Here’s how to get the ball rolling:

Grab Your Supplies

Assemble your decluttering receptacles. We recommend: (1) a large trash bag for trash; (2) a paper grocery bag for recyclables; (3) another large trash bag for donations; and (4) a storage bin for the remaining items that need to be put away elsewhere in the house.

Identify Your Target Area

With your supplies in hand, identify your target area. Start with a high-traffic area or the area that bugs you most (e.g., toy/crap pile in the corner of the living room) so immediate gratification can further motivate your decluttering efforts.

Set Reachable Goals Based on Your Time

Set yourself up to succeed. Instead of saying “I’m going to organize the basement today!” start with a tangible goal you can complete in the block of time you have available (e.g., a single rack of shelves in the basement, or even a single shelf).

I tend to get overwhelmed by all the decisions decluttering forces me to make. Should I sell this item or give it away? Where should this go? Do I really need it? Because I can become paralyzed by indecision, I need to break decluttering projects into small bits. I either set the timer for ten-minute decluttering sessions or I declutter one small space at a time. Or, I enlist a buddy to help.

Have an Exit Strategy

End your decluttering session with the reward of admiring your newly opened-up space . . . not the pile of stuff you now need to figure out how to distribute. Leave time to get the stuff you declutter out of your house. Ideally, you’ll take it directly to the donation station, but at a minimum, clear space in your garage or car trunk for future sale, donation, or giveaway. We’ll talk more specifically about finding new homes for your stuff later in the chapter.

Getting into a Decluttering Rhythm

Now that you have crossed the threshold from “thinking about” to “doing,” here are some tips for getting into a decluttering rhythm.

Be Objective

Measure the worth of your belongings against objective questions. On our blog, MaryJo of respacedpdx.com suggested the following excellent benchmark: “Would I pay money to replace it if it were lost in a fire?” Asha’s version is “Would I take this to my retirement studio in SoHo?” (We talk more about how to assess worth and value in chapter 6.) Go fast: If you can’t quickly identify a meaningful or useful purpose for an item, move it out.

Start with the Big and/or Expensive Stuff

One way to start off with a bang is to focus on donating or selling high-value pieces and large items. The money and/or space you gain will motivate you to keep going. Something else to consider: when you give items to friends or family who need them, instead of selling them, you’ll feel good about helping someone you love and you’ll clear space right away and you’ll save the time and energy it takes to coordinate transactions.

After buying a streamlined music system for our home, Jon and I were looking to unload a small stereo system. I initially listed the stereo on Craigslist, but at that particular point in time I found myself overwhelmed with dealing with more e-mail and people trying to haggle down our asking price. I conveyed this to Jon and he said, “Don’t spend another minute on it. Why don’t we ask Thomas [the college-bound son of our next door neighbor] if he wants it?” When we offered the stereo to Thomas, he asked how much we wanted for it and we said we’d simply love for him to take it. He looked surprised and happy, and we felt happy too.

Avoiding the Nostalgia Stall-Out

You’re trying to declutter but you’ve hit a wall. Perhaps several walls, in the form of boxes of letters from old flames, your first basketball trophy, expensive camping gear from when you used to love camping (ten years ago), and piles of baby paraphernalia.

If nostalgia is bogging you down, here are some tips for honoring it while maintaining your decluttering momentum.

Challenge the Nostalgia

Nostalgia is natural, but the box of letters from ex-boy/girlfriends? Not necessary (or productive). Nor is every holiday card and letter, unless something extremely meaningful is written inside. Your personal journals, on the other hand, might be worth saving. Think in terms of your living history; keep select items that will paint a picture of who you were at different phases of your life and discard the rest.

Mirabai is extremely sentimental, so culling her possessions involves lots of resistance and worry that she’ll lose happy associations. We talk about the difference between objects and memories, and that the two don’t need to remain attached. We take pictures of favorite toys and store them in a digital album; the very act of “keeping” something—even if it’s just an image—usually gives her enough acknowledgment and closure that she can part with her belongings. This is also a good way to handle your child’s art projects and building block creations. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could even create a photo book out of the results.

Use Your Reaction As a Benchmark

Unless you have an immediate positive reaction to an item, you can probably let it go. If you have a decidedly negative reaction to an item, definitely get rid of it. Removing toxicity from your life = good. You’re making room for remarkable!

Don’t Save Things “Just In Case”

One thing that became clear to Christine following her secondhand baby shower (see chapter 4) was that she is lucky to be blessed by abundance. Thanks to her friends, she was able to prepare for Violet’s arrival at basically zero expense. It also enabled her to get past the nostalgia of Violet’s outgrown things and whether or not she should save things “just in case”:

I have no idea whether I’m done growing babies. However, there is one thing I am certain of, and it’s that I can’t bear to hold on to baby things I may or may not need in the future when there are people who need them now.

Our stuffed animal donation (which I described in chapter 4) was a bit of a wake-up call for me. We collected so much and I felt so much lighter—emotionally and physically—knowing that these items would make their way into the hands of kids in need. Not too long after donating the stuffed animals, I heard that my town was coordinating a toy/clothing/gear drive for local families in need. I was determined to identify items that I could use if we have another baby and donate them to people who needed them now. I took ten minutes to scour the basement and collected a stroller, a Snap N Go stroller base, a wooden high chair, and two baby play gyms. All of these items were handed down to me and it seemed only fitting to hand them down to someone else.

Create a “Last Stop”

If you can’t decide whether or not to let something go (and it’s slowing you down or amping up your anxiety), create a “last stop.” The last stop is an opaque bag or box that will serve as a way station for the stuff you’re not ready to release. When the last stop is full, close it up, label it LAST STOP, and date it one year from now. Then stow it in a forgotten corner of your garage or basement. As you move on with your life and you find you need or want an item in the last stop, you can always retrieve it. But you probably won’t. In fact, you’ll probably forget all about the last stop. A year from now, you’ll be able to donate it with ease.

One caveat: the last stop can turn into a pit of indecision, so we challenge you to ONLY use the last stop for a very few items. But this method acknowledges the difficulty of getting rid of emotionally charged stuff, and it gives you the chance to gain some distance while maintaining your progress.

Finding Your Stuff a New Home

It can be tough to start decluttering, but once you get going, it’s hard to stop. However, it does create an ironic bottleneck: if you don’t have a clear strategy for getting the stuff out the door, your growing pile of newly decluttered stuff creates its own clutter problem. Also, if your kids are like ours, they get curious (and even nervous) about the contents of donation bags and want to rifle through them, which inevitably ends in frustration and tears (either theirs or yours).

Our best advice? Choose the method of distribution that involves the least amount of time and mental overhead. If you enjoy yard sales or selling stuff online, great, but if you don’t, consider the few hundred dollars you would have made as an investment in your mental health and give the stuff away. Donate it, give it to friends and family, whatever. The good you’ll do the universe and yourself will radiate for years to come.

Here’s a roundup of ways to move your stuff out the door:

Donate It

In addition to places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army, several charitable organizations will show up at your house with a truck to take away your large donations (even your old car can net you a charitable tax deduction).

Consign It

More and more consignment shops and specialty sale events (particularly for kids’ items) are cropping up as parents see the need and utility of recycling. Extra bonus: when you bring in outgrown clothing to consign, you can search for bargains in the next sizes up for your kids.

Sell It Online

This is easier if you’re tech savvy, and we recommend it for higher-value items (i.e., the stuff that’s worth the effort of listing, communicating with buyers, and shipping). Craigslist and eBay are popular options.

Have a Yard Sale

If tech isn’t your thing, try a yard sale. This is more of a logistical time sink (making signs, hauling out goods, etc.) but you get the added bonus of getting to know people in your neighborhood, and your kids will have a ball. Offer a range of interesting items and price things to move (the ultimate goal is to not drag anything back into the house). Another good option is to coordinate a street-wide yard sale with neighbors to entice a bigger crowd. Bonus points if you pass along any remaining items by arranging a donation pickup or by dropping items off at Goodwill directly after the sale.

Our trick with yard sales is to distract the kids so they don’t rediscover toys and household items we agreed to pass along. I encourage them to set up a lemonade stand or a separate sale table with a selection of their own stuff. They get to make a little money and exercise their negotiation skills, and we sidestep the temptation to “readopt” old toys.

Swap It

Swapping is another great option, whether you do it with friends or online. In some towns, parents coordinate local e-mail lists and community boards and regularly swap goods and services with other members of the group.

Curb It

Sometimes decluttering/recycling is as easy as leaving things on the curb. One option is to use Freecycle.org, a service that allows you to list items you want to give away; individuals come and pick them up from the curb. Christine lives in an urban neighborhood and she has had good luck simply putting stuff on the curb with a FREE! sign on it. Typically items are gone within the hour; one time a rug she was walking out to the curb didn’t even touch the sidewalk. Someone driving by stopped their car, asked if they could take the rug, and off it went with a happy new owner.

Dump It

As a last resort, you can send whatever you can’t sell or give away to the dump. For a fee, you can hire a junk disposal company to come to your house, load your stuff in a truck, and haul it away to be disposed of properly. Or, you can take your items to your town dump (be sure to check with your city for proper disposal guidelines).

One of my girlfriends lives in an affluent Boston suburb where there is no trash pickup; you have to take everything to the town dump on your own. At first I thought, “Man, that’s inconvenient. I’d hate to have to schlep my stinky trash to the dump!” But my friend shared two upsides: first, because you have to haul it, you try to proactively reduce waste via recycling or by consuming less. And second, my friend’s town dump has turned into a vibrant swapping marketplace via a separate area for hand-me-downs.

Pause to Appreciate the Reward of a Hard Job Well Done

A crucial step in every accomplishment, and one we often forget as parents, is to stop, acknowledge, and celebrate. You just did something amazing! Step back and appreciate your hard work. If necessary, grab your partner (or your entire family!) and say, “See what I did? Isn’t it great? I’m so proud of myself!” Gloat if you must! Never miss a chance to acknowledge an accomplishment, even if it means patting your own back.

Tidying Up What’s Left

Now that you’ve gotten rid of the clutter, it’s time to organize what’s left. You might be surprised by how much easier this will be given your newfound space and minimalizing momentum!

If you have an organizing routine in mind, you won’t have to rethink it each time you have a few minutes to spend on the job. When it comes to organization, one size does not necessarily fit all. One of our favorite organizing mavens, Meagan Francis of TheHappiestMom.com, shared this wise advice: “The key to getting organized isn’t finding that one true perfect system. It’s creating a system. Any system. And then doing it!”

Here are our best tips for organizing your home quickly and without a lot of fuss. If you need more detailed instructions for top-to-bottom home organization, we list some of our favorite books and resources at the end of this book.

Divide Spaces into Zones Based on Function

As you go through your home, think in terms of what needs to happen in each room or space. Reading, playing, working, conversing, cooking, cleaning, sleeping . . . you get the picture. By narrowing the function of each space, you can more easily decide what needs to be there.

La Reveuse of thedreamersandme.blogspot.com, via the Minimalist Parenting blog: We’ve set up zones in the hall closet. My coats are on the left, kids’ in the middle, husband’s on the right. We put three bins at the top, marked “mittens/gloves,” “hats,” and “scarves.” This makes it so much easier to keep the closet neat, and we can always find what we need!

Triage Incoming Items Immediately

Deal with mail, school papers, and other items as they come into your home: get rid of the unnecessary stuff immediately, put the rest away (instead of setting it aside to deal with later) and shoehorn dates and tasks into your calendar and to-do list.

Group Similar Items in Containers

Files, baskets, boxes, and bins are your friends; ideally, they’ll be of complementary size, shape, and color so you can reduce the visual clutter in addition to organizing your stuff. Everywhere in your house, collect similar items into groups and contain them.

Meg via the Minimalist Parenting blog: Save the big sturdy diaper boxes with sizes printed on them and use them to collect clothes your baby has outgrown. They’ll automatically be sorted and labeled by size for the next kid.

 

Paige Lewin of MudroomBoston.com, via BostonMamas.com:

We use IKEA shelving with a combination of plastic beverage tubs (to hold chunky toys like bristle blocks and train tracks), plastic lidded boxes (to hold toys that have smaller pieces like LEGO and Playmobil), and built-in rattan baskets for puzzles, games, and dress-up clothes. Once you’ve selected your storage system, explain where everything lives to your child (if he or she is old enough)—this will go a long way in both playing and cleaning up.

Label Everything

On the list of gadgets we consider worth buying: a hand-held label maker. Handwritten labels are fine, too, but a label maker somehow adds intention and polish to the whole process. Plus, your kids will be dying to get their hands on it, and will therefore be more than happy to help you make the labels.

Paige Lewin of MudroomBoston.com, via BostonMamas.com: If you have the time and inclination, take pictures of the contents of each toy storage container, then laminate and affix them as labels for pre-readers (even better, include the word and the picture).

Use Short Time Windows to Do Small Jobs

Take advantage of bits of time during the day to tidy up small, manageable areas (Christine likes to do this while waiting for her stove-top espresso to brew). Involve your family in general maintenance throughout the day as well, so cleanup at end of the day won’t feel as onerous. Following are examples of tasks you can accomplish in just a few minutes here or there.

Entry

• Stow shoes (in closet or storage bins)

• Hang coats in closet

• Sort mail, recycle junk mail and catalogs, and make a separate stack for items that need tending (e.g., bills)

• Take a load of donations to the car

Kitchen

• Load or empty the dishwasher

• Stow pots/pans/appliances sitting on stove top or countertops

• Clean questionable items out of the fridge

• Sweep the floor

• Empty the trash and recycling

Living Room/Playroom

• Sweep toys into bins

• Stow remotes (in a drawer or storage ottoman)

• Fold throws and put pillows back in place

• Shelve books

Dining Room

• Push all the chairs in

• Clear the table of projects

Office

• Organize paperwork and other materials into to-do piles or files

• Put supplies into bins, cups, or drawers

Bedrooms

• Make beds

• Put away random clothes strewn around

• Tidy the nightstand

• Empty the hamper

Bathrooms

• Neatly fold the hanging towels

• Place all personal care items on a tray

• Clear counters of random odds and ends

• Close the shower curtain and hang the bathmat on the tub

• Stash a couple of extra rolls of toilet paper

Braden via the Minimalist Parenting blog: Clean out the stroller! We live in New York City, so the stroller is like my car, and you know how dirty and cluttered the backseat of your car gets with kids! The stroller gets the same way for city dwellers.

Taming Paper and Digital Clutter

Paper and digital clutter can be just as draining as the physical clutter around your house. Here are our tips for handling all the information coming into (and hopefully going out of) your home.

Mail, Bills, and Other Paper

There are as many strategies for handling household paper as there are pieces of junk mail strewn across your desk. Here are our best tips for processing the mail (for further reading, check the resources section):

Create a Daily Mail Routine

Do a quick sort-and-toss every time you retrieve the mail. Open and recycle envelopes, along with useless inserts, junk mail, and flyers; place bills to be paid in a labeled basket or file, and put mail that requires follow-up in a second basket or file.

Schedule Regular Time to Handle Action Items

Attend to bills and other such obligations daily or weekly—whatever works for you, as long as it’s consistent.

Reduce the Inflow

Sign up for online billing, cancel all but your favorite subscriptions, and register at CatalogChoice.org to reduce junk mail.

Keep As Little Paper As Possible

Unless it’s a tax record, legal paper, unpaid bill, or some other official notice, chances are you can shred or recycle it. Before you file anything, think about whether you can get the same information online or via a phone call.

Consider Delegating the Job

If you have an allergy to handling the mail, consider sharing the job with (or passing it on to) your partner.

Kids’ Schoolwork and Art

Kids produce a lot of paper: some at school in the form of notices, assignments, and projects, some at home in the form of art and writing projects. And while some of it is save-worthy, much of it certainly is not. Here are a few tips on how to manage the flow.

Sort

As with any incoming potential clutter, the first step is to sort the important stuff from the recyclables.

When I walk in with the mail or Laurel hands me a school folder full of papers, I immediately pitch the unnecessary papers in the recycling bin and mark important dates in my calendar (then recycle the notices). It’s a small act, but it helps prevent kitchen counter clutter.

 

Christy via the Minimalist Parenting blog: I have three clipboards—one for each of my children—that hang in our kitchen. Homework assignments, notes from school, birthday party invitations, sports practice schedules, etc., all go on the clipboard. The clipboards can hold a fair amount of paper, but are still limiting, forcing me to declutter regularly.

Contain

Place a basket or file in the entryway or kitchen for all incoming school papers. Allocate one labeled storage box per grade for memorable art/papers; when space is limited, it will force you to trim down and only save what you really want to save.

Display

Kids love to see the products of their creative work displayed for all to admire. Encourage their creativity (and speed along the decluttering) by making room to display and memorialize your kids’ work.

Christy via the Minimalist Parenting blog: I bought a ton of wall-safe sticky tabs and we have a rotating art gallery in the hall. They are nice because they hold all sizes and shapes of things, since my elementary schoolers often come home with oddly shaped or large artistic creations.

Another space-friendly method is to create a digital archive by taking photos of kids’ most treasured items and collecting them into an album or photo book each year.

E-Mail

E-mail overload is getting to be universal. Christine developed an effective “three-touch rule” to cope with the thousands of e-mails she receives each week. The system helped her come to terms with the reality that it’s not only impossible to respond to every query, but that it’s perfectly okay to not respond to everything, particularly when lack of response is due to lack of interest.

First touch—the first pass. Open your e-mail and quickly delete and file “easy” e-mails. For example, Christine deletes e-mails that aren’t addressed to her personally, files e-mails that are addressed to her but aren’t of interest, and responds immediately to time-sensitive matters and work ideas/opportunities/general e-mails that make her happy.

Second touch—hitting the ball back. Respond to e-mails that require more time and energy in order to move things forward (e.g., design or draft something, bullet ideas, create a plan).

Third touch—getting rid of the baggage. This is the final stop for e-mails, and Christine refers to it as the “baggage zone.” These e-mails often represent things we don’t want to address, don’t interest us, or just flat out bug us, but we let them sit there anyway. Get rid of this digital/emotional clutter! Christine figures that if she has touched an e-mail three times and still hasn’t responded, she never will. Better to boot the e-mail out of her inbox than let it sit there, encroaching on her productivity.

This method really works! At the time of this writing, Christine has her inbox down to twenty-one messages!

Photos and Videos

Asha remembers loving her first digital camera so much because it meant no more piles of neglected photographs she couldn’t seem to organize or bring herself to toss. But digital photos and videos create their own kind of clutter simply because they’re so easy to create and save. Here are a few tips on how to keep things under control.

Be a Tough Editor

Christine has become a ruthless photo editor; she values quality over quantity. She strives for small, tightly curated collections of photos. She deletes duplicates and “uglies” (e.g., anyone with eyes half closed, mouth open and full of food, etc.), and photos that are “meh” and don’t tell a story.

Develop a Download and Edit System

Get in a habit of downloading then editing/filing/backing up your photos/videos. If you do it in small batches, the process will be less overwhelming. If need be, set up a recurring to-do list item to handle photos.

Digitally Declutter in Small Chunks

If you’ve got a big digital backlog in need of decluttering, don’t fret. Simply address it in small chunks of time. Consider spending ten minutes every few days to edit then arrange remaining photos into digital collections or albums (most photo software contains this feature), and then back everything up onto a separate hard drive or online service.

Added bonus: once you’ve decluttered your photo collections, photo projects (e.g., albums, calendars, photo books) for holidays and special occasions come together incredibly quickly.

Maintaining Your Minimalized Home

Once your home has been minimalized, maintaining its blissfully decluttered and organized state is easy as long as you attend to it regularly. You’ve already done the hard part; now go the last bit of the distance and build maintenance into your mind-set and practice.

Embrace Your New Role As Curator

As you consider what to let back into your home, remember that you’re now a curator of special things—keep this in mind as you consider purchases. It’s okay to stumble around a bit here. As long as you buy things you can return (and you keep your receipts), you can change your mind later. Ultimately, your goal is to make smart decisions at the store so that returns are moot.

Nutella via the Minimalist Parenting blog: Keeping my house free of new purchases is the best way to keep it free from clutter. This is made easier by not getting catalogs and by sending e-mail advertisements into a “shopping folder” on my computer (in case I do want to buy something, I can access the folder and sale code)! I place items on our wish list, and check it for relevance before birthdays and holidays. It’s amazing how something that was a must-have turns into a why-bother with the passage of a little time!

Take decluttering to another level by adhering to the in/out rule: for every item that comes into the house, one goes out.

Follow a Daily Routine

A little daily cleanup makes all the difference, even if it’s just ten minutes in the evening. Everyone can pitch in (read on for our tips to make that happen). When you find yourself wanting to slump into bed, too tired to clean up, remind yourself that waking up to a tidy home is an investment in your daily happiness and energy level. Think of it as a gift you’re giving yourself.

”Outsource” the Stuff

Keep the basics at home (e.g., art supplies, open-ended toys) and let play gyms, art studios, or your local library house the rest. Plan playdate swaps so your kids and their friends can play with different toys at each other’s homes.

Getting Others Involved

Finding a place for everything and keeping everything in its place takes time and energy. It warrants closing this chapter with a reminder to involve other people in the minimalizing and maintenance of the house. You do not need to do this alone, nor should you.

Share Tasks with Your Partner

If you have a spouse or partner, communicate about shared tasks instead of taking things on in martyr-like fashion and then letting resentment fester. It’s counterproductive to stew about what you feel your partner isn’t doing when he or she may not know your expectations

Remember, too, that your partner may have a different approach to the task at hand . . . and that approach may do the job just as well or be even better than yours.

I was initially shocked by the effectiveness of Jon’s laundry zone strategy. When the laundry is done, he dumps it on the floor (or bed) and first sorts it by person, then folds and distributes. It’s so much faster to sort everything and then fold rather than mentally categorize/fold/put away clothing for each person.

Finally, keep in mind that modeling the shared domestic workload will pay dividends with your kids for the years to come. We talk in more detail about sharing work with your partner in chapter 3.

Get Your Kids Involved As Soon As Possible

The earlier kids are part of the home maintenance process, the more competent they will become. For many kids, the control that comes with assisting in decluttering also helps the process work more smoothly (if not more quickly). We get into detail about chores and household responsibility in chapter 3, but here are some great community tips for getting kids involved:

La Reveuse of thedreamersandme.blogspot.com, via the Minimalist Parenting blog: Make a ‘Clean Up!’ playlist and put it on during quick cleanup with the family (and any friends who are there, too!). We have “I Like to Move It,” “Firework,” “Beautiful Day,” “It’s a New Day,” and a few other upbeat tunes on our playlist. It usually takes two songs to get my living room back to neat and clean if all the kids are helping, and everyone is dancing and having fun.

 

Jaden via the Minimalist Parenting blog: I definitely involve my four-year-old daughter in the process of decluttering her room and artwork . . . Sometimes it’s me who struggles on letting go because my daughter wants to get rid of something that I don’t want her to get rid of (like a book signed and given to her from a relative). I guess I have to model minimal attachment to things. If she is ready to let go, I should be too.

 

Braden via the Minimalist Parenting blog: I have a trusty kitchen timer, and I will tell my kids “You have X minutes to tidy up, and then we are going to do Y. Anything not put away where it belongs when the timer rings is going to go away” (or to “clutter jail”). I follow through, which I think is the key.

Swap Organizing Help with a Friend

Decluttering and organizing goes a lot faster if you have an impartial person on the team. If you’re struggling with separating from your stuff, swap organizing services with a friend. You’ll simplify the decluttering process and get quality time with a friend in the bargain.

Hire a Professional

You may not have the time (or desire) to spend scarce free hours decluttering and cleaning. If you can afford it, hiring a professional organizer or house cleaner is a fantastic investment in your progress toward Minimalist Parenting.

Jon and I both work full time, and while I don’t mind tackling decluttering projects, cleaning has always been a thorn in my side. I mean, I can do a good job and don’t mind the actual process (except for vacuuming, which I detest), but my free time is at a premium. Put more plainly, if given the choice to scrub toilets or hang out with my family, well, that’s a no-brainer.

Jon was reluctant about the idea of a cleaning service. But we finally got to a point where deep cleaning was just not happening, things were getting pretty gross, and one of those online local flash sale deals came along (50 percent off a house cleaning) and I said, “We just have to try this. At least once.”

The cleaning people came and transformed our house in two short hours. It was truly a miracle and Jon and I were converted. And, quite frankly, from a financial standpoint, it’s better for me to pay the cleaners and instead work/bill those hours. Jon and I compromised, and we do light general cleaning maintenance ourselves and have the cleaners come once a month. Best money ever spent in terms of results + sanity. I also decided to gift my mother (who comes and spends time with the girls every week) with a monthly cleaning and it’s probably one of the best gifts I’ve ever given.

The biggest challenge to minimalizing your stuff is simply getting started. You now know how to jump in, get into a rhythm, stem the incoming flow, and take advantage of short time windows and tangible goals. You are not the sole person responsible for this process—involve your family or outsource the jobs that are the biggest drains on your energy and time. Your mind and home will be so much clearer.