Minimalism! With Babies and Toddlers!
Because of this blog, I get asked a handful of common questions about living a minimalist lifestyle. The first two are: How do I get started getting rid of things? And, how do you do it with babies/kids?
Babies come with a shocking amount of stuff. While expecting Anabelle, our loving friends and family gave us four baby showers. We also received amazing hand-me-downs. Baby girl had every gadget, swing, and toy she could ever need. Onesies for weeks and blankets for miles. All of those blessings had to live somewhere, and they chose our house.
We got the urge to pare down when Anabelle was about five months old. Even in our giant house, we had filled every room, closet, and cabinet with stuff. We had baby swings in several places, a couple bouncers, some activity mats. We could carry our baby to any room and she’d be all set—no need to bring the fun with us. The fun was already there.
When I started rounding up unnecessary belongings to trash or donate, Anabelle’s stuff was not the first to go. It was close to last. It was hard to separate the good feeling of “someone special gave this to us because they love us” from our increasing desire to not be consumed by our belongings, to not raise our kids in a stuff-laden home. The emotional side of discarding is the hardest. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or take anything special away from our daughter just because I was on this kick.
Simplifying our possessions has gotten easier over the year and a half we’ve been pursuing this lifestyle. We try to practice detachment. Each round of “cuts” makes the next round of targets easier to spot. We could stand to do another sweep of the house before our next baby girl arrives. It’s so easy to accumulate stuff, especially now that we’re in a house again with rooms and closets and cabinets to hide it all.
Here are some ideas that have worked for us for keeping it simple with babies and toddlers.
Set realistic expectations of what’s necessary.
Anabelle’s drawer of newborn and 0-3 month sized onesies was filled to capacity. I stacked them vertically and could not wedge another one in if I tried. We received so many beautiful, new clothes, plus great used clothes with lots of life still in them and on top of that, I bought a couple more packs of white onesies JUST IN CASE.
We live in a world of next-day shipping. There is no need to buy things in advance just in case. Buy it when you need it.
We had too many onesies for her to ever possibly make good use of. This does not count the sleep-and-plays and real “outfits.” Sure, babies spit up and diapers blow out and sometimes you will change their clothes three or four times in a day. But not every day. Do laundry. Even if they literally blew through four onesies a day (not going to happen)—that’s 28 total in one week. Do laundry. Do some simple math and think realistically about how many outfits your kid can use.
Get rid of a small pile of clothes. You will never think of these things again. Your onesie drawer will be breathable and you will spend less time folding clothes and more time staring at those big drooly baby lips.
Also, in regard to what is truly necessary when bringing home a baby: you need a car seat. We opted to skip the infant car seat and buy a convertible car seat that had “tiny fit insert” for little ones. The convertible car seat is NECESSARY because one day your infant will grow into it and they will use it through toddlerhood. The infant car seat is NICE because you can tote that heavy, cumbersome thing everywhere with your baby in it. But that did not sound fun or necessary to me. So we bought the one we would have to have later with the caveat that we could always break down and go buy an infant car seat if it turned out we really needed it. We never did. I just wore Anabelle everywhere and never wasted time lugging around that giant piece of plastic. You can apply the same logic to strollers and any other baby equipment. Rethink necessary.
If you have to remind (force) yourself to use something, discard.
- If you feel like you should find items for every pocket of your giant diaper bag
- If you put a pair of pink lacy overalls with a “CUTE” iron-on decal on your kid just because someone made them by hand
- If you think “screw this effing bottle tree”
- And want to set fire to the mountain of baby blankets
Give it up, buddy. You are not obligated to keep these things until your kid graduates kindergarten, or college, or buys their first house. You are not obligated to keep them today. If you don’t want to use them, discard. So you got duped into thinking this thing was necessary. So someone spent ten hours making something tacky. It’s cool. It’s purpose has been fulfilled. You don’t have to carry that on your back forever. Discard. Move on.
Sometimes you need multiples or backups. Sometimes you will want to have duplicate items on the top and bottom floor of your house like your basket of diapering supplies or a thingy for baby to nap in. But most of the time, duplicates are redundant. For example, if you are of the baby-wearing persuasion—perhaps rethink your “stash.” Slings and wraps and carriers aren’t cheap and though you may use different styles for different activities, you probably don’t need a rainbow of color options. Simplify the stash. Same with strollers, baby bags, baby shoes, toys, lovies, bottles, etc.
Your kid is cute. That cardigan is cute. But you don’t have to buy it.
You can appreciate that something is totally your style and not buy it. It’s possible to identify with a darling pair of baby mocs and walk away from them. It’s permissible to see yet another book about firetrucks that your kid would love and leave it on the shelf. Just because something speaks to you, doesn’t mean it has to go home with you. Appreciate it. Make note of it. Remind yourself that you were content before you saw it. Go in peace, empty handed.
Growing humans require new wardrobes constantly. Babies can grow into a new size every season. It can feel like you are always buying them new clothes unless you consciously rein it in. A capsule wardrobe can help. For each size, think about what they will need for the entire season. Attempt to have all the pieces mix and match. Buy the clothes all at once and try not to shop between seasons/sizes. Plan ahead for special events. Be okay with them wearing the same things over and over again. Some clothes will wear out. That’s not a bad thing. When they grow into the next size, discard the ratty things and (if applicable) pack up the keepers for your next spawn to wear.
30 day list
My goodness, did you find something you know your kid will LOVE? How exciting. Write it down on a 30-day purchase list. If, after 30 days, you think they’ll still love it or need it and you have the cash monies, buy it.
BRING BACK THE VILLAGE. BORROW. (And return.) Check out books at the library. Use your pal’s fancy maternity dress for that wedding you have to attend when you’re eight months pregnant. Happens every time.
I rotate toys. Not because I have tons of spare time to think of random mommy crap to do. Not because I’m super organized. I rotate toys so that at any given time, about 2/3 of Anabelle’s toys are put away in tubs in the closet and not hanging out in my living room. When I rotate them back in, they seem brand new, fun, and exciting. We don’t keep toys in her room or in a separate play room. They are right in the middle of our living space so that we’re always living/playing together. The only way this is manageable is to rotate.
The hardest things to deal with are gifts. On the one hand, you shouldn’t feel forced to keep something around because it was given to you. On the other, someone gave you something because they love you (usually) and that is nice! If you like the gift and can use it, keep it. Maybe it means you need to discard something else. The ol’ “one in, one out” rule. If you do not like the gift, already own something similar, or know you won’t use it, find it a nice, new home. The person who gave it to you already received the joy of giving it to you. Its purpose is complete. You should, ideally, be free to do with it what you like now.
The complication is if you were given something of monetary or sentimental value and you feel like the giver is going to be checking up to see if you have kept and used the item. You’ve got some options. Talk to the giver honestly. Thank them and acknowledge the value of the gift. Explain that you are trying not to accumulate things that you do not need or love. If you can see this going poorly (it probably will), you can find a special nook in your house for these things or rehome them secretly. Take a picture of them if they’re that special. Give them back. Take it case by case. These situations are tricky but gifts don’t constitute a large portion of all you own. You will figure it out.
If you’ve ever visited a kids’ consignment or resale shop, you know that most of their stuff doesn’t get worn out. They blow through it too quickly. These shops are overflowing with stuff. Stuff that we bought. Because it was cute. Because we thought that’s just what you do. Because your kid might need it. Just in case.
We waste our time and money and energy on these things but we don’t have to. You can parent with less. Your kids can know abundant love and wonder and joy and freedom with less. Childhood can mean more than overflowing playrooms and stuffed closets and always stepping on legos and washing fifteen million plastic sippy cups. It can mean...anything you want it to. Like Joshua Becker from Becoming Minimalist wrote last week “Minimalism is the pathway, not the goal. Owning the fewest number of things possible is not the greatest goal for your life or mine. It removes physical distractions so our greatest priorities can be elevated. It allows our lives to be defined by things that matter.”
It may be cool to be a minimalist right now, but it will always be cool to spend more time rubbing yogurt off your tot’s cheek with your saliva covered thumb and watching their face light up when you push them in a swing at the “duck park” than you do picking up toys and putting away laundry. Parenting with less stuff frees up time, money, and space for you to imagine a new way of being together and raising your little humans.