How I Keep Clutter to a Minimum in a Tiny(ish) Home with Small Children
Our small house started out as a starter home for two giddy newlyweds, giant compared to our 600 sqft apartment. The plan was to move out in a couple of years when we wanted to start a family. Fast forward 8 years, a few career changes, a massive salary cut, and two kids later, and we are still in the same house. Some days, I feel like the walls are closing in on us (picture the trash compactor scene in Star Wars). I’m Princess Leia, desperately trying to arrange the stuff inside just right to keep from being crushed or drowned from all the clutter. Other days, I feel like this is just what we need. This one level, two bedroom house keeps us close. It keeps us questioning what is really important, the answer: less stuff, more outdoor time, less expenses and maintenance, more togetherness.
I definitely can’t complain. Our location is great, and the upkeep is manageable. However, on the Princess Leia Trash Compactor days, I tend to go a little crazy. I’ve had to come up with some solutions for our tiny space and full life. I have a lego obsessed 6 year old and a toddler that I homeschool. Staying at home with them is my full time gig. I’m also an art student, a yoga teacher, and my husband often works from home. So, there is a lot going on at our house and we all seem to require our own little spaces for our interests and careers. Clutter is a huge anxiety trigger for me, so I’ve been leaning towards a minimalist lifestyle at first as a coping skill but now, it’s become an embraced way of life. My kids are more creative, imaginative, and peaceful when there is less clutter. It’s easier to relax, invite friends over, and get work done. So, how do I manage this with two kiddos? Here is what I do:
1. We don’t buy a ton of gifts
Our kids are blessed with a loving extended family that makes Christmas and birthdays very special in terms of gifts. So, as parents, we limit Christmas gifts to three gifts. One of them being something useful or consumable and one being educational. While I do enjoy buying my kids toys and frivolous things, it’s a very rare occasion, making it special while also limiting clutter. We as parents try to emphasize life experiences and travel. We openly save spare cash for our own travel adventures and encourage our kids to do the same.
2. Everyone is on board
I used to only purge items on high anxiety days. Now, I find it’s better if I keep up a regular habit, and I got my husband, J., and our 6 year old, B, into the mindset as well. On a regular basis, I will help B clean his room and we will discuss things he still really, really likes and things he’s done playing with. We talk frequently about the clothes and toys he’s been given, and how some kids are not as lucky, and they deserve fun things too. He’s also enjoyed selling a few toys at yard sales. I keep one tote to fill with toys that B. is a little bored with but doesn’t necessarily want to get rid of. This tote is placed in our (small) storage area and rotated out, keeping the clutter at a minimum where he plays most often. It’s truely more sustainable as a mindset and lifestyle rather than just something you do out of stress.
3. Everyone has their own space. Sort of.
The kids share a room, and every other room in the house is shared. It’s just the way it works with a limited amount of square feet. I would love to have my own little art/yoga room, I’d love for B to have his own big boy room with Legos all over, the baby to have her own safe space, and J to have his own office… A girl can dream. But, to avoid feeling like we are constantly invading in on the other person, we do designate some areas as untouchable by others. B and J have their own personal desks and work space area. I have several shelves and drawers in our bedroom and laundry room for my art supplies and such. The baby has the inside of a closet to hold her toys (which inevitably get dragged all throughout the house, but at least she has her own little area.)
4. I practice non-attachment
This is still such a struggle for me because I am so sentimental and can have an emotional connection to just about anything. However, I try to keep in mind “If I had to run out the door, what would I grab?” My kids, of course. Meds, keys, the essentials. Yes, I absolutely have a small box of a baby blanket or two, first outfits, sonogram pictures and such. But I’ve stopped saving everything that evoked an emotion, because it was getting ridiculous. “Oh this is the dress I wore on our 4th date! It doesn’t fit and I’ll never wear it, but…” Just get rid of it. Keep the memories, not all the stuff. I found so much freedom in letting go.
With some compromises, stubbed toes, and IKEA trips, this works. Quiet peacefully, actually. We’ve even hosted Christmas, out of town guests, and host a get together almost monthly. Clutter reduction is an almost daily activity to avoid growing piles.