I’m a moderate minimalist. I don’t want our home to be sparse and bare, rather selective and edited. Living simply doesn’t exactly come easy to me, but I’m learning, and it’s making my family’s life easier.
Some positives I’m seeing from living a more minimal life:
- Less mess to clean up.
- Saves money not shopping for unneeded things.
- Makes everyday life and trying to find things simpler.
- Helps use available space to its full potential.
- Feels peaceful in a clutter-free home.
Simply put, the less you have, the better it will fit into your home and the less organizing you will have to do. These are my personal guidelines for owning and editing the things at our house:
Every thing needs it’s own spot to be put away.
A place for everything and everything in its place, as they say. Bills, bags, books — each item needs it’s own space. If there isn’t a specific spot for an item on a shelf or in a basket somewhere, it will never be put away, and be left to sit out (right there on the counter, if your family is like mine!).
Try not to own more than one of something.
I understand this doesn’t work with everything, because we each have a passion or two that calls for extras. For example, my husband likes to cook and has, in my opinion, a knife or 10 more than we need. But I think he’d tell you I don’t need to keep 10 cans of paint sitting around in the garage for my projects. But when we were purging, we both agreed we didn’t need two weed wackers or five kinds of pasta strainers, etc. Ditch the duplicates.
If you don’t use it (or like it), lose it.
I held onto a modern white leather office chair that I loved, but had been ruined by my kids and cat with scratches and pen marks. I had a crazy idea that maybe I could recover it myself. Or that I could cover it with some sort of fabric tape. But I didn’t, and it sat around for ages. I finally realized I can’t salvage everything and if it’s not in use, it needs to go.
Some items might be difficult to part with if they have sentimental value. Only you know if it’s worth it to hang onto, but if it’s weighing you down, consider giving it to another home to love.
Keep it up.
It takes time to go through your house and cut out the clutter, and really it’s a never-ending task. Stuff will always find its way into your house — especially with kids! Take the time to keep evaluating and editing what you’re accumulating.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when you’re shopping — and the same goes for donations or garage sale treasures. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it belongs in your space.
Is it something I will use on a regular basis?
Do I actually plan on juicing things weekly with this juicer my friend is giving away? Or will it just take up valuable cabinet space after I lose interest?
Do I already have something similar?
Don’t we all tend to buy a couple of the same pieces of clothing over and over? For me it’s stripes. I would really think I would be sick of them by now, but I’m not. I simply cannot walk by a navy and white striped top without taking a second look. I blame my mother. We both usually look like we’re ready to go yachting at the drop of a hat. A shame no one ever asks us.
Where will it go when I get it home?
If I can’t think of a place where it can have it’s own spot, then I probably won’t buy it. It will just add clutter.
Room by room
So you know my game plan, now here’s a breakdown of what I did to simplify and organize each space in my house:
Before I minimized our kitchen things a few years ago, our cabinets were overflowing with gadgets and various types of tupperware. We couldn’t use half of them even if we wanted to because they were so buried.
Over a few nights, I pulled everything out of the cabinets and put it in the middle of the floor. I threw out or gave away about a third of it and then organized the rest.
We got a lucky break on these cabinet drawers. The previous homeowners put them in, and they’ve proved useful and versatile. As you can see, I only keep a limited number of pots and pans.
I used adjustable drawer dividers to separate utensils in the drawer beside the stove.
The kid dishes and cups occupy half of a cabinet shared with glasses. I try to keep all their dishes the same so they will stack well, and all the sippy cups the same so the parts will interchange easily.
I finally put a container in the cabinet to hold all the sippy cup pieces! It’s just not realistic to think I will put the cups together the way they should go before putting them away.
Before I cleaned out my tupperware cabinet, it looked as if I were some sort of avid collector. I tossed most of the plastic pieces (keeping a few for sending leftovers home with friends) and got a smaller glass set. The blue basket, above, holds the lids.
I put labels in the fridge to help keep it organized. For the shelves, I use labels for: ingredients, snacks, vegetables, fruit, and the most important one, leftovers. Having a specific place for leftovers keeps them from getting left in the back and going to waste.
Visually, my pantry is a work in progress. (See my wire shelf makeover here from our last house.) But we’ve been using dollar store baskets for a couple years and they’ve worked great to organize things. I put labels on the most frequently used ones.
I put up a mini command center on a corner wall to help with scheduling, menus and family info for the babysitter. Get the printables here.
Simplifying our kitchen went something like this:
• Create a space for every appliance, pan, and gadget to go every time it’s put back.
• If we can’t remember the last time we used a gadget or appliance, sayonora.
• Get rid of the random dishes that don’t belong to a set.
• Toss coffee stained, chipped mugs. Where do they all come from? No need taking up good cabinet space when you can’t possibly need all of them.
• Limit the number of reusable water bottles. We currently have five.
• Separate utensils used for cooking on the stove and gadgets into two drawers.
• Put in drawer dividers.
• Streamline kids dishes and cups. Throw away pieces that have seen better days.
• Stop buying random sippy cups and buy only the same ones so they all the pieces fit together.
• Add a basket for kid lids, straws, and pieces.
• Toss the mismatched, stained tupperware containers and invest in a new, smaller glass set. That 60-piece set was getting me nowhere fast.
• Add a basket for tupperware lids.
• Put in baskets and labels for food in pantry.
• Throw out old spices.
• Put labels in the fridge. The most important label we use is “leftovers”. Leftovers would get poked in the side or pushed to the back and go to waste. If they’re all in one place, we know where to look so we can eat them first.
• Start only buying the food we need for the week so the fridge stays organized and we don’t waste food.
• Put a small basket on the counter for those little things that are always sitting around.
• If there is still not enough space for everything, it means more has to go.
My weak spot? The junk drawer. I’ve chosen to let it go. After all, it is called the junk drawer.
Before we moved into our current house, we lived at my parents house for five months. We naively thought we would be there for a month or two, so I only packed a suitcase full of clothes for myself. I brought my favorite everyday pieces and a few pairs of shoes.
Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed having less clothes to choose from. And it was much easier to get dressed when there were only my favorites hanging in the closet. They weren’t buried in clothes that I might wear at some point or hated to get rid of because the tags were still on. I also got more creative and put combinations together I hadn’t thought of before. (See some of my mix and match outfits here.)
I loved the simplicity so much that when we finally did move into our new house, I donated a huge portion of the clothes that had been in storage. After only keeping my absolute favorites, I actually didn’t have a whole lot more hanging in my new closet than what came out of my suitcase at my parent’s house. I will probably add a few things to what I have now — but when I do make a purchase, I will make sure that I absolutely adore it and that fits well.
One treat I gave myself for clearing out my closet was to buy matching no-slip hangers because I didn’t need as many. (Costco had them on sale in the store at $7.99 for 35.) It could be a good thing to only have a set amount of hangers too! I counted about 100 hangers in my closet (not including coats). My goal is try to keep it somewhere around that number. (I should add, however, that I live in southern Florida and don’t really switch out clothes for different seasons.)
I like to hang my tops from sleeveless to long sleeve, and then by color.
Putting ballet flats in a drawer keeps them organized and saves the cubbies for wedges and heels. I use the drawer below this one for flip flops.
I used dishes and pretty drawer dividers (TJ Maxx) to organize jewelry in flat drawers.
Here is my closet simplify list:
• Take everything out.
• Examine every article of clothing and pair of shoes.
• Donate what does not fit well.
• Donate what you wouldn’t buy now.
• Donate clothes that are no longer your style — or age. I just hit my mid thirties and had to get rid of some party dresses that made me look like I was trying to be 22. Not what I’m going for.
• Donate what you have too much of. How many pairs of jeans does a girl need? Which ones do I actually wear?
• Limit T-shirts to one drawer. Any overflow goes.
• Determine a number of hangers that fit your closet and wardrobe and try to stick with that number of hangers in the future.
I few ideas to slim down your closet over time:
• Try turning all the hangers around in the closet. After wearing a piece, turn the hanger facing the other way when you put it back. You can see what has been worn the past year, and donate what hasn’t.
• Stop buying multiples of the same item. (Stripes, Kate! Stripes.)
• Or try to stop buying clothes for six months to a year and realize what you already have in your closet.
Staying at my parents also taught me that I have way too many products. I did fine with the basic things I brought to their house. I didn’t need half of the things clogging my bathroom vanity.
Store pretty things like a set of brushes, a few pieces of jewelry, or perfume bottles out in the open and save cabinet cabinet space for the less attractive necessities. P.S. Here’s one way to shorten a lamp cord.
Once I put the makeup I only wear on occasion in another container, it made it easier to organize and access my everyday makeup in one drawer.
I got so sick of all the cords of my hair straighteners and curling irons tangling together that I ditched all but two of them and cleared out a drawer just for them. I separated them with a tray.
After I used up and threw away products I didn’t use, everything fit easily under the sink.
I sort of went crazy in my house with small, clear storage boxes from the dollar store. There are definitely more beautiful storage containers out there but I prefer these because I can see what’s inside without having to open them. Also, you can’t beat the price. These are things that I don’t use every day.
Here was how I sorted out my bathroom products:
• Throw away all the older or expired bottles — perfume, makeup, masks, nail polish … That will get rid of more than you think!
• Pull out makeup only used on occasion out of the drawer and put it in another container nearby. Then I can simplify my everyday makeup and see it easily.
• Limit myself to 2 sets of shampoo and conditioner. And subsequently, only buy another set when one has run out.
• Limit myself to 3 or 4 hair stylers — curling irons, hair straighteners, hairdryer, etc.
• If I haven’t used anything left in the last 6 months, get rid of it.
See a full tour of my master bathroom (with before and after pictures) here.
In our new house, I eliminated the linen closet in the master by turning it back into a man closet, so we got creative with storage and put shelves over the toilet. This left no room for the random towels or wash cloths that tend to linger in the linen closet. I don’t exactly want to look at that orange and brown floral towel from who knows where up there. All our towels had been around quite awhile, so they became “garage towels” and we started with a new set. (I’m also told you can donate unwanted towels to animal rescue shelters.)
• Get rid of towels and wash cloths with stains or frayed edges.
• Donate or make “garage towels” out of the few odd towels that don’t match the set.
• For now, we will limit ourselves to six towels in the master bathroom and four in the guest bath. (That’s not counting beach towels.)
• Pitch sheets that have started looking dingy or are no longer used.
• Rotate the towels so the get the same wear and will eventually all be ready to replaced at the same time, keeping the set the same.
• Limit ourselves to two or three old blankets for picnics or “tents” with the kids. Why do I keep them all?
Tackling the file cabinet might be the biggest office challenge. Label folders clearly and shred what is outdated.
Office space is something I think varies widely from house to house. I’ll just share what worked for us:
• Get a file cabinet or drawer.
• Assign the following folders: house, health insurance, cars, taxes, financial, each child, pets, manuals, receipts for purchases under warranty.
• Go through every paper and toss what is no longer needed.
• Whatever is left goes in the appropriate folder.
• Create or update family folder with important numbers and documents: social security cards, birth certificates, titles, emergency contacts. (I put this in a separate place than the office area for safety.)
• Take out items that don’t belong in the office area.
• Throw away pens and markers that don’t work.
• Store small office supplies (paper clips, Post-its, tape) in a drawer organizer.
• Put like things in drawers (all paper is together, all dvds, cds).
I wish I had space in our office area for a gift wrap/art station, but I was able to set up shop in a corner of our garage.
A family friend commented on how many toys our kids had a couple years ago. Slightly defensive, I explained that I buy nearly all of their toys at the consignment store for next to nothing. I remember his response exactly: “So it’s ok to spoil them as long as it’s cheap.”
Ooooh, that stung. But I wasn’t angry, because I knew he was right.
I don’t think I consciously linked that comment with minimizing our toys, but it was a turning point for me. Slowly over the last couple years, I’ve bought less and less, and edited more and more. I have found that the boys have more concentrated and creative play for longer periods of time with less toys. Maybe they aren’t as distracted or overwhelmed now that they have fewer toys? (I know I am!)
Not only did I stop buying so many toys, but now I also sort and put certain toys in baskets on the high shelves in their closet — mainly the toys with lots of pieces like blocks, play food, and puzzles. And equally as important, we put all the pieces back as soon as they’re done playing. It took a little bit of training (for all of us), but it’s working so far. They seem to play with the sets or activity longer because it seems more special because it’s not out all the time.
After putting the kids to bed at night, I used to just leave all the toys out, scattered across the floor. Who had the energy for all that? But now that there significantly fewer toys, I’m more motivated to take a couple minutes to do it.
If you’re in a place you’d like to start cutting back on toys, here are the steps I started with:
• Get rid of toys that don’t work or have missing pieces.
• Donate toys your children are too old for instead of keeping them in the toy box mix.
• Give away those toys that you thought they’d love, but just don’t get much attention.
• Recycle the little cheap plastic toys brought home from a party or restaurant.
• Sort the play sets with lots of pieces and store them out of reach so they don’t get scattered about.
• Put concentrated effort into thinking about and limiting birthday and Christmas presents to special selections. (These are our favorites.)
• Ask family members to buy tickets to the zoo or swim lessons or museum visit, etc. instead of more toys.
• Don’t get mad when they buy them toys anyway :)
The baskets on top and the shoebox-size storage boxes below help keep toys organized. We try to take one thing out at a time and put it back when they’re done.
The bigger sets of toys are completely out of reach. These dollar store baskets have held up seriously well over the last couple years. I bought about a dozen of them and use them for all sorts of kids stuff.
More smaller clear storage containers! When all the pieces were at the bottom of the toy box they boys didn’t play with them. After I took them out and separated them, they’re more interested.
When I started out as a mom, I packed the dresser and closet full of clothes for my first newborn. But after being overwhelmed by what still fit and what matched what, I scaled back. Way back. I was also a little disillusioned by the similarity in most boys clothing. Would you like blue and green stripes or blue and green plaid? If we had a girl, I’m sure it would be more of a struggle!
Here is how I organize our boys’ clothing:
• To handle hand-me-downs from one son to another, keep clear bins in the garage with 2 sizes of clothing each.
• Do not keep clothes that don’t fit them in the dresser. Once I realize a shirt is too snug, I place it in a basket I have off to the side in the closet, and then on occasion put it in the appropriate garage bin.
• Only buy a limited number of tops and bottoms. Just to give you an idea, when my oldest pushes through to a new size, I buy him probably 12-14 shirts, 6-8 pairs of shorts, 3 or 4 pairs of pants, and 4-6 sweaters/long sleeve shirts. (Again, we live in Florida, so we can get away with less layering.) After a growth spurt, I hit our local consignment shop, and then maybe pick up another top or bottom off the sale rack as I’m out an about. But it’s not a constant thing I’m looking for. Once he has around this amount of clothing, I simply stop. When you buy most of it at once, you can also make sure it can all mix and match together.
• Same with shoes. They usually have sneakers, crocs, sandals and something fun like a bright pair of Converse.
• Laundry works differently for every home. Around here, I keep a basket for each of them and wash them once a week, keeping them separate. For me, this is easier to keep their things sorted. For my daily cleaning schedule, Go here.
And so …
My house still gets messy (a lot) and dishes still pile up around the sink (a lot), but now with half the stuff, it takes half the time to pick up and put away. It’s not as overwhelming. I’m determined to not let material things be the center of my life by allowing them to consume my time, attention, and space.
Here is a printable home organization checklist to help sum things up: