Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Category: Kids (page 1 of 2)

Birthday Time!

birthday presents

Remember when you were a kid and it was your birthday?

Did you wake up early to find a heaping pile of presents waiting for you next to your spot at the table?

Did it seem like an eternity before your parents woke up, cooked breakfast, got ready, and finally declared that it was time to open presents?

Do you remember each and every gift you ever got?

Did you always get what you wanted?

Did you cherish each item?

Did you play with them all year?
For a few days?
A few hours?
A minute?
Not at all?

Are your memories more about the anticipation, the excitement, and the fun of having and opening presents?

Do you remember the event more than what you got?

I do. There are very few presents that I actually remember receiving for my birthday. I remember the tricycle I got when I was three. I came around the corner to the kitchen and there it was.

I also remember the birthday before I moved to Rochester, MN for my first internship when I got a bunch of pots and pans, a strainer, and toilet paper (yes, toilet paper). I was thrilled!

But mostly I just remember getting presents, not having them. I remember the fun event; the experience.

My oldest daughter turns 6 years old today and she’s also got a pile of presents. She’ll be getting three sets of legos, a scooter, some clothes, and a few other random items from her loving extended family. Then she’ll have a party tomorrow and she’ll get more things. In five years, she probably won’t remember any of them.

What if next year I asked everyone to get her an experience gift? A ticket or photo or teaser of the experience could still be wrapped up, but instead of clogging our closets, the presents would clog her memory bank and photo albums.

Would she then remember our presents and not just the event?

The Toys Have to Go

I’ve struggled with kid stuff for years and have written about it here, here, and here. My kids’ junk may be the main source of clutter-induced stress in my life. Marie Kondo, Joshua Becker, and my mother all agree that you shouldn’t get rid of other people’s stuff (how will they trust you afterwards?), but do kids really count? Mine never want to get rid of anything and I’ve tried all of the psychological tricks. Are my 2 and 5-year-olds really old enough to dictate how cluttered my house is?

I finally decided that the answer to that is a big, fat NO. I agonized over that decision for months before doing anything about it, wondering if I would somehow emotionally injure my children by removing most of their toys. Then, I came across an article that put an abrupt end to my agonizing: Ruth Soukup’s Why I Took My Kids’ Toys Away (& Why They Won’t Get Them Back). Soukup got angry one day and snapped. She cleared out her children’s rooms, all the way down to their comforters; removing everything that wasn’t absolutely essential. What made her do it? Her kids weren’t listening to her pleas to pick up their toys. That sounded all too familiar. That’s when I realized, the toys have to go.


My kids get their toys out by the hundreds and leave them in the living room, their rooms, the kitchen, and even the stairs. They are terrible at cleaning one thing up before getting another thing out. They float from one toy to the other. They don’t appreciate or take care of their toys.

Should we really be teaching our kids to superficially use something, then toss it aside? I now concretely believe that’s what we unintentionally do when we overload our kids with stuff.

After reading Soukup’s article, I wasted no time in clearing the girls’ rooms out.


All of the Toys


I pulled all of the girls’ toys from every corner of the house together and sorted them into three categories:

  • Keepers: These are the classic toys that they come back to again and again. Great books, legos, markers, and our play kitchen toys all fall into this category.
  • Maybe: These are the toys that I wasn’t sure about; toys the kids occasionally played with and really seemed to like. I decided to keep them out of sight for a while and if the girls asked for them, I would bring them back into the rotation. Stuffed animals that are rarely played with and games that occasionally bring us joy, but are barely touched filled this category.
  • No Way: These are the toys that they never play with or that I hate. Loud toys, cheap happy meal toys, toys that are too big and never used. These went directly into a garbage bag.

For those in the Keeper category, I then placed them on the top shelves of their closets and put three items within reach in the toy box, brought down two stuffed animals and filled a small shelf with books. Everything else in this category, I put in a storage bin to rotate in. The new rule is that when one item comes out, another item goes back on the shelf.

What We Kept

The toys we kept were very simple, classic toys that I know my kids love. Art supplies and the easel, legos, blocks, the Lottie dolls, favorite stuffed animals, play kitchen supplies, and a sub-set of puzzles, board games, and books.

My Kids’ Reaction

 I braced myself for a screaming fit and a lot of tough questions, but to my surprise, this was a non-event. I did this while they played outside with their dad. I split the toys up and put them away before they had a chance to ask what I was doing. When they came inside, I told them that I put their favorite toys on their shelf. I told them about the new rule of having one toy out at a time and I told them that if they missed a toy that was not on the shelf that I would rotate it in.

Their response? “OK.”

“To my surprise, this was almost a non-event.”

How It’s Going

It’s amazing how much unfounded anxiety the anticipation of an unknown reaction can cause. This was one of the best things I’ve done since starting my minimalist project. My living room is cleaner. The basement is cleaner. It’s easier to clean almost every space in the house.

In the kids’ rooms I need to do a better job of reinforcing the new rule. Their rooms still get messy and old things are not put away before new ones come out. We just need to work on that. I will say that the time necessary to clean the rooms is much shorter.

This nuclear option seems to have worked for us!

I’m dying to know – how do you keep you kids’ stuff under control?

My Decluttering Kid Stuff Experiment

There is one major decluttering category I haven’t touched yet and it’s taking over our lives and causing the kind of stress that you only feel after stepping on another lego in bare feet. Following Marie Kondo and Joshua Becker’s advice, I haven’t touched (most) of the kids’ things (or Nathan’s actually, but he’s de-owned a few spaces on his own). I can’t even get the kids to help me sort through my things. Is there a pack rat gene? Because I’m pretty sure these kids have inherited one. My daughters are 5 and 2. Here’s how a typical conversation about de-owning goes in our house.

Me: “Girls, do you want to help me decide what we should give away in x room or category?”

Kids: “No, I want to keep ALL our/my stuff!”

Me: “But we aren’t using some of this stuff like, x!”

Kids: [Grabs the item and starts using it.] “We love x. Mom, don’t take away our stuff!”

Me: “Wouldn’t you like to give this to your cousin, Holly?”

Kids: “No!”

Me: “But it’s a baby toy.”

Kids: “Well, we’re babies [fake crying].”

Me: “But there are plenty of kids who don’t have as many things as we do. Don’t you want to help them?”

Kids: “No”

Me: [Disappointed look]

Kids: [Tears]

Now, to be fair, they are really good kids and in every other way would jump to the aid of anyone else in need. I just can’t figure out how to get them to give up their excess things! What do they think is going to happen? That I’ll take away all of the toys?

Finally Decluttering Kid Stuff

Maybe my kids are simply too young to understand what I’m trying to do, but I’m at my wits’ end. Their toys exploding in every corner of the house is causing all of us stress and I know it’s unhealthy for them. I decided to finally take matters into my own hands and try a decluttering kid stuff experiment.

The Experiment

This weekend, I grabbed all of the toys in our living room (which included a corner filled with them, a bookshelf, miscellaneous toys just lying places, and a toybox filled to the brim) and I took them all out. The whole room was practically covered in toys. Then, I started to place toys I knew the girls loved into shoeboxes (a KonMari organization trick) and watched carefully while they began to play with toys they hadn’t seen in months.

We did this for hours. I’d organize another set of toys and they’d move swiftly from one item to the next. Then I bagged up the toys they didn’t touch and set them aside.

De-Owning the Forgotten Toys

I plan to hold onto the bag of unused toys for a while to see if anyone misses them. I doubt they will. The toys in there are things I’ve rarely seen them touch, even when they were new. Getting rid of these is likely the right decision. I’ve also got a completely organized toybox and the kids have actually been putting toys away in their designated spots!

Our Organized Toybox

Our Organized Toybox

No Apologies, But Be Slick About It

I’m still learning how to handle de-owning with kids. I know that if they found the bag and found out what I wanted to do with it, they’d be mad. That’s why the bag is well hidden and I’ll be taking it directly to a donation center when I’m satisfied they won’t miss them. Life’s too short for too much stuff and eventually I think my kids will agree.

Do you have a technique that gets your kids excited about giving away their things? How do you do it?

Why I Love the Library

Library BookWhen I first bought my Kindle, I used it all the time. I could have most books delivered in a matter of seconds and could take a dozen of them with me on vacation (or on my lengthy commute) by carrying something that was less than the size and weight of one typical book. I still think this is pretty amazing.

However, my Kindle got me into the habit of buying books whenever I needed one. I wouldn’t even look anywhere else; I would just buy.

Years later we had kids and that reminded me of a wonderful pastime from my own childhood: our family’s weekly trips to the library. Kids go through so many books that there’s no way you can pay for them all. Suddenly, instead of being a forgotten building that I never used, the library became a treasure trove of not only books, but quality time spent with my children. When money started to feel tight after we moved to DC, my habit of spending money on my Kindle was one of the first to go. I used to spend at least $20 a month on books, but now I only make a Kindle purchase when I absolutely have to and I almost never buy a regular, physical book.

Why I Love the Library

  1. It’s free. Enough said.
  2. Book delivery: Large library systems (like ours in Fairfax County, VA) have many branches and will deliver the book we want to our local branch. It takes a few days, but it saves you lots of time.
  3. Holds: Hold requests allow you to get in line for a book and be notified when it’s available. Then, you can just pop into the library, grab the book, and pop out again. Yes, you do have to wait for popular books, but that just gives you time to finish the stack you already have.
  4. Quality Time: Most libraries have a great children’s section with comfy chairs and small tables. My kids can spend a lot of time there.
  5. Reading programs: Libraries put on great, free programs all the time. It’s the perfect way to entertain your kids on a cold winter day.
  6. Requests: Many libraries let you request books they don’t have. While there’s no guarantee that they’ll get them, if you can wait, this is a nice alternative to buying the book.
  7. Donations: Libraries also accept donations! You can bring your stacks of unused books to the library and write them off on your taxes. We traded in at least 30 books last year for an estimated tax deduction of $2-$9 each.
  8. E-Books: Most libraries carry a limited selection of e-books, so you can still enjoy the benefits of your kindle without paying a cent.

How to Search the Library’s Website

There is one thing I really hate about the library. Most of them have horrible website search systems that are nearly useless. While I am optimistic that someone will improve this system and make it easier to find books, my best advice is to know which book you want before trying to find it at the library. For me, that means searching on Amazon first, then, instead of using the library’s “Subject” search, search on the author or exact title in quotes.

Library Search

Library Search by Title

If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for ahead of time, find something close, figure out which section of the library it’s in and then browse the nearby similar titles.

I estimate I’m saving $100-$200 per year at the library. Are you?

Find your local library here.


On Ownership: A Short Story About a Life Jacket

Life Jacket

This photograph of a child’s life jacket that I bought three years ago says so much. When Alison was just old enough to fit into it, I purchased this from Amazon. I distinctly remember why and it seemed so logical at the time: I wanted to be able to do fun things like kayaking on a random summer morning and I didn’t want to have any excuses not to now that we had a child. I also wanted Alison to be an adventurer, and to understand from a very young age how much fun spending time outside really was. This life jacket would help me do that.

I’d actually thought about the purchase for a long time (much longer than the recommended 30 days) and waited until Alison was big enough to use a regular child-size life jacket (so that she could use it for a long time). I did everything right — except realize that we never actually needed a life jacket of our own.

No one we know owns a boat that would necessitate us bringing our own life jacket. Though I’ve always wanted to own a pair of kayaks, we didn’t have firm plans to do so at the time and we still don’t own any. Additionally, any place where you’ll rent a boat, canoe, kayak, or anything else will also rent you the life jacket.

Since we bought this life jacket three years ago, I’m happy to say that we’ve taken Alison on many a boat ride. She’s been paddle boating in the tidal basin and on our local Lake Accotink.

Paddle boating

Lake Accotink Paddle boating

She’s been on car and passenger ferries and she’s kayaked across Biscayne Bay with a thunderstorm at our backs, next to stingrays and mangroves. She’s also hiked to the highest point in Shenandoah National Park and withstood a 15-mile bike ride to see baby alligators in the Everglades. She loves the outdoors and she begs each weekend to climb rocks and fallen tree branches across the creek in our backyard. In short, she’s growing up exactly the way I wanted her to and, as you can see from the attached tags, we have never once needed this life jacket.

So, the next time I buy something for myself or my kids, I’ll remember the one shopping test that really matters: do I really need to own this?


Check out this link for ideas on how to share instead of own.

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