Minimalism and Family Life

Minimalist Family

This is the fourth in a series of posts about minimizing your lifestyle choices so that you can travel more. Last week’s post shows a good way to ease into minimalism.

Over the last few years, minimalism has really taken off as a movement. There are tons of articles and blogs out there which espouse the virtues of a minimalist lifestyle. Unfortunately, most of them are written by young, single men or women. There even seems to be a competition as to how few things they claim to own, usually trying to reach the magic number of 100 items or fewer. There are arguments as to whether a toiletry kit counts as one item or multiple items. Seriously.

I do not want to denigrate these enterprising youths, but a lot of their ideas and articles just do not apply to me and my situation. I have a wife, a 17-year old daughter, a 6-year old daughter and an ex-wife. I also run my own business with my wife. I will never, ever own fewer than 100 things. It’s not going to happen.

I do regularly read blogs like Zen Habits by Leo Babauta, whom I respect immensely as he lives in San Francisco with six children, no car and blogs full-time. Last summer, he traveled to Europe with five of his children and only carried a 16-liter backpack. For reference, a 16-liter backpack is about half the size of a typical backpack that college students use on a daily basis. He’s got some great ideas and I recommend that you check out his blog if you haven’t already. He will show you how to take minimalism to the extreme with a family.

I, however, subscribe to Aristotle’s philosophy on the Golden Mean. I prefer moderation when I do almost anything and find that even as a minimalist, I enjoy some comforts. I like decorations on my walls and a bit of color in my house. We own two vehicles and I cannot imagine life in San Diego without them. For one, my wife and I are consultants and visit different clients every day. For another, San Diego public transportation is a complete joke. We have a trolley system that goes nowhere. It does not go to the airport, the beaches, UCSD, USD, Balboa Park, La Jolla, anywhere in North County. It does go to Ikea and Costco because people that shop there probably want to carry their new sofa and 42 rolls of toilet paper on the trolley.

Sorry for the rant. I just really like it when I go to a city as a visitor and can get everywhere on public transportation.

My Take on Minimalism

The key that I have found that enables me to do almost anything, to change almost any habit, is to start small and work up to a goal or an ideal. When we downsized from a 2000 square foot house to an 1100 square foot townhouse, we got rid of a little at a time. Things were cluttered for a while, but we worked through it gradually. We took our time and are still fighting the battle against stuff.

The whole minimalist philosophy for me is to try to reduce the amount of stress in my life. It is not a good idea to have it create stress. With a family, you will not have the same needs/wants as a single 20-something just out of college. If you take a super extreme approach and get rid of everything, trying to reach some arbitrary goal established by someone on the Internet, you will just create misery for all those around you. Minimalism is not a competition. You do not win a prize if you can get your family to own fewer than 100 things each. Minimalism is just about becoming aware of what is important and what is not, of what you think makes you happy and what really makes you happy.

Find Your Own Minimalist Style

There is a recent article in the NY Times written by Graham Hill, creator of, self-made millionaire and minimalist. He writes at length about the benefits he has received from becoming a minimalist. It is an excellent article and you should check it out if you haven’t. Unfortunately, he has come under some serious criticism by Internet heavy hitters like Slate. They complain that he is just a rich guy and it is easy for him to be a minimalist because he can buy the best of everything and still live well with little. They say that the average person cannot duplicate what he has done.

I think that this is just crazy. Anyone can be a minimalist. It is actually quite simple: just consume less stuff. Again, it is not a competition and Graham Hill is not better than anyone else because he consumes less. He has found something that makes him truly happy and he is trying to get other people to experience this happiness for themselves. More stuff will not make you happier, but competing with and complaining about others who are minimalists won’t either.

Minimalism and the Family

The point I am trying to make through all of this is that living a minimalist lifestyle can make you happier and more stress-free, but it needs to be a lifestyle choice, not a competition with others. Get rid of things at your own pace and if family life causes you to have a bit more than that guy on the Internet, don’t sweat it.

Teaching your children that they can survive with fewer toys will benefit them their whole lives. It starts early. When your child begs and pleads at the store for that one item, tell them no. Then explain to them that they have enough at home and they don’t need anything else. The key, and this is really the key so I am emphasizing it again, is that you cannot give in even once. If they throw a tantrum in the middle of the store, rolling around on the ground and screaming and you give in, you will be buying them stuff for the rest of their childhood whenever they decide they want something.

Just recently our younger daughter turned six and had a party to celebrate. We shared the party with another girl in her class whose birthday was the day before. They both loved it because they got to celebrate birthdays for three days in a row (the party was the day after our daughter’s actual birthday). We also told the guests to bring only one present and we would split them up between the girls. This was to try to reduce the amount of new stuff at the house and save a little money for the guests.

Well, we still ended up with a huge new pile of toys, and since we have such a small house, we were forced to do something about it. Sara and our daughter went through all of her old toys one evening this week and got rid of the equivalent of all of the incoming toys. We gave the old toys away and our daughter learned about the value of reducing what she owned and the joy of giving to others. The kids that received her toys were so grateful and she got to see it in their faces.

Some adults feel trapped by their kids into owning lots of things. They feel that they need to constantly buy new things or else the kids will be bored. Instead, I would encourage the kids to learn to entertain themselves with what they have. One of the favorite toys around our house is still the standby that was a favorite when I was a kid: a cardboard box. I am amazed at the creativity that kids have with those things. We have had some seriously intricate bug hotels built at our house recently with Amazon boxes.

If you feel trapped or overwhelmed by all of your stuff and don’t know what to do about it because you have a family. I would encourage you to get the whole family involved in reducing your stuff. Make it a game. Make them some money by helping them sell some of it. Instead of buying them toys, buy them paper and markers, scissors and glue. Teach them to create instead of consume. You might just change their life and make them happier in the process.


TravlMor Series

How to Develop a Minimalist Mindset (TravlMor 1)

How to Get Rid of Your Stuff - The Extreme Method (TravlMor 2)

How to Get Rid of Your Stuff - The Ease-Into-It Method (TravlMor 3)

Minimalism and Family Life (TravlMor 4)

How to Save Money at Restaurants (TravlMor 5)

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  • Jacqueline Bair

    Thank you so much for this. As a mom who works part time but has two little girls, minimalism is something I try to do but is not quite what the regular articles say to do (I cannot get down to 100 items, even if I wanted to). I have been looking for articles such as this one (family minimalism). Great job!

    • It is difficult with kids. There is always something else that needs to be done, it’s difficult to find time to get rid of things. Thanks for reading!

  • Great insights on family and minimalism, Phil.

    A huge part of me wishes I had keyed into this “movement” at an earlier age – like your daughter at the age of six.

    By the way, another fantastic blog dealing with minimalism and family (and, more importantly, financials) is It’s a great blog with a plethora of helpful information.

    • Thanks, Paul. I catch myself wishing I had been different at a younger age a lot as well, but it’s better late than never, right? I checked out mrmoneymustache and it will definitely be a regular read for me from now on. Thanks for the tip!

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