SLT061: Simple Living With Kids

The number one question we are asked, is about simple living with kids: “Is it possible to simplify your life with kids?” Of course it is! Now we know not everyone has kids, but even if you don’t you probably have nephews or nieces, or friends with kids. So, the good news is that even if you don’t have kids yourself, you’ll probably be able to apply a lot of this to other relationships in your life.

Well first off, simple living with kids doesn’t have to be an oxymoron. Like simplifying the rest of your life, simple living with kids will take some planning, work, and positive change, but it will be well worth it. Read more…


Note: Our new book Supermom vs Super Mom will be free on Amazon all day Friday, 21 March 2014 from midnight PST to midnight PST.

Topic: Simple Living With Kids

Well worth it, yes…but notice I didn’t say “well worth it in the end.” That’s because there really isn’t an end when it comes to simplicity…that’s why we call it a journey.

The “Stuff” Cycle:

Before we get into the different stages of our kids’ lives and how that effects simplicity, there’s something that needs to be addressed first. I call it the “Stuff Cycle”…for lack of a better term. If you don’t realize you operate in a stuff cycle before you have kids, you will as soon as you’re expecting. Here’s how it goes:

Perceived Need Phase:

      • All the things advertisements tell you you need
      • All the things you ‘think’ you need
      • All the things everyone else ‘thinks’ you need and don’t hesitate to tell you

Acquire Phase:

      • Purchase, gift, rent or borrow

Utilization Phase:

      • You figure out what you really need and use

Replacement Phase

      • You fill those needs with things that actually work

Edit Phase:

      • You take action to get the things you don’t need, don’t use, and don’t work out of your life

Refine Phase:

      • Continuously evaluate, acquire, replace or upgrade as necessary, edit as required.

Simplicity Issues at Different Stages of Our Kids’ Lives


    • Just making sure they are cared for requires so much (or we think it does)
    • Amount of stuff required at home…but babies grow up so fast that it’s impossible to use every toy or clothing item 
    • Amount of stuff required on the road
    • Time and attention required


    • First steps of independence
    • Just trying to stay ahead or just keep up parents feel they need to buy every learning gadget or tool so they are ahead when they start kindergarten


    • Starting to understand commercials and get a taste for consumerism and wanting more
      • Brand name toys
      • Brand name clothes
      • Even exposure to peer pressure


    • Consumerism: clothing, gadgets, food
    • More time commitments with extracurricular activity, work, etc.
    • As parents now it’s crunch time to teach them the life skills to be successful adults.


    • Are you responsible or do you hang on to your grown kids’ “stuff” as they start their adult life?
    • Do they feel “entitled” to things beyond their income?
    • What’s your comfort level or threshold for monetary support?

Ways to Keep Simple Living With Kids, Simple!

    • Toys and Gifts
      • Family members go overboard (time for a talk)
      • Birthday parties (manage expectations)
      • Holidays (manage expectations)
    • Boundaries
      • Not every room is the play room (CELF study, Episode 14)
      • Don’t buy more storage for more toys…edit the old to make room for the new…create a boundaries or limit of how many toys your kids can have
      • Limit screen time
      • Personal chores (clean up after self)
      • Family chores (team building, contributing)
    • Routines and Rituals are key to simple living with kids
      • They make kids comfortable and let them know what’s expected of them
      • We’re creatures of habit…good or bad
      • Morning
      • After school routines
        • Snack
        • Homework
        • Dinner clean up and declutter
      • Holidays
        • Again, managing expectations of your kids and relatives
        • Edit before big gift-giving events
    • Having constant communication with your kids
      • Reinforcing ideas
        • Talk about your values regularly
        • Try to instill valuing experiences over things
      • Set the example:
        • Pick up after yourself
        • Limit your own TV and Internet exposure
        • Play with your kids
        • Read to them
        • Give away and donate things (bring your kids along)
      • Stick to your guns on your rules, boundaries and routines. You’ve got to use them and hold everyone including yourself accountable

Major Takeaway

Yes, kids provide their own unique spin on simplicity, but just like us it has a lot to do with how you establish norms in your home, how you manage expectations, the example you set, the boundaries you establish, and how effective you are at using the Laws of Learning (Vanessa covered the laws in Episode 13 in the segment called First Steps on the Road to Simplicity). Just like simplifying the rest of your life, simple living with kids will take lots of planning, work, and positive change. But it will be well worth it for you and serve them well in their life too.


So, how do you simplify life with your kids? What tips or techniques do you use that could help the rest of us? We’d love to know.

 Be sure to leave a comment below.

Thing Segment

Vanessa: Attending the Minimalists meetup, and seeing our friend,  SLT listener and Edit & Forget It member Robin. My main takeaway from Ryan and Joshua was that minimalism looks different for all of us. I also like their take on what they allow or edit in their lives; basically they don’t keep anything that doesn’t add value to their lives (kind of like our “use it, need it, love it” questions we ask when deciding what to edit from our lives).

Dan: The new Add-Ons function in Google Docs. Provides additional functionality right inside Google Documents and Spreadsheets. In your Drive menu bar you’ll notice a new menu option title Add-ons. Click Get Add-ons and explore…you can do mail merge, Avery labels, bibliographies, etc…FREE. For more on Google Docs, check out out our tutorial.

Qs and Comments

Kerry emailed us his story…

Dan and Vanessa,

I couldn’t decide whether to write and tell you how much I appreciate your podcast or to share a little bit of my cluttered story… so I will do both.

I am an Air Force officer, having served for 13 years so far. While I haven’t moved around as much as you did in your careers, moving forced me to take stock of what I owned and what owned me. I grew up with a lot. My dad was a successful doctor and business owner. When I say we had a lot, that might be understating. Christmas morning was like walking into a Toys R Us. While I certainly appreciated the fact that I was lucky, I never took it for granted and shared a lot with my big family that didn’t have as much.

It wasn’t until I joined the Air Force and got married that I began to considered how “stuff” made me feel. I realized that I had hoarding tendencies (from my mother) and a desire to simplify (probably from my dad). From the perspective of having moved away, I realized that my Mom was a hoarder with means. That is, she could afford to keep everything. We had multiple vacation homes and each one had a basement or attic packed full. In addition, she had three 20×40′ storage units, all neatly organized but full! My parents divorced around the time I finished college and joined the AF and my mom continued to spend, collect and store. As a few examples, we had every Dept 56 Christmas Village, Halloween Village, Snow Baby, etc ever made. She also framed EVERYTHING! And you don’t throw away framed things so she now has, in storage, somewhere between 500 and 1000 framed prints.

The longer I was away from home, the more uncomfortable I was going home. While everything in my mother’s home is nice and clean, it’s everywhere. I realized she had a problem when I went home for my sister’s funeral and actually couldn’t set a drink down because every horizontal surface is covered. In the past few years, she has spent and collected herself into near bankruptcy and I still can’t get through to her. But… I started my own journey of self-reflection and consideration. I began to realize that it felt good to divest myself of clutter. I am no where near where I hope to end up, but my awareness of “stuff” has been amazing. I was always a person who collected “just because”. I had 39 bottles of Marylin Merlot wines because people kept buying them and I didn’t know what to do with them. I had every knick knack from childhood stuffed into boxes all over. Most of this stuff (and lots more) is gone. But what I really wanted to do is share with others is that the family aspect can be really hard. My mom and lots of other family members attach so much meaning to stuff that it comes between relationships often. When she visits me and my family, she will load my kids up with toys from the Goodwill. I have asked her not to do this and specifically told her that it makes me stressed and unhappy. But the message isn’t received. When she finds out that I get rid of a lot of the things she buys she is upset. In my mind that means stuff is affecting our relationship.

As for my life, I am inspired by what you guys do and say. I connected with Dan’s story for a few reasons. I am very techie and a mac guy to boot. I am also into home improvement and woodworking. While you guys have your teardrop, I grew up flying hot air balloons (fourth generation pilot). So I own a balloon and that certainly comes with a lot of stuff. But I do my best to keep things simple. I drive a pickup because the balloon fits in the back, but that means I don’t have to own a separate vehicle. Ballooning is my passion and I really enjoy doing it with my family. But if it ever started detracting from life, I would give it up.

So, I have a long way to go, but I am enjoying it. My wife is naturally not a clutterer, but she isn’t sold yet on my journey. I choose to share the important lessons that make my life better. Maybe they will sink in. I learned a long time ago that I can’t force her to do anything she isn’t ready for. Thanks for what you do. I believe it works.

– Kerry


  • Folks, we need some help over there on Amazon reviewing the book. Again, just go to to to review the book.As a special incentive, Supermom vs Super Mom will be available for free all day Friday, 21 March 2014 from midnight PST to midnight PST.
  • I’m working with our friend Joel Zaslofsky of Value of Simple on the SimpleRev simplicity summit.  SimpleRev will be 200+ passionate simple-living advocates. Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist will be there, too! To learn more, just go to or
    • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
    • Date: October 3-4, 2014
    • Venue: University of St. Thomas Downtown Campus
  • Joel put together a fantastic page on where you can find all your transportation options, lodging, what to do, how to get around…everything a conference attendee would like ask about the area at
  • Special thanks to Chauddog, Turtletruth, and Robinvb1 for the reviews you left for us on iTunes. It really does help people find the show.
    • If you’d like to leave a review, just go here on iTunes and click “View in iTunes”, launch iTunes, and then click “Write a Review.”

Finally, sign up for the Edit & Forget It Challenge! If you’re already on our Edit & Forget It Challenge email list, that’s great. If not, you can sign up here.


You can download a PDF of our show prep, too.

Resources and Links:

 Photo Credit: Theo B

Please note: We reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

7 thoughts on “SLT061: Simple Living With Kids

  1. Great topic! We’ve been working so hard to get our teens to understand how important giving is. The “Gimmees” have full reign in our home right now. I’d rather take out my own spleen with an oyster fork than do the mall crawl with my offspring. It’s so depressing. All of that consumerism can swallow a girl up! We are thinking a mission trip with our girls to the dumps of Nicaragua (our church has a school for girls there) is in order..and not just for them–my hub and I could use a cold shower of reality as well. Seeing how the majority of the world lives is hopefully something that will open our eyes and hearts. I’m betting that mall trips will seem petty with a little perspective.
    Great stuff, guys! Thanks for the inspiration.

    • You’re hilarious, Lara! But you’re so right…nothing like visiting those who live day-to-day to bring your perspectives back into reality. That would be an amazing trip, and do so much for your whole family. If you do it, please be sure to share your experiences, ok???

  2. As a mom of 7 kids (5 of them now moved out) I could comment on this topic till the cows come home! I’ll try to stick to just a few things. Let me preface by saying that with 7 kids, and limited income, some of our family ways have been out of necessity, but know that much of this can work for many or few!

    We tried to limit toys. We found that the creative-play toys (like blocks) were likely to last longer than toys that only did one thing. Also, we tried to get toys that could easily be added to, for example, Thomas the Tank Engine wooden train set or Legos. When Christmas or birthdays would come around, we could just add more to what they already had, enabling them to build bigger, and more complicated set-ups but not adding to the sense of clutter.

    We also limited organized extra-curricular activities. Each kid got to choose one sport or music lesson they could do. We were not willing to make our household into crazytown by running all over town every day and night so that everyone could do everything. This taught them that you can’t do it ALL. You have to decide what you really love and what is truly fulfilling. It also taught them that what they do as an individual affects the whole family, and sometimes the good of the many outweighs the good of the one.

    A wise woman once told me to never do for your children what they can do for themselves…i.e. teach the kids to clean their own messes, pick up their own toys, do their own laundry. This is one thing that worked really well for us. My kids even had assigned days for laundry to prevent arguing over the washing machine. The boys were Monday, girls Tuesday, parents Wednesday, boys Thursday, girls Friday, parents Saturday; and on Sunday our poor exhausted washer and dryer got a break. Not only were they responsible for their own stuff, but we had chore charts and everyone helped with the shared spaces of the home. They washed dishes, dusted, swept, vacuumed, scrubbed bathrooms, etc. And I confess, we never paid our kids for these jobs. We wanted them to learn that it was part of being in the family. Mommy doesn’t get paid to cook dinner. Daddy doesn’t get paid to mow the lawn. We do it because we all work together to keep our home running smoothly.

    Our kids have all worked outside the home. They know what it means to save up for something they want. They learn that spending money equals giving up a piece of your life for whatever you are buying. Even my younger kids would find odd jobs like pet sitting, or raking leaves and picking up pinecones for neighbors to earn some spending money. It is amazing to watch a young person at a store who “NEEDS” something, change their mind after you tell them, “Sure, you may get that if you want to spend YOUR money on it!” Suddenly the connection is made as they process that buying that gadget means spending the money they worked so hard to earn.

    Another thing that we do in our family is start at an early age educating our kids about responsibility and unrealistic expectations. We have a saying:

    “With adult privileges comes adult responsibilities.”

    For example, my kids know from a very young age that if they ever want a car, THEY will have to pay for the car (and the gas, and the insurance, and the maintenance.) Granted, there has been a time or two when we have helped them out a bit (like when my daughter’s car needed tires) but they do not EXPECT this from us. We do it as an act of grace and love…a gift. We actually have one teenage son who got rid of an older car he had been gifted by a grandmother! After a year of ownership, he realized he was sacrificing a large chunk of his life working just to put gas in the machine and pay for the constant repairs. He decided having a car was not worth it!

    We also teach our children that when they decide to leave the nest, they are on their own financially. I know this may seem harsh to some readers, but we explain to them that if they want to be an adult and make their own decisions and not have to report to us, then they get ALL the responsibility (rent, utilities, food) that comes with that privilege. This is only fair. It is responsibility that often grounds people and keeps us from behaving foolishly.

    Well, so much for keeping this short and sticking to just a few things! Sorry to take up so much space. 😀

  3. I saw you on the Midway Simplicity youtube channel, and enjoyed your talk. I really liked how you mentioned that when you are in a marriage, you made vows “for better or for worse” and you may have to work on your spouse. None of this nonsense about “relationship clutter” you see on so many simplifying pages. People are NOT things. Some may be harder to deal with than others, but we cannot just take them to the goodwill like a box of books!

    I have had experiences like some above have written about. I have 6 children, and people LOVE to give us stuff. I also admit, I am trying to break my own goodwilll habit :o) I have one relation that gets upset when we give away things she gave us. She even goes to far as to badger the children to find the things she gave them and complain to them when they cant find them. Stuff really does get in the way of this relationship!

    We are in the process of simplifying our life. We made the mistake of adding on a huge addition to our home a few years ago. It was the typical “bigger, better” mindset. I assured people up and down that we would have more space, but would not fill it with more stuff. Boy, was that a joke! our house doubled, and is now full of things. I reached a breaking point last year after the birth of #6 and have been trying to change things for good. I have gone through purges and attempts at simplicity in my life many times. For example, years ago I gave away a whole library of books and sold the shelves on Craigs list. I have given away a whole housefull of toys in my 16 years as a parent. But it always creeps back in. And I am, at times, as much to blame! WHY did I buy 3 little people houses on ebay? Yes, I have 3 little girls, but 3 separate houses is NOT necessary!

    We homeschool, and many people will use that excuse to keep everything that ever comes their way. I have seen some homeschooling homes lined with bookshelves crammed with junk. We are trying to do the opposite here. While I am not a minimalist in this sense, we have a closet of things that include all of our books, art supplies and toddler school manipulatives. This is the limit to what I will have for this purpose. My goal next year is to only buy what I need for the oldest highschooler, and find what I need for the rest from what I already have. Also, If I can find it at the library, I don’t keep it here.

    We have SO far to go in our desire to simplify. My husband is not one for radical change, so things go slowly. In that process I have regressed and given in to the thrift bug…”its so cheap and I just have to have it” goodwill mentality. That is what I have to work on. Everything that comes in the home I will have to deal with. I am trying to remember that and instill Benedictine spirituality of detachment from possessions and focus on the eternal. It is the only thing that is breaking me from my habit.

    Some things we have done with the children to simplify….

    I had TUBS and TUBS of girl clothes. With 5 girls all in a row, I had an excuse to keep all the clothes and shop for more! Well, I went through the tubs and gave most of it away. Who needs 7 puffy church dresses in size 3 anyway? I eliminated outfits for the little girls. This eliminated the matching problem as well as clothes clutter. They each have 7 everyday dresses and 1 church dress. We have leggings and socks, sweater, underclothes, 3 jammies and 2 pairs of shoes each and a good coat and play coat. I sew, so I also eliminated store bought clothes for the girls. Since girl clothes was one of my shopping weaknesses, this eliminated that. Now, I sew their dresses, so they get what they need, and not more. I have my 3 littlest girls down to sharing 1 dresser and 1 closet.
    and its still LOTS!
    My oldest is a teen and she does a very good job of keeping her wardrobe to a beloved and much worn minimum. She does her own clothes care and sees what a movie it has been to be stepped in abundance of fashion. I think she really gets the “less is more” idea. We get most of her things at the thrift shop, but she shops under the rule of “need it and love it or don’t bring it home”

    As for toys, they are all in a locked room in the basement. They must clean up what they have asked for and return them to the room before they get more. It helps them to keep their things clean and in order, establishing good habits for the future. I am also in the process of radically eliminating toys. I heard a figure that in the USA we have 4% of the worlds children yet consume 40% of the toys. Insane.

    We also do not have toys in the bedrooms. Bedrooms are for sleeping and clothes storage.

    I want the children to be happy and to grow up well adjusted knowing that people are more important than things. Our culture encourages the opposite! Our family has always been countercultural in many ways. But this is one way that is very important to get it right on. Our children need to be brought up to reject the consumerism and necessary debt mentality. It does not lead to happiness.

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