Tips for Organizing Family Life Along with Minimalist Principles

With the kids out of school and you work from home, establishing a routine is important. But that doesn’t mean you need to schedule activities for every minute of your kids’ day – and to do everything perfectly. Today’s summary offers some down-to-earth tips for organizing family life along with minimalist principles.

Summary of Minimalist Parenting - Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest
Summary of Minimalist Parenting – Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest

Content Summary

Recommendation
Take-Aways
Summary
Six “Compass Points” in the Right Direction
Juggling the Family’s Time
“Minimalizing Your Home”
Money Minimalism
Fun and Games
Education Everywhere
Streamlining After-School Activities
Minimalizing Meals
Stress-Free Celebrations and Family Travel
Take Care of You
About the Authors

Recommendation

Families face a bewildering array of choices in all things: entertainment, technology, education, and even child-rearing philosophies. Parenting experts Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest present a “minimalist” approach to family life to help you pare away the extraneous and leave room for the “remarkable.” They advise putting yourself firmly in charge of making it up as you go along and having as much fun as you can along the way. Their tips and insights, while mostly just common sense, cut through the noise to give you more of what you want: quality time with your family. Though the authors teach that you can’t do everything, the book touches on a whole lot of concerns that need simultaneous attention; Koh and Dornfest suggest slow but steady progress. We recommends their advice to help you achieve a family life with enough time for work and play, with more joy and less struggle. Who doesn’t want that?

Take-Aways

  • “Minimalist parenting” helps you find the time to enjoy family life with less stress.
  • Know your values and your family. Keep in your life what you love; let go of the rest.
  • Listen to your “inner bus driver” – the internal voice of wisdom that knows what’s right for you and your family – no matter what everyone else is doing.
  • Making decisions as you go is better than being petrified into inaction. Correct your course later if you must.
  • Stop trying to do everything and excel at all of it, because you can’t. Balance your family’s schedule to include both planned activities and spontaneous fun.
  • Allow your kids to play and even to be bored. Boredom inspires creativity.
  • Put your family’s before- and after-school routines on “autopilot” to make them less stressful for everyone.
  • Plan your meals to save time at the store and in the kitchen.
  • Schedule time for your self-care, even if it’s just an occasional 10 minutes. When you’re good to yourself, it’s easier to be good to those you love.
  • Nurture your relationship with your partner; set aside time for just the two of you.

Summary

Six “Compass Points” in the Right Direction

Contemporary parents are “wrestling with abundance.” Given too many options, they must become highly selective. Many could find some peace in “minimalist parenting,” which calls for becoming deliberate “curators” of their family’s schedules, belongings, and special events. Minimalist parenting is a mind-set that includes six precepts:

  • “Make room for remarkable”: Keep what you love; drop the rest. Sort out your priorities and values.
  • “Know yourself”: Understand the origin of your values. Consider what you absorbed while growing up and whether you want to keep the values you learned.
  • “Know your family”: Recognize how you and the others in your household are alike or different. Remember that people (including you) constantly change.
  • “Trust your decisions”: Hearing your “inner bus driver,” that internal voice of wisdom that knows what’s right for you and your family, sometimes means quieting the daily distractions and slowing down.
  • “Course correction beats perfection”: Be prepared to make occasional changes when necessary and don’t let the fear of making a wrong decision paralyze you.
  • “We’re in this together”: In the mad dash to secure the best of everything for your child, don’t cling to the belief that reaching one particular goal will make or break your kid’s future. To build your children’s resilience, teach them to learn as they go, to navigate challenges and to develop relationships.

Juggling the Family’s Time

Stop trying to do everything – and to do it all perfectly – because you can’t. Think about your ideal schedule. At work, identify your “golden hours,” your daily periods of greatest productivity, and protect them zealously. Curtail distractions so you can focus on one task at a time. Tackle your most challenging work first. Use “in-between minutes” for quick jobs. Leave some free, unstructured time in your schedule. Think twice before you take on more commitments. You’ll always have plenty to do, so schedule times to put work and household chores aside and relax.

“The key lies in fine-tuning your filters so only the important stuff makes it onto your worthy-of-attention radar. The question goes from ‘How do I fit everything in?’ to ‘What’s most important to fit in?’”

To meet your family’s unique needs, figure out the best balance of planned and spontaneous events, and of busy time versus open time. Take a look at your calendar and compare it with what you think would be ideal. Work with your partner to split chores and assign some of them to your older kids. “Swap time” gives one partner a few hours alone while the other takes care of the children. Share a calendar so you two are – either on paper or electronically – on the same page.

“Minimalizing Your Home”

Getting a handle on your possessions first requires understanding why you have so much stuff. If you love an item, or if it is useful, don’t toss it. But think before you buy anything new: Do you need it? Do you want to make room for it?

“The prerequisite for a relaxed family life is [having] the space in your schedule, home and budget to be able to live it.”

Face a cluttered area with bags for trash, recyclables, donations, and objects that need to go elsewhere. Tackle as much of the area as you have time to complete, so you have a sense of accomplishment when you stop. Discard, give away or sell unwanted articles to get them out of the house. Creating a functional, working system for digging out matters more than finding the perfect system. Explain your methods to your kids so they can pitch in and discard unused playthings. Getting rid of old toys helps kids become more creative with what they have. Electronics can be a source of fun and entertainment, or they can suck up every spare moment of your child’s life. Decide the value of electronic toys for your family; set rules to provide a balance and stick to them.

Money Minimalism

Because time is money and money buys time, it’s useful to consider your finances through the lens of your values. Why do you want the items you buy? Distinguish between expenses and investments. No matter where you stand financially, you have to “start where you are and go from there.” Track your money as it comes in and goes out over two months to get an overview. Once you have this clearer picture, plan your financial future. Save for emergencies, retirement and your kid’s college education. Evaluate whether automating payments and withdrawals add to your sense of freedom or makes you feel that you’re losing control.

“You owe it to yourself and your family to give your inner bus driver as much authority as the cacophony of voices around you. That bus driver knows more than you think.”

Teach your children about money management by giving them an allowance or paying them to do chores. Lots of people think pitching in around the home is something kids should do just because they are part of the household, while others believe paying children for small jobs teaches them about “the work-for-money exchange.” Whether you choose an allowance or payments, you should set an amount that is appropriate in terms of how you expect your children to spend the money. Communicate to them the importance of donating to charities as well.

Fun and Games

If you distinguish between you and your partner’s time together and the time your kids need to be alone, your children will grow up respecting those boundaries and will learn to entertain themselves. Be sure you teach them the basics – to share and to be flexible and respectful. Inevitably, disagreements will arise. Give kids the chance to work them out. Offering an opportune snack break might clear up momentary discord. Teaching your kids good manners will take them a long way on playdates.

Education Everywhere

Education doesn’t just happen in the classroom. Taking a broader perspective on your child’s learning can help diminish the relentless, illusory search for perfection that captures many parents during their children’s school years. Remember, you’re raising a well-rounded adult, not a perfect student. Cooking, taking family hikes and reading the funny pages together are all opportunities for conversation, problem-solving and learning.

“Involving children in home management may seem like more work at first, but it’s as close to a parenting ‘sure thing’ as you can get.”

Putting daily routines on “autopilot” is a win-win for kids and parents. Get school clothes and materials ready the night before; check whether kids will need permission slips and cash. When they come home, ensure that they hang up their backpacks and empty their lunchboxes. Decide what comes first: homework, snacks, chores or chill time. Sticking to a routine supports kids as they form good habits that lead to academic success, and it helps parents stay sane.

“Playtime is a kid’s rehearsal for life. By minimalizing your schedule…you’re giving your child the most important gift in the world: time to be a kid.”

When you’re filtering priorities about your kids’ education, examine any leftover attitudes about school that might linger from your youth. Zero in on one or two broad educational goals for your children – do you want them to learn a foreign language or gain exposure to music and art? Factor in a school’s location, convenience, and costs, and choose one that’s right for you and your kids.

Streamlining After-School Activities

Children can choose from a plethora of extracurricular activities, so overscheduling is easy. Keeping kids busy does not guarantee they will succeed, and they could lose out on the “biggest creative motivator”: boredom. Some kids are so used to being always on the go that when the unstructured time presents itself, they don’t know what to do. Listen to your children when it comes to after-school activities. One kid’s fun is another’s torture. Is it your child’s idea to learn a musical instrument, or yours? Sometimes children may benefit from gentle prodding; at other times, your ambitions may be at odds with their goals as individuals.

“The keys to a mostly successful morning launch are to have a plan and to stay calm.”

Unscheduled time over the summer can be a great opportunity to teach kids about volunteering in the community or about earning money, maybe by setting up a sidewalk business or, for older kids, finding a summer job.

Minimalizing Meals

Understanding the unique rhythms of your family is your best guide for choosing the right routines at mealtimes. Start by assessing your attitude toward cooking – do you love it or not? Think about the realities of your schedule: Are you shuttling kids around or coming home from work just before dinnertime? Do you have time to put a meal together?

“Meal planning takes a few minutes, but it will save you hours (and stress) during the week.”

Having a plan for weekly meals before you shop for groceries will save aggravation and wasted time at the store. Plan leftovers or takeout for the busiest nights. Simple dinners that are quick to prepare are fine. Ask your family for meal ideas. Try an online meal-planning service. Some stores also offer online ordering, so you need only pick up your groceries. Make shopping more fun by using it as a time to reconnect with your kids and to teach them about nutrition. Let children pick out fruits or vegetables they’d like to try. Avoid the junk food aisles.

“Do those things – and only those things – that make the holidays happy for you and your family.”

Focus on the family at mealtimes. Start by acknowledging what you’re grateful for: It slows a hectic pace and begins a more mindful time together. Practice manners limit how many times children can pop up and down from the table, and make sure everyone pitches in to clean up.

Stress-Free Celebrations and Family Travel

If you or your child dreads big birthday bashes, don’t stress. Something that is just the right size – perhaps more contained and modest – beats a stressful over-the-top production; sleepovers or outings with a few friends – and perhaps a larger, more special birthday celebration every few years – will suffice. Email invitations are just fine, unless you enjoy handwriting them. A few balloons, some colored disposable plates, and a paper tablecloth will create a festive atmosphere. If stress creeps in, list what you need to do in the order of how much fun each step generates; that is, do what’s fun and don’t worry about the rest.

“Travel is supposed to be about doing what feels fun and interesting, not about slavishly checking must-see items off a list.”

List the factors that make the holidays special in your family and drop anything extraneous or stressful. Notice which tasks make you feel anxious when you even think about them and cut them off your list. Keep the traditions that bring emotional rewards. For example, instead of scrapping the annual party, trim the stress by making this year’s dinner a potluck where everybody brings something to share.

“Self-care sets a crucial example for your kids about the relationship between taking care of yourself and being able to take care of others.”

Holidays come with family dynamics. You can control only yourself and your reactions, so try to let the rest go. As for gifts, make a plan and prune it to be manageable in terms of your time and budget. For instance, family members will love your kids’ artwork or tickets to an event rather than items that add to their clutter. Show your children how to be charitable by preparing gifts that benefit good causes. Take advantage of the anticipated influx of new toys to work with your kids in culling and donating old toys.

“For a relationship to survive (and thrive!), you need to get out and actually talk and listen to one another, away from the clamor of family life.”

Family vacations don’t have to be expensive, and you don’t have to go far – a weekend focused on fun and relaxation at the beach, in a park or the mountains will provide priceless memories. However, if traveling is a priority, the budget for it. Keep the items you bring along to a minimum: For instance, use the hotel’s crib or rent a stroller. Your kids don’t need to take lots of toys with them. Pack a basic wardrobe of fewer items and do some laundry while on vacation. Take the time to bond as a family by putting away the electronic gadgets once you arrive. Just as at home, resist overscheduling. Travel can disrupt everyone’s sleep times, especially children’s, so just accept it.

Take Care of You

When you take care of yourself, you’ll create good feelings that percolate throughout all your relationships. Permit yourself to schedule time for your well-being. Start with a small, reachable goal – for example, run 10 minutes daily instead of trying to find an hour for the gym. If this is a new attitude for you, let it evolve. Spending time nurturing your relationship with your partner is also an aspect of self-care. Don’t let grievances fester; clear the air sooner rather than later. Remember that small kindnesses toward one another make you each feel appreciated.

About the Authors

Christine Koh is a designer, writer, and founder of Boston Mamas. Asha Dornfest founded the blog, ParentHacks.

Published by Jeannette Scott

, a wellness coach specializing in stress management and quality of life. She’s covered topics from nutrition to psychology, from sexuality to autoimmune diseases and cancer.