Five Tips for Minimalist Parenting of Young Children


Many people in this region of the country are minimalists like myself. It’s often driven by multiple factors including necessity, with the high cost of living and smaller living spaces, as well as eco-consciousness. Plus, I think, the minimalist aesthetic can be très chic and will always be en vogue.

Yet how does one live these values as a parent, especially in a country where childhood is often filled with lots and lots of plastic and excess stuff? And how is this even possible in the holiday season?

Five Tips for Minimalist Parenting

1. Use Your Space Well

Less can be more because it creates intentionality. And the small spaces most of us live in relative to the rest of the country can be an asset here.

I suggest doing three things to maximize a smaller space in a beautiful, eco way:

  1. Be thoughtful about home design
  2. Be careful what you bring in-and keep in your home
  3. Take on that one, last purge in a thoughtful way

When I was much younger I did a homestay in Scandinavia. I was amazed by how beautiful and intentional everyone’s homes were. Hidden storage was everywhere, and there was no clutter. We’ve followed this approach in DC and found some great inexpensive, eco hacks. For example, we’ve used bins or zipper storage bags under the bed and on the top shelf and shoeboxes to store small toys like Legos.

We are working on having everything in our home meet one of two requirements: we will definitely use it over the next five years or it has high sentimental value. I’ve also created a high barrier to entry for any new item I bring into our home, saying no to buttons, flyers, free t-shirts, and the like. Just because it is free doesn’t mean it will enhance your space.

I’m consuming better over time, but the challenge is now to find a good home for things I no longer need. My short-term solution for thoughtful purging? Finding just the right home for groups of items that go together. I’ve successfully listed items as “free to a good home” as long as someone comes and picks them up. Craigslist has been fantastic for general items, and for parenting-related items I’ve gone with my local parent listserv.

2. No Impulse Buys

Here’s the consumption trap: your kid is having a challenge, or you are struggling with an aspect of parenting, and you think consumption can solve it. I’ve done it, and I think all parents have. Take teething. We initially purchased some “teething toys”, which are all plastic and surely made in sweatshops, as we wanted to try everything to help as he was in pain. However, we found that it was cold fruits and veggies to gnaw on and ice that work the best.

I suggest creating a 48-hour waiting period before you buy something. What do you do during that waiting period? Investigate via your own parenting “buyerarchy of needs”. See if something around the house if a match, borrow from a friend to “try before your buy” or for the duration of the need, or do a swap. If none of these are a match see if there’s an option through thrift or perhaps by finding an ethical, sustainable company.

3. Use What You Have

I remember reading a well-crafted list of parenting items that included toys with the joke in there, “Or your kid may just prefer to play with a bag of potato chips”. And for us that has been so true!

Kids get bored pretty easily. Combat boredom with toys by having a smaller number of accessible ones that you rotate in and out.

Life is also one big “toy” and household items are great there. Our son loves taking the drawers out and carrying them around the house, being silly with my favorite blanket, and playing with Chapstick and lotion bottles. My old cell phone and a headset are a top choice for play things, as is “helping” me vacuum and cook. Not only does this save you money and clutter from new items, but it also aligns well with a Montessori-style approach to child development.

We haven’t purchased a new toy for our son for months! Yet he still has lots to play with, including “new” “toys”. Last week I created a “medical kit” and it has been a huge hit. I used an old chocolate tin box with a handle that’s a hand me down and included the nose suction bulb, child nail clippers, liquid medicine syringe, and other toddler-safe medical items. It’s a new favorite and great for fine motor skills! 

4. Embrace the Sharing Economy

Hand me downs from friends are great. I suggest finding friends whose kids are older than yours and match other elements (e.g., born the same time of the year so the seasons match, the same gender if that’s important to you for styles) and systematizing a process for hand me downs. If they are down having children then they will really want to get things out of the house! You may even want to put this in place during pregnancy.

My friends who I was getting clothing hand me downs from have all moved overseas, so I now bring in clothing through ThreadUp and Poshmark.

My biggest sharing challenge is that I’d like to have another kid, so I’d like to get items out to friends and then back. Thus I had to develop a system for items going in and out. I got bags, boxes, and bins for closets and under the bed for keepsakes that I didn’t want to loan out. For the rest my hope is that I can continue to extend the chain until it’s time for my “numero dos”, meaning these items are constantly in use. My maternity clothing has now gone through three other girlfriends of mine, and when I get clothing to and from them it’s a great reminder to check in on how they are doing. Plus creating a thrifting chain is a great way to save your friends money, as kids are not cheap, as well as meet new friends in a similar life stage.

You can also engage in toy swaps, another great way to find and cultivate community and share parenting tips.

5. The Best Gift is (Intentional) Time

I loved the recent article going viral about the grandmother’s gift of an “adventure box”. Each month the child would open an envelope that contained an activity to enjoy with family, be it movie tickets or a baseball game. These beautiful gifts take up no physical space, but are bound to create lasting memories.

Looking for ideas of activities to share with your child? The DC Moms Blog is a great resource! And I can’t imagine a better gift for my son than multiple visits to this year’s trains exhibit at the Botanical Gardens, where he constantly is going “wow” and “whoa”!


  1. Thanks for your post!! How do you navigate holidays and birthdays with family members who aren’t receptive to the minimalist approach? Just when I feel like I have things where I want them, BOOM. Christmas happens and my kids have way more than they need once again. I’ve asked them to contribute to sports and activities but it’s a no go.

    • Julia, that’s a tough one. I think it depends on your relationships with family members in terms of how much you want to take this head on. I let people know my general ideas here but always end up with some (but actually not too many) items that don’t match my values/aesthetic/needs. I also value hospitality and kindness in addition to minimalism, so I don’t push too hard. I keep things we can actually use even if we wouldn’t have originally purchased and find good places to donate the rest. If you want to really tackle this head on you could let people know that any gifts that don’t match certain requirements will be donated to a local charity and not used.

Comments are closed.