For Moms

How NOT to Choose Between a Clean House and Your Kids

There is a beautiful poem that ends with the line, “Go away cobwebs! Dust, go to sleep! I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.”

It was my mantra for those early, exhausting days of motherhood.

And while I truly love the sentiment, try as I might to live out those words, ignore the mess and simply enjoy being a mom – I couldn’t. I felt trapped, overwhelmed and drowned by mess.

And ashamed and embarrassed anytime people wanted to stop by.

I’d go through phases of really working hard to make a change and keep our home clean, but I couldn’t keep up.

No matter how hard I tried our house was constantly messy.

And whenever I attempted to try to keep it at a non-anxiety provoking level, I felt like I was ignoring my kids.

I’d spend all my time trying to get them out of my hair for a minute so I could clean up. They’d ask me to play and my response would be, “I’d love to but I have to finish this right now…”

Only it would never be finished and I felt like I could never give my kids the intentional time they deserved because I was distracted by the mess. I was short-fused, snappy and all-around not very pleasant to be with. #MotherOfTheYear

The honest problem was I couldn’t be a good mom to my babies because our surroundings were linked to stress and anxiety.

We were drowning in stuff, all of which demanded time and maintenance. Time I no longer had and certainly didn’t desire to spend that way once we had kids (or every, really #transparency).

Mess Equals Stress

If this cycle feels eerily familiar to you, know you’re not alone.

Research has already shown a strong link between clutter and depression. Psychology Today reports that, “mess causes stress.” According to the article by Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter, clutter overstimulates us, distracts us, and makes us feel anxious, among other negative effects.

And a study released in 2012 by UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families concluded that, “clutter provides a strong clue to how much stress Mom feels when she walks through the door…” Managing all that stuff actually elevated stress hormone levels in mothers (interestingly, dads were a different story).

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some steps you can take change the mess/chaos/anxiety cycle in your home so you don’t have to choose between having a clean house and your kids:

1. Recognize that Less Clutter Equals More Time

According to the National Soap and Detergent Association (yes, that’s a real thing! 🙂 ), reducing clutter can reduce the amount of housework by 40% in the average American home. And if that doesn’t convince you check out these stats, compiled by popular minimalist, Joshua Becker:

  • In our lifetime, an average American will spend the equivalent of 153 days (or 3,680 hours) just looking for lost items. Things like keys, sunglasses and important bills.
  • And, in spite of the fact that the average size of our homes has tripled over the past 50 years, 1 in 10 Americans still needs to rent storage units to hold all their stuff.
  • He also notes that it costs an average of $10/square foot to store items in your own home.

Clutter is literally costing you time and money.

2. Solve Your Clutter Problem with Minimalism: Less Mess, Less Stress

The truth is that there is a very realistic and effective solution to the messy house/anxiety/time management problem and it really begins with a shift in your mindset. The problem is not with cleaning. It’s about clutter. And it can be solved by decluttering and embracing a more minimalist lifestyle.

You don’t have to choose between having a clean house and spending authentic, quality time with your kids. By minimizing and having less to take care of, you can easily do both.

It’s sort of like weight loss. Too many calories and not enough exercise equals weight gain.

If calories in are less than calories burned, you lose weight. The same is true for our time and cleaning. Too many things to take care of equals a big mess and not enough time to handle it appropriately. Fewer things leads to less to manage and more time for what matters most to you.

3. Understand What a “Minimalist Lifestyle” Means for Moms

Contrary to what you may picture when you think of minimalism, it’s not a lifestyle reserved for single hipsters who travel the world in their camper vans and vlog their adventures, or extremists who get rid of 98% of their belongings and use a box for a couch/table combo (kudos to them, but it doesn’t define what minimalism has to mean to all people – especially moms).

Adopting a minimalist lifestyle simply means filling your life only with what brings value to you (in the form of joy, filling a need, or having a practical use), and unburdening yourself from the rest.

4. Minimalism for Moms & Families Looks Different in Every Home

When I first began looking into this lifestyle for our family, I found so many blog posts, books and YouTube videos about reducing your belongings by a certain percentage, or decluttering a certain number of items.

It’s great to have goals, but here’s the thing to remember: Minimalism looks different for everyone. It’s not about what you get rid of. It’s what you keep. It’s about finding the balance that works for you.

You don’t have to strip your belongings down to bare walls, one toy per kid and a rotation of three mix and match black and white outfits. Again, it’s not about the number of items you own or get rid of, it’s about loving and using what you have and unburdening yourself from the rest.

And that is totally realistic and possible for moms. More than that, I believe it’s sorely needed.

5. Manage the Mess

Does “going minimalist” mean there won’t be messes? Sorry, that’s a big, fat no. Life is messy. Life with kids is exponentially messier. And that’s ok. It should be. But by embracing a minimalist lifestyle, you can deal with the mess and not feel like you have to choose between it and your kids.

Rather than taking you days to deal with, you can get your house back to reasonable in hours, or even an hour when you’ve really gotten a handle on it. And that makes it 1,000 times worth it. Because, if you’re anything like me, when you’re not overwhelmed by mess or chaos, you’re a lot better at dealing with all the things – and much happier to boot. 🙂

Tips for Beginning a Minimalist Lifestyle

If you’re ready to get started with a minimalist lifestyle for your family, here are a few tips:

1. Find Your Why

First, find your WHY and embrace that.

For example, my WHY is that I want to be more intentional with the time I spend with my kids.

I don’t want to be just a figure in the background of their memories who is cleaning the house, taking care of all the stuff and distracted by all the mess. I want to be able to play with my kids, take spontaneous trips to the zoo, read books, play games and have fun without feeling like I am neglecting my other responsibilities.

2. Change Your Mindset

Change your mindset about the things you own. Remember that all of your possessions cost you both time and your money.

Is it worth it to you? Ask not only do the things in your life “spark joy,” but what value do they bring to you? If you’re keeping something simply because you feel some obligation to do so (it was a gift, you might need it one day, it was expensive, it just needs to be fixed up…etc.), give yourself permission to let it go.

3. Don’t Start With the Biggest Project First

Don’t start with the biggest, most cluttered space in your home. Start with something that will give you a quick win.

Check out this list of 25 quick decluttering projects  to get you started. This is something that gets easier and easier to do as momentum builds, and who doesn’t love a quick win?

4. Set Goals

Set goals and make decluttering a priority. Set it as an appointment in your calendar and show up.

5. Work In Small Chunks

Work in small chunks of time.

Remember that transitioning to a minimalist lifestyle is not an overnight change. It has as much to do with your mindset and your lifestyle as it does the items in your home.

Your life didn’t get this crazy in a day, and it’s not going to change overnight. Make “progress over perfection” your new mantra.

A little bit of decluttering is still better than nothing at all. One drawer or shelf leads to an entire zone of a room, and soon it becomes the entire room, which leads to another, and eventually your entire home and your life. Don’t give up on yourself.

Now it’s time to hear from you: Why do you need to declutter and do you think minimalism is realistic for moms? Tell us in the comments below!

Kristin Mullen is a recovering hot mess mom of four kiddos and creator of Totally the Mom  where she helps other hot mess moms simplify their lives with practical planning, time management and decluttering strategies. Join her email newsletter community  to grab your free decluttering starter guide for busy moms – Disaster Zone to Peaceful Home – reserved exclusively for subscribers.

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This is fantastic! Now, to get my hubby on board with letting go of some of his “collectibles”…Reply to Nicole
I love this! I recently discovered the minimalist lifestyle and it has CHANGED MY LIFE. I have much more time with my family and way less space to clean up. We kicked it up a notch by downsizing by about 400 square feet, FORCING us to get rid of stuff!Reply to Nicole
I was a clean freak prior to becoming a mom. Now that I have an active toddler on my hands my focus has shifted from cleanliness to safety. Don’t get me wrong, it was a struggle for me to get in this frame of mind. I had to learn not to panic about the small stuff. The house is not overly messy, some items are out of place. All I want for Christmas is a full detail cleaning service cleaning my house from top to bottom. Is that too much for a girl to ask? Lol.Reply to Shatoria