5 Questions to Help You Declutter all. those. Kids. Toys.

This article was originally published on mindbodygreen.

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Parenthood is wonderful and joyful and exhausting and hard.

As soon as you think you've got it figured out, something—your kid, your body, your schedule, your home, your child care—shifts. Parenthood for me has also been about embracing seemingly contradictory ideas, like: Clear rules and guidelines make for resilient parenting, and flexibility is key as our family continually evolves. Parenthood is a sea of grays: It's about making and then breaking rules as you and your child grow and change.

And yet, I've found that there is an enormous benefit to developing ground rules, even when you know they will be bent. So when it comes to my home's play space, rather than saying "we can only have so many toys" or "they can only be made by this brand," I've instead created questions I consider before purchasing a (new or used) toy or accepting a hand-me-down. Please take any that suit you, alter as needed, and add your own as you see fit!

1. Will it last?

This first question helps me weed out the majority of toys I'm not certain about. The big winners are well-made toys in natural and durable materials like wood, wool, silk, or food-safe silicone. These materials make for sturdier toys that are often much safer than flimsy, plastic, disposable ones. When your child can drop, step on, "accidentally" throw, and chew on toys without fear of breaking them or getting sick, it's a win.

2. Do we—the parents and caretakers—enjoy it?

This might be controversial to some parents, but I refuse to have toys that I don't like in my house! Our main play area for my child Lark is essentially half of our family room, so its contents are constantly on display. I believe that like adults, like children, enjoy looking at beautiful, charming toys.

For me personally, this rule eliminates:

  • Items that are ugly, garishly painted, excessively large, or just plain unattractive.

  • Battery-powered toys. This includes anything that lights up, moves, or makes noise on its own. It's nothing against the "beep beep" sound—I just want the director of the action to be my kiddos and not a battery. So things like maracas and xylophones are A-OK with me. Also, if my kids are like me, they'll quickly become overstimulated and overwhelmed by all the commotion, so I'm protecting the attention span of all family members with this rule.

  • Things that are overly or excessively gendered. This doesn't mean that pink is forbidden in our home but that all ranges of colors and interests are represented. This currently includes dinosaur puzzles and a purple dump truck, a blue baby doll and rainbow blocks, books and farm animal figurines.

  • Items that contribute to clutter or might be unsafe. Until my kids are able to clean up fully after themselves (and maybe not even then), we have nothing with teeny, tiny pieces, glitter, or poorly affixed accessories in our home.

3. Does it support open-ended play?

It's important to me that my kids can engage with their toys in a variety of ways—that they can assert their imagination and creativity. For example, consider two different baby dolls: one in a nightdress who has a smiling mouth shaped to accept a bottle and whose eyes close when lying down, another without a mouth or expression on their face dressed in plain clothes.

The first doll is easier to engage with right away, but it's hard to imagine a context where this same baby is sad, or is a father, or is eating a delicious meal because of how she is dressed and her expression. It has a predetermined type of play it fits into. The second doll is a blank slate onto which any story or role or emotion can be projected. In general, objects that aren't overly specific in role or intention free up the child to be more creative and imaginative. Other examples of open-ended objects include blocks and curved pieces of wood, fabric squares or scarves, molding clay, and dirt, sand, or just about anything else you can find outside. 

4. Is it worth the trade-off?

One principle I come back to a lot in my work as a professional declutterer is that not having an item does not automatically represent an absence or a lack. It represents space—which, as a mom, I have a whole new appreciation for. I find that a few moments of downtime, an empty shelf, a cozy nook—these little things make my days sane. 

Is this item more valuable that the empty space it will fill?

We don't often consider that the alternative of not having something isn't necessarily a glaring absence but is open space. Which to me is very valuable. So consider: Is this item more valuable that the empty space it will fill?

5. Does it align with our values?

This question requires a bit more digging and intentionality. What are the values that you believe in as a family? What are the values that you are hoping to pass on to your kids? In our family, I try to find toys that encourage cooperation, kindness, curiosity, and nonviolent play. In considering books for our little library, for example, I look for stories that share those aforementioned values and that highlight a wide range of people and experiences. (Some of my favorites are Julian is a Mermaid, Mommy, Mama and Me, Little FeministAll Are WelcomeSusan Laughs, DreamersBe Kind, If You’re Going to a March, and My Princess Boy, but I'm always looking for other suggestions!)

What to do with toys you're phasing out? Donate!

I'm not sure how this became such a popular myth, but kids toys can absolutely be donated. There are exceptions to the rule, of course: Broken toys and toys that cannot be cleaned (think a very well-loved stuffed animal) are generally not able to be passed on. That being said, wooden and plastic toys, dollhouses and baby dolls, cars, trucks, and art supplies are joyfully accepted by a number of organizations locally and nationwide, including: Goodwill and Salvation Army; local child care facilities or schools; SAFE (stuffed animals for emergency); local churches, temples, mosques and associated charities; and local children's and family organizations and shelters.

These five questions give me enough structure to make good choices in the moment and simultaneously provide room to adjust based on feedback from my kids and my own evolution as a parent. I hope they do the same for you! 

6 Ways to Stay Simple and Sane With a Newborn


The first thing people ask when they find out that I've just had a baby is "How is trying to be a minimalist with a newborn?" 

Some people are undoubtedly waiting for me to admit how much harder it is to be a minimalist once you have a family (which it is and it isn't), craving a little hit of schadenfreude imagining me weeping under a pile of blinking, talking plastic toys. Others are genuinely hoping for any advice or tips I might have to help them deal with their clutter. 

Since my daughter is still so very new and I am so very new at being a parent, I won't even pretend to have it figured out (the first thing I learned as a parent is just how little I know about parenting:). But I can share what is working for our family right now as we attempt to stay simple and sane with a newborn.


1) Don't buy ahead of time.

Don't try to buy things now that you anticipate needing later. There are two reasons for this. One, your child might surprise you with the number of preferences and variety of needs they have from the get-go. For example, your daughter might not like the orthodontic approved, top of the line, European rubber pacifier you got her no matter what you try. This also applies to swaddles, swings, diaper brands, as well as material of onesies. You don't know if he or she will run hot or cold, if they'll be a spitter or not, if they'll have a million diaper blowouts or only poop once every few days. Its helpful to observe your baby and see where she naturally leans before investing time and money acquiring new baby gear.

Second, your own preferences and needs will evolve and perhaps surprise you as well.  I, for example, didn't realize that I would only like onesies with snaps as opposed to zippers. Zippers seemed so much easier. But then Lark was born in the heart of winter and snapping onesies allowed her top half to stay dressed and swaddled during cold middle of the night changes. Happy baby, happy parent.

2) Borrow.

Here's the thing about newborns and infants: besides for pooping or spitting up, they do very little to wear out their belongings. Blankets, toys, swings, or clothing can be passed on a dozen times before they fully wear out. Lark is wearing clothes that were purchased for my oldest nephew six years ago and are still going strong five cousins later. Don't have a big family to beg from? Don't worry! Most parents I know are happy to lend out or giveaway items that their kids are finished with. Let people know that you are looking and I promise what you need will appear.

3) For bigger ticket items, try to buy it used.

There are some larger items that you can reasonably anticipate needed and that are harder to temporarily borrow friends because of size or cost like: a car seat, stroller, crib, or carrier. Most of these items are readily available secondhand if you give yourself time to lo cate them. Even here in Boise, I was able to find most large items we needed on our local craigslist, nextdoor and letgo. If you're in a major US city like San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, or New York, there is a good chance you can find every single thing you need right in your neighborhood!

4) Wait a few days...

It can be hard to know with a baby if they are entering a new phase with new needs or simply had a one-off experience. For example, if your baby had a terrible night of sleep and then slept like an angel in her daycare's rock'n'play, you will probably want to run out and buy one right now! But instead of immediately assuming that you need an object, give yourself and your kiddo a day or three to see if it was a one-time event, a super brief phase, or a longer lasting need.

5) ...But when you really, really need it, get it any way you can.

There is an urgency to having a new baby. They wake up SO hungry every couple of hours. They sleep in brief segments. Days turn into 8 or 10 or 15 cycles of eat, burp, change, sleep. If there is something that you realize you really need and you can't borrow or wait to find used, go get it. Be kind to yourself. Especially if it's related to a key basic need like eating or sleeping. For example, our daughter had terrible reflux early on and I learned at 6 weeks that a wedge pillow could fit under her co-sleeper and help her feel better, keep her food down, and get some sleep. I ordered that badboy on amazon about 10 seconds after a friend texted me about it. And to be completely honest, had Amazon offered a "within the hour" drone drop off in exchange for giving my social security number to Russian bots, I would have considered it. Desperate times:)

6) Pay it forward. 

When Lark was a few weeks old and I was debating ordering every type of swaddle in existence to find one that worked, a friend with a toddler brought over a couple for us to try out. She then almost off-handedly but earnestly said, "Before you buy anything, just text me. If we have it I'll bring it over." It was a small gesture but it saved me on numerous occasions. Not just from buying stuff we didn't need, but it also made me feel seen and supported and like there were people looking out for us. We in turn now have a number of friends with kiddos set to arrive at any moment with whom we've offered our grab bag of various pacifiers, an infant swing, birth-recovery icepacks and medications, and beginning-to-breastfeed herbs. But most importantly we've been sure to let them know that we're here if they need anything: swaddles, soups, or just to know someone close by has their back. Because as Zac Efron so wisely stated in High School Musical, we're all in this together.

We have a number of friends with kiddos exactly our daughters age and a few who are set to arrive at any moment. One friend said, and this was amazing, "before you buy anything, just text me and if we have it I'll bring it over." Something as small as that, and letting people know you really mean it, is amazing. We, in turn, have shared with friends our grab bag of various pacifiers, an infant swing, as well as birth-recovery and beginning-to-breastfeed herbs, medications, and various sundries.

What To Do If You're a Minimalist Who Loves the Holidays

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It's popular to poo-poo the holidays amongst many in the minimalist sphere.

There are the usual downer arguments about how the holidays are simply about buying stuff we don’t want with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like. 

There is the (totally valid) argument about how we are teaching our kids to equate love with stuff. There is connection between the holidays and the rampant consumerism that is destroying our planet.  

But who said that is how we have to celebrate? 

Here at New Minimalism, we have a happier take on the holidays. Now that Kyle and I are both many years into our minimalist lives, I have to say that the holidays feel less like something to rebel against and more like something to embrace. Our families and loved ones honor the simpler ways we like to celebrate, and -- in many scenarios –– have adopted a number of these rituals themselves. 

There are so many ways to celebrate the season and those you love that needn't involve credit card debt or mounds of unneeded plastic junk. There is music and sitting by the fire, there are meals to share, crafts to create, laughs to be had, and even the occasional lovely object to share.

Below are 5 of my favorite minimalist rituals for a light, joyful, and celebratory holiday season:  

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1) Light, light, everywhere.  

My favorite way to decorate for the holidays is just to use lights in fun or unexpected ways. We have a strand of globe lights that we hang over the mantle, fairie lights winding up the stems and leaves of our potted plants, and candles spread liberally throughout the house. With so much of our time at home spent with it dark outside, it makes this time feel cozy and special. Bonus? If you happen to be really busy around the holidays (like maybe you have a brand new baby at home) no one will notice that your “holiday decor” is still up as this fits for the whole dark winter season. 

Other elements that automatically make a space feel festive? Music (I’m a sucker for Holiday Jazz, The Nutcracker, and my pandora Bing Crosby/Frank Sinatra holiday radio station) and delicious smells (like simmering spices on the stove or naturally perfumed candles and incense like these).

2) Crafting.

I’m not crafty. Or I should say: I don’t craft regularly. I don't have a glue gun or spare pom-poms, let alone a craft drawer or cabinet. But every holiday I nonetheless love taking on some little craft project. This year, I decided to put together a tree decoration kit for my nieces and nephews (inspired by this post) as their holiday gift. In addition to sending these elements back home to Chicago, I bought extras and made lovely little strands of popcorn and cranberries for our tree. I also tried out making persimmon ornaments with moderate success (just baked them and ran a string through). Inspired by a group of girlfriends who I made ornaments and pinecone elves with back in the day, I realized that you don’t need to be crafty or have a ton of supplies to make something special. Certainly crafts take time and are a little frivolous, but that's a small part of what makes them so fun.  

An oldie but a goodie...

An oldie but a goodie...

3) Holiday cards.  

I. Love. Holiday. Cards. I remember racing home from my elementary school bus stop in December to open my family's mailbox and see if we received any new cards that day. Each envelope we joyfully tore open offered a snapshot into the lives of our friends near and far. There were cards from our neighbors, cards from relatives that we only got to see on occasion, and cards from families whom we kids had never met, but we nonetheless felt connected as we equated these faces with our parents stories and watched their kids grow. We’d revisit the cards well into the new year, finding names we liked and plotted to name our own children, marveling at the sweet, the cheesy, and the adventurous photos on each card. (Some of these families obtained celebrity status within our family, we could refer to them in shorthand throughout the year and know exactly what one another meant. There was my dad's co-worker whose three absurdly gorgeous, cherubic kids we dubbed "the edible children" and my mom's high school friend whose genetically gifted three sons we referred to as "the handsome guys.")

All of this is to say that I long looked forward to sending out cards of my own someday. Yes, it costs money and uses paper and is not the most minimalist of hobbies. But it is a priority, the priority, for me each holiday season. I’d be really sad if I didn’t send a card out and I honor that about myself. This year I decided to procure frames for all of our past cards to act as something of family time capsule (anyone out there happen to have my cards from 2011 or 2013?!) AND to use as decor during the holidays. It's a personal, contained collection that adds a fun bit of meaningful kitsch to our bookshelf, for just these few weeks. 

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4) Gift giving.

My favorite gift to give and receive? Books. Bookstores are my happy place; well-read, thoughtful bookstore clerks hold a place of uniquely high respect in my life. Since my family and my in-laws are all avid readers, I love getting expert advice from the clerks at my favorite local bookstores (shoutout to Books Inc. on Chestnut in San Francisco and Rediscovered Books in Boise). I get to share a few pieces of information--like my dad’s sense of humor, a classic novel he loves, and his adoration of Bruce Springsteen--and then get the perfect recommendation (Barbarian Days, in case you were wondering).

*Shameless plug: our book is available for pre-order if you've got a loved one who is interested in simplifying their lives. The book won't ship until 1/2/18, but we have a downloadable/printable certificate you can present at your gift exchange!*

Other great gifts to give and receive: things that people really need and are of high quality. For example a killer pair of SmartWool socks for a family member who recently moved to a four season climate or a hand-me-down maternity jacket for when nothing else will zip late in pregnancy. You know, just as hypothetical examples.

5) And non-gift giving.

My very favorite gift-giving tradition arose three years ago and actually didn't include the exchanging of stuff at all. My little sister and brother-in-law's wedding weekend in the fall of 2014 was so full of meaning, tradition, family, and love that it sparked an idea: why is it that we only celebrate one another, only toast to how deeply loved and appreciated our family members are at times like weddings? And so we each randomly selected the name of another family member and at a lovely holiday dinner a few weeks later, we offered up toasts and speeches in each others' honor. It was beautiful. It was sweet. It brought tears and intense snorting laughter. It accomplished all of the things we try to say with gifts: I see you, I’ve been paying attention to you, admiring you, noticing all of the ways you are special, because you are beloved by me, and even if I usually just tease you or ask you to help with family errands, I am so so so glad you are here. What could possibly be better than that? 

What are your favorite minimalist ways to celebrate the holidays?

Life in the Slow Lane

On a hike to fly fish in one of Idaho's many rivers... 

On a hike to fly fish in one of Idaho's many rivers... 

Cam and I moved…  Again!  

This time we left our little chunk of paradise in the Bay for a slower, more mountainous way of life in Boise, Idaho. 

Cam and I have for years sought to really put down roots in the Bay Area.  We’d imagined settling there for good, buying a house, starting a family, raising our kids and dogs among the redwoods.  We love California for a couple of reasons: the insane and diverse natural beauty, the environmental / social activist culture, and, most of all, our dear group of friends who’ve become our family over time.

And yet, something was always missing.  

Life is complicated, until it’s simple.

The truth about a new minimalist lifestyle is that when you deal with and consider and think through your stuff, you can’t help but gain clarity in other areas of your life.  In the past year it became completely clear that Cam and I were ready for the next phase in our life. 

We wanted to be somewhere slower, somewhere affordable, somewhere with great and expansive natural beauty and — in a dream world — be close to family.

Our Idaho roots

I’ve been visiting Idaho for as long as Cam and I have been together.  His father was raised in Boise and almost his entire extended family remained there.  We went hiking in the Sawtooth Mountains, skiing at Bogus Basin, snowshoeing in McCall.  When Cam’s parents decided to return to Boise after raising him in New Jersey, we were intrigued.  

Boise, while we loved the place, hadn't been on our short list of possible, more affordable locations we would trade in the Bay for.   Our Idaho trips over the past year showed us a new way of life that was open to us: a slower, more affordable pace of life balanced with a vibrant downtown, a line-free regional airport within biking distance and the eternally enthusiastic presence of college students at nearby Boise State.

Once we opened our hearts to the possibility of life in Idaho, the stars aligned in ways we couldn't have imagined. 

We found a home that we love with a sweeping backyard, tumbling down to a creek with our very own water wheel.  We adopted the sweetest, most precious and adventurous dog in the world. 

We walk along the river, have dinners with family, never worry about traffic, bike anywhere in the city we need to go, and spend about 40% less on our mortgage than we did on our SF rent.  We have a whole new sector of this beautiful country to explore and come to know.  We have a small but amazing group of friends who have taken us rafting and hiking and taught me to fly fish (which, by the way, is every bit as romantic and beautiful and meditative experience as the movies make it out to be).  

Ohana is everything.

My older sister recently surprised me by flying to Boise for my birthday.  If that wasn't a gift enough, she gave me a shirt with the perfect saying on it: "Ohana is Everything."  Ohana, Hawaiian for family.

While Cam’s family is without a doubt my family now as well, it was hard to settle away from my folks and siblings.  

Which is why Cam and I agreed that as often I needed/wanted/desired to visit family, I would.  I’m on the plane to Chicago right now to help my folks move. I’ll be back in November and for Christmas (with sweet Bodhi in tow).  Part of living in Idaho meant that we would have real space for all of my family to visit whenever and for as long as they desire.  I knew anywhere we ended up long-term (if it wasn’t in my parent’s basement, as I think my dad would have loved) I needed my family to feel totally comfortable and at home in my home. I wanted a real guest room and a real bathroom and an experience of ease the would lure them to the Treasure Valley and keep them here for a long while.

Our little mutt is part terrier and part something that will jump in the river after ducks!

Our little mutt is part terrier and part something that will jump in the river after ducks!

I look forward to sharing with you guys a new way of looking at and living the NM lifestyle, from a much less urban city in a stand alone home, which we own, in the mountain west.  While I’ve always been so proud of my Chicago roots (go Cubs go!), it feels brand new to be an adult not living on the Pacific Coast and all that stands for.  My hope is that these new learnings and adjustments will connect us with and serve a broader range of people seeking out a simple, easy, inspired life!

Make Space for What Matters Most

*Author's note:  Today I wanted to share a more personal, complete story of how I came to be one half of New Minimalism.  Also, I am deeply grateful for my mother's current vibrant health and well-being.

The first time I ever did a major decluttering project, I didn’t have a name for what I was doing or a even clear understanding of why.  

Twelve years ago my mom was hospitalized for several weeks with a terrifying and seemingly undiagnosable illness.  My dad was doing his best to be the breadwinner for our family as well as the health advocate for my mom, parent to my little sister and brother who were at home, and optimist for my older sister and I away at college.  

I rushed home early from a term in college to find my parents’ home a functioning if hollow place. 

My little sister, still in high school, was trying to run our house, take care of herself and my brother, all while being terrified that our mom still had no diagnosis and wasn’t coming home.  My little brother, just into double digits, said upon receiving a school lunch our father had made him without the usual motherly touches (read: the wrong kind of cheese and no dessert), “You’re my favorite dad, but you’re not a really good mom.” 

After returning home from the hospital where I had spent the day with my disoriented, confused, and deeply upset mom as she received a series of MRIs and other scans, I went up to my childhood bedroom, curled up into a ball as panic and sadness washed over me.  I cried, hyperventilated, went down rabbit-holes of all the terrible scenarios that might play out. 

I felt wholly impotent and scared, powerless to make my mom healthy or to substitute for her in my fragmented family.  How could I explain to my brother what was going on when I had no idea?  How could I help with the things that really mattered: finances, insurance, treatment plans -- when I was barely an adult myself?   

And yet I needed to do something.  I needed to feel like I was making at least one small thing better.

So I went down to the basement of our old 1913 farmhouse and looked around.  A month's worth of dirty towels, sheets, clothing, my brother's sports uniforms -- they were spilling out of our massive hamper on onto the floor.   Laundry.  That was something I could do.  

As I slowly chipped away at the mountain of laundry, I felt better.  Just a tiny bit lighter and inspired to do more.  If I couldn’t fix the big things, I reasoned, at least I could somehow make life a little easier for everyone. 

Looking around our dark, crowded basement I decided to start with all of the stuff there. 

As so often happens with families, our basement had become a zone of cast-off hobbies, outgrown clothing and equipment.  

Many of these items had been passed down through all four of us, had been well used and loved.  And most of it was ready to go.

For five days, any time I wasn't at the hospital or getting dinner ready for my siblings, I worked in the basement and was able to donate of three huge SUVs worth of stuff to our community rummage sale.  Everything else in the basement suddenly fit on the shelves, like-with-like, orderly, good, calm.  I could breathe a little deeper still. 

Looking at the washer and dryer in corner, I was struck by the sheer number of loads of laundry my mom had done for us in the 20 years we’d been in the house.   All of the hours spent in the dark, musty, old basement just to take care of us... 

This, I knew, was my turn to be the one taking care of my mom.

So I went to the hardware store, selected two shades of paint that I hoped would transport her from the basement to somewhere softer, warmer, easier.  Then I hung a few of my parents prints from Jamaica on the walls and placed a brightly striped rug for the floor — and ta da!  Just like being in Negril (not really, but I tried:). 

A few weeks later, my mom returned from the hospital with a clear diagnosis and path to health.  As I showed her around the basement, I was suddenly self-conscious.  

It seemed so clear when the two of us were together that this project had just been a way for me to channel anxiety while unable to do something that really mattered.  But my mom loved it.  She understood my desire to show her my love, to care for her in some way, to make her life a little brighter and easier.

The Telander Clan:  My parents, sisters, brother and me before my little sister's wedding.

The Telander Clan:  My parents, sisters, brother and me before my little sister's wedding.

Over the years my aesthetic has matured (and by that I mean I teamed up with Kyle!), and the speed with which I help others declutter has increased exponentially, but at my core, the reason I do what I do is the same reason I decluttered and elevated my parents' basement:  

To make things easier when they are hard.  To lighten burdens, to lift spirits, to open space for happiness and creativity.  I find it an honor to bear witness to the things that people part with, to celebrate their rediscovery of an item they deeply love, to support them through the challenges of the process, and to shepherd them into a new phase in their lives.  And to give a small piece of my love.

There are so many things in this life that we cannot control, so many joyful and challenging times that arise unexpectedly, so much mess associated with life in general.  At New Minimalism it's not that we're trying to control life so that nothing out of the ordinary ever plays out.  We’re actually clearing a stage so that the real, meaningful events and relationships can receive the attention and focus they deserve (I love you mom:).

BTR: A Growing Family in Cole Valley (Part 2)


Welcome to Part 2 of the Behind the Redesign for a wonderful family in the quaint San Francisco neighborhood of Cole Valley.  New Minimalism was called in to make room for the newest member of the family, and what was standing in the way of this goal was a lot of stuff.  

If you recall from Part 1, during our first session we tackled decluttering the garage to make space for the home office.    On the second session, which we are sharing today, we decluttered the contents of the home office to make room for the nursery.  These photos share the after after, once the nursery furniture had been thoughtfully acquired and decorations installed.  All after after photos are by the talented and all around wonderful Ryan Devisser.

Above you can see that the home-office before (left) had turned into a room not just to hold office items, but also to store things that didn't have a proper home elsewhere in the house.  As the papers started to pile up for these busy working parents, the task of clearing and sorting everything became overwhelming.  

As is so common, once the clutter became overwhelming our clients found it was easier to close the door than to sit down and sort it all.  In the after photo (right) you can see what a stunning transformation this room undertook.  Our client selected a fun teal color for the carpet tiles, and chose the brand FLOR for their commitment to using sustainable materials. The IKEA bookshelf turned on its side was purchased second-hand.

We find that all of our clients are experiencing some type of significant transition when we work with them.  In this case, a second child on the way was the perfect time to prioritize and make room for life's exciting next chapter.

Again, the before and after shots are quite remarkable!  Before the desks were crowded with papers and extraneous office supplies.  We culled a "capsule" version of the office supplies to relocate to the new office in the garage, utilizing the yellow lamp and San Francisco map. After, the room displays playful art and a kid-friendly color palette.

A point of discussion was whether to keep the classic white Parsons desks to possibly be used in the future.  We encouraged our clients to consider the hidden costs of keeping these items "just in case."  The desks would need to be stored in a hard-to-access, already-crowded attic.  They would require time to maintain, energy to keep from being damaged as their growing family's needs changed, and the mental space to remember that the desks are there in the first place in the case that your future self has a need for said desk.  In the end, our clients took our advice and sold the desks on Craigslist.  They reported that we were relieved to send the desks to a new home and used the money towards furnishing the new nursery.

Sometimes the cost of keeping an item outweighs the cost of potentially having to re-buy that same item in a hypothetical future date.  

The crib was purchased second hand from Golden Gate Mothers Group.  Our client describes this group as a "gold mine" for previously-used, but like-new baby items.  

TIP:  If you are expecting a child, research to see if there is local mother's group in your area.  Not only are Mother's Groups a wonderful community to connect with, they also provide a wealth of information, and hey, you can even furnish your nursery without buying new!

The closet was a big challenge because it was densely filled with many small objects.  We are amazed at the focus of these clients because we were able to sort all this on one day!   While uniform containers give the appearance of order, the contents of the boxes were no longer relevant for our clients' needs. 

By removing some unneeded items from the entry closet (not pictured), we were able to relocate the extra jackets (shown above) that had sneakily made their way into the office closet. After, the closet is 100% dedicated to the new baby.

The dresser was also found second-hand at Golden Gate Mother's Group.  We love that our clients took to heart our design suggestions.  How beautiful is this space?!  And hardly anything in terms of baby furniture was purchased from the store.  It takes a little effort on the back end to find your second-hand resources, but the reduced price tag and earth-friendly satisfaction is well worth it.  

This gorgeous and serene space is a testament to our clients' laser-focus during our sessions.  With the second baby on the way, they were 100% ready to let go of the items that were no longer serving them.  And they have the closets to prove it!

BTR: A Growing Family in Cole Valley (Part 1)

At last - we have another Behind the Redesign (BTR) to share with you!  

(Full disclosure into the BTR process: we love our work and we love sharing it with others.  But sometimes we love our work so much that we get caught up in the moment and forget to properly capture before and/or after photos.  So while we work with clients weekly, we do not write BTRs for every session.  Ok there, I said it.  Phew.  Now with that off my chest, let's dive in!) 

This BTR shares the story of an adorable young family we'll refer to as A & R.  We just can't get enough of A&R.  They have been adamant fans of the New Minimalism philosophy since the very beginning and we were so happy to have an opportunity to work with them.  

 A & R were due to have their second child in June however the third bedroom in their impeccable Craftsman home was dedicated as a home office.  We were approached for a specific job:  turn the home office into a nursery.  This meant we were tasked with moving a condensed version of the home office down to the garage, which meant....decluttering the garage!  I know, scary.  But with a little preparation, and the right mindset, a large project like this is definitely attainable.  

We broke the project into two day-long sessions: 

  • Day 1 declutter the garage to make space in the small basement room for the office; 
  • Day 2 address the contents of the home office, which we will detail in the next BTR.
TIP:  To prepare for a BIG decluttering session, research your local donation center options.  After viewing photos of the garage we knew that we needed a large capacity truck to haul away donations, so we scheduled a FREE pick-up with the Salvation Army.  They arrived on the afternoon of our session and hauled away all our donations.  What would have taken 5 trips to the donation center with the New Minimalism mobile was done in a few minutes by the gracious employees at Salvation Army.

During our session we learned that the garage had several functions:  laundry room, kitchen pantry, tool shed, family memento storage, and now home office.  In order to optimize all of these functions, we had to remove the unnecessary and rarely used items.

   Above is a view of the laundry and pantry corner of the garage.  Before (left) you can see that without a strategy, items became haphazardly mixed together, making it hard to keep track of inventory.  We separated the food and laundry zones by moving all laundry and cleaning supplies to the right side, near the laundry machines.  We kept pantry items on the shelving and designated the "wine cellar" in the back corner.

Yes, above is a before and after shot of the same wall!   As you can tell, with the baby due date looming, A&R were fully focused and extra motivated.  With Cary and I guiding the process, we were able to distill a mountain of family mementos (see cardboard boxes in Before photo) into small, manageable projects (see stacked plastic bins in After photo).  We repurposed the metal drawers to create a workbench for a "tool shed" corner.  

Here is a view of the small room that was to become the office (left).  Most of the items here were donated, with the exception of the baby stroller, which found a new home in another part of the garage.  The after photo (right) is after Day 2, when we brought down the home office equipment.  By hanging decorations, adding a clock and including a bright task lamp we created a rather cozy space.  Add an outdoor rug to further soften things up and A&R will actually look forward to doing their paperwork!

Here, another view of the office room from the second door leading into the small space.  The photo on the left was at the end of Day 1.  And the photo on the right is the finished product, after Day 2.  We distilled the office equipment to just the essentials and archived necessary paperwork into a filing cabinet.

Tip:  paperwork can be a session in itself.  If you are tackling a large room, don't get caught up in paper work, as this can be dense and discouraging.  First, tackle everything in the room that is non-paperwork.  Give paperwork decluttering it's own day, preferably with a paper shredder on-hand.  If you don't have a shredder, borrow one from your neighbor!  Sharing is caring.

Here is a view of the back of the garage after Day 1.  What was before mountains of mementos mixed with household tools is now a calm and collected space that A&R can access and use.

Stay tuned for the next BTR: A Growing Family in Cole Valley (Day 2), where you will see the finished nursery after A&R decluttered and decorated then using New Minimalism principles.

Mini-Minimalists: 11 Ways to Cultivate Clutter-Free Kids

Image //  via

Image // via

As a woman of "a certain age," my life is rapidly transitioning from bottomless mimosa brunches and birthday weekends in wine country to baby showers and 1st birthday parties.  

And while I'm not yet a parent myself, it's been impossible not to notice all the products targeted at and constantly given to new parents and kids.  

In the world of families, the proposed "solution" to problems is almost always more/bigger/fancier (crib, stroller, house, toys, etc.).  And of course kids are so darn cute that we are all more than willing them 10x the things they would ever need.  Heck, I've seen babies in utero who already have more possessions than the average adult and houses where every room is brimming with toys. 

Given that parents are pretty much the busiest folks on the planet, it can feel miraculous to keep their own bedroom and adult spaces clean, forget the time or bandwidth to constantly do battle with their children's clutter.  

But what if, rather than being producers of continual clutter, your kids helped keep your home tidy and clear?   

The thing about kids is that they would often rather play with a wooden spoon or the box a toy came in.  Sometimes they open one present and play with it for weeks, ignoring the 20 other wrapped gifts in the corner.  Children know and are totally comfortable expressing their preferences (just ask a group of 4 year olds their thoughts on school/airplanes/music/broccoli if you don't believe me).  They are sensitive, empathic, generous and are excited by giving to others in need.   

Kids already have the hearts and minds of minimalists, they just need some help gathering tools. 

11 Tools for Cultivating Clutter-Free Kids:


1. Lead by example.  

You don't need to be Martha Stewart or a perfect minimalist to model good behavior for your child.  If you struggle with clutter yourself, take a few minutes to let your children know that you are focusing on honing down your things.  Let them watch you as you process and declutter some of your own items.  Share with them the benefits of having the house being clutter-free: it's easier to maintain, you'll have more time for spending with them, you can try out new hobbies together, the mornings before school will be smoother, etc.   If you're a tidy parent with messy kids?  All the more reason to talk with them so they can understand the intentionality behind your simple space.  


2. Let their room be their own. 

It's important to give your kids a feeling of ownership and mastery over their space.  When they know that their space is their own, they're empowered to make meaningful decisions and keep only what inspires and delights them.


3. Make it a game. 

Set a timer for 5 minutes and see if they can declutter a toy bin.  Or make a chart where they get a sticker for each small bag of toys they donate.  Whatever you decide works best for your kids, just keep it light and make it fun!


4. Designate a home for everything.

 Decide where the things that your kids do love and want to keep will be permanently stored.  It's helpful to place things in containers, e.g.: all legos in a certain bin, all animals in another.  This makes clean up very clear for kids to do on their own as well as signaling to the child when it's time to declutter again because the bin is too full.


5. Release your own biases.  

Children will surprise you with their clear preferences and natural penchant for simple living.  Often its actually the parent who struggles when the child clears.  For example, we worked with a parent-child duo and found that for nearly every toy or garment the child wanted to donate, the parent had a reason to keep it, such as: "You love this!  It was your favorite toy for all of kindergarten!"  "But you brought this with you everywhere last year!"  "Not this one, it was a gift from your grandma."  It's crucial if you are going to involve your kids that you honor their decisions.  Just do your best to be aware when these thoughts arise and try not place them on your kids.


6. Involve your children in the donation process.  

Bring them with you to donate items to Goodwill, a shelter or a higher-need school.  Let your child see how their generosity positively impacts others.


7. Be ready to be very impressed.  

Kids as young as 3 really do understand the idea of letting go of things "for the other kids who don't have as many toys."  Starting at 7, some kids can do an excellent job of decluttering their room on their own.  No matter what age, if you assist your child in the decluttering process, you'll get to hear their thought processes and learn about their value systems as they decide what stays and goes.  Their depth and self-awareness will blow you away.  And you can be damn proud for raising such a thoughtful child!


8. Encourage mindful consumption. 

The best way to keep order is to be far more selective about what you allow into a space to begin with.  Teach your child how to politely refuse items they don't care for by doing so yourself.  Show them how you care for and maintain items that are important to you encourage longevity.  Encourage them to invest in things they care about (whether this is their allowance or their Christmas list) and shift focus from quantity to quality.  


9) Use birthdays and holidays to your advantage. 

There tend to be a few times a year when children are inundated with new belongings.  Solution: declutter in advance.  The night before Santa comes or the weekend before a birthday party, sit down with your child and ask them, in light of the new things that will be coming into their lives, what they're ready to part with?


10) Change the way your family celebrates, aka: stop clutter before it enters the home.  

Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home does a remarkable job of this with her two sons.  She throws them parties but asks guests to give her sons experiences rather than "things."  Start this in your own home and then encourage others to get involved.


11) Solidify the habit.  

Create a donation area somewhere in your home that your kids all have access to.  Encourage them to place items they no longer want or use in the bin.  Let them know that it's natural for them to evolve and outgrow certain things.  Once the bin is full, you can bring it to your chosen charity together.


What has worked for you and your family?  How do you maintain your home with kids?  What are tools you've come up with to keep clutter at bay?  Where do you wish you had more help?  

Please share in the comments below!