There's a magical moment that comes every day, around 7pm, when all my children are in bed and I step down the hallway, alone for the first time since morning, and tread lightly down the stairs so as not to stir any little boys that are not yet in a deep sleep. I pass into our lounge and there I sit in silence, waiting to make sure they are asleep, listening for shuffles and mumbles and those little sighs. While I wait, evening shadows pass like clouds over the wall and the sky shifts across the skylight, the light softer and gentler now.
The last thing I want to do in this magical moment is be on my hands and knees, picking up building blocks and tidying toys away. And so in a roundabout way, I don't, because I've taken steps to keep that at bay.
After years of neglecting my own well-being for the sake of bylines and deadlines, I have come to value clarity and calmness and being kinder to myself. This is what I want our home to feel like - calm, uncluttered, loving and warm - and I try to infuse these feelings into our home because as a family, an immediate sense of calm grounds us and helps us be kinder to each other too.
To illustrate: it is easier for me to get fraught and lose my temper over an inexplicable tantrum if there are different screens on and loud music playing and way too much artificial brightness (it's why I avoid soft play - those big warehouses with no windows with unfathomable dance music playing - it turns my children and me crazy). I am sensitive to these things; they make me uncomfortable. But if my family environment is soft, calm and nurturing then there's space for that tantrum to rise and fall; there's space for me to find my calm, remain understanding, know that it's only because he can't quite tell me what he wants that he does this, while everything else is exploding around me.
I guess the modern day assumption is that children are by their very intrinsic nature little maximalists who only know how to live with more. The minute you are expecting a child, you're also expected to suddenly buy a bigger a car, a bigger house, make room for all these thousands of things that you don't even really need.
So let's start at the beginning. This is simply the way I understand it, the way my husband and I navigate our parenting journey. For us, our children's needs begin tenderly and simply. In no particular order, they need sleep, they need to be fed, sheltered, held, loved. And as they grow, they come with a need to understand, to learn, to open their eyes to the world, to make decisions that impact not just themselves but others. And as children, the best if not only way for them to learn all this is through play. But this playful learning journey doesn't have to take the form of stuff.
Watch a child at play and notice how it's about their hands turning the simplest block or drawing into something magical, something so much bigger, wilder that what our grown-up, no-nonsense minds can perceive. Notice how it's about their imaginations, about the way they use their bodies so extravagantly, moving and spinning and whirling through space like planets and then stopping for a giant hug right in the middle of it all.
So instead of stuff, I find they just they need the space - emotionally - to allow room for this exploration, this creativity, to grow and flow. Our home is not the biggest and I am aware of that. But I'd rather give them more space to move and simply be than overcrowd the little space we do have with yet more stuff. And so things come in, things go out. Decluttering is my life's calling. I never let it get too much.
Living minimally with children isn't about emptiness or coldness though - you will have seen pictures of my home on my Instagram and you will know my home is not like that. Our daily life brings it alive. For me, living minimally is about providing the backdrop for my kids to play, to learn how to think, to be creative, to be kind, to learn how to assert themselves and express themselves, to explore and adventure and absorb all the little things that are helping them become the people they are going to be.
So I don't end up tidying a house full of endless, countless toys all the time, because they simply don't have that many and, yes, I value my time too much to spend it always tidying up. We store, we rotate. I don't hide their things away because of aesthetics; I genuinely believe simplicity serves them and over-stimulation does not.
But the way to maintain a calm, minimalist lifestyle with children is not just about culling and minimalising their toys all the time. It's about editing everything in your home, so that calm is everywhere. Again, I'm not talking about creating some art gallery emptiness. I want our home to be lived in, for that is where the feelings of love and warmth come. I'm just talking about the peace and ease that comes from that slightly undone, slightly unfinished less-is-more atmosphere.
I am all too aware of how hectic life gets when we're not in holiday mode - the need to be here, there and everywhere at the right time with the right kit and enough water bottles and hand sanitisers and snacks. The need to beat London traffic and battle for parking just to get to swimming class on time. Weeks fly. So we need our home, we all need our home, to give us calm to catch up on the energy expended in daily life. So just as the boys need someone to help them edit their belongings, I edit my own. A simple wardrobe, a curated collection of books, laundry put away not just sitting there in the basket.
It's just the flow of things in. and out again. Like breathing.
My five ways to maintain a calm and tidy home with children
Rotate and edit toys - read these easy steps to a toy rotation
Declutter your grown-up belongings too as much as the kids' things - start with The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up; Kondo does not talk about living with children but this will inspire you to get your own things, your own wardrobe and the rest of your home in order.
Choose toys and play materials carefully and mindfully - you can find some beautiful, engaging and long-lasting toys here, one of my hands-down favourite children's shops.
Encourage them to help tidy up too - If you're stuck or met with resistance, The Montessori Notebook has the best resources and learning tools to find ways to engage your children willingly. (I would also highly recommend Simone's course on setting up your home Montessori-style if you want to declutter but do it in a way that keeps your children in mind)
Don't set unattainable standards - because a family home is full of bumps and knocks and scratches. Perfection doesn't exist, and you wouldn't want it to either. For there's no individuality in perfection, no character and no warmth. So go with the flow. See where it takes you.