Allie Casazza, author of Declutter Like a Mother and host of The Purpose Show podcast, believes that living with a busy family doesn’t have to be a hot mess.
Her podcast, with more than 7 million downloads, focuses on a family-oriented approach to minimalism. Casazza grew up in Southern California and recently moved to Greenville, South Carolina with husband Brian and their four young children.
Casazza recently joined an online chat on the Washington Post. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: How do you deal with Legos?
A: I’ve tried every suggestion on the internet plus a few others my husband Brian and I made up ourselves. The result was to save them by color. I store ours with thin containers in storage furniture I bought from Ikea. You can find great Legos storage solutions online with a simple search.
Q: My daughter is attached to all of her toys. How can I involve them and get them to clean up their room and toys?
A: In my book, I talk about five types of children based on their personality and motivation. It sounds like your daughter might be the emotional and connected type and these kids need more time and say what stays and goes.
Share your timeline and you need to control its space. Give her space and lead by example. Clear out your own items and let them see you do that. Make simplicity a part of your family culture instead of making it a task that needs to be done right away. Control, stress, and rushing cause a great deal of fear in such children and will not take you to your ultimate goal.
Q: I’ve tidied up so much, but there is always stuff everywhere and there’s not much else I can get rid of. Should I organize better or get the children to help?
A: We need to know the difference between mess and mess. Clutter contains parts that are not needed and clutter is made up of items that you love and use regularly that are left out. If it’s clutter, make decisions and move items out of the way. If it’s a mess, create rhythms for the whole day to keep everything tidy and create storage space for the pieces to gather.
You can involve your children in this. For example, items that belong upstairs in our house would always be collected on or next to the stairs. I bought a pretty basket and put it against the wall next to the stairs and started charging the kids $ 1 for each item left on the stairs. It took a couple of weeks for everyone to get used to it, but it helped to recharge them.
Q: What are your top tips for dealing with papers that kids take home from school?
A: Get yourself a physical “inbox” – a magazine bin or some sort of folder. Every time you check the mail or the kids bring paperwork home, it goes to your inbox. Set a reminder on your phone or calendar to check your inbox regularly. I do mine every Friday after lunch, but you can do it more often or whenever it’s good for you.
Make decisions as you search your inbox. Put the school event on your calendar, register for the party, order the canned food your child needs for the charity event, and so on. Throw away the paper once it’s been processed. If it’s something that can’t be edited right away, keep it in the inbox until it’s done. However, make sure to get the ball rolling first; Send the email you want to send or set a reminder on your phone to do the next step.
Q: How can I reduce children’s clothing?
A: It is common for parents to keep too much. Honestly, most of the people I work with clean at least half of their children’s wardrobes and they never said they were sorry. There will be less laundry done when children have less clothes to wear, which saves you time and that is a big win.
Make decisions and ask: do you wear this regularly? Do you need it? Do they have something like that that is better? Is it cracked or damaged? Is it your favorite? Reduce visual clutter by storing out of season clothes in trash cans under the bed or in another part of the house.
Q: How do you organize children’s art?
A: It is best to start by deciding what is really special. If you mark everything as “special” then it really is nothing. Try to keep only your “masterpieces,” as my daughter calls them. Everything else can be scanned and sent to the cloud. I also like to take pictures of the kids who painted the pictures while they hold them up so that I not only have the visual memory of the art but the artist as well.
Q: Where is the best place to start clearing out the clutter?
A: Your bathroom. It’s such an easy yes-or-no area when you’re overwhelmed. Usually sentimental items are not kept in the bathroom; It’s mostly old toiletries and broken makeup brushes. If you start something simpler, you will get quick results and a boost of momentum that you can use for the rest of your home. There’s nothing like instant gratification after you’ve tidied up the room where you start and end your day.
Q: I’ve gained some weight and my clothes don’t fit. I go back to the office and wonder whether I should get a new work wardrobe, hold on to these clothes, or something in between. Advice?
A: Your body is beautiful at every stage of life and deserves to be supported by your clothes. If you feel like you want to bring some exercise and foods that tend to alter your body to make the clothes fit again, go ahead and keep them. Keep them out of the way and buy some staples to carry around to work in the meantime. When you feel comfortable where you are, let go of your clothes and start over.
Q: How do you simplify your Christmas decorations?
A: It’s about choosing what the storage space is worth to you. Don’t just hold onto Christmas decorations because you have them. Keep your favorites that you think are beautiful and those that are worth keeping.
Q: What is your advice for gifts? My family buys the whole store for Christmas.
A: One of my favorite tips is to register each of your children online for the holidays. If your loved ones are asking what they want for Christmas, you can give them the link to a specific list that your kids will fill with items they would actually love and use, which will make bringing in new items a lot easier for you. Start a fund for a cool experience and ask family members to contribute instead of buying more physical pieces for your family.
Remember, if someone gives you or your family a gift, you are under no obligation to keep it. It is your house and you are the one who has to look after everything in it. If it’s not loved or used after the holidays, pass it on to someone else.
Q: My trash drawer is overwhelming. What’s the best system?
A: Give up the idea of a junk drawer and think of it as a utility drawer. Once you’ve decided what to go in there, you get simple trays to separate items and keep everything easy to find. I’m not a fan of drawers where you can slide and cram random items.
Q: How do I really get my husband on board? He says he wants to tidy up, but heaven forbid I throw everything in the garage away.
A: It is so difficult! My husband struggled for about two years when I started figuring all this out and he didn’t want to get rid of anything. We found a compromise: he could have the master bedroom closet and garage and he could store as much as he wanted in it. I wouldn’t mess with these rooms, but I kept the rest of the house free of clutter. Communicate what you need while respecting its limits. We cannot expect everyone in our lives to come on the same page as us. Let him do his thing and you’ll do yours too.
Q: How did the clearing out process help you discover your purpose?
A: Tidying up isn’t really about the house. It’s about how much time you gain and how much physical, mental and emotional space you get back. Your brain becomes free and you become a happier, lighter version of yourself. To me, it looked like blogging, taking long daily walks with my kids, taking yoga classes, meditating, and reading more books. I found my purpose through the time I created in my life.