My kids used to have all of the toys. If it was on some hot toy list, they probably had it, or it was on a list to purchase for an upcoming holiday.
And for the longest time, I could not figure out why I was constantly cleaning and they were constantly fighting. I mean, this was an all day, every day madhouse… The kind that made me want to go lock myself in the bathroom with a glass of wine and cry.
I finally discovered the absolute beauty of decluttering their toys. The benefits to my happiness and sanity alone have been incredible.
But, I wasn’t the only one benefitting from having less toys.
I think the biggest benefits were actually to my kids!
Since the great toy declutter, we’ve had less fighting and bickering. Less dragging their feet come clean up time. Less complaints that they’re bored.
I’ve found since we’ve tossed all of the excess junk they weren’t really playing with anyway, that life has been so much simpler.
We’re all happier, more focused, less overwhelmed and rushed, and generally more agreeable.
Decluttering those toys is the best thing we ever did not only for our home… but for our children’s lives.
Research shows time and time again, that kids do not need a ton of toys to thrive. In fact, it can be detrimental to their development.
8 Ways Fewer Toys Are Better for Your Kids
1. Increased Creativity
Surely I’m not the only one that has noticed that most of today’s toys don’t inspire creativity. They often do everything for the child and leave no room for imagination. They sing, dance, light up and otherwise distract kids from actually playing. This seems especially true of baby and toddler toys… their most impressionable years!
But kids, given the opportunity, are very creative. With the right, open-ended toys their imaginations and creativity will be sparked. Give them a moment and watch their creativity blossom. I’m always amazed at how my children play with the simplest of toys. No flashy lights and songs required. In fact, they prefer there not be flashy lights and songs anymore.
My older two love to build cities, dinosaurs, and a gazillion other things with legos, or even just some rocks, sticks and sand when they’re outside. They play vet with stuffed animals. They grab some books and play library. Their imaginations truly seem limitless.
My toddler builds cities and stables out of blocks. It’s incredible to watch how much they’ve grown since they have to actually play instead of their toys doing all the play for them. And it’s more fun for me to engage!
More toys does not equal more play, or better play. In fact, research has shown time and again that the opposite is true. Fewer, less flashy, toys equals more engaged, long-term play.
When your kid has 250 toys to choose from, they get distracted, they have trouble making decisions, and they often don’t play very long or very deeply with the toy before moving on to one of the other 249 toys available to them.
But, when your child only has a few toys to select from, they will often play with the toy the select much longer and in a deeper and more meaningful way. They won’t just press a couple of buttons and move on, but engage in their play in a much deeper and meaningful way.
Play helps a child develop in so many ways. It helps them learn about and begin to interpret the world around them. The longer a child plays with a toy, the more meaningful that play is… the more beneficial it is to their growth. Children who can play with one selected toy long term will generally have longer attention spans, increased imagination, better cognition and problem-solving, and even improved motor skills.
Kids should get to be kids. You and I get overwhelmed by too many things and too many options, imagine how it feels to a child who hasn’t even really gained decision making skills. Fewer toys means your child can grow smarter, stronger, and more creative and that’s amazing to me.
3. A Love for the Arts
Before we decluttered all of the excess, it was like pulling teeth to get my kids to sit down and color, paint, draw, do a craft, read, practice piano, anything. They would play with a toy for 5 minutes, toss it, and go find the next toy. There was no true interest in enjoying the more calming and quiet activities they could do.
Once the toys were gone, they opened up more to drawing, creating, and reading. With fewer toys, they had more time so to speak, to engage in these creative and engaging activities and realize they were actually fun. All of this has helped them become more empathetic and expressive and it’s been an amazing transformation to watch.
4. Less Arguing
Like I said at the beginning, their fighting and arguing was to the point that I felt like a failure. I wanted to just lock myself in the bathroom with a glass of wine, cry, and surrender. I couldn’t find a way out and it was a dark time… not only for me, but for them as well.
It’s natural for siblings to fight, but it doesn’t have to be all day every day. Many, myself included, think that more toys means less arguments because they have more available. However, the opposite is true.
The fewer toys your kids have, the less they’ll fight. They will be forced into sharing, communicating, and cooperating more often than not.
5. Increased Perseverance and Determination
Before we tossed all of the excess toys, my older two constantly gave up… way too easily. They’d try something for a minute, it wouldn’t work out, and they would just give up. No matter how many times we tried telling them that things take time, and will get better with time and practice, they’d just give up and say I can’t.
Now how? I kept wondering… how did we manage to raise kids that are giving up so easily?? Once the toys were gone, I realized… that’s how! If a child has a million toy options and a toy requires too much concentration or work, they’ll just toss it to the side and grab a toy that doesn’t require as much work.
Those skills that they learn from tossing the more challenging toy to the side transfer into actual life skills. If something seems too hard, they just want to give up and take the easy way out.
Now? Most of the time they have an I think, I can, I will, I do kind of attitude. Most of the time. They’ve learned how to do so many things from not giving in or giving up in the past year it’s been amazing. And I know that these skills of perseverance and determination will follow them their entire lives so that they rarely, if ever, give up before giving it a true shot again.
6. A Calmer, Quieter Home
Of course you could say that this is a mom benefit (and it totally is), but it’s also a kid benefit. Without all of the toys cluttering up the environment, you will find that your home is calmer, quieter, and much, much more inviting.
This calm, quiet place you call home may seem like a foreign land for a while, but you’ll soon realize it isn’t and notice the benefits not only to your own life, but theirs.
When you see a bunch of clutter, particularly toy clutter in this instance, what do you usually do? You get overwhelmed, right? Then, you nag your kids to pick up, and they get overwhelmed and stressed. You just want them to pick up their crap! Right? But think about it, you’re overwhelmed and stressed, and so are they.
And rarely, at least in my experience, do they ever listen and actually pick anything up. Which creates stress, tension, and arguing between you, them, and amongst themselves.
Less toys means less to pick up. So, it means less nagging and more cooperation. My kids generally pick up what they have out with only one prompt… unless they’ve drug all the legos out, but that’s another story haha.
You will all be less stressed, and your home will be calmer, happier, and more quiet. Which… who doesn’t want that?
7. They Play Outside
We could all benefit from more time out in nature. But, if you’re constantly cleaning up after your kids toy explosions and they’re in a play room with no less than 242 toy options distracting them and begging for their attention… you’re probably not getting outside enough, if at all.
Without all of those extra toys laying around to keep your kids falsely occupied, they can go and explore the great outdoors. And watching them learn more about the outside world, to me anyway, is so amazing.
My kids beg to go outside. They dig in the dirt and find shells, or build things with sticks, or find leaves and make nests. It’s amazing. They get to see how beautiful the world around us truly is instead of being locked down in a house playing with junk that doesn’t inspire them to do anything or learn anything new.
There’s a great big world out there. They should be able to experience all of it’s beauty without all of the distractions.
8. They Become More Intentional Consumers
Consumerism has taken over in epic proportions. And not in a good, or healthy way. It’s becoming more and more difficult for people to realize that they can’t buy something to make them happy. Happiness and contentment cannot be bought on a store shelf. Rather, they’re often found in the moments and memories we create with one another.
When your child has fewer toys, they not only learn how to appreciate what they have, but also begin learning how to be more intentional about what kinds of things they allow into their lives.
Kids learn behaviors just as much as anything else during their childhood. If you instill a behavior of gratitude and contentment and making intentional, thoughtful purchases for things that last now, it will last them their entire lives.
Help your child find joy in the every day and make intentional choices when they do add to, or replace, their toy collection. Help guide them through the decision on whether or not the toy is quality and will add to their play time, not subtract from it.
Fewer toys will allow your children to have an amazing childhood and grow into amazing, well-adjusted adults.
It’s not about things, it’s never about things. It’s about experiences. No toy can replace the experiences we must have in order to make a life. No toy can replace the beautiful things that happen when your child solves a problem. No toy can replace the human interaction that your child needs and craves.
I think toys can be incredibly beneficial to our children’s growth and development. But, I know that if tomorrow they only had their own imaginations to entertain themselves with, they’d be just fine.
Have you decreased the toy clutter? What benefits have you seen from it?
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Do you ever buy something only to wonder later on why you just wasted your hard-earned money on it?
I used to do that a lot. Not just impulsive purchases (and there were plenty of those), but stuff that at the time seemed important and useful only to eventually figure out… it wasn’t worth the money, at all.
I have slowly come to realize, if it’s something that isn’t providing purpose or value to our lives, then it’s not necessary.
And several things I had convinced myself were providing purpose or value weren’t, they were just wasting money… and in essence, time.
It’s a lot more enjoyable to spend that money and time on experiences than it is on pointless dribble that isn’t adding joy to our lives.
So, in the spirit of trying to improve our lives by having less mindless dribble to waste our time and money on, I thought I’d share a few things I have stopped wasting my money on since simplifying my life.
10 Things I Stopped Buying Since Becoming a Minimalist
Cable/ Satellite TV
When we lived in the suburbs, we didn’t spend for cable because we didn’t need to. Streaming services are abundant and we had plenty of high speed internet to go around. We paid $10 for Netflix and our internet bill and that was it.
Then, we moved out here to the great wide open and it is great, except…
We have very limited data and very slow internet service. It’s coming around, but right now our options are very limited and very little.
So, we signed a contract for satellite TV when we moved in. I hung on thinking… it gives us something to do when we’re relaxing or it’s pouring down rain or whatever.
Then, the attitudes started in with the kids, they wanted stuff they saw advertised on TV, and the bill kept going up up up.
So, we ditched it.
It was missed for about 2 days. Then, we found other things to do like playing games, or watching DVDs. I’ve also discovered the beauty of free TV.
Over the air TV is awesome. It brings back the 90s to me, those programs I used to enjoy as a kid before TV went to absolute crap anyway. No internet required, no streaming service just good, old-fashioned TV the way it used to be.
For now, DVDs, a game of Mario Kart, board games, and plenty of time outside and we’re doing just fine. Saving us over $1,500 a year! That’s pretty awesome, if you ask me.
I’ll start this off by saying I’m an absolute music lover. I love all kinds of music, but we don’t pay for it.
I used to have a very extensive collection of CDs when I was younger (before the era of digital music). And I did spend a good deal of time listening to them. Now? Not so much.
We don’t buy CDs, we don’t buy digital music. Ever.
If anyone has a particular song we want to listen to, we use YouTube. We listen to IHeartRadio a lot or pandora. We even occasionally just listen to regular ol’ radio over the air.
It gives a little background noise, it gives us something to listen to (that’s not constantly the same exact thing over and over). And it’s completely free.
I’ve never actually subscribed to the newspaper, to be honest. And the only magazine we’ve ever had a subscription to was ZooBooks for the kids that I got for $9 with a groupon….
That being said, the news is free. You can read it online or watch a local channel (there’s where that antenna comes in handy for over the air channels). Magazines are very pricey and most of them have availability online as well.
It creates less waste and I don’t have random newspapers and magazines sitting all over the house. So, we choose to read the news online from local news networks. And magazines have never really been my thing.
Professional Portraits/School and Sports Photos
Gasp! I know. But have you priced those things lately? They’re ridiculous! And well, they’re fake.
I love taking photographs, but I enjoy the candid, unposed ones best of all. They’re real, they’re authentic. No one has props and fake smiles plastered across their face. They capture our family in the moment. And that, to me, looks better and is priceless.
That being said, I do occasionally pull out the camera and take my own professional style portraits that are posed. But, I prefer capture those memories on film in the moment than a fake, unauthentic picture with props and pretend smiles plastered on my kids faces.
I’ve never been a huge cafe person to begin with. But, I haven’t bought coffee from Starbucks or any other cafe in years. It would be a really rare occasion to find me standing in line at a cafe anywhere.
We brew our own coffee daily. I make it a point to make sure we have our coffee pot and fresh coffee when we go on vacation, too. Starbucks is expensive and coffee from home is good. Plus, I can make my own yummy coffee drink at home, if I really want to indulge. I just can’t justify spending $7 for a coffee when I can buy a whole pound of organic coffee for $10 and make many, many cups.
In true minimalist fashion, we really enjoy taking our kids places. Zoos, museums, aquariums, national parks, etc. And they all have conveniently located souvenir shops that you’re almost forced to go through at most of these places.
And souvenirs are cute! They make you feel like you’ve captured the memory when you buy a t-shirt that says Mount Rushmore on it. But… they don’t. And, they’re so overpriced! We went through a souvenir shop the other day (by force, not choice) and headed straight for the door, but my daughter saw a stuffed toy so I glanced at the price tag. $40!! That’s insanity.
No one is stealing that memory from you and that t-shirt or cheap plastic crap didn’t capture the memory for you. So, we choose to keep the memories we’ve created, take pictures and not fill our house with more overpriced junk.
Junk of all kinds. You know what I’m talking about. You buy something cheap because it’s cute, whether it’s something for your kid, yourself, your spouse, your home, whatever. You get it home, a week later it’s in the trashcan.
So, I have started trying to be incredibly intentional about my purchases. If it’s something that isn’t going to last, whether it’s clothes, decor, whatever… I don’t buy it. I don’t need to fill the space just because it cost a dollar. I can wait, buy something quality that I love and it will last.
Make sure you’re questioning your motives when you pick up a random object to buy. Is it quality? Is it going to last? Do I really need this? Where will it fit in my home?
And never forget the 1 in 1 out rule. If I buy something, generally something else is going out when I get home. And for the bigger purchases, wait on them for a week before pulling the trigger. It really helps you make a well-informed, thought out purchase of quality items instead of impulsive buys that won’t last.
Nope, nope, nope. I make one or they simply don’t get one. None of them can convey what I want to say anyway. Besides, they get tossed into the recycle bin when the day is done.
Why would I throw $5-$7 into the recycling bin? So, sometimes I make a card or write a letter or a poem to give the recipient. It’s more personal and it’s loads cheaper since it’s going into the recycle bin anyway. On the off chance I do purchase a greeting card (for a child’s birthday, for instance) the dollar store is where it’s at.
Knick Knacks and Trinkets
Do you love dusting? Buy all the trinkets. If you’re like me and hate dusting, then why create more work for yourself?
Knick knacks are made to just sit around. And sitting means they have to be dusted and they have to be moved to dust under/around them.
It takes me minutes to dust all of the furniture in my house because it’s not cluttered up with a ton of knick knacks. I have 5. They’re all frogs my mother gave me. My girls each have 1. We are not, by any stretch, knick knack people.
All. That. Plastic. I carry a hydro flask around with me everywhere. I keep it full, drink plenty of water, and I don’t need to buy a bunch of plastic bottles.
Buy a reusable bottle if you haven’t, the waste those plastic bottles create is depressing. The planet will thank you for it.
We live in a society that is obsessed with more, so it’s difficult to go against the grain and think of your life in terms of less. But, you get so much more out of it when you let go of all that excess that is not only in your life currently, but comes in every single time you buy something unnecessary.
We routinely go through our stuff to decide what is no longer serving us that we can donate to someone else that it will serve. I’m far from an extremist, I like to have things, I just want them to be purposeful and something that fits our lifestyle.
No sense holding on to things that don’t serve us or fit us, no matter how much we want(ed) them to.
What are a few things that you could stop buying that would help make your life more simple and less cluttered?
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Motherhood. It’s beautiful. It’s challenging. And while I feel incredibly blessed to have been entrusted with these three tiny souls, a few years ago… I wasn’t enjoying motherhood at all.
My husband and I had decided I should stay home with our children when our youngest was only a few weeks old. And I envisioned all of these fun, beautiful days of raising her and her siblings up. Enjoying our days together. Having fun. Finding the joy in motherhood.
But as time went on, I found I was spending more of my time, this precious time with my children, picking up messes, cleaning, organizing, and being overwhelmed.
Taking care of all of this stuff was sucking the life and joy right out of my motherhood. And it needed to stop. I wanted my children to remember all of the fun we had. Not how many times I hollered for them to clean up their toys while I did yet another sink full of dishes.
And out of this, the idea of embracing a minimalist lifestyle in our home was born. I knew if we had less stuff, I would have more time doing all of those things I had imagined doing with my children.
Can you be a minimalist with kids?
You betcha, you can! We have three little girls, all very active and imaginative that I homeschool. And if we can do it, trust me, you got this mama.
However, you need to realize that minimalism isn’t about owning as little as possible. It’s all about balance and living with what you need and want and ditching all of the excess.
Minimalism is about intentionality, not deprivation.
You don’t need to live with less than 100 things, without a car, without books, without a TV. It’s not at all about what you can live without. It’s about making intentional decisions to live with what makes you happy and makes your life better.
It’s all about making sure your stuff doesn’t own you. It’s not at all about having blank walls and nothing in your house. At least not to me. I believe that minimalism looks a little bit different for everyone and extreme minimalism? That’s not what true minimalism has to be or even is.
Our kids still have toys, we have pictures and artwork on the walls, we have things on the counters, etc. It’s not about any of that. It’s just about making sure that we have what we need and what we love and not so much that it is constantly taking up my time and space without any true value.
Minimalism is about having time to embrace motherhood. The time our children have as children is so fleeting, it shouldn’t be wasted by us constantly cleaning up. It should be embraced and enjoyed. Minimalism affords that opportunity.
Why You Need Minimalism in Your Motherhood
1. Less to Clean
Who doesn’t want to clean less? I was so incredibly tired of spending all of my time cleaning. Even if I wasn’t cleaning, I was thinking of what needed cleaned and it was tiring.
If you have less stuff, you’re going to clean less. We only do a handful of laundry loads a week now. The girls can pick up their own toys, quickly, and I don’t have to do it. There is less stuff that needs moved around so that I can actually clean. It’s amazing. And probably one of the biggest benefits.
2. More Time
When I envisioned stay at home motherhood, I envisioned being at home with my kids and spending time with them. When reality set in? That was far from the truth. I felt like I was spending as little time with them as I was when I was working away from home. There was constantly something calling for my attention, and consequently, my time.
Once we started to embrace a life of less, the time started packing back on. I had time to live my life the way I wanted to. More time for me, more time for my kids, and more time for my husband. More doing things I wanted to instead of feeling burdened by a chaotic schedule of tidy, clean, rinse, repeat.
3. Less Stress
Motherhood is stressful. There’s never a dull moment and we are constantly on the go and on the alert. Excess stuff just adds to that stress.
Less stuff will greatly reduce your stress levels, guaranteed.
4. More Moments & Memories
Minimalism is about more than just getting rid of the physical clutter and the consumer mindset. It’s also about shedding the calendar clutter. No more FOMO mindset here. It will be okay if your kids miss out on ballet this year, or don’t go to that birthday party.
When you have a less cluttered calendar (and home) you’ll have more time. Duh, right? But think about it… how much time do you actually get to spend making memories with your kids? How often is that time spent carting them from activity to activity while they make memories with their youth pastor or baseball coach?
This isn’t to say that your kids shouldn’t have structured activities or that you’re a horrible mother if they go to ballet and make memories with their instructor. Not at all. It is just saying we live in a culture that’s always on the go and constantly feel the need to sign our kids up for every single activity under the sun and stay busy.
That’s not necessary. Pick the things they enjoy, then spend some time having fun and making memories with them doing other things that don’t have a real schedule. We’re mothers forever, but they’re children for such an incredibly short time. When you have a less cluttered home and schedule, you have time to make those moments and memories you always dreamed about but thought you didn’t have the time for.
5. Happier & More Energy
I don’t know about you… but my kids are all little balls of energy. They are constantly in the mood to play and be active. I went through a phase that no matter what I did… I just wasn’t feelin it. I had no energy and I just wasn’t in it when it came to my motherhood. Do you know what I mean?
It was all that overwhelm I felt from the constant list of to-dos. The constant cleaning up after my kids, after life. I had no energy left to do anything else. I was down and depressed because it was just doing the same things over and over and waiting on everyone else instead of doing things I wanted to do, that we could all enjoy together.
Once I started getting rid of all that excess, things started to change and it was amazing. I started feeling better, I had more energy, I felt happier and actually wanted to do the fun things.
That clutter, physical, mental, calendar, all of it. It’s weighing you down, mama. It’s time to let it go so you can lighten your load. It’s transformational.
6. More Money
Stuff costs money, that’s no secret. But it costs money even well after you’ve bought it. You have to maintain it, keep space for it, and take the time (and time is money, my friend) to clean it.
Also, once you embrace minimalism, you’ll change your purchasing habits. There are so many things I don’t buy anymore since becoming a minimalist. And, when I do buy things… it’s a well thought out purchase, not just something I am buying because something somewhere told me to or because I think it might bring me joy (because, the reality is, it won’t improve my life).
7. Less Decision Fatigue
Decision fatigue is a real thing! As moms what little decision making power we have when we start the day is often used up before we’ve finished breakfast.
I mean, think about how many times you’ve given in to your kids because you’re at a point where you’re too tired and just don’t care anymore?
When you have less stuff, there are less decisions to make. And, you have a clearer, more free mind to make quick decisions instead of stewing over it. Decluttered wardrobes and capsule wardrobes take away having to decide what to wear, menu planning and meal prep take away the task of deciding what’s for dinner, less to clean takes away the decision of where to even start.
You’ll have more power to make important decisions and not be so worn out you can’t think straight to decide if your kid can wear shorts when its snowing outside.
8. People Can Drop By Unannounced
No more chaos ensuing all over your home means that if someone drops by unannounced, you won’t feel too embarrassed to let them in the front door.
Even if your house is the worst it ever is, you can still have people stop by and not feel bad. It’s easier to clean, it’s easier to maintain and its worst isn’t really all that bad.
Wouldn’t it be great to know that you don’t need to clean for 7 hours before your mother in law drops by and thinks you live like a slob? Or your neighbor can’t come in the front door because it looks like a tornado ripped through? You’ll feel so much more confident about the appearance of your home when you don’t have so much stuff taking up all the space inside of it.
Motherhood is difficult enough without all of the excess junk cluttering up our lives, our time, our minds, and our calendars. With minimalism I have time to actually spend enjoying my kids. I have the time and space to spend enjoying motherhood, and you can too.
Are you ready to embrace minimalism in your motherhood?
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And I totally get it. As a mom, the to-do list is never-ending. There is laundry to do, dishes to wash, meals to fix, homeschooling to do, errands to run, and a million and one other things on our plate at any given moment. And the sheer overwhelm of all that stuff sitting around can make us not want to find the time to deal with it anyway.
Legos scattered across the floor. Kids clothes that don’t fit. Your own clothes that don’t fit. The piles of paperwork that accumulate no matter what you do. There’s clutter everywhere and you simply can’t find the time to deal with it.
I’ve been there. If I just ignore it and go on with life, it will eventually get better. It won’t be so overwhelming. I’ll have more time later. Every mental block you can think of, I’ve used it on myself. And it didn’t help.
The truth of it is, the less stuff you have to clean, the less time you’ll have to spend cleaning. The less you own, the more time you’ll have. It’s never going to be any easier at a later date. In fact, it’s likely to only get harder.
I forced myself to make up the time to do this because I knew, deep down, that this was the only way I was ever going to feel like I had a little control of my life and the way I spent my time. I didn’t want to spend all day cleaning and hollering at the kids to clean up. I wanted to feel like a human being again, a happy one that isn’t so frazzled.
So, I made the time. And you can, too.
6 Ways to Make Time to Declutter
1. Spend 10 minutes a day
We all have 10 minutes we can spare. We can always spend 10 less minutes mindlessly scrolling on the phone. Wake up a few minutes earlier, spend 10 minutes less vegging on the couch.
There’s time there, it’s just a matter of making use of it.
If you can find just 10 minutes, you have time to declutter. There are tons of decluttering projects you can accomplish from start to finish in that short amount of time. Such as:
Declutter one shelf
Clear off one counter or table
Empty out and declutter one drawer
Declutter one small corner of a room
Go through and pick up trash throughout the house and throw it out
Find 15 items that aren’t where they belong and put them away
Find 15 items you no longer love, bag them up, and put them in the car to donate
Clean out one cabinet (or one shelf in the cabinet)
Clean off one shelf in the fridge
Simply set a timer for 10 minutes and get to work. Will it take a while to see any real progress? Sure, but it’s worth it!
2. Make decluttering a priority
What we spend our time on is probably the most important decision we make.
– Ray Kurzweil
We all have time, like I said. But how do you spend it? If you look at the way you’ve spent your day, have you made the important things a priority?
I always recommend setting a schedule for yourself. Or setting reminders on your phone. Our phones anymore are such an integral part of our lives, but so often we don’t use them to their full potential. Instead of helping us achieve more, they’re simply a distraction. More on that later, but set a reminder, put yourself on a decluttering schedule and get it done.
This is important, it’s serious, it takes time and it’s a huge project to take on. But, it’s worthwhile to do. So make sure you make it a priority so you can spend your time doing something far better in the future, like spending time with your family or doing something you really enjoy.
3. Learn how you’re spending your time
As I mentioned earlier, our phones are generally just a source of distraction. How many times do you catch yourself staring down at your phone instead of being in the moment? So often we mindlessly scroll or do other things and literally waste the time away.
So, keep track of it. Whether it’s using an app on your phone to see how you’re utilizing your time, a spreadsheet, or even just a simple journal or sheet of paper. Every hour or so, write down how you spent the last hour. It will only take a couple of moments to do, you don’t need to write a journal.
But, it’s important to be honest with yourself. No one will see these notes but you, and it will make a huge difference to figure out how you’re truly spending your time. If you’re wasting time scrolling facebook or pinterest while you’re preparing a meal, then maybe you could spend that time going through a drawer.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. But sometimes just figuring out where our time is actually going makes a world of a difference.
4. Delegate other tasks
Not everyone is lucky enough to have their spouse on board with the whole decluttering process. I get it. While I’ve been lucky and Trevor has always been 100% on board with ditching most excess, not everyone is that lucky.
While we can’t all have completely supportive spouses and other household members, we can declutter our own things and delegate other, non-decluttering tasks to other members of the household. Have your husband or kids do the dishes or put away the laundry instead of you doing it.
If you delegate some of the simple household tasks that take up your time to another member of the family, you can use that time to declutter instead.
5. Create a habit
Make something a simple habit instead of setting huge goals. You can make a habit of throwing away 3 pieces of trash a day. Or picking out 5 things to donate daily. Or even just one of each of those items.
Make a habit of going through at least one shelf or drawer daily until they’ve all been gone through. It can be simple and small, or a larger habit like every Saturday I’m going to declutter for one hour.
Just pick one thing and do that one thing for 21 days before you start another habit. 21 days is how long it takes to establish a habit… by the way.
6. Find an accountability partner
We do so much better with things when we have a partner to help us achieve our goals. Find someone else, whether it’s someone in your own household like a spouse or someone clear around the world that you know online.
Having someone else to help cheer you on and encourage you when the going gets rough is so incredibly helpful for anything difficult you’re trying to accomplish in life. You don’t have to go it alone. Simply find someone to help you through and keep you on task and you’ll get this done.
I know that if I’m having a rough go of it, I can tell my friend I need some accountability. And she will be right there rooting me on and making sure I spend at least 10 minutes a day decluttering when we check in with one another.
Decluttering can be difficult and overwhelming, I’m not going to sugar coat it and say it isn’t. But, it’s incredibly worthwhile and the concept of never having the time is simply an excuse to not have to deal with the difficult overwhelming task. It’s completely possible, though. You just have to realize what a difference it will make and then you can make the time.
Other than time what is keeping you from starting your decluttering journey?
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Decluttering is difficult. We get stuck, we want to give up, it’s hard to find the time and the focus required. I get it. I’ve been there.
I came up with so many excuses as to why decluttering all the excess junk in my life just wasn’t worthwhile. Or, I’d start decluttering and come up with a million excuses to hang on to things that I didn’t need to be hanging on to.
That sweater came from my long lost aunt, once removed from my fathers uncles mother. I’ve only met her once, but she wouldn’t want me getting rid of that.
Or, life would simply get in the way and I couldn’t, wouldn’t, find the time to work on it. I wasted more time dragging my feet that it took me a ton of time that wasn’t necessary. I created problems for myself instead of just embracing the fact that I knew I needed to make this work and get rid of all the excess stuff cluttering up my life.
Once I worked through these 9 excuses, I realized I was just mentally blocking myself. I felt so much better after we ridded ourselves of all this excess. Each bag was like a ton of weight off of my shoulders. Each day we set to sort through more was a welcome relief. Life without all of that stuff is so much better and more rewarding.
I was holding myself back thinking I didn’t deserve to be happy and not so overwhelmed. When in reality, I did deserve it, and so do you.
If you find yourself struggling with these hurdles and excuses, bear with me because I’ve got how to work through them all laid out so you don’t have to waste all that time and mental energy like I did.
9 Excuses We Make to Hang on to Our Clutter
Excuse 1 I Might Need It Some Day
Oh, this is a difficult one. We’re afraid that we may need something again even though we used it once, put it in the back of the closet and didn’t even remember it existed until 10 seconds ago.
The truth is, if you haven’t used something in 6 months, it is highly unlikely you’ll ever use it again. If you really sit down and are honest with yourself about it, I bet you can’t remember the last time you used it.
I know, it’s possible you’ll need to use it again. But, I bet you can borrow it from a friend or neighbor if you do require that particular item again.
Another suggestion I make to people is if you sincerely think you might need it, put it in a box with the other I might need it some day items. Tape it up and put it up on a shelf. Set yourself a reminder for 30 days on your phone. If the reminder goes off and that box is still sitting, taped up, on the shelf? Put it directly into your car, don’t open it, and take it to be donated.
Excuse 2 I Spent a Lot of Money on It
Stuff is expensive, I get it. I don’t even want to admit how many times we’ve donated high-ticket items because we collected them for no particular reason.
I’m definitely not made of money, and I’m sure you’re not either. However, the money wasted on the item is already spent and long gone. Not a lot we can do it now, unfortunately.
Whether an item cost $1 or $1,000 if you don’t love it, need it, or use it… let it bless someone else.
A note on selling items: I rarely suggest selling your stuff. Unless it is a particularly big ticket item you know you can unload quickly. If we just take a pile from our house and throw it in the garage for a one-day garage sale, it’s still cluttering up our space and, in turn, our lives and minds.
Excuse 3 If I get rid of this, I’ll feel guilty
You have a trinket your grandmother passed down to you from her own mother. Or, your aunt gave you this sweater you’ve never worn and you’ll feel guilty if you get rid of either item.
It can be difficult not to hold on to guilt thinking that the giver would be upset if you get rid of a particular item. Whether it’s something that has been handed down or simply a Christmas gift, it’s still a gift. If it’s not bringing value to your life, would that person truly want you to hold on to it?
When you give someone a gift is the idea that they should hold on to it forever or should they hold on to it until it no longer serves them?
When my mother passed away, I wanted to keep everything of hers that I had that was either hers or had been gifted by her. But, it wasn’t adding value to our lives to clutter up our home with stuff from her or that was hers. Instead, I picked a few meaningful items that I love and allowed my girls to pick a few items from her that they loved. We leave these items out where we can see them and be reminded of her each day instead of a bunch of stuff piled in a box that isn’t valuable or meaningful at all.
Excuse 4 It might be worth something
Sure, it might. I had toys from my childhood up until I was a young adult that would be worth money now. Most, however, wouldn’t be. Unless something is in fantastic shape, it’s probably not worth much at all.
If you truly want to do the homework and take the time to find a buyer for a particularly valuable item, you can. You’ll need to find out if it’s valuable, have it appraised, list it, hold on to it until you have a buyer, haggle, then sell. If you feel like you’re going to give away hundreds or thousands of dollars to the thrift shop, do some homework.
You still have to follow through, though. You can’t find out it’s valuable on ebay and then sit it in the corner. You need to have it appraised and then consequently list it and sell it. You need to follow through, otherwise it’s simply an excuse (which is what you’re trying to avoid).
Excuse 5 It takes too long to declutter, I don’t have time right now
Clutter is incredibly overwhelming, I totally get it. As someone who has 3 kids I homeschool, animals to care for, a business to run and a husband that works 70+ hours a week, I’m not exactly swimming in excess time. But, you know what? We made the time and now? We have more time together and I spend far less time cleaning. Which, is amazing… not having to constantly be cleaning.
Decluttering is an overwhelming project to add to your list of never-ending tasks, I get it. But, you can tackle this… slowly, but surely. I always ask people… do you have ten minutes a day you can spare? I bet you do. You can spend 10 less minutes scrolling on your phone, get up 10 minutes earlier, stay up 10 minutes later. There is somewhere, somehow that you can carve 10 minutes a day out. Then, you just declutter for those 10 minutes working on small areas until you get them finished and move on to the next space.
Excuse 6 My husband, kid, roommate, _____ isn’t on board
It can be difficult to declutter when everyone you share your home with isn’t on the same page. I’m lucky that my husband was totally on board with the decluttering habit. However, he does still hang on to far more than I think is necessary. And you know what? That’s okay.
My kids, they’ve pretty much just gone with it. But, not everyone is so lucky. Some of us have spouses, kids, or other people living with us that do not agree with the whole less is more mentality. And that’s alright. You don’t need everyone under your roof to agree. You simply set limits.
Husband doesn’t want to get rid of his stack of baseball cards? Wants to hang on to all of his clothes, tools, knick knacks. Maybe your mom lives with you and she wants to keep all of her stuff. That’s fine. Give your husband the garage, the basement, the closet. Give your mom her room or space. Whatever you need to do to keep the peace.
Make the spaces that you have to deal with daily clutter free. Such as the living room and the kitchen. Have the other individuals in the household store their stuff in spaces that haven’t been designated as clutter free. Clutter free zones can be decluttered and kept that way.
What will happen? You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised when the other members who gave you so much flack about decluttering eventually jump on board with the idea. It may take a while, but if you lead by example and don’t nag everyone, they’ll eventually come around when they see how much better your life is with less stuff.
Excuse 7 I’m saving it for my kids
They don’t want it. My mom kept so much of my childhood stuff. And I wanted very little of it. By holding on to something for your children, all you’re doing is passing on the burden of deciding what to keep and what to donate on to them. Keep a few meaningful items for your kids to decide when they’re old enough if they want to hang on to and that’s it.
For instance, I kept each of my daughters first stuffed toy and their baby blanket. I also have their hospital bracelets from birth. That’s it. My mom kept all of my baby teeth, she held on to every single piece of schoolwork I had, artwork, spelling tests, report cards, all of it. And I honestly don’t want any of that stuff.
Keep a few meaningful keepsakes and let the rest go. I know it’s difficult. This stuff is sentimental. But, it’s not going to be something your children truly want to hang on to when they’re older.
Excuse 8 Everyone else has one
This is that consumerism mentality we all have engrained into us coming out.
Who exactly is everyone else? And why do we care what they have and if we have the same things? We all have a habit of doing this and it’s a terrible habit. I don’t care if everyone in my neighborhood, town, state, or country has this thing. If it isn’t serving me and my family and bringing value and joy to our lives, we don’t need it.
The whole keeping up with the Joneses mentality is what often gets us into this mess of clutter we’re in. You do you and make your decisions on what you need and want in your life without taking the Joneses into consideration.
Excuse 9 I don’t know what to do with everything
I have fell into this trap before. I declutter everything, box it up and… it sits. It sits in the corner of my garage waiting for that maybe one day garage sale. Or, I sit it by the door, in the closet, somewhere awaiting its trip to the donation center. And it never gets there.
You aren’t done until all of that stuff is out of your home and where it’s supposed to be. Trash needs to be taken outside to the outside trash receptacle awaiting pickup. Recyclables need to be taken outside to the recycling can or your local recycling center and donations need to be taken outside to the vehicle to await your next trip to town to be dropped off.
Don’t say you’re done until you’ve gotten everything out of your house and well on its way out of your life. For donations, you need to bag or box them up, put them in the trunk of your car and set a reminder on your phone. We live pretty far from town, but we are in town at least once a week. So, I set a reminder on my phone for later in the week (give yourself a time limit that works with your schedule) to remember to take the stuff to the goodwill.
Another option for clothes is to donate to ThredUP. You fill a bag, send it off and they will donate $5 to one of their charities and give you a $5 tax credit. I haven’t used them personally, but I have heard some pretty good things about them. I mention this simply because it’s an option for not having to leave the house. You can simply leave it for your mail carrier, just remember to set it out!
I know how difficult it can be to even get started decluttering, we constantly come up with excuses to not do something. Or, we just don’t follow through. But, it’s worth it to work through these excuses and follow through. Not having all of that excess clutter is life-changing.
What is holding you back from decluttering?
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Life with kids is typically anything but simple. But, it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming life full of too much to do, too many screens, and too much stuff. You can simplify life with kids. You just have to think outside the box.
And the benefits are many. When you begin simplifying your child’s life (and yours as a consequence) you will have more time for them, and they will have more capacity for creativity, learning, and relaxation.
Relaxation? What’s that??
It seems like in today’s modern world none of us have time for that, but that’s not normal and it’s certainly not healthy. Kids today have far too many toys, too many activities, and not near enough time for blank space and relaxation. Heck, none of us do….
We’re all over scheduled, overworked, and overwhelmed.
But all of this is detrimental to our health, and our children. They never have a chance to become their own person, develop their own personalities, and learn when to say enough.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you simplify things, they will have time to learn to be more creative, spend time outdoors in nature, and learn to say enough is enough and no. Well, they can learn to say no when you actually want them to. If your child is anything like my two year old everything is no haha.
9 Ways to Simplify Life with Kids
1. Conquer the Toy Clutter
The best place to start is the place that takes your child’s most attention. It’s time to declutter toys. When children have too many toy choices, they often play less, and more superficially than they do with fewer options.
I was surprised when I found my children play best when they don’t have a ton of toys but rather just a handful. When we go overboard with toy clutter (this happens a lot after holidays and birthdays) they’re often more cranky, play less, and aren’t near as imaginative.
When I remove the toys, only keeping a few simple toys on hand, they spend more time being creative, play more deeply, use their imaginations and really immerse themselves in play. They also get along a lot better when they don’t have so many toys to fight over. It’s amazing.
Along with toys is books. We are lovers of books in our home. I have instilled a love for reading in all three of my children even though the youngest can’t quite read on her own yet. We spend time reading daily and the books can easily pile up. But, it’s easier to only keep a few favorites and visit the library to find new books to enjoy. Less overwhelm, less space required, and they actually read more when we only have a book or two from the library to choose from.
2. Ditch the Screens
Oh how I have a love-hate relationship with screens. Since part of my job is to work behind a screen, it’s often a struggle for me to spend less time on screens. And since I’m a mom… it’s up to me to lead by example. But, all of that said….
Screens are awful. The less time I personally spend on them, the more calm I feel and the less overwhelmed I am. And, of course, the less screens… the more present we are with one another.
I can tell when my kids have had too much screen time. They’re irritable. They fight. They don’t listen. And they don’t play. Life glued to screens is not a life at all.
And ditching them is difficult. The average child is spending over 7 hours a day looking at a screen, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. With new educational tools utilizing technology for school, the TV, and the fact that it seems the whole world is glued to its phone or tablet it’s a struggle for most families to decrease that time. But… the benefits are by far and wide worth the effort it takes.
If they’re not watching TV, they aren’t seeing commercials for stuff that they think they need. They spend more time playing, being imaginative, and being kids.
3. Do Less
With never-ending schedules full of activities and the art of busyness that has swept across the country we don’t spend near enough time doing nothing.
We spend so much time going to and from, filling our schedules, mindlessly scrolling and watching that we often forget how meaningful it is to just spend time together.
It’s nice when you don’t have to worry about a schedule, having to be somewhere at a certain time takes away from being able to truly enjoy the moment. While you may have times where you think you must find something to do…. go for a walk, explore, read a book out loud together, build a fort, take the dog for a walk. Do something small, don’t set an alarm or put time limits on it, and just enjoy the moment.
4. Say No
They look at you with their beautiful faces… “please mom”. It can be so difficult to say no. But, it’s necessary. Say no to more obligations on the calendar, but also say no to more. They don’t need more toys, they don’t need to go every which where. Just say no and just be together. Spend your time living life instead of constantly being on the go or constantly thinking you need to buy something for yourself or them. They’ll quickly learn how peaceful and calm it is to just be in the moment and how little they really need to be happy and fulfilled.
5. Limit Incoming Stuff
My kids have a ton of stuffed animals. I have a huge collection of books. So, it’s time to impose a rule. No more stuffed animals, no more books. And if something comes in, something else goes out.
Impose a rule to keep the clutter from coming back. If you get rid of all that excess but you don’t do anything about keeping it from coming back you will spend your life in a perpetual mode of decluttering. Which, is fun for a short time and then you get burnt out and the clutter takes over again and you’re right back where you started.
Don’t let that happen. If your kids are terrible at accumulating stuffed animals, dolls, action figures… whatever it is. Impose a rule that says no new ones for a while. It doesn’t have to be forever, just for a time. Besides, once you’ve had the rule for a while you’ll often find they stop asking and it’s not such a struggle anymore.
And when you do allow them to get new things (yourself is included in this) at birthdays, Christmas, or just because… something else goes out. Keep it simple, you’ll be so glad you did.
6. Eat more Simply
I try not to keep us on a strict schedule. I allow most days to play out however they’re meant to. Which means that we don’t always sit down for supper at 5PM. While we almost always do sit down for supper together as a family (it’s extremely rare we don’t) it’s not always at a specific time.
Since it isn’t and I don’t want to start some extravagant meal at 430 in the afternoon, I’ve started simplifying our meals. Things that can be ready in less than an hour (often less than a half an hour) and don’t contain a ton of ingredients. This allows me to keep fewer things cluttering up the kitchen, it gives my kids an easier time helping out and learning how to cook right alongside me, and it frees up our time to spend on other things.
7. Spend time Together
Of course, right? But, instead of spending all of your hours in open, unstructured play, do something together. Let them help you cook dinner. Start a family reading hour. Play music together. Learn a new hobby like crocheting… something fun and engaging that you can do along with your children to interact on a whole different level and you all can learn along the way.
8. Go Outdoors
Spending time outside with your children is probably one of the absolute best things you can ever do with them. Nature is full of possibilities; learning opportunities, creativity, and healthy experiences.
It always amazes me the magical world that my kids develop in the outdoors. It’s so fun to really immerse myself into the world they’ve created and let time just fly by while we just enjoy being together. Our toddler is constantly asking to go outside and I oblige her as often as we can.
Unplugging and spending time outside in nature is beneficial to us all and we strive to spend as much time as possible outside, rain or shine, sleet or snow. Because the benefits far outweigh a little crummy weather.
9. Let go of Perfectionism
Life with kids is messy and that’s hard to admit as a neat freak and self-proclaimed perfectionist. But, just because I’ve let go of having a perfectly cleaned home doesn’t mean that I don’t take time to clean up and do chores. We just do them together, which often means they aren’t done the way I would do them. And that’s okay!
I’m more than willing to accept “good enough” in exchange for time with my kids and their happiness. I’m not constantly harping on them to clean up this or to do something a specific way. Instead, we clean up the living areas daily, make our beds, and keep it “good enough” that if a complete stranger walked in they wouldn’t want to run away.
Are my baseboards cleaned? Probably not. Is there mud tracked in on the kitchen floor? Probably. But, it’s not that bad and the time we spend together is far more meaningful than an immaculate house.
Life since having children has been far from simple, but we have found ways to simplify it and we are all so much happier and better adjusted. We enjoy each other and our time together more and spend far less time cleaning, organizing, and filling up our schedules. And I wouldn’t trade any of it for the old way we used to do things for anything in the world.
How do you simplify life with kids?
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A rich cream cheese base is lightened with a top layer of sour cream, sugar and vanilla for a delicious velvety vanilla cheesecake you won’t soon forget.
Years ago, when my husband and I first got married, we got this cookbook. While my dad was a chef for many of my formative years, I knew how to cook the basics and that was it.
This cookbook, however, had much more than easy, basic recipes. And it sat in a cabinet for a long time before I even attempted to make anything out of it. Even when I did, many of the recipes weren’t very good, or were far too involved. It did have a vanilla cheesecake recipe in it that I chose to write down and modify to my own, though.
So, I guess one good thing came out of it. Of course, it had to be a recipe for sweets. When I’m trying desperately to not eat sugar. And all I wanted to do was make something with said sugar in it.
I justified this by saying… at least its homemade! Which, is partially true. But, I probably should have not made it. It’s worth it though. It’s so good.
Tips for an amazing vanilla cheesecake
Make it in advance
This recipe does best after it has sat for a day or two before you eat it. If you choose to eat it soon after it has set, it’s just not as good. The flavors need to mix together and it needs to sit in order for that to do it. So, I highly recommend making this at least a day before you need it. It’s even better if you have two days. And yes, I know how difficult it is to let it sit in there taunting you for two days. Worth it, but difficult.
Use the vanilla beans
Can you make it without vanilla beans? Sure, you can omit them from the cheesecake and the topping. But, it won’t have as much flavor if you do. You’ll want to make sure they’re fairly fresh, but I’d buy them online to save money. At the grocery they’re usually in the ballpark of $20 for two whole beans around here. You can buy them online much, much cheaper.
Don’t over mix
Be careful when making this to not mix it for too long. Once everything is incorporated, it’s fine to stop. If you over mix the mixture, it will crack. Will it still taste good? Absolutely. It just won’t be as pretty.
Note: I do not bake this recipe in a water bath. Some people swear by it. It was never in the original instructions and it bakes up just fine, not cracked, and evenly baked every time. Which, to me is a bonus. I have avoided cheesecake recipes simply because of that requirement.
Finely grind your graham crackers and pre-bake the crust
If you have a blender or food processor, you can use those. Or, if you’re like me and don’t like the mess, throw them in a plastic ziplock back and use your rolling pin to crush them up. This takes a little more effort, as you want them fine, but it’s definitely doable. If you don’t get them crushed enough, the crust won’t set up as well.
You also need to throw the crust in the oven after you’ve put it in the pan.
Use room temperature ingredients
All of them need to be room temp. Your cream cheese, your eggs, all of it. This will keep the batter from being all lumpy and will allow it to bake more evenly. If you add a cold egg to room temp ingredients, it will not bake as evenly.
You need a springform pan
Yep. You just can’t make a cheesecake without one. Well, you can. My no bake strawberry cheesecake doesn’t require one. But, this one does. You’ll put the graham cracker crumb crust evenly over the bottom and about halfway to two thirds up the sides. I use my hands, some people use the bottom of a glass. Whatever works. Once your cheesecake is all set up and chilled removing that spring form will make it so much easier to serve.
Yield: 10-12 Servings
1 hour 20 minutes
A rich cream cheese base is lightened with a top layer of sour cream, sugar and vanilla for a delicious velvety vanilla cheesecake you won't soon forget.
10 Graham Crackers (finely crushed)
1/3 Cup Sugar
4 Tablespoons Butter (melted and cooled)
4 Eggs (beaten, room temp)
1 1/2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/2 Vanilla Bean (contents)
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
24 Ounces Cream Cheese (room temp)
1 Cup Sugar
3 Cups Sour Cream
1/2 Cup Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Vanilla Bean (contents)
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
Begin by preheating oven to 350°F with rack situated in center and lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.
Make the crust by mixing the finely crushed graham crumbs, sugar and butter in a small bowl. Gently press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the springform pan and up about halfway along the sides. Bake it in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes. Remove it and allow it to cool while you mix the cheesecake. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
Next, make the filling. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until fluffy, about a minute.
Next, add the sugar in slowly, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix once more to incorporate it all.
Add the eggs, vanilla extract, and the contents of 1/2 the vanilla bean to the bowl, scrape it down and mix once more. Do not over mix, as this will cause cracking.
Pour the filling into the crust and bake it at 325 until the cheesecake is barely set in center, about 45 to 55 minutes. Note, the cheesecake will still jiggle slightly when moved.
When the cheesecake is about finished, you ca mix the topping. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment you can beat the sour cream, sugar, vanilla, salt, and contents of the vanilla bean for about a minute on low speed until it's all well incorporated.
Once the cheesecake is almost set, remove it from the oven and reduce the temperature to 300°F. Evenly spread the topping over the cheesecake and allow it to bake an additional 5 minutes.
Allow the cheesecake to cool for about an hour on a wire rack once removed from the oven. Refrigerate for a minimum of 6 hours, but preferably overnight before serving.
If you do not have any vanilla beans, simply increase the vanilla extract in the filling and the topping by 1/2 teaspoon.
To remove the contents of the vanilla bean, split the bean lengthwise using a sharp knife and scrape the contents into the bowl.
I love gardening, and I love cooking. Using fresh veggies straight from the garden is so satisfying to me. But, to be honest, nothing beats freshly cut herbs straight from the garden to put on your food. Nothing.
The smell, quality and flavor of herbs straight from your backyard cannot be beat. There’s nothing fresher, nothing more delicious. Just good, delicious herbs for cooking that you grew with your own two hands right in your backyard or even your windowsill.
While there’s a list a mile long of all the culinary herbs you can use, I stick with these 10. I try to keep some of them growing in the windowsill all year, and I still others I grow outdoors in the warm months. I tried keeping them in pots and bringing them in, but unfortunately that didn’t work for us. It may for you, so don’t think you can’t container garden to keep yourself in fresh herbs. It’s worth taking the chance to see if it will work.
It’s kind of sad that when you read recipes or go out to eat it seems the only seasoning people know about anymore is salt and pepper. But, for centuries, herbs have been a great way to add flavor to our dishes, make herb butters and oils to add to our dishes, and even make flavored vinegars. I don’t know what went wrong, but I love adding herbs to our foods, especially straight from the garden.
Benefits of Growing Your Own Herbs for Cooking
Herbs aren’t picky. While they like evenly moist, fertile soil. Most will grow in less than spectacular soil, making them super easy for most beginners to grow with very little maintenance.
They’re inexpensive. Even picking up starts at the local store isn’t super expensive. You can have yourself a decent herb garden for pretty cheap even if you don’t start your own seeds.
You can grow several indoors. Yep, many herbs can be set out in containers when its warm and brought inside in the winter.
They’re prolific. Anyone that has ever started a mint plant knows that herbs of all types have a tendency of taking over. It doesn’t take much for them to spread, so if you don’t want a huge bed of a particular herb, make sure you keep them pruned back and don’t allow them to spread.
Many are hardy perennials. Lots of culinary herbs are perennial, meaning you plant them once and they’ll continue providing you with delicious plants year after year.
They’re a beautiful addition to the garden or windowsill. Herbs are beautiful, while keeping the flowers pruned results in the best tasting herbs, the leaves on the plants are just as beautiful.
10 Herbs for Cooking You need to Grow
Everyone needs some garlic in their life. If you have a recipe calling for two cloves, you’ll want to add 10 in my experience. Garlic is an amazing herb, it’s delicious, and a base in almost every savory dish we make in the kitchen.
Garlic is simple to plant, but you generally start it in the fall. Simply throw a clove in the ground and wait. By spring you’ll have garlic scrapes coming up (which are delicious in their own right) and by the middle to end of summer you’ll have whole heads of garlic ready for harvesting just below the soil. Garlic keeps a long time when picked fresh and braided, so make sure you plant plenty.
Like garlic, basil is another must have culinary herb. And while I typically have a jar of dried basil in my cupboard, the flavor of fresh basil cannot be beat.
Most varieties of basil do best outdoors, planted in the spring. If you want to keep basil indoors, the smaller, globe types are best, but it will do well in containers as long as they’re large enough. It is an annual herb and will need replanted each year. Make sure you pinch off the flowers during the growing season as soon as they show up to keep the leaves nice and flavorful all season long. You’ll also want to make sure you pinch the stems as you harvest to keep the plant from flowering. You won’t need many plants unless you plan to make pesto, just a few will keep you in fresh basil unless you’re planning to make and freeze your own pesto for winter.
Another favorite of ours, it’s the best Italian herb there is. We put it in our lasagna, spaghetti, and pizza. It’s also great as a blend in sausages and atop many meats. Fresh oregano does not do well cooking for prolonged periods, though so either add it in at the end of the cooking time or dry it and use it that way.
Oregano is a very prolific herb, it will spread quickly. To keep the plants in check and flavorful, cut them back to a third of their size. This herb is most flavorful in mid-summer, just before it blooms. Remove any flowers before it starts, and cut the plant down to its bottom set of leaves which will encourage it to grow again for another cutting in late summer. It can be overwintered indoors if its grown in containers.
I love throwing parsley in our meat dishes as well as eggs. In fact, I can’t think of much that parsley isn’t good with. It’s just one of those herbs that can take something from good to amazing with a simple sprinkle.
Parsley grows well and keeps its flavor best when used fresh or frozen. Drying it works, but it loses a lot of flavor. It is a prolific herb and cutting the stems at the bottom when harvesting will encourage new growth.
I’ll admit, I actually used to hate the flavor of rosemary. I think because I had only ever had it dried and never had the opportunity to eat it fresh from the garden. Rosemary is great blended with other herbs on chicken and pork, and has quickly become a must have for our little garden.
Rosemary is a tender perennial and does best in its second year, so if you have the ability and live in colder climates, plant it in a container that you can bring inside in the winter to make it easier. If not, plant it somewhere against a wall that will protect it from the cold winter winds, or dig it up to bring it indoors in the cold months. Mulching helps keep the plant cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but keep the mulch away from the crown.
Mint… this is one of those plants that will easily grow, everywhere. Even where you don’t want it. In one of our old houses that we lived in several years ago, the previous owners had planted lots and lots of mint and it was growing alllll over the yard. Mint is one of those must haves for that fresh, well, minty flavor that it affords to everything it touches. I actually love this herb.
You can keep mint halfway tamed by planting it in containers. Otherwise, it makes a fantastic ground cover (and smells amazing). Mint is a hardy perennial that should be moved and replanted every 3 to 4 years to keep it nice and flavorful. It’s definitely a plant that can get way out of hand, so make sure you pull up any wayward runners and keep the flower buds picked off.
Since we’ve started making our own sausages from harvested pigs and deer, sage is an absolute necessity. It makes those dishes and chicken delicious, and suddenly became a must have when we started making our own things. My mom used to love the fragrance of sage and I’ve grown quite fond of it myself.
Sage, in most climates, is a hardy perennial and will come back stronger every single year. However, it can stop being as productive after 4 years or so, so you may want to dig it up and start with fresh. It’s easiest to prune the plants back every spring to encourage new growth and keep harvesting to a minimum its first year to promote growth.
8. Bay Laurel
Bay leaves are an amazing addition to soups and stews in the winter time. The dried leaves pack a bigger punch than their fresh counterparts, but both are delicious. Note I wouldn’t recommend the dried ones at the store that have been sitting for who knows how long, they don’t have much flavor at all by the time they reach your kitchen. Some people simply throw a few dried leaves in their stew to add flavor and pull them out when the dish is finished. I actually find grinding them up to add much more flavor to the dish, so that’s what I typically do.
Bay laurel is something that us northerners must grow in pots to avoid having to start over with new, small plants every year. You can bring them in every winter and set them back out in the spring and summer after the last frost. They’re pretty forgiving, and really easy to grow. They do best pruned in the spring and if you keep them next to a cool window in the winter, they will go dormant and resume active growing when set outside again the following spring.
Thyme is an amazing herb, goes great in savory dishes and slow cooked dishes alike. It adds a great flavor to anything lemon-y flavored as well. This herb is very easily dried, and a beautiful evergreen addition to the garden. I wouldn’t be without it.
Thyme does well in containers as well as in the garden. It does need excellent drainage, so plan accordingly. It is very easy to grow and requires very little maintenance. You can lightly prune it after its first year, and pinching the stems helps keep the plant bushy. However, do not prune or harvest close to the first frost so it isn’t too tender with the cold weather coming. You can bring container plants indoors to overwinter as well.
Onion chives are one of my favorite things. I really like growing them in a container and bringing them indoors in the winter for a source of some fresh green things to add to my dishes in the cold, winter months. It’s like therapy knowing I have something green and fresh available to use instead of my dried or frozen herbs.
Chives can be used for their leaves as well as their flowers and give off just a light onion flavor, so they’re best added at the very end as cooking will destroy their flavor. If you pinch off the flowers, the plants will produce more leaves, so I usually do. These are really low maintenance plants, only requiring regular watering and some fish emulsion fertilizer every few weeks, especially if you harvest often. After 3 to 4 years, you can divide the clumps to create more containers (or sections) of chives. Super simple, beautiful, delicious plant to grow.
Herbs are pretty low maintenance additions to your garden or kitchen windowsill. These, by far, are not the only culinary herbs there are. But, these are the ones we use again and again.
Spring, I anxiously await its arrival every year. After a long winter season stuck indoors, fighting with frozen water, and trying to keep the flock alive, it’s a welcome relief.
While stuck inside during the cold, winter months I often plan our garden. And, of course, the spring garden is the first of those plans. Some vegetables just grow better during the cool, spring days and don’t do very well in the heat of the summer months. These are the vegetables that I often start indoors this time of year, transplant just when the ground begins thawing, and enjoy as some of the first delicious fresh produce from our own backyard.
I also think the spring garden is the best garden because it’s the first time we get to play in the dirt! I love, love the smell of fresh dirt after a spring rain. It’s intoxicating. To go out into the garden just after a nice, soaking rain is one of my favorite things to do. To enjoy the smell of the wet soil and see the beautiful plants sprouting from the earth that my two hands grew… awesome.
These vegetables do best with cooler days and can withstand a nip of frost. That doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination mean that they can be frozen and still survive. If you have already put your plants outdoors and anticipate a freak cold snap (because we all know those happen), you need to be prepared with something to protect your plants. Frost blankets are a great thing to have on hand for instances like that, an alternative is a sheet. You just need something to keep the extreme cold off a little. Remove the cover in the morning and let them do their thing again. And pray it doesn’t freeze too many days.
Of course, if you are gardening in a warmer zone, these vegetables probably are what you have in your garden right now. Sorry, us northerners just don’t have the growing season you do! But, they’re all easy to grow, cold hardy, and even taste more flavorful when they get just a bit of frost on them. Let’s get to it.
10 Spring Garden Vegetables You Need to Plant
Lettuce… it’s just not the same at the store. While I sit here and try to figure out how to grow it indoors, lettuce is often at the top of my spring garden checklist. We eat it frequently in the spring for fresh salads, wraps, or to throw in a plan and wilt.
Probably one of the lesser cold-hardy spring veggies, it will need cover if you anticipate any cold snaps. I begin mine indoors about 6 weeks before the last anticipated frost and transplant outdoors as soon as the soil is workable and daytime temps are regularly 60 degrees.
Lettuce doesn’t care much for full-sun, especially in the warmer late spring days, so it can be planted in partial shade (great for us, actually). To get the most out of your harvest, stagger starting and planting by a week or two so that you continue having a fresh crop without wasting and allowing it to bolt.
I love growing peas. I enjoy them fresh from the garden, and their full pods sautéed in a stir fry, or even by themselves. They also have some beautiful flowers, which aren’t plentiful in most spring vegetable garden crops (most are leafy greens).
Everyone always says to direct sow peas, but I don’t. I actually start my peas indoors about 6 weeks before the last anticipated frost. Most varieties are pretty cold-hardy, can handle a late snow or two and temperatures down to 25 degrees upon occasion.
Peas can be transplanted outside fairly early, as long as the soil is workable and temperatures are 40 or above. They enjoy well-drained soil and quite a bit of sun.
In our first house, we had a patch of wild onions that grew like wildfire every single year. Back then, I didn’t garden, but I loved the aroma of the greens if I cut them off. And they tasted absolutely delectable.
Whether you start your own, buy sets, or have bulbs you’ll want to put them in the ground as soon as the soil is workable. They can handle the cold. Most of us northern gardeners use long day varieties, but you can check your seed variety to see where your selection will perform best before purchasing.
4. Swiss Chard
I have a confession. I had no idea what Swiss chard was until well into adulthood. And, well, I was missing out. Reminiscent of spinach, but with a bit more spice to it, Swiss chard is probably one of my favorite spring crops to grow. It provides prolific amounts of delicious leaves that we cut off and allow it to grow back up again. It’s also very pretty. I love sautéing it in just a bit of butter and letting it wilt just a tad. Mmmmmm.
Because I really enjoy starting seeds indoors, I usually start my Swiss chard inside. It does not have to be, however. If you choose to direct sow, you’ll want to plant seeds about 2 to 3 weeks before last anticipated frost. You can thin the seedlings after they’re a few inches high, and water regularly. If you want to start inside, just four weeks before the last frost is the general consensus. It’s one of the last things I start, but I like watching things sprout in the living room. I’m odd.
It’s super, super easy to grow and incredibly prolific. Have fun with this one.
I didn’t know what Swiss chard was until adulthood, and my husband swore he hated cabbage until he had mine. Cabbage is another favorite of mine. I’m not a fan of the fact it smells up the house when cooked, but it makes a great side dish, and it makes delicious Cole slaw and sauerkraut so, it’s a keeper. If only I could keep the cabbage worms off of the heads.
Cabbage seeds can be started inside about 6 to 8 weeks before the last anticipated frost. You can transplant them out into the garden about 2 weeks before the last anticipated frost.
Cabbage requires quite a bit of nutrient dense soil, so make sure your soil is healthy and regularly fertilize it using natural, organic methods. They also like the soil to stay fairly moist. Learning about companion planting is helpful in these cases.
I like to go for the red varieties of cabbage because I find the plants more beautiful and like to add some color to the garden, but they will all do well.
Oh, the miniature trees. My kids will eat broccoli as long as it is roasted in the oven with olive oil, sea salt, and garlic. If not, they tend to stick up their noses at it. Meh… they’re missing out. A fresh floret of broccoli dipped in some homemade ranch dip is my kinda treat. But, I digress.
Broccoli is probably the vegetable that gives me the most problems in our garden. It’s a really heavy feeder. But, I try and usually get a bit every year. You can start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before last anticipated frost and transplant them outdoors 2 weeks before that date or you can direct sow them about a month before the last anticipated frost.
Broccoli likes it on the warmer side of cool around 65 to 80 degrees. Too cold, it doesn’t grow, too hot, it will bolt. It needs fertilized every few weeks with a low-nitrogen organic fertilizer or extra compost or manure since it’s such a heavy feeder.
Kale is one of those things that you either love, or you hate. It tastes best when the leaves are tender and grown fairly rapidly. If they grow slowly, they just don’t have a very appetizing flavor.
You can direct sow it in the garden about 4 weeks before the last anticipated frost. It doesn’t withstand hard freezes, so you’ll want to make sure you have frost blankets or something similar available incase of a cold snap while it grows.
Kale will result in the best, tender tasty leaves if it’s grown in very fertile, very well drained soil. So, plan the spot for it accordingly.
Another veggie I never had until adulthood, but I had at least heard of. I really enjoy pickled beets, and I think they’re color is stunning. This is a vegetable that you’ll want to be mindful of not only the soil type and drainage, but the fertilizer you put on. Like most root veggies, if you’re not careful, top growth will be prolific and you won’t get much root growth in contrast. While beet greens are fine, I prefer the root.
Beets can be direct sown in sandy, well drained soil as soon as the soil is workable. Try to keep the soil evenly moist and the weeds to a minimum so they’re not competing for nutrition.
Ahhh… my second favorite root crop. Carrots. I really love the colorful heirloom varieties. I enjoy watching the tops pop up and waiting to harvest a beautiful root. They do require pretty loose, sandy soil in order to produce a good root.
Carrots can be directly sown outdoors about 2 weeks before the last anticipated frost. Keep them thinned once the tops start to reach about 2 inches tall and keep around 2 inches between each plant. Keeping the area weed free and avoiding nitrogen are helpful to growing the best crop as well.
If the tops of carrots are showing, you can cover them with some mulch. This will keep the root from getting a bitter taste.
Last but not least, my favorite root crop. Potatoes. There are sooooo many varieties and so many different ways to enjoy this delicious crop. I wish we could just plant fields upon fields of them.
We grow out potatoes in containers and just pile dirt up on top of them as the tubers grow. Some people put them in gardens and mound them. Whatever works for you. Potatoes are generally planted when the grass begins greening up.
You’ll simply take cut potato pieces that have a couple eyes each and put them in well-drained, loose fertile soil. As the tubers begin growing, add more soil on top. Easy peasy.
There are tons of vegetables you can put in your spring garden. Celery, cauliflower, and mustard greens are some that come to mind that I didn’t list. We don’t eat much of these crops, so I don’t generally plan them for our garden. But, knowing what you and your family enjoy can help you plan out a beautiful, bountiful spring garden this year. I hope you have fun with it!
This easy pan fried deer heart recipe makes delicious use of a very underutilized meat from your harvest. Flavorful, easy to prepare and a great use of a tasty meat.
I always find it interesting when we look back into our past about all of the meat that did not go to waste from an animal. Be it deer, cattle, pig, even chickens and game birds. Our ancestors used every part of the animals they harvested. Now?
So much of it goes to waste in the gut pile, or in commercial butchering operations the less than acceptable cuts of meat are utilized to make dog food and other domesticated animal kibble.
My grandmother, who was born in the 40s, remembers her mom preparing heart, liver, and even lamb brains for supper. Why don’t we utilize these portions anymore? While I’m not so sure I can wrap my head around eating fried lamb brain, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try new things and attempt to not let the animals we harvest and eat die in vain.
We were so fortunate to get the small deer we got the other day. She would’ve likely laid there until her meat was useless for human consumption, and that, to me, is depressing. When we opened her up for butcher, my husband asked if I wanted to keep the heart. Well, of course I did. The heart is a muscle, just like what all of those delicious venison steaks we enjoy dining on are. Why waste it?
So, we were able to harvest the heart and it served two uses for our family. The first was, while I was rinsing it and getting ready to slice it up, we had an impromptu anatomy lesson for our homeschool science that day. My farm girls got to see a heart similar in size to their own, learn what the different chambers of the heart are, the main artery and vein branches that come out, and how the heart works. When we sliced it, they were able to see cross-sections of the heart chambers to see how they fill with blood. As a mom who worked in the medical field for a decade before having children and went to college to become a doctor, this was a lot of fun for me and they enjoyed it too.
The second purpose it served was, of course, feeding our family. If you’ve never tried deer heart, you’re missing out. It rivals backstraps in taste and really doesn’t need marinaded. Just a simple pan fry with some seasoning and it’s absolutely delicious.
How to Cook Deer Heart
Purge and Rinse
The blood left in the heart can add an iron-like taste to the meat if it isn’t purged. To do this, you simply put the valves under cool, running water, gently squeeze, and wait until the water runs clear. By the time I got to this after our butchering session, the blood had coagulated a little bit. That’s okay. Kinda gross when it comes out, but it won’t hurt anything.
First, you can trim away the top part of the heart that contains the valves, arteries and veins, and the hard fat on the top. You can leave some of the fat if you’d like, I just trim the entire top away from the muscle itself.
Next, you can slice the heart right where you see the bottom chambers naturally divided. Inside you’ll find a lot of connective tissue that you can trim away. Then, just make lengthwise cuts through the heart to create several slices of meat. I made them into smaller, bite sized morsels, but you don’t have to. It’s really up to you. About 1/4″ to 1/2″ is about the right thickness to cook it.
Soak In Salt Water
Like I said, the blood can add an iron taste to your meat. To remove this taste after cleaning it out and slicing it up, you can place it in a bowl of water with a couple teaspoons of sea salt overnight. It will be ready in the morning (or the next evening) to cook.
Then, you just prepare it like I state below. It’s delicious, tender meat. You’re going to love it.
Easy Pan Fried Deer Heart Recipe
This easy pan fried deer heart recipe makes delicious use of a very underutilized meat from your harvest. Flavorful, easy to prepare and a great use of a tasty meat.
1 Deer Heart
1 Clove Garlic (crushed)
1/4 Cup Butter
2 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley (minced)
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
After you've prepared your deer heart, gather all of the ingredients and melt 1/4 cup of butter in a cast iron skillet.
Season the heart with parsley, black pepper and sea salt. Add the crushed clove of garlic and the seasoned deer heart pieces to the skillet with the melted butter.
Turning once, cook meat in butter over medium high heat for about three minutes per side or to desired doneness.