Relocating from Singapore to London with nothing but five luggages for a family of four forced me to become a minimalist. Five great tips from decluttering guru Marie Kondo’s book, Spark Joy, and how I integrated Montessori with KonMari in my home. All page references are from Spark Joy in brackets, unless otherwise mentioned.
1. Discard first.
Minimalism is about one’s relationship with one’s possessions. Do they overwhelm us? Is it too sparse that we lack what we need? Before moving, I took a long hard look at all my belongings. I discarded and donated things I had carefully curated but that the kids just weren’t drawn to- some Montessori materials, German wooden puzzles, various styles of building blocks.
I agree with Montessori-family’s take on whether to involve your child in decluttering: “Since you, the parent, are the one who bought the toy in the first place (or allowed a well intentioned person to bring that toy into your house), therefore, I consider that you should take responsibility for the sorting and decluttering of your child’s toys, which will allow you to face the amount of children’s belongings and be able to understand why you bought so many or that kind of toys.”
2. A home for everything, and everything in its place
In Spark Joy, Kondo says: “Don’t confuse temporary clutter with a rebound” (27). A rebound is when things without a designated storage place begin inundating your home. However, a certain amount of clutter can be easily reset if each item has a place.
In Montessori classrooms, every activity is set on a tray. Every tray is placed on a shelf. Trays are returned to the exact spot after the child is done with it, reset and ready for the next child to use. Trays support the child’s need for order and facilitate independence as she can carry all the items needed for the activity, on the tray, by herself.
And for the home, one need not display so many toys, as children are compelled to touch every single item but play with each briefly. Instead, it is common in Montessori homes to set out a small selection of items and rotate them based on the child’s interests.
I personally consider Our Montessori Life’s post the seminal text on leading a minimalist, Montessori life, and encourage you to read and be inspired that being Montessori isn’t about having alot of stuff, or even having Montessori stuff, but setting up your home to facilitate the child’s independence.
3. It’s not necessary to BUY storage. Use what you have.
There seems to be this prevalent idea that plain wooden trays are the best. I love that uniform look of all-wooden trays on a shelf, but it’s not a must-have (see pic in Point 2, where I’ve used takeaway containers and bento boxes as trays).
Truly, there is a certain satisfaction in repurposing lids, takeaway containers, cheese boards, cardboard boxes, and seeing that the storage options balance themselves out, without you having to run out and buy trays.
4. Minimalist Montessori spaces
Kondo suggests this sequence of decluttering: clothes, books, papers and komono (miscellaneous). I will just touch on how we store clothes and komono after we decluttered.
Quite interestingly, Kondo suggests that we teach children to fold clothes first rather than tidy their toys, because folding offers repetition which sharpens into mastery (261).
And 3.75yo Dylan folding with greater precision (he said he came up with this folding method 😂):
I photocopied the folding illustrations from Spark Joy for my children as a visual reference:
One thing I really like about Konmari-style folding (her folding videos have a cult following on YouTube) is the control of error. If folded properly, the clothes will stand upright. For those of us who lack hanging space, this is great, because such a method of folding and putting clothes away in drawers upright means that similar to hanging on a rail, the children can now see all their clothing.
4b) Komono (miscellaneous personal effects)
The two kinds of komono I can think of relating to children are children’s artwork (225) and hobby paraphernalia (158), or in a Montessori context, the child-sized tools and items for activities.
For children’s art, I don’t display them but ask my children if and where they would like them displayed. Most of the time, they preferred to keep them rather than display them, so I got each child a folder with an easy-to-open elastic strap for them, so they could choose between filing, framing or recycling their work.
At first I thought the natural consequence would be that when the folder was full the child would not be able to store any more art until he discarded some. However, children will find a way around it, and for Dylan this involved wadding his papers into tiny squares to fit more in. So I laid down a logical consequence and asked him to choose a maximum number of artworks he could have in the folder at any point. He went with 6.
Pretty much all the toys we own are on these shelves! Because I assemble the trays and tools, they are higher up. The children have access to the toys on the bottom shelf, which are categorised and put in drawstring bags (wooden food, duplo etc), and my next step will just be to add picture labels to each bag.
If you are wondering what that “Trays needing repair” is about, we try to instill care for our possessions, so we mend as far as we can. However, when a tray is missing an essential part, like when the much-loved plant-watering activity lost its cap, I will remove it until we can locate the cap.
Although sensorial, hands-on experience is paramount, I also use a few printables and three-part cards (tutorial here), which are all stored in this file. Index card boxes are also a great way to store three-part cards but I wanted something with a slimmer profile to fit into my bookshelf.
Wanna see more spaces?
(Video tour of the kitchen, snack and water station here.)
Similarly, everything has a spot at our snack and water station.
And under the sink, we unwrapped all the plastic packaging for easy access and a consistent look, and placed the toilet rolls vertically and kitchen rolls horizontally. Storing these supplies low means the children can help replenish necessities, especially the toilet rolls.
This is the shared bathroom. As suggested by Kondo, we tried to prioritise “items with high communal use” (214) like towel racks and hand towels before finding space for each child’s personal items, like toothbrushes and cups. Their creams and grooming items are stored in the bedroom due to lack of bathroom space.
(See the rest of our tiny bathroom here.)
And this is the entryway. Although Kondo suggests that there should “only be as many shoes as family members visible” (238), we have failed in this regard, notably us adults. Dylan has two pairs and Emmy has one. We lived on one pair of shoes per person when we were in Singapore, though.
When I decluttered, I used Marie Kondo’s famous litmus test for deciding what to keep and what to throw: ” ‘It might come in handy’ is taboo… keep only those that spark joy” (pg 22). Thus, only one thing adorns our entryway and it has great sentimental value, a framed welcome note from our nieces/ neighbours.
And just around the corner, barring entry through this unused door forever, a makeshift child’s coat rack using an extension pole mounted on 3M command hooks. Scarf hooks are easier than the usual hangers, and the CD is actually a fidget toy that a child can spin while waiting for the sibling to finish wearing the coat and/ or shoes.
5. Add colour to your home
I have alluded to Montessori principles like order and simplicity in this post, but one often overlooked area is beauty.
Kondo says: “it’s far more important to adorn your home with the things you love than to keep it so bare it lacks anything that brings you joy… If you think that tidying up just means getting rid of clutter, you’re wrong. The true purpose is to find and keep the things you truly love.” (49)
And Dr Maria Montessori says: “the tiny child’s absorbent mind finds all its nutriment in its surroundings… We [must] therefore make the environment as interesting and attractive as we can.” (The Absorbent Mind, 87)
I’ve focused on less-often-mentioned spaces in this post, but you may like to see our