Ep 54: Making Room for More with Minimalism

Christine Koh, author of Minimalist Parenting, reveals how to get more out of your family life by doing LESS. She says “minimalism” isn’t about getting rid of apps and toilet paper, it’s about making room for the stuff that helps your family thrive while cutting back on everything else.

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Full show notes

Does your life reflect your strongest values?

You can value travel, and still spend 50 weeks of the year in your own county. You can value the outdoors, and still get no closer to fresh air than your car window five days of the week. You might value time with your kids, and still encourage them to take on a ton of extracurriculars. This is all fine, right?

We make sacrifices for our family all the time, even if we’re sacrificing what we value most. We can still be comfortable and not do what’s most important to us. Why make changes that aren’t necessary?

As we go through life, it’s easy to get stuck in our ways, even if our ways don’t reflect our strongest values. This might not sound like the biggest problem in the world, but think about it…

If our way of living doesn’t reflect our strongest values, what does that teach our kids?

Values are one of the most effective ways you can influence a teenager. Once your child gets into the teenage years, it becomes extremely difficult to influence their daily activities. But if you impart strong values that your teen can live by, you can keep the door open to conversations about values later into their adult lives.

Reshaping our lives to reflect our most important values is a lot easier said than done. However, the woman I speak with in this episode insists that with a minimalist family life, making room for what’s important is totally possible!

Before I introduce her, though, let me just say:

A minimalist family life is NOT what it sounds like.

Christine Koh runs FIVE businesses! (And yes, she’s here to talk about minimalism.) She is the founder and editor of the award-winning blog Boston Mamas, the graphic designer behind Posh Peacock, and a digital strategist at The Mission List. She is a speaker, a writer, and co-author of the practical and humorous book, Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less. She might sound like the farthest thing from a minimalist, but she insists that a minimalist family life is what frees her up to do what she values most.

Foundational Values

Christine decided to co-author the book, Minimalist Parenting, because she found it especially hard as a parent to define her own family’s values and stand up for them. She points out that there is so much noise about what your family’s values should be.

For example, parents feel compelled by the popular culture to have their teens do a million activities at once, or they’ll never get into college. For some families, that’s totally fine! They might like being busy. But Christine knows that in her family, her kids need a lot of down time. Her kids can’t focus on their homework and chores if they’re too saturated with activities they don’t care about. It was hard for her family to say, “No! We’re only going to do one activity per season!” They had to do it, though, in order to honor their own key values.

She says it’s really important to identify your family’s key values because everything else in your life will be founded on those. Quiet times, space, sleep, and a minimalist family life are all part of Christine’s key values. If her family isn’t getting those three things, life begins to get a bit dysfunctional.

Balancing Values

What if your personal values differ from your spouse’s, though? Christine can speak personally to this.

Remember those five companies Christine runs? Well, her husband isn’t so on board with how diverted her energy can become. Having different projects is something that Christine loves and values in her life, while her husband values more quality time away from work. They needed to

The two of them have worked very hard to balance their values and create a minimalist family life. They have to be very clear about how Christine can stop working at the end of each day and be present with her family. At the same time, her husband knows that he must sacrifice some one-on-one time to support her career goals. And their balance is working great!

When key values are identified and balanced, everyone in the household benefits.

What does it look like practically, though, to identify key values and balance them?

A “More” and “Less” List

One of Christine’s favorite tools for creating a minimalist family life by identifying key values is a More and Less List.

A More and Less List is just what it sounds like. It’s a list with two columns. One side is the “More” column, and the other is the “Less” column. The trick, Christine says, is to be honest with your thoughts. Turn off your inner critic. No one has to see this list except you. Now, write what you genuinely want more and less of in your life!

Maybe it’s less running around, more time with friends outdoors, or having a more minimalist family life in general.

Once you have your thoughts on paper, you can make a plan to edit your life. Get rid of stuff that is unnecessary, and make room for what is really important to you. Work on creating a minimalist family life that isn’t complicated by things that aren’t adding value to your life.

If you wrote down that you want to learn more, maybe you can rent some audiobooks from your local library, and listen to them during your commutes. If you wrote down that you want to be driving your kids less, maybe set up a carpool rotation with another family.

Christine’s other favorite part about making a list, is that the exercise can help you realize that the stuff you want more of is within reach!

Coffee Punch Cards and You

Research shows that when you feel like you’re part of the way towards achieving a goal, you’re more likely to take action to achieve it. Just think about coffee punch cards! If you have an unpunched card, well, that’s not motivating. But if you have a card with one or two punches already in it, then you feel like you’re already on your way to winning that free coffee!

A More and Less List is like a coffee punch card. It helps you see that you’re already on your way to achieving your goals. The list helps you realize that you can make changes to your life, and that in some ways you’ve already started to make such changes. It’s this ability to make changes that is at the heart of a minimalist family life.

Even if one of your minimalist family life goals is just “clean the playroom,” you might need to break the job down into baby steps to make it more approachable. It’s not that you don’t know how to clean the playroom, but that the scope of the task can seem overwhelming if you’re tired and stressed.

Taking a couple extra minutes to break the task into baby steps makes it more approachable and less dreadful. Kinda like the coffee punch card! This is why taking small steps is a valuable commodity in adopting a minimalist family life.

So Many More Possibilities!

The idea that you can make changes to your life to make room for what is important might sound like common sense. But if it’s common sense, then why are so few people making the changes needed to create a minimalist family life?

A minimalist family life really puts the power of change front and center. It helps you define a clear path towards shaping your life to stand up for your values. There are so many ways to apply this idea, so Christine and I cover as much as we can!
  • What “minimalism” is NOT
  • What is a minimalist approach to technology? (Since it wasn’t in the book!)
  • How do you avoid “Nostalgia Stallout” when cleaning?
  • The dangers of upsizing
  • Money management for teens - chores, allowance, and paid jobs
  • Thoughts on the importance of travel
  • Shared experiences and personal time with your teens
A minimalist family life might sound odd and niche at first, but its applications are in fact far reaching. I loved talking about coffee punch cards and the value of travel with Christine. I really hope you enjoy this episode!

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Boston Mamas
Boston Mamas
Award-winning lifestyle portal for families in Boston and beyond since 2006 (new account as of July 2020, formerly @drchristinekoh)
Ep 54: Making Room for More with Minimalism
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