How Embracing Minimalism Makes Parenthood Easier – with Nicole Hill

Nicole Hill in front of tree in spring

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This is one of my favorite times of the year. Every 50 episodes, I have the extreme pleasure of interviewing the most important people in my world … my family. With it being episode 150 (woo hoo!), I didn’t want to pass up the chance.

We’ll start things off with my daughter Zoey. We’ll be chatting about summer, sports and how she likes to use her chore money.

My son Calvin Hill will be next and we’re going to briefly discuss Spider-man, learning to ride his bike and why we give our money to charities. 

Last but not least, my final interview will be with my wife of almost 10 years, Nicole Hill. By popular demand from the MKM Community, we’ll be chatting about how embracing minimalism allows us to have a happier and less stressed home life. 

Here’s an abbreviated transcript of our conversation below. Enjoy!

Andy Hill: Why do you like minimalism?

Nicole Hill: Two reasons really. The first being I didn’t grow up with a ton, and that way of life stuck with me. I just kind of got used to not having a lot of things and not having a lot of space to put them in.

I grew up with a single mom and we were in a small apartment. There were four of us in a two-bedroom apartment. So I didn’t have room for a ton of toys or a ton of clothes. When stuff came in, other stuff had to go out and I got used to that. I think that’s one of the reasons.

Also, I like to have things tidy and I like the philosophy of “less is more”. I like the idea of having one thing and having it be special and not drowning in too many options.

As a professional organizer, how do you approach a new client’s home or your own? Where do you start?

It sounds very simple, but you start in a corner and you just start working. The main thing is that you just start. That is really the key because sitting there looking at a room that needs to be organized can get very overwhelming.

So I think the most important thing and the best way to start a job is to start it, to just start doing it. Turn on some music, kind of zone out, pull everything out of the room, and then start only putting back the things that are important to you. Make piles for stuff to donate, make piles for stuff to trash. But yeah, the key is just to start.

A lot of times people try to make a plan or they’ll go out and buy a bunch of stuff so that they can start. But what happens is then that stuff that they’ve bought, the bins and the shelving also become clutter in the room because they’re planning and they’re not doing the work.

What feelings come from an organized space?

When we complete a job with a client, they typically feel extremely relieved because basically what you see on the outside is kind of how you feel on the inside. So if you’re in a home that’s extremely messy and you can’t find what you’re looking for, that’s how you’re going to feel inside. When we are able to come in and help somebody create structure and order in their home, they feel relieved because I think they feel structure and order inside themselves.

I try to do that in our house. I know that I personally can’t sit down unless I’m in a room and my surroundings are in order. Otherwise, I’m just sitting there and I feel stressed.

I know I need to make my bed. I need to have all the laundry put away. The countertops need to be cleared off. And then my mind feels clear and I can sit down and do the task that I need to do without looking around me and thinking of all of the other things that need to be done. I think that it’s extremely important to have our surroundings in order so that we, inside ourselves, can feel in order.

Related Post: 7 Smart Tips to Spend Less So You Can Live More

What tips do you have for someone who’s feeling overwhelmed by the stuff in their house?

1. Get Inspired

The very first thing I’d recommend somebody do if they’re ready to get their lives in order and they’re annoyed with the clutter around them is to get themselves inspired. So whether that’s watching the Marie Kondo show on Netflix, the Minimalists documentary or reading blog posts, get inspired because it’s going to be a lot of work. And in order to get through it, you’re really going to need some passion around it. Read a book, watch a show, do something that’s going to put a fire under you.

2. Schedule It

The next thing I’d recommend is to schedule it on your calendar. Don’t schedule anything else for that day or that weekend. Just plan on really working really hard for a day, a weekend or whatever it is that you can do.

I don’t really recommend doing much more than 6-8 hours. I think the brain starts doing funny things after that and you don’t want to burn yourself out. But after you’re done for the day, take a shower, have a glass of wine and relax. But I wouldn’t schedule a dinner with friends after an entire day of organizing your house. It’s just too much.

Schedule a weekend, put it on your calendar, and really set aside that time. Get help if you need it. Invite a friend over that will be the support throughout that process or hire a company that’s going to come and help you. A lot of times when it’s our own stuff, it’s a lot harder to part with it and you need somebody to kind of kick you into gear or to give you a different fresh perspective.

3. Just Start

The next thing is … just do it. Just start it. Do it. Do it. Have a cup of coffee to get yourself going or a nice breakfast. Go for a run. Turn on music that you like that you can zone out to.

I always think of this Nike ad, and it said, “If you would’ve started instead of thinking about running, you would’ve been done by now.” So I think about that a lot. When there’s something that I need to accomplish in my life, don’t put it off. Just start doing it.

I recommend starting by doing piles of:

  • Donate
  • Trash
  • Keep

Pull everything out of that space. So if it’s a really messy closet, pull everything out, start making piles of it, and whatever you’re keeping put back in an organized fashion, re-fold or re-pin. And at that point when you’ve decided what you’re going to keep is when you would buy a new bookshelf or new bins and start labeling them. Wait until the end to do the purchasing.

What ways are you teaching our kids minimalism?

Well, I do my best, but kids are really prone to wanting to have more. I mean, the number of stuffed animals that they would have if I didn’t really command that they keep it to one bin or one tub, they would have them all over the floor, they would have them all over their bed. They love tiny little toys and tchotchkes. I have to ride a balance with them because I don’t want to take away the joy that they have with all of these things.

When they get older, I think that they will appreciate the “less is more”, and we do try to instill that, but I try not to go overboard because they don’t have adult brains yet. They still have child’s brains, and they still want to have a hundred pencil erasers.

Having Periodic Purges

One of the ways that I think we’ve tried to keep it under control is that we do make them purge before Christmas so that we can make room for new toys, and they’ve gotten used to that. That’s now just a tradition and they have fun doing that. And they think about how it’s going to bring joy to other children, so that’s really cool.

Related Article: Why I Won’t Give My Kids An Allowance

Returning or Donating Birthday Party Gifts

Another thing that we do is after birthday parties, we ask them to pick out some of their favorites and then we return some of the other stuff that they might not use or we’ll donate some of it. Because getting so many things at once can kind of make somebody feel overwhelmed. It’s just too many things to be able to appreciate.

Again, they’ve gotten used to that and they’re kind of happy with that tradition. They think about the kids that they’d be donating some of their things to. Then the other stuff that they don’t really love, we’ll return and then they can save up and go shopping with that money from whatever store it’s from.

Having Donation Bins Around the House

And then the other thing that comes to mind is that just we have donation areas in the house so that any time during the year they put on a shirt, and oops, it’s a little too tight, it just goes straight into the donation pile. And then we have a pickup every month or two so that we’re not keeping stuff in our drawers that are 3 sizes too small.

Limiting Toy Purchases to One Per Month

They get a lot of money sometimes for their birthdays. So we have designed a rule that they now like and appreciate and look forward to, which is that they can buy one new toy per month.

So instead of taking all of that birthday money and going and buying 10 new things, they buy one. We were going down that path. When we had the Hatchimal that got played with for 30 seconds and then she bought another toy, we were like, “Alright, we got to stop this.”

So one toy per month. And they look forward to it. They plan it out. We go to the store. They are really responsible with it. And then they don’t ask for things the whole rest of the month. Sometimes they even say, “Okay, I want to put that on my list and I’ll think about it for my September purchase.” That’s cool. I just want them to learn to not always want for more. Just have something and appreciate it.

Related Interview: How I Helped My Daughter Secure Her Financial Independence

Do you think the way we manage our money honors your minimalist views?

I think so. We have categories for our Budget Party. For example, clothing. I can spend $100 on clothing per month and so can you. So I know that I can go to the store once per month and I can buy five new shirts and or my new running shoes.

And similar to how it is with the kids. I think that having those parameters makes me feel really good because:

  1. I know when I can go buy something and then I don’t feel guilty about it
  2. When I’m getting just a few things per month, I’m able to wear them and enjoy them.

Same thing with the purchases for the house. I have a certain allotment to spend on the house per month. And that way I can buy a new chair, or whatever it is, guilt-free. You know that I have a certain amount. I don’t have to double-check with you or ask, and I can enjoy it for that whole month before I’m thinking about, “Okay, what’s the next thing that I had on my list and when am I going to be able to get that?”


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Author: Andy Hill

Andy Hill is the host of the Marriage, Kids and Money Podcast which focuses on helping young families build wealth. This 5-star rated podcast was nominated as "Best New Personal Finance Podcast" by Plutus. Andy's advice and personal finance experience have been featured in major media outlets like Business Insider, MarketWatch and NBC News.

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