7 principles to simplify your family life

In Organized Simplicity, Tsh describes simple living as “living your life with a purpose that aligns with your values…being who you were made to be.”

I love this definition because it leaves room for each of us to make those decisions for our own family without feeling like we have to limit ourselves to 100 personal possessions or spend so many hours per week doing x, y or z.

That said, there are some principles that ring true for almost every family. How each of these looks for you may vary, but they all help simplify busy family life.

1. Pay off debt.

Whether or not you share Dave Ramsey’s view that all debt is bad, there’s no denying that debt complicates life. It takes away your freedom and gives you one more responsibility, when you probably already have plenty without it. Paying off debt takes time and patience, but the end result is well worth the effort.

clear surfacesPhoto by .reid.

2. Declutter.

Most modern families have stuff, stuff and more stuff, but both Tsh and I are passionate about decluttering our homes – and teaching our readers to do the same – not just for the sake of getting rid of stuff, but because we’ve seen the results in our own lives.

Keeping surfaces clear, leaving plenty of room for the things you do own, and valuing quality over quantity simplifies your life and brings peace to your home. The less stuff you have, the less decisions you have to make, the less you have to clean, move or store them, and the more time you have to just enjoy what’s left.

This comes easily for some people and is a struggle for others. Not sure how to decide what to keep and what to get rid of? Start with these 10 questions to help you declutter.

3. Let go of perfectionism.

I used to hate when people would say that the key to a simple life is to let go of perfectionism. As a perfectionist, I liked my perfection.

But reality slowly sank in as we added children to our family, and I realized that letting go of perfectionism doesn’t mean living in a pigpen, never doing chores or giving up. What it means is accepting that good enough is good enough and identifying your pressure points so that you can take care of the basics and let go of the things that don’t matter as much.

For me, that means the baseboards rarely get dusted and my kids don’t have perfectly styled hair every time we leave the house (hey, we have four daughters!). Instead, I focus on the things that make the biggest difference for me personally. I make my bed every morning and try to confine our daily clutter to the main living area of our home rather than spread throughout our whole house. The appliances might have smudges on them, and the floor could probably use a good mopping, but our house is never very far from “good enough.”

cash budget
Photo by Knick Flanigan

4. Use a zero-based cash budget.

Envelope budgeting might sound complicated, but in many ways it simplifies your life because it takes the question out of budgeting. Need to grab something at the grocery store? Just peek in your grocery envelope to see if there’s enough money. If not, take it from another envelope, and you know exactly what you’re sacrificing to make the purchase.

The advent of the debit card, while extremely convenient, also makes it easier to pretend that we have more money in our accounts than we actually do. We’re a lot more likely to spend when we’re paying with a card rather than cash, which can lead to juggling when it comes time to pay bills.

Even if you’d rather use a debit card than cash, though, you can achieve this same thing with a zero-based budget, which leaves little question as to where your money should go each month and removes the temptation to overspend.

5. Eat more fresh produce.

My favorite meals to serve are the ones where I clean out the fridge and pile each of our plates high with fruits and veggies. It’s simple, healthy and oh so easy. Rather than serving complicated side dishes – or even in place of meals – serve a big salad or a plate of fruit!

You can also simplify your meal plan by embracing breakfast for dinner, freezer cooking and one-pot wonders. Every night doesn’t have to include a gourmet meal!

Photo by Mayr

6. Simplify your cleaning routine.

As parents, we spend a significant amount of time cleaning and straightening up. Even if you have older kids who help a lot, there’s still a lot to be done. However, there are things you can to do simplify your routines, such as fitting in extra projects when you have a few extra minutes rather than trying to do them all at once. I’ve also found that keeping cleaning supplies where they’re used – especially rags and spray bottles of vinegar in the bathrooms – makes it easier to tackle those tasks.

To prevent the buildup of clutter, follow the “touch it once” rule, putting things back where they belong right away rather than setting them down in a temporary resting place. Use laundry baskets to help you gather things from around the house when you’re straightening up so that you don’t have to run back and forth a dozen times. We do a nightly “blitz cleaning” to clean up all toys and clear the flat surfaces in our home, and we involve our kids, even when they’re very young, so that everybody is pitching in!

7. Just say no.

You had to have known this one was coming, right? Simplify your life – and make time for your priorities – by saying no. We all have to do things we might not feel like doing that still need to be done (laundry is at the top of my list). However, there are some things that we don’t have to do that we say “yes” to because of other people’s expectations or our desire to make everybody happy.

There are also plenty of things we do because of peer pressure, whether in real life or on the Internet. Create a family mission statement and define your priorities for your family so that you can focus on the things that are truly important and say no to the rest!

Simplifying family life isn’t necessarily easy. It takes intentionality and effort. However, like a lot of things in life, when you do the hard work upfront, you reap the benefits for years to come with less stress and busyness and more freedom to enjoy life as a family.


What steps have you taken to simplify your family life?

Reading Time:

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  1. Connie

    Awesome! You are absolutely right. Be simple, Be Happy.

    • Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I used a lot more words to say that, but I think it’s a mantra to live by: Be simple. Be happy.

  2. Lindsay Ferguson

    I looovee this list of suggestions. I am feeling the need to simply and get back to the basics…these tips will help me get a good start!! Thanks!

  3. Elizabeth@ReadySetSimplilfy

    We are working on lots and lots of decluttering! Also prioritizing what is really important, and making simple, healthy meals. Great article! I think we should try the cash envelope system, at least in some budget areas, because we have trouble sticking to the budget and remembering to keep track on our spreadsheets.

  4. Autherine@BoysRising

    Thanks for the tips. I like putting things where they belong because the “temporary resting place” results in a full day of cleaning up. I have also learned the art of saying NO.

  5. Erik

    I’d like to add an 8th idea – “Play more!”

    • Nora

      I like that one.
      One thing children are great at is to totaly focus at what they are doing right now.

    • Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Agreed! I think doing the other 7 leaves more time, money and energy to play more!

    • Gina

      Absolutely, Erik! We’ve found that we have way more time for quality time and fun as we take steps to simplify our lives. The biggest benefit!

  6. Angela @ Homegrown Mom

    Saying no is a big one for us… there are so many great opportunities where we live we could never say yes to them all! Love this post!

  7. Dawn

    Can you put the directions for how to download the ebooks to Kindle (including how to find them on the Kindle) for people who buy the bundle? Thanks!

    • Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Hi Dawn! To download the books to your Kindle, you would attach it to your computer via the USB cord and then drop the files in the Kindle folder. Then they’ll show up on the list of books just like the rest!

  8. Stephanie - Green SAHM

    Great tips. I really look forward to getting old debts paid off, a project we’ve been working hard on. Hoping to get the garden going well this year so we can really enjoy some produce.

  9. se7en

    Wow!!! Well Done!!! The complete all-in-one go-to-post on how to simplify… without compromising the details… Love it!!! Fantastic!!!

  10. Marriage Problems

    Great post, finances is one of the biggest reasons why married people fight. Keep up the good work:)

  11. Southern Gal

    I describe myself as a procrastinating perfectionist pack rat. Hmmm.

    • Mandi @ Life Your Way

      This made me laugh. I’m not a pack rat, so I need another “p” word to replace that one in my own description of myself because the other two definitely fit!

  12. Kesha

    Hi Mandi, I love your definition of simple living! I am a big fan of living simple but not ready to fully embrace the Quaker version, I like some creature comforts. Yet, I have found that as I rigorously eliminate things that do not reflect my values and priorities, I am more calm, joyful, and productive. Thanks for sharing your tips with us.

  13. Marcia Francois, Organising Queen

    Mandi, love this post. As you know, I’m about intentional living and organising just enough to make life fun.

    My favourite point is number 7 – I honestly believe that saying no is the key to happiness 🙂

    For us? we simplify by not doing more than 1 activity (out) per weekend day, by restricting toys to one section of the home and by only having enough clothes for about 10 days.

  14. Living the Balanced Life

    Absolutely great post Mandi! If families could begin to implement these 7 principles into their lives, it could make such a huge difference in the overall happiness of families!
    I will be sharing this post!

  15. Erin @ Curled Up With a Good Book

    I love those 10 decluttering questions. I think I should post them in my closet so I see them regularly!

  16. Buffie

    I am working on some serious decluttering in our house. It needs to be done, but I feel like I’m battling husband on it. I’m hoping he starts to see the benefits of less stuff and starts helping with the decluttering.

    • Jenn

      Me too! The more I get rid of the more he brings home….

  17. Jenn

    I really like the last one about saying “no”…I think without that ability it’s even hard to accomplish the others. I always say yes to things and then hate that I have to go/do it ect. I’ve realized that sometimes just saying no and staying home simplifys my life so much!

  18. Sarah

    Love these 7 and live by them. They have brought us so much more in our life! Especially the last. I was blown away by the power of “No” just as much as I had a hard time using it. Interesting how we could learn from our little ones who use it so well to define themselves and take control of their life!

    I also have some tips about simplifying family fitness and exercise here:

    Great post!

  19. Rambling Heather

    Wonderful tips!! I find that letting go of perfectionism has made all the difference in my life.

  20. Miss Britt

    EXCELLENT tips. And I agree that they are pretty much universal.

  21. Texskiss

    This article is so timely! As my housekeeper is off for 3-4 months for back problems (sketchy excuse-may start looking for someone new) I’m finding myself completely overwhelmed. Ready to simplify wherever I can!!

  22. Alicia

    I love these! We live by most of them (especially the no-debt and lots of produce!) and they really do make life so much simpler and more enjoyable. The one I’m still working on is clutter. We’re getting there…. 🙂

    • Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I think we all have one or two we’re still working on — the key is to keep working!

  23. Maggie @ Maggie's Nest

    Great post! I have to say that the last tip, “Just Say No”, is the one that really tipped the scales for me when I started to put it into practice. As a lifelong overdoer, it’s not always easy to see when I’ve said yes to too much, but it does get easier with practice. Thanks for this great checklist of how-to’s!

  24. DK Stangeland

    This is all so true. Thanks for sharing. I have really started simplifying my life this year and I can physically and spiritually feel the difference it is making in my life.

  25. Susie's Homemade

    I adhere to all of those but the cash envelopes. We are pretty budget minded though:-)

  26. Kara

    I do all of those pretty well. Cash envelopes have really worked well for me since I started it January 1st. I wasn’t bad at handling my money before (I could always pay my bills, contribute to savings, etc.), but I didn’t have good control over impulse purchases. The cash envelopes have caused me to notice and think about purchases more than before, and I don’t spend as much as I used to. I consider that a success.

  27. Melissa Lewis - Midwest Magnolia

    This is so helpful! And very inspiring. I am currently working through a budgeting system. And this is helping me to really get it in place.

  28. Jackie

    All of these are wonderful ideas to help simplify life… now if I can just get myself to do them. Maybe #8 would be stop procrastinating. 🙂

  29. Belle's Books

    What a great post! So glad I found your blog via twitter! =)

  30. Mariam

    I like this tip #4 Use a zero-based cash budget. As for me, I just make priority list and make sure I stick to it. If I can, I do multi-tasking specially if the job that needs to get done is not that hard and time consuming. And at the end of the day, I make sure that I have enough time to bond with kids.

  31. Sarah

    We’re selling our house to downsize & improve our financial situation, and in the process are enthusiastically decluttering. (I started with Tsh’s plan in her book!)

    • Mandi @ Life Your Way

      “Enthusiastically decluttering” — I love that description!

  32. Courtney

    Changing my motivation for saying no, decluttering, being debt free, and letting go of perfectionism has really helped me have success in those areas. I have had to change my reasons for why I am doing that …not so that I will have it all together or seem a certain way, but to make more room for God and His peace. That change has created a desire and motivation that was hugely lacking for me before that!

    • Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Absolutely — it never works if you’re doing it for appearances!

  33. Renee

    I think saying no is the key. So much of the other stuff wouldn’t be an issue if we could just say no. Say no to debt. Say no to clutter. Say no to junk food. Say no no no no…

    • Gina

      I totally agree and think that’s why it’s so hard to take action. Saying no is really tough. For me, I can say no to the “stuff” and junk, but have a hard time turning down requests for my time.

  34. Vera Stark

    Great article Mandi. We all need to simplify our lives so thanks for that.

  35. Maggie @ Maggie's Nest

    Today I wrote about the power of saying no, and how it helps me to say yes to what really matters. It’s such a powerful lesson! Now, I have to get on top of the rest of this fantastic list. Thanks again!

  36. Scott

    All of principles would help simplify and enrich one’s life but need to add stop procrastinating to the list.

  37. jennifer

    We have been slowly (and somewhat painfully) learning over the last ten years that all of these principles are true! I wish we had talked (or maybe listened?) to someone older and wiser when we first got married, so that we would not have had to learn the hard way. But I am proud that we are greatly reducing our debt and clutter and simplifying our lives. I think that saying ‘No’ has been my greatest challenge of late, because it has meant upsetting some folks who expected me to be there for them no matter what — but I need to be there for my family, no matter what, and knowing that makes me feel grounded, satisfied and secure.

  38. Paula@Simply Sandwich

    Mandi – this is a wonderful post and I truly thank you for the reminders! Since I take care of my immediate family and my mother, I was forced to simplify in order to survive. One of my hardest tasks was learning to say “no”. I feel like folks think I am lazy or not wanting to stay involved but honestly I could not add one more thing to my plate. Thanks again for these awesome tips!

  39. Colleen@The Cluttered House

    This was just what I needed today. A quick refresher primer on simplifying! Thanks!

  40. Lynn

    Thank you for your article. I agree with everything that you said. I am a mother of 3 children that are 19 months apart and sometimes our life gets a little chaotic. I struggle with being a perfectionist and letting somethings go. It helps me when I read or hear things that remind me to focus on good enough instead of perfect.


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