One of the most common reader questions I’m asked is “how do you get your family on board with minimalism?” so I thought it was time to address this in a blog post.
In full disclosure, I should mention that I’m fortunate; my husband is a “natural” minimalist and I’ve never had to convince him that a minimalist lifestyle is a good idea. (This a guy who happily moved from England to Australia with only a backpack!)
Having said that, I’ve thought long and hard about my own experience with minimalism and what motivated me to change—as well as what I’ve learned and observed with other lifestyle changes (such as sustainable living)—and I think I’ve got a few tips to offer.
Here are five things to know about getting your family on board with minimalism.
BE MINDFUL OF YOUR APPROACH
First and foremost, I think the most important thing is to be mindful of your approach. Minimalism (or any new idea) is going to be better received if your family member feels like they’re part of the decision making process. If you come across as an “expert” trying to show them the error of their ways, they might feel like their current lifestyle is under attack.
For example, you might think that a good way to get your husband involved is to show him some statistics about clutter. After all, when you heard them, you felt shocked and motivated to own less—surely he’ll feel the same after hearing them too?
Well maybe … or maybe not. Of course, everyone will respond differently but I think that statistics or “memes” about minimalism are probably most motivating once you’re already open to the idea. If not, it might feel like a passive-aggressive attack.
It reminds me of the saying “You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem”; it sounds good in theory—but is telling someone they’re part of the problem really the best way to get them involved?
Again, I know everyone will respond differently, but I think shaming someone into change is rarely a good motivator (even if it’s unintentional) and you often risk making them more resistant to change in the long term (especially if they’re a bit stubborn!).
APPEAL TO THEIR VALUES
So how should you approach minimalism with your family? By appealing to their values first.
After all, remember that minimalism isn’t really about decluttering or how much stuff you own; instead, it’s about making space in your life for the things you value most—so this is where the conversation should begin.
For example, let’s say your husband and son are huge football fans. Perhaps you could approach the topic of minimalism from this angle?
- I know you love going to the games … maybe if we bought less of X and Y, we could find the money for you to buy season tickets?
- Wow, another Saturday spent doing tasks around the house … maybe if we decluttered some of our stuff, you’d have more time to play football in the yard?
Of course, this is just one example and it might not be realistic for you but the idea is to paint a picture of what “experiences over things” might look like in their life. Put yourself into their shoes and think about how minimalism will benefit them specifically.
- Perhaps your husband hates his long commute; if you had less stuff, could you move closer to his work?
- Do you kids hate chores? (Probably, haha!) Be specific about what chores they could give up or less often in a decluttered home.
- Does your husband like entertaining? If your home had less stuff, could you invite friends over more often?
Be creative and think outside the box about what motivates your family members—and if you find this challenging, be direct and talk to them. Ask them what they would do if they had more time, money, energy and space in their lives? Find out their pain points and then connect the dots; how can minimalism make their lives better?
RELATED POST: 6 Gentle Reminders About Minimalism
SHARE YOUR WHY
Your family members love you and odds are, they will be more receptive to minimalism (or any lifestyle change) if they know why it matters to you. Sharing your “why” will help them see that minimalism is not just some random idea you’ve come up with on a whim but instead, a powerful tool to improve your life (and theirs too).
If you’re not clear about your own motivations, repeat the above conversation with yourself. Get specific about how minimalism will make your life better; this will help you communicate your “why” to your family AND it will empower you during the decluttering process. For more details about this, check out Mindful Decluttering—my free guide + workbook to help you succeed with minimalism.
DECLUTTER “NEUTRAL” AREAS (WITH PERMISSION)
Once you’ve done the above, I think it’s a good idea to start by decluttering a “neutral” area (a place where the stuff doesn’t really belong to any one person, like the medicine cabinet). But before you begin, there’s one important thing you should do:
Ask your family members for permission.
A simple “Do you mind if I declutter [chosen space]?” should suffice and, if you’ve chosen a neutral space, there shouldn’t have too many objections.
There are a few benefits of doing this:
- By asking your family, you’re including them in the process and giving them ownership over the end results. Even if it’s a small project, you can celebrate the success together. (“Wow, look how much easier it is to find what we need. I’m so glad we did this.”) Hopefully, they’ll remember this feeling and want to replicate it on a bigger scale.
- This is a trick I was taught when I used to work in sales. It’s sometimes known as a “yes ladder” and the basic concept is this: if you get a “yes” to a small request (like the medicine cabinet), you’re more likely to get a “yes” to a bigger request later (like the living room). It’s not foolproof but there is some science to back it up!
- Finally, asking your family for permission shows that you respect their opinion and this is important because trust is essential for decluttering. People are often resistant to minimalism because they’re afraid their things will be taken from them and instinctively, this makes them hold onto everything tighter. But when you build trust and your family members feel confident, they become empowered to let go of their own accord. (So on that note, make sure you never declutter something that doesn’t belong to you without permission!)
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS … LOOK INWARDS
I think it’s important to acknowledge that ultimately, you can’t make anyone change if they don’t want to. Minimalism might be important to you but at the end of the day, your family might not be interested and that’s ok. You might not get the fully decluttered home of your dreams but this doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from minimalism.
Start with the spaces you can control and then learn from the experience—because decluttering is an introduction to intentional living. The same questions you ask about your physical stuff (“What value does this add to my life?”) can be applied to other areas of your life such as your relationships, your spending, and most importantly—your time!
Turn your attention inward and don’t get caught up worrying about clutter that’s outside your control. This is actually part of minimalism too: learning to invest your time and energy into things you can change and letting go of things you can’t.
Stay focused on yourself and you never know; as you start to reap the benefits of minimalism, your family might notice and come to you in their own time. And if they don’t? That’s okay too.
RELATED POST: How Minimalism Changed My Life
I wanted to end this post by acknowledging that it must be very hard to embrace minimalism without the support of your family. As I mentioned above, I’ve not experienced this firsthand, so I know this post is written from a privileged position. I choose to write it anyway because I had ideas that I thought might be helpful—but I do welcome your feedback and respectful criticism.
If you’re struggling to get your family on board with minimalism, I’d love to hear from you: What are your biggest struggles? Do you think these tips are helpful? And what has worked for you so far? Let us know in the comments! x