Episode 161 | Decluttering Before the Holidays + How to Have a Minimalist Christmas | Dawn of The Minimal Mom

The joy of giving and receiving gifts is such a beautiful part of Christmas, but this time of year can quickly leave our homes overflowing with clutter.  Dawn of The Minimal Mom joined me earlier this year on the podcast to chat about decluttering and minimalism, and you all loved our conversation, so I knew this topic would be a perfect opportunity for Dawn to join me on the podcast again!  We chat about making Christmas fun and exciting for our families without getting caught up in the accumulation of stuff.  But don’t let the word “minimal” fool you; this discussion is less about how minimally decorated our homes look and more about how truly peaceful our homes feel.  If you are ready to embrace the upcoming holiday season without the stress and overwhelm, this conversation is for you!

In this episode, we cover:

  • The secret to making your home feel festive for Christmas without going overboard
  • How minimalism benefits everyone in the home
  • How you know it’s time to get rid of a certain toy
  • Giving our kids the lifelong skill of learning how to manage their stuff 
  • Preparing your family for Christmas so you don’t end up drowning in clutter
  • Why our kids’ view of stuff is different than past generations
  • Shifting our mindset around what makes Christmas truly meaningful
  • Helping our kids through comparison and disappointment at Christmas
  • Inspiration for family experiences that can make the holidays memorable
  • How to navigate receiving gifts that you don’t want to keep in your home
  • Number one strategy for staying on top of clutter around the holidays
  • How to know if you have too much stuff

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About Dawn

Dawn is married to Tom, and they have four kids ages 8 through 13. They have called themselves minimalists for about seven years now and couldn’t imagine living any other way. And because it’s had such a positive impact on their lives, they enjoy sharing tips and tricks to help you simplify your home quickly, too.

Resources Mentioned

Decluttering by Faith by Dawn Madsen and Diana Kokku

Dawn’s interview with Dr. John Deloney about the link between anxiety and clutter


Dawn Madsen of The Minimal Mom | Website | YouTube | Instagram | Facebook | Podcast 

Lisa Bass of Farmhouse on Boone | Blog | YouTube | Instagram | TikTok | Facebook | Pinterest

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Lisa Bass Welcome back to the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. The first guest I had this year was Dawn from The Minimal Mom. It was a very popular episode because she has so many great tips and inspiration on decluttering. I know we hear it a lot, but sometimes it’s really hard to wrap our brains around why it’s so important to minimize our house. Even if your house doesn’t look minimal— which Dawn and I are going to actually talk about how sometimes houses don’t look minimal, they have a lot of decor, they have a lot of personality. It’s not just like one couch in the corner equals minimalism, but still are very simplified when you peek behind the doors, behind the cupboard doors, behind wardrobes, armoires. That’s the case, at least, in my house. And so I have seen so much value in this. And Dawn has, too, in her family. So she’s devoted the last, I think, eight years to educating others on the how, the why, some practical applications on minimizing your stuff. And right now, being that Christmas is coming up, there is never a better time to think about all this stuff. We’re going to talk about toys, minimizing toys, how that looks for our kids. So join us for this great conversation. 

Lisa Bass My name is Lisa, mother of seven and creator of the blog and YouTube channel Farmhouse on Boone. Join me as I share with you my love for creating a handmade home, from-scratch cooking, and a little mom and entrepreneur life along the way. 

Lisa Bass Hey, Dawn, I’m so glad to have you back on again. We were just talking about how you were the first guest that I had on last year. Most people are thinking about decluttering probably around this time of year more than any other time. Although, as you would know with your channel, people are thinking about it a lot. So really excited to have you back on. You just released a new decluttering devotional. So first, if you want to tell us about that, who it’s for, how it’ll help. And then also obviously introduce yourself if people don’t know you. But I think pretty much everybody in my listener already does know you. 

Dawn Madsen That’s awesome. Well, I’m Dawn from The Minimal Mom. If we haven’t met before, I’m married to Tom and we have four kids ages 8 through 13. And so we’ve called ourselves minimalists for about eight years, which just basically means I only keep stuff in my house that we use. I just let the other stuff go. So our house still functions very well. But my twin sister, Diana, and I just wrote a book called Decluttering by Faith. And so we thought it was time that we kind of brought our faith beliefs into decluttering because it turns out the Bible actually has a lot to say about our physical stuff. So it was really fun to get to work on that with her together. And so if you just are looking for a different angle to declutter in the coming year, it might be a fun read. And then we’ve also set it up to be a group or a Bible study. So if you want to get some friends together, neighbors, women from church, there’s a six-week video series that goes along with it as well. 

Lisa Bass That’s really cool. Yeah, that sounds like a good resource because I’m such a declutterer, but I constantly am going around my house thinking how is this such a constant process that I have to continually address? It’s always— like I was just upstairs in my boys’ room today getting stuff out and I’m like, where do I come up with all this stuff? So yeah, it’s a constant thing, which I’m sure you find. 

Dawn Madsen Mm hmm. 

Lisa Bass Okay. Well, I think it’d be really good to talk a little bit about—since we are approaching the Christmas season or we’re actually really in it currently—decluttering before all of that chaos with new gifts, with the decor. Even in my home, having it fairly minimal—probably not near to the extent that you do—just the added decor, it’s difficult to clean around. The toys, getting new toys. This is a time of the year where I think we’re all starting to think about that. Also, we’re not outside as much, and so the walls kind of feel like they could be closing in on us. So let’s first talk a little bit about decor. I think you just did a new video on this on your channel pretty recently. As minimalists, how do you create a fun atmosphere for Christmas without going overboard? 

Dawn Madsen Yeah, I think I’ve really had a year to look at what are high impact items? So I don’t want to have to have a lot of decor. I don’t want to manage a lot of holiday inventory, but I still want my house to feel festive. And so what I’ve found is to look for the high impact. So I have a red tablecloth. When I put that on our dining table, it feels like Christmas, right? Or I have some red throw pillows or some red hand towels. For me, I feel like if I add pops of red around the house, it feels festive. And even this year, I was decorating last week and I was putting stuff out and I’m like, do I need to go further? Does it not feel festive enough? And our eight-year-old came downstairs and he was like, “It feels like Christmas in here.” And I was like, you know, it doesn’t have to take a lot to still feel like Christmas or for it to feel different or special. And I’ve found, especially as we’ve highly simplified our house, it’s actually very easy to decorate seasonally now because you don’t need a lot of pieces to still get that same feel. 

Lisa Bass Mm hmm. Well, let’s back up a little bit. What is the reason? I think you’ve already sort of mentioned it, but what is the reason that you strive to live minimally? What has this done for you and your family? How has it simplified things or made your life better? 

Dawn Madsen Oh, that’s a good question. So I just felt— you know, we started, like I said, like seven or eight years ago and we had four kids ages four and under. And I was not enjoying being a mom. And I thought there was something wrong with me. I got to stay home with our kids. If you would have asked me when I was younger, “Dawn, what do you want to do?” “I want to be a stay-at-home mom.” That was my goal. We had four healthy kids. Here I am, and I disliked it so much. And I was like, what is wrong with me? And so I was always going on Pinterest and looking for different cleaning charts and ways to organize and ways to meal plan. And finally I came across a podcast by Joshua Becker, and he was one that was like, “Did you know you didn’t have to have all this stuff?” And I just wondered, I’m like, maybe what he’s saying is true. If we don’t have to manage so much stuff, then maybe life would be a little bit more enjoyable. And that’s exactly what I found. So we got rid of at least 80-85% of our stuff and I found that then I could manage our house, and I felt like a better mom, and my kids were happier. I think that’s one of the strangest things— I know we’ll talk about decluttering toys, too, this time of year. It is so counterintuitive that if we highly simplify our kids’ toys, they’re happier and they’re more content and they’re more creative. And so it was such a win win win. Tom loved it. The house was just tidier. It was easier to pick up. He’d come home from work and it wasn’t such a disaster anymore. And so it just felt like it made every area of my life easier and more enjoyable. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, I agree. So today I was thinking about when we were talking about simplifying the kids toys, I was up in my boys’ room, and recently—I think it was, I don’t know, maybe like two months ago—I picked up one of those Hot Wheels sets at it was either Goodwill or one of the thrift shops in town. Usually whenever we go there, I let them get something because I like the idea of letting them play with something for a while and then giving it back. It’s like a $10 rental or less, you know, where they can enjoy something. But those Hot Wheel tracks where it’s the orange tracks and little blue things that connect them together— it was all the rage in our house for like two weeks, I’d say. They built that thing. They did the Hot Wheels. They’d take it outside and they’d build it going down the trampoline and down the playground. And then when I was putting away all of the blocks each night, I’d start to find little blue connectors there. Then I’d find an orange track outside. And I found an orange track under the rug in the boys’ room. Like, you know what? This toy has now lived out its purpose. Now all I’m doing with all of my time is rejoining all of these little pieces and getting them back in their little category. And I’ve done it for the last time. So what’s your process like for that? With kids toys, how do you know when it’s time, when the kids are done with it, when all you’re actually doing is spending your precious hours and minutes every single day putting back together little things that apparently nobody actually wants? 

Dawn Madsen Yeah, I think this is so good what you said is basically recognizing is the cost of this toy outweighing the benefit, right? And so what’s frustrating is that there’s a lot of trial and error with toys because how many toys have we brought into our home thinking, ah, this will keep them occupied and it doesn’t, right? And a lot of them cost a lot of money. 

Lisa Bass It does for a little while sometimes, you know? 

Dawn Madsen Yeah. And so it’s really observing our kids and asking like, okay, is this toy still serving us in this season? Have they outgrown it? Have they never really gotten involved with it, engrossed in it? Has it never helped them to be more creative or more imaginative? It is remarkable to me— and I know, Lisa, your kids just I know they play and they’re super creative. And when our kids have a box and masking tape and maybe some markers, I feel like they are so content and so happy because they’re creating. Right? And so many of these toys now for our kids, it does it for them. It makes noise and it moves and it does all this stuff. But I feel like they play the longest, they’re mostly content, and they get along the best when they’re actually the ones creating it. They’re making the toys, they’re building the forts. They are doing the things with blocks and Legos and not these other things that kind of do it for them. So I think if you really start to observe your kids and look at like, what do they actually play with? It’s often not the things that we spent a lot of money on that got the best reviews on Amazon. It’s really the really basic, simple things. And so if we would be willing to say, you know what, we might have spent money on it, it might have been a gift, it might have been expensive, whatever, but it’s not serving us in this season. It’s not helping my kids to be happy or creative or whatever. If we would be willing to move that stuff out, your kids are going to be so much happier and you’re going to be happier too. So I know that’s sometimes easier said than done. So we could talk about a few tactics kind of more specifically, if that’s helpful. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, definitely. Because we get that sunk cost fallacy going on where it’s something that we spent money on. And even though every sign points to this is actually just making things worse, it’s difficult sometimes to let those go. 

Dawn Madsen It is. And I hear from many moms, “My child remembers everything. If I donate a toy, they remind me of it.” Right? 

Lisa Bass Hmm. Okay. 

Dawn Madsen And so we kind of have to switch how we’re looking at this. So how I approach toys now is that I’m teaching my kids how to manage inventory. So I look at every item in my house as inventory that I have to manage, and that helps me know how much I can handle in my house. Well, I want to pass this skill on to my kids because we all know we are inundated with stuff now. It’s never been easier to acquire stuff, right? So I want my kids to also know how to create a peaceful environment, how to recognize when this stuff is adding chaos and stress to our lives, right? So toys are a great opportunity. Now, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with some drama. Right? But it’s important to me, so I’m going to push through that. So if your kids are very attached to things, then I like to say, “Okay, here’s a box. I will pay you $5 to fill up the box.” And this is great, especially if your kids have bought any of the toys that they had or have gotten them as gifts. Sometimes that can get to be a little gray area. We can’t just declutter that. So we give them a box and we say, “Hey, fill it up. I’ll give you $5.” Or we say, “Hey, Santa is coming. There’s more toys are going to be coming in in a month. So if you want Santa to come to our house, you need to fill up the box,” right? Like we have to make more room for toys. We can also use a Time Will Tell Bin and where we just go in and we pack up a bunch of toys that we know they’ve outgrown or they’re not using. And we just pack it away for a couple of months to see if anyone misses it. And 99.9% of the time, no one misses it. And then we can just drop that off at Goodwill, too. 

Lisa Bass Right. Yeah. Well, a lot of times I’ll put it in a bag, put it in the van, and that will be the Time Will Tell Bin, because it takes us a while to actually get there. But like you said, 99% of the time they don’t notice. If I just slip out whenever nobody sees me with the stuff, all they notice is that their room is clean and they can enjoy it again. And I think they actually appreciate it, even my older kids. 

Dawn Madsen And they love it. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, they see it with new eyes like, “Oh, this is how this can be. This is how we actually can live if— you know, I don’t even remember what was in there.” That’s typically how it is with them. What’s your system with your kids? I know your kids are a little bit older than the age where you’re managing their stuff, but what was your system like for categories of things? Like I was talking about the little Lego pieces getting in with— or not the Lego, but the Hot Wheels pieces getting it with the Legos getting in with the Duplos and then you feel like you have to re-sort things out. What’s your system or what was your system for that? 

Dawn Madsen Yeah. So we had— like IKEA has those rubber containers with the shelves and so we just had those and we would limit it to one or two bins per each type of toy. Because again, our kids get really overwhelmed by inventory. I did an interview with Dr. John Delony last week and he was actually sharing a lot about the link with anxiety, ADHD, OCD, with our physical environment and the amount of stuff we have in it. And so a lot of times, as parents, we notice our kids will just bounce from one thing to the next. They never fully get engrossed, and it’s usually because there’s still too many toys. And so even though your kids maybe have gotten tons and tons of Legos over the years, that doesn’t mean we want to have all of them out. And so that’s where we have— like we call it a container concept. We select a container that we’re going to use for Legos or blocks or Hot Wheels tracks or whatever, and we keep what fits in there, and then the rest we either pack away, we Time Will Tell or we donate. And we try having those limited amounts. And I think what you’re going to find is that your kids, it’s easier for them to play, but they’re also able to help manage it. It’s not so overwhelming for them then to help pick it up or to help sort it out. And you know, I try to put as much of the toy management on my kids. And so I don’t worry so much if the blocks are mixed in with the Duplos or that kind of thing. As long as it all fits back in those containers at the end of the night, if they’re not all sorted out, I’m okay with that. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. 

Dawn Madsen We do have one child that will take the time to sort them all out, so I’m like, “Go to town, man.” But it’s really trying to observe how much can my kids manage? And it’s way less, it is way less than what we’re led to believe when we look at the marketing and the commercials this time of year and everything. 

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Lisa Bass Which that leads me to the next thing to talk about— what to do about Christmas. I was sitting last night on the Internet trying to put together what I’m going to put in my kids’ stockings this year. And I’m like, as I was thinking about it, I’m like, what could my kids possibly need right now? Like at all? I want to make Christmas really fun, but at the same time, there’s really just— I can’t think of anything that they need to add to their life right now. They have bikes, they have coats, they have blocks. So with that being said, what is your philosophy on this and how do you handle what could be this huge influx of clutter because of Christmas time? 

Dawn Madsen Yeah. So there’s two things I keep in mind. One, I do try to make recommendations to family and friends for consumable gifts. Some people, I recommend an experience, like maybe to my parents, but not to every relative. But I try to be proactive with offering gift ideas, and then I also balance that with understanding they still have free will, and some will take me up on my suggestions and some won’t. So I just have a plan. Two weeks after Christmas we do a declutter. Like the kids know. Like that’s just part of our routine now. But I’ve really, even more recently— because I’ve had those same feelings. My sister and I were talking about this, like when we were young—and I’m sure you can relate to this, Lisa—Christmas was a big deal because you didn’t get stuff all throughout the year. 

Lisa Bass So that’s exactly what I’m saying. My kids do. I kind of like— especially because we’re homeschoolers and you are too, they’ll be like, “Can we try this certain thing?” Like, “Can we get a sewing machine and all this fabric?” Or “Can we get these certain boxes that we put together,” and “Can we get this little doodle pen with the plastic thing so we can make 3D things?” And I get them those things because they kind of lend themselves to education all throughout the year. It gives them something to do in their free time. And so, yes, when we were kids, it was. It was like, “Okay, let’s get everything this one time of year.” And that was pretty much it, but that is— I don’t know if that’s just me, but that’s not really the case for my kids. 

Dawn Madsen Exactly. And so we’ve been trying to shift it back more now to experiences. So building gingerbread houses, putting up the tree together, sitting in front of the tree at night and reading a Christmas book. And in some ways it actually takes more effort then as a parent because it’s easier just to buy a bunch of stuff and wrap it up and put it under the tree. But our kids are drowning in stuff right now. They do not have the same value for stuff as we did growing up. 

Lisa Bass No. 

Dawn Madsen And so what made us happy as a kid— because I did enjoy that. Right? Like we didn’t get gifts the rest of the time of the year. Christmas was a big deal. It was fun to open all the gifts, but our kids don’t feel that same way about stuff anymore. And what they consistently say now, like when kids are surveyed or polled or whatever, is that their number one concern is the stress level of their parents. So they recognize that we are stressed, that we are overwhelmed. And then you add Christmas. Like that’s just the regular time of year, right? And now we have Christmas and we’re stressed about money. And have you seen the price of gas and groceries? 

Lisa Bass Right. 

Dawn Madsen I mean, Christmas is expected to cost 25% more this year. They know that. Right? Like they can sense that. And so we need to—for ourselves—be able to figure out what we have to do to help make this time a little bit more enjoyable and less stressful. And then we also then look at like, okay, it’s actually not the stuff for our kids that’s going to create a happy Christmas. It is this time together and experiences. That’s what our kids are lacking right now, not more stuff. 

Lisa Bass So stuff truly is more abundant now. Like I guess that’s something I need to wrap my brain around, but I think that it really is. Like you can go to the thrift store—which is something that I’m realizing—and you can just about get anything you want, almost like it’s a Walmart. Is that something that you feel like is different now? Like we want Legos, let’s just go to the thrift shop. Or we want anything, like it’s all just there. And so maybe we just do need to shift our brains around that this is just a different world than it was when we had Christmas when we were kids. 

Dawn Madsen Yeah, and it’s so hard because the marketing is always going to be there. I mean, the billions of dollars that they’re spending right now marketing toys to us— I mean, I just read a thing that said, like, Americans have already put $28 billion on credit cards this holiday season. And so it’s very hard when we know our kids are going to go back to school after Christmas—for those that go back to school or even go to homeschool co-op, like we’re not insulated from it either—and they’re going to see the new cell phones and the new shoes and the new… You know, I mean, one of my kids was like, “Did you know so-and-so just got an iPhone 14?” And I’m like, I don’t even have an iPhone 14, you know? You’re like, what! And we’re like, I have to compete with that, right? Like I have to make sure my kids aren’t disappointed or whatever. And that’s not true, actually. This is life. This is our kids’ human experience. I heard one gal say, “Don’t deprive your kids of their human experience.” This is how life will always be. There’s always going to be people with nicer cars and this and that. But as a parent, I have to put the blinders on and be like, if I could set one intention for this Christmas with my kids, what would it be? And I’m like, it’s about time together. It’s just not about stuff. Right? We’ll get gifts, of course. But if I could have just a few good things that we do this holiday season together, I just know that’s what they’re going to remember. But it’s hard. It is actually very hard to keep this front and center. 

Lisa Bass It is. And we all have that fear of disappointing our kids. I definitely fall into that, too, even though I don’t want to be like that. I definitely have the same thought. I asked my sister— because I’m having Christmas Eve Eve at my house because we have other family obligations the other Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And I was like, “So are your kids getting any gifts at Christmas Eve Eve?” Because we used to have my grandma, she just passed away. Well not just, but earlier this year. So this is her first Christmas gone. And she always did this thing where she gave us each $100 for each of our kids. And she gave it to us for us to spend on her behalf. That was not to be like pocketed. That was to be used for gifts to open on that particular event. And now that she’s passed away, I asked my sister, I’m like—not at all that I’m like worried about spending the money, that’s not it—but I’m like, I don’t need to go spend $700—because I have seven kids—on my kids at all. They have other grandparents. They’re going to get stockings. And so I’m like, “So you getting gifts for Christmas Eve Eve?” She’s like, “No.” I’m like, “Okay, cool. So there’s not going to be any present opening and we’re all going to be cool with that.”

Dawn Madsen Yeah. And that’s good that you talked about it, right? And you know, too, in that interview with John Deloney, he was like, “The main thing that we can do as parents is just talk about it with our kids and acknowledge it.” Yeah, oh, so-and-so got that really fancy thing. Wow, that’s really cool for them. How did that make you feel? Yep, I noticed too someone at work got this and I don’t have that. But you know, we can be happy for them. And so we just talk about it. Even if your kids recognize like, “Oh, wait, grandma is gone. Are we getting those gifts?” And you’re like, “Nope, we’re going to do a new tradition this year. How does that make you feel?” Or maybe we want to take that money and give it to someone else or help some other kids or whatever. We’re going to do something different this year. And we just talk about it with them and it normalizes it. It’s okay if you’re disappointed. That’s totally fine. My kids, too, sometimes they’ll be like, “What? I’m not getting that?” Or “Why did they get that? That’s not fair.” Have you ever heard that? “That’s not fair.” 

Lisa Bass Life’s not fair. 

Dawn Madsen Well, let’s talk about fair. There’s actually kids that don’t get— they don’t even have enough to eat. 

Lisa Bass Right. Right. 

Dawn Madsen Like if everything’s going to be fair, actually, we got to give a lot more away. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. You’re going to be worse off if stuff’s fair. 

Dawn Madsen Exactly. I mean, we actually have a thing in our house right now, if you say “That’s not fair,” you have to pay me a dollar because I’m so over that phrase. But we talk about it, right? That is kids’ nature. Could they be disappointed? Absolutely. But we just keep talking about it. And we understand that this is part of their human experience. It is going to be part of life. So our job is just to help them navigate it, not to protect them from it. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah. It’s tricky as parents, but that’s definitely a good lesson. What are some of the Christmas experiences that you have on your list or your agenda for this year? What are some things that you’ve done in the past? You already mentioned gingerbread. Is there like a lights display? Or what are some fun things you guys do? 

Dawn Madsen Yeah. So we like to go out and look at Christmas lights. There’s a fairgrounds not too far from us that does like a Christmas village. So we’ll go drive through that. And then I even saw one mom said she’ll make up tickets to go in the car to go look at Christmas lights, and they make hot cocoa and take it with. I thought that was so cool. 

Lisa Bass Well yeah, it’s something tangible maybe to like open. You can actually, oh, there’s my tickets. 

Dawn Madsen Yes, exactly. Isn’t that so fun? So you make it an experience, something you might already do anyways. We’ll do Christmas baking. The kids love doing Christmas baking. We get together with my aunt and my mom and we do that. They’re also working on homemade cards to take to the retirement center by us. So they make like 250 cards for the residents there. And then we’re still trying to— in the past, we were able to like go and actually deliver them, but then with COVID and everything, they had to change that. So we’re hoping this year we’ll still be able to get in and actually see the people there and deliver them. And then there’s another outreach not far from us that we’re going to do where you just get to give out hot dogs and hot chocolate to homeless people. So we’re trying to— now that our kids are a little bit older, we’re trying to work in some of that, too, which has been really cool. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. Might take away some of the “that’s not fair” mentality doing some things like that. 

Dawn Madsen Yeah. One can hope. Right? No guarantees, but we try.

Lisa Bass At least theoretically. 

Lisa Bass Taking a break from this great conversation to tell you about my free blogging masterclass. The way that Luke and I are able to stay home on our homestead, milking the cow every morning, raising our kids side by side, baking sourdough bread. The way that we are able to have all this time to do this is because of my blogging business. Now, of course, there’s more than one way to be able to homestead, but this is what has made it possible for us to do this together. I started the blog in 2016, and by 2018 it was our full-time job. So not very long after. Now I made a lot of mistakes along the way. I feel that I could have gotten there a lot faster if I’d known what I was doing. In my free one-hour masterclass, I will show you my four-step framework that I used to become a full-time blogger. I’ll also share the most common mistakes that new bloggers make that I learned the hard way so that you don’t have to (and I still see bloggers making these mistakes constantly) and how to make it work on just a few hours a day. I have office hours so that I can separate my life from blogging. And I also share that with you. Now, over the years, I’ve also added on a few more aspects of the business like this podcast. But blogging remains my favorite way to connect with my audience and earn an income because it requires me to be less personal. I can share things that really help people like recipes. I can focus on my photography. The house doesn’t have to be quiet. After recording this podcast, I’m going to go inside and do some blog work, which means I’m going to put in my earbuds, listen to a podcast or something I enjoy, photograph a recipe that I’ve been working on. It’s the most laid back part of my business, and sometimes I want to quit everything and just be a blogger. I recently got an email from somebody who was thinking about becoming a blog course student, and she said that she had been doing some research online and learned that blogging is dead, and so she would like to learn other things like how to be an Instagrammer or be a podcaster or YouTuber. All great businesses. I’m not knocking any of them because I do all of them. But I do want to let you in on a little secret. My blogging income still surpasses all of those, and it requires the least amount of my time. I know some of you are probably thinking, “Well why don’t you just quit everything and make more blog posts?” Honestly, I’m thinking about that a lot of times, to be completely honest. But I do love connecting with you in this way. If you want to check out my free Blogging Success Masterclass, you can get that at bit.ly/FarmhouseBloggingSchool. I’m also working on the new 2023 planner, so that will be out soon. It’s a very robust planner with all kinds of checklists and goals and practical tips and places to actually make all that work within a planner. So that is a bonus that you’ll get to check out over there as well. Again, head over to bit.ly/FarmhouseBloggingSchool to learn about my favorite business and all of this online craziness by far, blogging. 

Lisa Bass All right. Shifting a little bit back to clutter. What are some of the clutter traps that you feel that people fall into, especially when it comes to Christmas time? I guess we already talked about a few, but— 

Dawn Madsen Yeah. Totally. So I think, you know, I’m a big proponent of opting out of gift exchanges. So we’ve basically opted out of any adult gift exchange. Now it’s just about the kids. But we have to remember, it’s not only do I have to buy a gift for someone else, but then there’s another gift coming for me into the house, right? So that’s more that I have to manage, and so I try to opt out of the gift exchanges. I also give myself permission, now, if I get a gift and it is not useful to me, instead of shuffling it around my house for the next year, I’m just going to donate it or sell it or pass it on. 

Lisa Bass Just to pretend like you like it. 

Dawn Madsen Yeah. So is there the potential that I could offend someone? That they come over to my house and they’re looking for it? There’s always that potential. But having a simplified house, like the benefits are just so worthwhile to me that I’m willing to make that sacrifice, to let stuff go, and to move through my house and not keep it out of guilt or obligation, because it’s just so important to me that my house stays simplified. 

Lisa Bass Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yeah, I definitely had some things that— or sometimes in the past, I’ve had things that just stay in the van. I’m like, “Don’t bring that in.” This will go to a good home, you know?

Dawn Madsen Yes. And I’ve had the kids, like the kids— a relative gave them something, and then she came over. It was much later on, it was like six or eight months later, and she was like, “Oh, where is this?” Or whatever. And what did the kids say, “Mom donated it.” And I’m like, “Ah!” I’m like, “Oh, no.” And I was like, “You know what? I did. But I am just doing what I think is best for my family right now.” And so could there potentially be awkward moments? Yes, but you get through it and it’s fine. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, more than likely you’re going to keep it and that’s not going to happen. 

Dawn Madsen Exactly. 

Lisa Bass I know that one thing that really helped me when I started worrying about that whole concept was the whole “it has already served its purpose” thing. So the purpose of the gift was to open it, be joyful, excited. Your kid was like, “Yay, I got this!” And then they pretty much forgot about it, too, pretty quickly I’ve noticed. They don’t even remember it. And so it did serve its purpose in that they got to have that joy. 

Dawn Madsen Yes, yeah, that’s so good. 

Lisa Bass Yes. Okay. So another thing around the holidays is surface clutter— Christmas cards, catalogs. We’re definitely getting that. What is surface clutter in general? And then with the holidays, how do you stay on top of it? 

Dawn Madsen Yeah, I think especially during the holidays, it’s really important to make a habit of picking up or tidying up your house everyday. So again, if we’re keeping this in mind that clutter actually releases stress hormones in us. So clutter causes us to feel more stressed out. And if you’re already someone who might naturally tend toward anxiety, or if you do suffer from ADHD or ADD, you’re very sensitive to clutter. We just don’t always realize it. And so if you start to be aware of the clutter in your house, you might start to notice this. So especially during the holidays, it’s really important to just keep your house picked up and tidied up. So again, we’re not deep cleaning. It doesn’t have to be perfectly clean, but we’re just quickly putting stuff away at the end of the night, we’re grouping like stuff together, and we’re just taking a few minutes every night to reset our house. And I think that’s really going to help you and your family, to have your house feel a little more peaceful and a little less stressed out this time of year. 

Lisa Bass That makes a lot of sense. What are some signs that— if there’s somebody who’s skeptical, who’s like, “I’ve heard all this decluttering talk before,” but they’re still struggling to want to get rid of things to make their house less cluttered. What are some signs that maybe you actually don’t even realize that there’s too much clutter in your house? What I’m looking for is like, oh, maybe it takes you an hour to clean up at night. Or what are some other signs that should really clue you in to the fact that it is a problem for you and your family? 

Dawn Madsen Yeah. So like I said, I look at everything in my house as inventory that I have to manage. So it’s actually not personal. And in the past, what my clutter told me was, you’re lazy, you’re unorganized, you’re a bad mom, you’re a bad wife. But I realized that I was just trying to manage too much inventory. And so it’s actually unique to us. And I’ve noticed that in different seasons of life, the amount of stuff I can manage changes. I thought as the kids would get older, I would be able to manage our stuff. And I feel like it’s actually less now because now they’re in the kitchen and they’re— I’m running them all over and all of that. So it’s recognizing that if there’s any areas in your house that just aren’t working, like, why can’t I keep my clothes hung up in my closet? Why can’t we stay on top of the laundry? Why is there always dirty dishes stacked next to the sink? To me, that’s usually a sign that there’s still too much inventory in that specific area. So again, we look at it not like— you know, and normally we would think, well, I need better habits and I need to find an organization system. I think the culprit really is this inventory and having too much physical stuff. And so if we can kind of take a step back and look at it and say, “Okay, if I simplified my closet, would it be easier to get dressed in the morning? Would it be easier to keep stuff hung up? And would I have to stay on top of the laundry because otherwise I’m going to run out of clothes to wear, right?” And so that’s how reducing inventory has worked in our house. And my goal was to get to a point where every room in our house, I could pick up and clean basically in five minutes. So I wanted every room to be able to be picked up in five minutes. And I had to get rid of a lot of stuff to get there, but that was kind of my parameter. And so if you’re looking for a place to test this out or to try it out, I would try with your personal wardrobe or in the kitchen because both of those are areas we use intensely multiple times a day. And so I would just test it out. Use some Time Will Tell Bins, pack away half of your wardrobe and just see, does this function better? Is it easier to pick up? Is it easier to get dressed in the morning? Does the laundry— some of these issues with laundry just start to work themselves out then? 

Lisa Bass Yeah, I really like the distinction you’re making between “I have an organizational problem” and “I actually just have a too much inventory problem.” That is something that I didn’t realize at first, too. When I first became a homemaker and I was trying to— like, I kept having to go into my craft room on a regular basis and organize it. I remember that was something when I was a kid, my mom was always like, “Okay, I need to spend this Saturday. I’m going to be in the basement. I’m going to be in there all day long.” And that was something that she did probably maybe every three or four months. It was like, “All right, this Saturday. We’re in the basement all day.” And I’m realizing now, later I realized, okay, actually maybe those days don’t actually— they’re not just a part of life where you have to buckle down and spend all day re-categorizing things, putting things in the right bins. If you’re finding yourself having to constantly reorganize something, it’s probably not the system that’s the problem. It’s probably just that there’s too much stuff. And in order to keep that much stuff managed, it’s just going to take a whole bunch of your time. 

Dawn Madsen Exactly. Yeah, that’s really good. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, I think it’s an important distinction because I think whenever you said, it only takes— you want it to where it takes five minutes to completely reorganize and make everything right in a certain room, that might be a surprising number to people. Maybe they didn’t even realize that was a possible thing to have. 

Dawn Madsen Yeah. 

Lisa Bass But I’m there, too. I think if you see like a house tour of mine, I don’t look like a minimalist because I have a ton of furniture and pillows and I have pictures on the walls and mirrors and I love antiques. But actually when it comes down to the stuff, I actually am quite a minimalist. I fit all of my clothes in one half of an armoire. My kids’ room literally has like five toys because like you said, we just cannot manage that much stuff. So really it is the way that I have coped with being able to be a homemaker with seven children is 100% doing all of these things that you’re talking about. 

Lisa Bass I want to kindly thank American Blossom Linens for sponsoring today’s podcast episode. In this guest cottage, one of the ways that we keep it super comfortable is with durable, sturdy, softer-with-every-wash sheets made right here in America from American Blossom Linens. These sheets are true quality, woven to last a lifetime, not just replace from year to year. They are generously sized so that they fit even the deepest mattresses. And each king and queen set comes with four pillowcases so that you have everything you need for a comfortable bed. Everything is made right here in the USA for the last 122 years, responsibly crafted by families in a small town in Georgia, making them an ethical company that you can feel great about supporting. They offer free shipping and a two-year free trial so that you can be sure that what you are getting is exactly what you want. American Blossom Linens is very generously offering Simple Farmhouse Life listeners 22% off your order with the code BOONE22. Again, that’s 22% off the best sale they have going right now with the code BOONE22. We have a set of these beautiful sheets in our guest cottage and we love them and the quality that they provide there. There will be a link down in the show notes that you can check that out and get your high quality American Blossom Linens sheets. 

Dawn Madsen Yeah, I love that your house still fully expresses who you are, and it’s cozy and it’s inviting. And so it looks different for each of us. Right? And I think anyone listening would be surprised that I believe anyone could reduce the inventory in their house by, like, 80%. Not you now, Lisa, but I believe you could get rid of tons of stuff and no one’s going to walk in your house and be like, “Oh, where did all your stuff go? Oh, did you get robbed?” I mean, that’s the fear is people are going to walk in and be like, “Oh, this is cold. It’s sterile. What’s wrong with you?” And I honestly don’t think anyone will even notice. 

Lisa Bass No, actually, I remember it used to be a regular part of my routine—this was mostly in my old house whenever I was still getting a feel for getting more minimal on things—I used to spend probably a half hour or an hour every single night in my girls’ room, before they were very capable of cleaning it up themselves, redoing it and reorganizing it. It was just this every single night routine. And I’ve kind of forgotten about that phase of life because it’s just over. I don’t do that anymore. And it’s not just because my kids are so great and I’m on top of them and they’re always cleaning up after themselves. There is some of that, too, but it really is just a whole different thing whenever you’ve just decluttered. And if I really think about how many trips I’ve taken to the thrift shop over the years, to imagine all of that stuff still being in my house, how much time it would take to clean and declutter would have cost me time. Like just the amount of time it would have cost me is unbelievable. 

Dawn Madsen Yeah, totally. 

Lisa Bass Well, these have all been some extremely helpful tips. I think that we’ve given some people some motivation to declutter maybe before the holidays, so that way it’s not so stressful whenever all these new things come in. Or just some food for thought on how to avoid that altogether. Tell us about where we can find you and your new devotional, what you offer on your YouTube channel to follow along with. Lots of inspiration over there. So, yeah, tell us about that. 

Dawn Madsen Yeah. So you can find anything at TheMinimalMom.com. And then we do have like, I don’t know, over 600 videos on YouTube to help you declutter. So don’t worry. If Christmas comes and goes and you’re drowning in stuff again, it’s okay because we will be there to support you and to give you the tips and the tactics to be able to get through it. So don’t worry about that. We have you covered, so just try to enjoy the season the best you can right now and then we’ll be there to tackle it in January, too. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. What I love about your YouTube channel is a lot of times I can get what I need from it by listening to it, which is great because there’s only so much time to sit down and watch something. But a lot of your tips are very actionable and I can just have it playing without having to stop whatever task around the house I’m doing. So lots of inspiration there. And like you said, enjoy the holiday season. If this is overwhelming to you, then obviously just don’t worry about it. But, I think for a lot of us, it’s actually quite freeing. That’s how it is for me. 

Dawn Madsen Good. That’s awesome. 

Lisa Bass All right. Well, thanks so much for joining me, Dawn. 

Dawn Madsen Thanks, Lisa. 

Lisa Bass All right. Well, thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. I hope you got some inspiration from that conversation with Dawn to minimize and make your life less stressful. This isn’t about a contest on who can have the least things, it’s just about what makes you function well in your own home. Being able to manage the inventory is a very important aspect of homemaking that I think we often overlook, and we think that it’s not really that big of a deal to always be tripping around this one certain thing or re categorizing or opening that drawer that that one thing, it’s just too full, so it always sticks. The amount of stress that that all causes is putting a value on actually that thing being gone. This is how I like to wrap my brain around getting rid of things that I find to be monetarily valuable. The value of my time, my stress, my sanity is so much greater. And so if that is all very interesting to you and you need some more inspiration on it, make sure to go check out Dawn over on YouTube and her website, TheMinimalMom.com. As always, thank you so much for listening and I will see you in the next episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. 

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