Photo: Brittany L. Bergman

Simple living, for me, has never been only about having less stuff. It’s about having more time for the things that matter and maintaining a pace of life that’s healthy for my whole family.

Even so, living simply with a toddler kind of sounds like an oxymoron, right? For a long time after I had my daughter, I felt like a simple-living impostor. It took a while to figure out our family rhythms after she was born and then again after I returned to work. She keeps growing and changing on me (babies seem to do that), but these are the things that are working right now as I attempt to keep our home, schedule, and lives as simple as possible.

I know these strategies may not work for everyone, but I hope they help you generate some new ideas for how you can simplify your life even if your toddler is a bit of a hurricane (as mine most definitely is).

1. Online shopping

I actually don’t think I could survive working full time and being a mom without Amazon Prime. There is rarely an item I need that I can’t wait two days to receive, and it saves me so much time at Target (and money in impulse purchases, amiright?). I order most of my clothes online as well, which doesn’t always work perfectly because of returns, but at least I can try on items in the comfort of my home rather than in the store whilst I try to entertain my child. I also try to order from places that have easily accessible brick and mortar stores, because I hate returning things by mail.

2. Cleaning service

This is another one of those I-could-not-survive-without-it things. My husband and I don’t currently pay for childcare (more on that below), so when I decided to go back to work full time, we thought it would be more than worth a small percentage of my salary to hire a house cleaner. It is absolutely, hands down, 100% the best money we spend each month.

We try to keep up with the basics in between—doing the dishes at every meal, wiping counters, sweeping the floor (we are not great about this last one; thank goodness for our vacuum dog)—but it’s so nice to know that my house will get a full deep clean every month, and I don’t have to be the one who spends hours doing it. 

3. Keeping toys minimal

This is the one I see on Pinterest all the time—it seems like “minimalism with kids” is synonymous with “have three wooden toys.” I love wooden toys, and we do own a few. But for now, I’m not super intentional about what my daughter plays with as long as she likes it. My trick to keeping toys simple is, well, quite simple: I don’t buy them anymore. We’ve had the same toys she plays with now for months—a learning/activity table, a few puzzles, some sets of stacking cups and blocks, a play kitchen, some play food. She’s starting to seem a bit bored with these offerings, so I’m planning to stash away some toys and bring them out again in a few weeks to see if that helps.

I also give her a new safe-for-play household item each day, and she likes these more than she likes toys. One day it might be spatulas, another day plastic containers, and another day a gift bag full of tissue paper. I also feel like I should confess here: when I’m working and she won’t play independently, the TV goes on. The nursery rhymes she loves drive me up a wall, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

4. Food routines

You know how some big-time CEOs wear a daily uniform—jeans, a hoodie, sneakers? I do that with food. I keep a running grocery list on Google Docs, which largely stays the same week to week. We all eat exactly the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and snacks every single week. Does it get boring? Yep. But I’d rather be a little bored than exert the effort to be creative with all my meals.

Dinner is where we mix things up a bit. I try to cook one new meal each week, and if it becomes a favorite, I’ll add it to the spreadsheet where I keep all our tried-and-true recipes. When I plan meals for the week, I pick a few from this spreadsheet and fill in the ingredients on my grocery list. For now, it’s enough if I cook two to three times a week, because we can feed off the leftovers the next night, and sometimes the next. 

5. Forging my own childcare plan

I work full time at a publishing house, three days in the office and two days at home (on these at-home days, I am still responsible for eight hours of work). My husband is a real estate agent, and he works a lot of hours but has a somewhat flexible schedule. Right now we can work it out that he’s home with our daughter two days, I’m home with her two days, and my mom is with her one day. (We get lots of help from my husband’s mom too.)

Honestly, this system hardly feels “simple”—in many ways, it complicates our lives because it’s a heck of a lot harder to work while caring for a child. But it is saving us a ton of money in daycare costs, which is allowing us to pay down our student loan debt faster, so ultimately, it’s the best thing we can do right now. Plus, I do really like having more time with my little girl and getting to work in sweatpants twice a week.

6. Respecting her sleep routine

My daughter is a kid who needs her sleep, and she isn’t afraid to let me know about it. For a long time, she couldn’t be up long past her nap time or bedtime without getting crazy overstimulated and having a meltdown. Especially in the early days of sleep “scheduling” (because “routining” isn’t a word), we tried to stick to her routine as much as possible, partially for our sanity in not dealing with a very crabby baby and partially because consistency is the key if you want sleeping routines to stick.

Now she’s a bit more flexible and we can push her a bit with staying up late so we can visit with friends, but for the most part, I fiercely guard her sleep times. Often, this is the only chance I have to work on the weekdays I’m at home, and it’s the only time I have to rest on the weekends. Respecting her sleep means we both get the rest we need to be healthy, functional people.

7. Making “no” my default for now

I feel a little guilty admitting this one, because it sort of makes me seem like a curmudgeon. Really though, this is just a mind-set shift. It used to be that I would say yes if I could do something (go somewhere, see someone, attend this event, etc.), but given my very real limitations in this season of parenting a small child, that has to look different. Instead of saying yes unless time does not allow, I think no unless there is a compelling reason to go and it works with our schedule.

I try not to plan more than one or two things each weekend (besides church), and I avoid weeknight events. Sometimes I wonder if I’m missing out, but I think, for now, this is better for me: I can connect with my husband when we’re both at home, I get enough sleep, I read lots of books and can run this blog and pursue my writing. When those basic needs are met, I can socialize joyfully instead of begrudgingly, even if it’s less often.

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Ultimately, my goal is for each person in my family to be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and for us to form deep, loving bonds with one another. These habits are helping us do exactly that by living simply and prioritizing what matters most to our family.