5 Easy Ways You Can Simplify in Under 30 Minutes

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

Without a doubt, the simple life has a lot going for it.

In theory.

But when you’re a homeschooling parent, you may not have extra hours to devote to the cause.

Let’s face it–sometimes we don’t have the time to even nurture a private thought. Or go the bathroom…alone. So we need a few streamlined shortcuts to point us in the direction of a simple life.

It might not be perfect, but it will be a start. And sometimes that’s all we need.

Here are a few quick simplicity hacks for the busy family.

1. Create a toy rotation system.

In my book, Steady Days, I give many practical suggestions for busy moms with young children, including this one.

If your home is overflowing with toys that you want to keep, do a fifteen minute sweep with an empty laundry basket or box and remove some. I like to target toys that have many small accompanying parts (You know, the ones that get lost everywhere?).

When you’re finished, put the box in a separate space–like the basement or closet. Then take one toy out each day. This keeps clutter to a minimum, and also encourages your kids to get excited when a “new” toy appears.

2. Keep only your favorite books.

Remember the Little House Series? The Ingalls family had two books–a Bible and a book about birds. Both were treated with the utmost of reverence and respect. I think we lose a bit of that wonder when our walls are lined full of hundreds from top to bottom.

Surely a shelf of favorites provides more pleasure than one crammed tightly with any and all titles.

In a spare 30 minutes, you can ruthlessly sweep through one large bookshelf. If you need to keep certain books for up and coming younger children, then collect and store them in plastic totes. If not, make a plan to either give or sell them. I like to pass ours on at the end of the year to another homeschooling friend who needs them.

3. Clear a surface.

Clearing a surface can be accomplished quickly, and it pays off in positive vibes every time you look at it. I found this to be the case when I recently tackled my desk, which had been a source of cluttered frustration for months.

If you need some motivation to clear a few hotspots this spring, be sure to check out Project Simplify over at Simple Mom. It’s easier to make changes when you know you’re working with a virtual community.

4. Store any unused curriculum.

If I have a resource that isn’t working out for us, I stick it in a box in the attic. That way it’s not out cluttering up our shelves (or making me feel guilty for not using it), but it’s still accessible if I find I need it in the future.

Warning: Don’t let this be your excuse for accumulating boxes in your attic, though. Enough is enough!

5. Ration your art supplies.

Photo by Michelle Brunner

Some parents believe their kids need unlimited access to all art supplies in order to nurture their creativity. Others keep almost all supplies under lock and key, dreading the mess that ensues.

I think the right answer depends on the age of your kids. Are they going to use up an entire glue stick in one day? (Raising my hand here!)

In our home we have certain art supplies (block crayons, markers, colored pencils, paper, stickers) out at all times. Other items–like glue sticks, tape, and scissors–have to be asked for. I always say yes, but it just lets me know who is using what before someone ends up with a haircut (It happens!). Really messy supplies–like glitter and paint–are stored separately for times when we’re working together and I can help out.

Your art supply philosophy will change as your kids get older, but not having to tidy up supplies multiple times can go a long way toward simplifying your day-to-day life.

Some days feel busy and harried, in spite of our best intentions to live simply. Remember: The goal of the simple life isn’t perfection; it’s creating a life that works best for you and those in your care.

Look around your home. Now imagine you have 30 minutes (or 5, 10, 15)–what would be the most useful area you could simplify?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. I do something similar to your toy rotation, but with books.

    I definitely need to simplify our art supplies, I’ve got an entire cabinet that needs to be organized!
    Angela @ Homegrown Mom’s latest post: Harvest Ministry

  2. The toy thing just won’t work at my house. My daughter somehow has a memory of every single toy in this house. Whenever I take things that I haven’t seen her play with for awhile downstairs, suddenly the next day she is looking for them. Seriously, just this past week she asked me where a stuffed horse was. I haven’t seen her play with that horse for 3 years! How does she remember this stuff? LOL!

    We did just go through her books the other day. She made a pile to donate and she was very proud of herself.
    Jenny’s latest post: Links I Like- St Patricks Day Edition

  3. I tackled the pantry today 🙂 it was great knowig what i actually have in there!
    melissa aka equidae’s latest post: Oh I wish I would have read this about 1 hour ago

  4. My craft cabinet is in big need of a make-over. I do need to ration out art supplies, as we have recently has unauthorized bang trims with the scissors. Great suggestions, Jamie!
    Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith’s latest post: Why did I become a Stay-at-home Mom

  5. Great tips! I’ve found the art supplies harder to manage as I have older and younger kids. The older kids have access to the scissors, glue, etc and forget and leave it out, resulting in hair cuts, creative expression via marker on the walls, and glue sticks wasted.

  6. Love the tips! You’ve inspired me to tackle my desk – where everything seems to migrate!
    sandra’s latest post: Mom Moments

  7. Careful with the books. My parents had shelves and shelves of them, and it was always fun to dig through them and find gems – and particularly interesting as my interests changed and something that was boring before took on a new life on this pass through. I’m tempted to say “you can’t have too many books”, but that’s probably not true – getting rid of those that actually have little value totally makes sense – but don’t cut back too far!

    • I totally agree with you. It is hard for us to schlep so many books around with us when we are moving to different countries every couple of years but we pack in as many as we can for the same reason. I grew up with a whole side of a living room covered in books and my siblings and I went through every single one at different stages (we also had 3 sets of encyclopedias). It was a wonderful memory and I hope my kids enjoy it as much as we did. I love to live clutter free but I am looking forward to returning back to our home country in a couple of years and building my own wall of books.
      Catherine’s latest post: Mushroom beads

  8. Very useful tips. I already do a couple of them — particularly keeping only my favorite books, otherwise I would be buried under a mountain of paperbacks. Very true about cleaning off a surface. We have one spot in our house that tends to be the catch-all for everything. I always feel like I’ve accomplished something when I get it cleaned off.
    Kris @ Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers’s latest post: Organizing a Spring Fair

  9. Great ideas. I think I should put the unused curriculum in a box under the stairs today rather than on the top shelf where I sometimes get that pang of guilt when I see it.

    With a large family, I think there’s more need for more books being around, available on a vast range of topics that can catch a child’s interest that they otherwise wouldn’t know to inquire about. There’s a wide range of reading levels too, so its hard to keep it to just a small collection.

    We actually don’t rotate toys as we keep them to a minimum anyways. I truly believe this encourages more creativity & play and frees time for reading, games and family interaction.
    Karen’s latest post: Love Them

  10. While I do think it is wise to organize books and get rid of those that are unwanted or never read, I do not think there’s any need to limit ourselves to a single volume or shelf’s worth. I don’t think we should punish ourselves for having more books than the Ingalls family in the Little House books — which are a fictionalized account of the author’s memories of childhood, after all, and not a recipe book for a perfect homeschool, which in most of your readers’ cases, probably includes electricity and an internet connection.

    It’s worth noting that the children were not homeschooled, and from my recollections, the family did have more than a Bible and a bird book (actually I think Pa’s book was called The Wonders of the Animal World). I distinctly remember much discussion of Ma’s old books from her teaching days, from which she taught the girls to read, and that the girls had textbooks. Also, in Little Town on the Prairie, Laura enjoyed the book of poetry she receives for Christmas, and Grace treasured the picture book she received from her parents after their trip to take Mary to college. The family also read religious publications which they derived a great deal of joy from. So don’t be too quick to throw out treasured books. I think it’s wonderful, however, to have favorites, and to treasure books. That attitude of love towards old friends is worth emulating.

    • I’m not suggesting any type of punishment for anyone. We have bookshelves in almost every room or our home and have no intention of trying to get rid of them. Throwing out treasured books would go against the idea of keeping favorites anyway.

      But in this day and age where you can pick up multiple books for less than a dollar, many of which are poor quality, I think a mindfulness toward books is a good thing. Like every issue, each family has to decide for what is right for them.

      • I agree, Jamie, and I think a lot depends on how many books a family has. As a former school teacher, I kept my entire personal collection of books for my own children when I left the classroom. I am just now going through and reading some of them to see if they are “twaddle”, and a lot of them are.
        As part of the family room organizing project on SimpleMom, I am looking at all of our books and evaluating if they are worth the visual clutter. Now that our family room is organized and simplified, our family has enjoyed two evenings of sitting in our clean room reading books. Good books.
        I enjoy Little House references. Of course few of us actually want to live like they did “back in the day”, but we can appreciate the idea of a simpler life, and do what we can to get there.

  11. Jaime – I love the craft supplies rationing idea. My daughter is now at the age when all she wants to do is color/paint/etc.
    I do a similar rotation system with toys
    Thanks for some great ideas!
    And by the way, I created my Steady Home Planner about 2 months ago and it is really working for me as house-manager!
    Andrea’s latest post: Guest Blogger- A Simple Twist of Faith

  12. Jamie, I had to giggle when I saw the part about art supplies and storing glitter and paints separate from other art stuff. We actually have a basket that contains *just* the paints and glitter and hangs out in a cabinet when we aren’t using them (this is accident prevention!)! ;o)

    I was really excited yesterday to go through my “school” cabinet and find a few more items for my swap box. I am arranging a swap date with two friends where we plan to trade homeschool items. I love having that stuff out of my main school space where like you said, I would stare at it and feel guilty!!

  13. Just did the toys today, I’m excited to see if it results in more imaginative play time. I’m going to make a note on the calender to remind me to rotate. THanks for the post!

  14. I like the idea from one of the comments on doing a book rotation like your toy rotation. I agree that you shouldn’t discard great books that your family enjoys, but it is possible to have so many the kids don’t even know where to start! I also appreciate the Little House reference…I often find myself daydreaming as we are reading them. Ahhh, to have only one small box of toys and children who can sit quietly on a train for hours. But then, I guess I’d have to give up my dishwasher : ) Great post.
    Paula@Motherhood Outloud’s latest post: On Raising Boys

  15. I call things like the messy school supplies and games that have small pieces “Parent Controlled Substances” ..these are the ones that need permission to use, or have to be put away for a while for different reasons (rotation, until we find all the pieces, etc.). One problem we have is that we LOVE puzzles, but all it takes is one person leaving one puzzle out and we have pieces ALL over the place. PCS are things that have to asked for, so I can keep an eye out for them and when they need to put away!

  16. Rather than rotating our toys, I limit the type of toys that come into our house to specific categories. Wooden/metal trains, matchbox cars, legos, and linking cubes. Since all of these have so many little pieces – it’s enough trying to keep them all straight. With this method, I have 4 different storage spaces & the kids know exactly where things go. Plus, this keeps out random miscellaneous toys. With 3 boys & a baby girl – there’s enough imagination, toys, & art supplies to entertain the whole crew.

  17. We love books around here too, but we really can’t afford to purchase many. So we just have many Library books around. I let the library store all my books for me as I am very anti-clutter. 🙂 I love reading, but because I am cheep I use the library. I could see using a digital reader if I had the money to purchase books, but I don’t. Plus, I always like the option of selling books I have purchased which you can’t do with digital.
    Once we find a book from the library that we love or one that isn’t available from the library than we may try Paperback swap, goodwill, amazon or ask for bdays. 🙂

  18. 1. Create a toy rotation system.

    The other day we made a pile of toys for the charity shop whilst my 2 year old daughter was in the room. The pile consisted of toys that she had not touched in 6 months but when she knew that they were going she played with them all and afternoon and evening.

    I might try your idea as a filtering system for the charity shop and if she plays with them we will keep them.

  19. Eek! Only keep favorite books? They are all favorites. I have four bookcases currently. Most of my books are reference books so elimination is impossible.

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