A Montessori Home: Organization, Storage, Toy Rotation and how to live a minimalist lifestyle with kids

It’s a new year. I always get the deep need to declutter and purge after the holidays. I also get asked frequently about what living a minimalist life looks like with 2 kids. So I thought I would get at least some of the details down. 

Before I start, I wanted to state that living as a minimalist looks different to everyone. Our way of doing it may not be right for another family, but it is definitely right for us. 

Most importantly living minimally also means living mindfully. We think about our home and lifestyle in a very concrete way. We think about what we want to convey to our children. What do we want them to remember about their childhood? What do we want them to remember about us? Thinking about those questions is the first step to decluttering your life. 

Step One: Self organization 

The most important part of the Montessori Prepared Environment is the adult. The entire environment depends on us as the guide to observe, and prepare it to fully meet the needs of the child. Here is this week’s pages in my bullet journal. To ensure privacy I have selected this upcoming week before things get scribbled in and filled up. Keeping a bullet journal is directly linked to my own mindfulness and therefore my sanity. This little book and our big wipeable monthly calendar on the fridge are where we write everything down. 

Step Two: Material storage & organization 

This is it. As you can see, there isn’t a lot. This is where some of the minimalism comes in. The most common misconception I see on Facebook and Pinterest is that Montessori is about the materials. In short, about the stuff. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

Montessori is actually about the child. The pedagogy was originally designed for people who had nothing. Not having everything is a very good lesson to teach not only our children, but also (perhaps more importantly) ourselves. 

Another misconception is that there is a difference between toys and materials. This often allows for the excuse that we need “all the things” because they are learning materials. Yet in Montessori, learning is joyful work and purposeful play. Your child sees no difference between a material and a toy. 

Your child doesn’t need fancy teaching time clocks, balancing beams, sensory boards etc. Instead a few good quality materials offering a range of experiences are key. 

The same rule applies to “shelf work” as does in Practical Life. We don’t give them pretend food, we let them chop carrots. Why then would we give them pretend experiences? Instead, bundle them up and go out for jumping running and balancing. Allow your child to explore different textures, sounds, tastes and smells within your home and community. 

Independence is a cornerstone in Montessori. When choices or access become overwhelming, independence suffers. This is Quentin’s closet in his room. The IKEA Trofast system has worked well all these years. There is a little video of him using it at around 18 months here. There aren’t many clothes, but they are all ones he loves. The top yellow bin stores pj’s the middle one stores shirts and the bottom one pants. The basket below stores socks and underwear. How do we keep this space minimalist?  The answer is simple. We don’t buy more clothes than he needs. 4 sets of pj’s, 4 short sleeved shirts, 3 long sleeved shirts and 3-4 pants. Not having a large wardrobe means we can spend more money on the pieces he has, allowing us to choose sustainable, healthy options. 

Step Three: Prepare purposeful environments

Quentin’s room has remained the same since we switched it here. Like all things Montessori, items and areas have a distinct purpose. Bedrooms are for rest. He has a bookshelf by his reading area tipi and his wooden barn is stored here but that’s it. There are no toys or materials in this space. It is light and airy and cosy. Perfect for relaxing. 

This area (all one space) shown above is on the first floor of our house. It has been his Montessori area from birth. The area houses his open ended & gross motor play items (shown in the second picture), work table, work mat, Montessori shelves and Art table and shelves (seen behind the shelves in first pic). It has changed so much over the years but also remains the same. Everything has a purpose and a place. This is where he keeps 100 percent of his materials. There is a wall map to the left of the slide. His cube shelving holds every material out at the moment. He has both learning materials and open ended play materials in this space. 

I often see parents asking about how many materials to have out at one time and when to rotate them. I also see the answers. Some say 2 weeks, others say four. However the true Montessori answer is as always follow the child. If your child doesn’t use a material, observe to see why. Perhaps it is either too difficult or easy. Perhaps they are bored. Careful observation of your own child will tell you when you need to rotate items. 

In truth, our shelves rarely get rotated. We do our monthly Nature Study and that tray of items gets changed sometimes weekly. However at 4 years old, it is Quentin that rotates the shelves. If he is tired of a puzzle, he takes it off the shelves to the storage cabinet (shown above earlier) and switches it out. If he wants something out of his science box or geography box, he goes and replaces what is out with what he wants. Sometimes I will rotate something if I see a particular interest, and I will definitely take something out if it is no longer challenging such as his Montessori Blue Language Series, but mostly it’s him. 

How do we make minimalism work in this space? We don’t purchase many items and we don’t have multiple items that do the same purpose. Not having many items means that all items we have get a lot of use. When we do purchase or make something, we are mindful of its purpose and choose good quality over quantity. 

Here is his kitchen space. 

I feel this particular part of our home doesn’t need any more explanation here. It is purposeful, neatly contained and beautiful. If you are interested in learning more about our kitchen space, there is lots of information under the “In the Kitchen” category of this website and loads of videos and pictures on our Instagram account listed above. 

Lastly here is our living room. 

Like our media room, our dining room and my office, there are no materials or toys here. This space is intended for gathering as a family and with friends. I don’t leave my bits and pieces of crafts and hobbies here and we all respect each other by keeping our own personal things in their prepared spaces. Implementing this early on has meant that all of us as a family are mindful of bringing things into this space and the other shared spaces of the house. Because of this, these spaces don’t feel cramped with kids stuff. It doesn’t get messy and it invokes a feeling of calm for all who use these spaces.

Staying organized and living minimally seems like an impossible task but it really isn’t. 

Here it is in a quick overview:

  • Keep in your house only what you need and the things that bring you immense joy. Get rid of everything else. 
  • Organize yourself and your spaces so that you are prepared, calm & having to clean less

Most importantly the number one, easiest thing you can do is to simply put down your wallet. That’s it. That’s all it takes. Your house won’t be cluttered and your kids won’t be entitled if you simply follow this one step. 

Because when it comes down to it, your kids don’t want your stuff.

They want your time. 


14 Replies to “A Montessori Home: Organization, Storage, Toy Rotation and how to live a minimalist lifestyle with kids”

  1. This is so lovely and apt Beth! My biggest lesson from 2016 and all the time we spent away from home is that they really don’t need much to learn or be happy. My hope for 2017 is to purge our home of the things we don’t need and become much more mindful of what comes into our home. Thank you for this post.

  2. I would LOVE to know what you have in your materials cabinet! I’d love to know what your must have and love items are 🙂

    Thank you for his post. A reminder that “it’s not all about the materials” is so good for me, since working at a Montessori School it’s hard to get away from that mentality.

  3. Hi Beth, I love your blog. I’m new to Montessori, discovering new things every day.

    Reading this post I felt slightly upset as what you call minimalistic is opulent for some of us who need to be even more minimalistic… I live in London with my daughter and husband in a two bedroom flat. We are medium class, but a two bedroom flat is all we can afford here! If we had another child, we would still have to stick to a two bedroom (or move further away and spend hours in the commute which will result in not spending time with our children).

    Given that “pedagogy was originally designed for people who had nothing”, what are your thoughts about not having separate spaces as you do? For instance, my daughter’s bedroom can’t be just for rest… and we don’t have a separate dining/living/media/office room, it is actually all in one!

    Thanks for your comments in advance.

    1. Hi Maria,
      As mentioned in the post this is the way minimalism works for our family.
      It’s not about the spaces as mentioned. It’s about the stuff. Living without clutter and needless things, seeking ways to use materials in multiple ways to avoid piling up of duplicates and over consumption. Instead focusing on the time spent with the child rather than the stuff we get the child.
      Ideally bedrooms are for resting and therefore wherever you put your materials, it would be in another room other than the bedroom. But people make do with what they have.
      The remark about our spaces not having materials was a focus on the fact that not every room needs materials as Montessori on social media would have you believe, rather than the fact that we personally have multiple rooms.
      Ultimately, this post is intended to show that Montessori is not about the materials, a fact that has gotten lost in today’s world of overconsumption.

  4. Thanks a lot! Very clear and I agree with you!

    Too many “fancy Montessori” on social media that look more like a shop than a house! I prefer your ideas and motivation! 🙂

    Montessori, at the end of the day, is just using common sense and enjoying time with your kids showing them how to grow in this BIG world!

    Thanks for everything!

  5. I’ve been coming back and forth at your different posts and totally immersed with inspiration (especially leading me to wonderful resources like Nature Anatomy book! what a treasure! thanks for sharing your thoughts — i’m just beginning our journey to minimalism too this year and still navigating with homeschooling. so much resonates to me with everything you wrote here. thank you. x

  6. What a fantastic post!

    I have been feeling frustrated by some of the Montessori groups lately, they are so focused on consumerism and acquisition and I’ve actually left them because of it.

    This glimpse into your home has been very inspiring for me. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Lori.

      Montessori originally developed her teaching style specifically for extremely poor children living with disabilities and in the slums of Italy.

      It’s because of this that it infuriates me when I see the consumerism focus of so many Montessori blogs and social media groups. Montessori is a scientifically based system of teaching children with Peace Education at its core. It actually has nothing to do with wooden toys, trays, or what anyone is telling you to go out and buy.

      I have a post specifically about this coming up later this week.

      Thanks again,

  7. Hi. I’ve really enjoyed reading this post. We’re on our journey to minimalism and we loosely follow montessori principles (another thing we’re on a journey to improve!). I have 3 year old twin boys.

    I wondered if you would have any advice on how I can reign in the consumerist monsters I’ve inadvertently created in my children 😔, we’re reasonably new to both paths (montessori and minimalism) so hoping to get advice on how to change expectations of 3 year olds! ( one of whom is a collector!)

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Montessori is complex and I would encourage you to truly research it and reflex on whether it is something your family is capable of. It makes little sense to put together well curated shelves and then lack the deep respect and observation of the child needed in Montessori. Unfortunately it is all the pretty shelves as the main focus of so much social media Montessori.

      Our thoughts on Minimalism.
      You may want to be a minimalist but your 3 year old may not want to. Instead of purging their treasures model cleanliness and organization. Are your kitchen counters clean? The beds made and the bathroom wiped down? Children will mimic their environment.
      Collections are not inherently bad. Instead observe how to be mindful of collecting.

      We offer in depth Montessori consultation for families who need more help than this small correspondence page allows. Please contact us if you feel this more extensive help would benefit you.

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