Less is More When Managing a Large Family

Less is More When Managing a Large Family

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How Less is More in a Large Family

It might surprise you that one of the big lessons I have learned while managing a large family is that less is actually more. I have seen this concept play out time and time again in our life. If I want to manage my home and family well, not having an over-abundance of things actually helps.

My father-in-law feeding four-week old Mordecai.

When we adopted four week old Mordecai in 2002 we purchased a pack of three bottles from Walmart. Three. We used those three bottles the entire time he was bottle fed (after Jubilee was born I was able to successfully breastfeed him.)  Because we owned only three bottles they were almost always washed immediately after being used. On the rare occasion that they weren’t it was easy to remember, “Oh, the green bottle is on the shelf in the living room” or “the purple bottle is in the diaper bag“. Had we owned a dozen bottles, it would have been nearly impossible to keep track of them all. Would it have made life easier? Probably not. Twelve bottles would have meant that six or seven or twelve bottles could have been dirty at the same time. With only three, they were easy to wash and it was easy to stay caught up. 

Less is more in a large family

Camping, circa 2009.

We went camping as a family for the first time when we had seven children under the age of eight. I learned a few lessons on the trip. 

  1. We were crazy 
  2. Camping is messy
  3. My kids eat a lot

But most importantly I learned: everything gets dirty on a camping trip. Every item of clothing, whether it was worn or not, had to be washed once we were home. It was seriously discouraging and would take me a week to get the laundry done and dishes cleaned from a two-night camping trip. Here’s the thing, my kids were all really young, and they would be dirty within 10 minutes of waking up no matter how many clothes we had.

The next year, I took a new approach. Every child had one pair of rugged Carhartt overalls, one t-shirt, one sweatshirt, two pair of underwear, two pair of socks and warm pajamas. They wore this pair of Carhartt overalls: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. At night we took them off and had the child change into warm pajamas. The next morning, on went the overalls.  Period. When I got home I had two loads of laundry from out camping trip and that was it. 

Less is often more when parenting a large family.

Last year we invested in these Fox Outfitters Stainless Steel Cups. I say invest because they run about $32 for a pack of five. We have two sets which means a total of ten cups, and two smaller cups (that are easier for Apollo to manage). Having a set number once again means we know when one is missing and they are easy to track down. This has been so much nicer than dozens of plastic cups that get left outside and in every room of the house!

Yes, it’s true, I have found this process even helps with clothing. Think about it, if I had two children who each owned ten pair of jeans, that is potentially twenty pair of jeans to wash. If I have ten children who each own ten pair, that is potentially one hundred pair of jeans to wash! You can see just how easy it would be to fall behind on laundry and never be able to get “caught up” (are we ever really caught up?) again. How about shirts? I know many kids have 20 shirts or more…

Now, I am not at all suggesting you only give your children one or two changes of clothing, I am simply suggesting you think about how much they have and how to manage it. Hezekiah and Tucker wear jeans 90% of the time. Both both usually have four pair in rotation. It is easy to keep them all washed and clean, and they all look alike so they don’t need variety. My girls (by preference) have a little bit more clothing than the boys and my teens? I don’t manage their clothing at all.

You are probably thinking about now, “If they only have four pair of jeans, don’t they wear out faster?” and the answer is yes, they do. That is where my clothing managing system comes into play. If my boys have 10 pair of jeans that all fit, I will pack half of them away. My system makes it easy for me to grab what I need within minutes, so it is easy to keep on top of it.

These are just a few examples of how I have found less actually more in our large family. Have you every tried any of these methods? Does it work for you? I’d love hear your ideas. 

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24 Responses

  1. We only have two kids, but we still tried to practice less is more when it came to their activities. One activity per child per semester or summer (excluding medical and dental appointments and family trips). We wanted to have time for down time for each child and family time such as consistent family meals, which are surprisingly hard to stick to when your children play sports.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Christine, thanks for bringing that up! That is a great way to practice less is more. I have several friend who do that as well. It is one reason we chose Scouts for our boys when they were younger. The gained: camping skills, sports, recreation…all in one group. Yes, balancing school/family/sports is HARD!

  2. We have nine children at home. We also own about 3 bottles and that has worked great. I’ve never taken my children camping although we lived in a converted school bus off and on for two years. (I commented on your Facebook post about your dream home but then felt weird and erased it ) I learned a lot about the value of space and what items were more important than others. As far as clothes go I kept more then because I never knew when laundry day would be. But now we only have a set amount of clothes. Back when I had a few children, I asked each of them how many clothing items they needed. It was interesting how one thought he needed more or less than the other. As far as laundry, they have their own baskets in their rooms. They just bring it down when it’s full. Sometimes I wash and dry it, sometimes they do. (The older ones.) I think it depends on how your house is set up too.

    I definitely agree with you that less is more.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      So cool that you lived in a converted school bus. Did you enjoy it?

  3. I heartily agree with the less is more philosophy. The same with toys, as you mentioned a little while ago–so much easier to only have a few or at least rotate them in and out, and cleaning up takes just a couple of minutes if everyone helps.

    I’ve never used more than five bottles at a time also, and generally only 3-4 nipples. I’m always trying to get rid of redundant items. It’s tricky, though, because we have piles of guests during certain parts of the year. The rest of the year I wonder why we have dozens of towels and plates and silverware and…

    One question about boys and pants, though: I only have one boy, and he’s still a preschooler, but it’s impossible to find pants that he doesn’t wear out within two months. He currently has six pairs of pants total and only three don’t have holes in the knees, and only one of those is appropriate for church (and will very soon have a hole in the knee). It doesn’t seem to matter whether I buy them new or used, double-layered in the knees or not. I pick up any boys’ pants without holes at thrift stores (a rare find!) even if they’re 3-4 sizes too big. You have boys; what do you do? I can only imagine that you spend a fortune on boys pants, or that they always have holes!

    Another question: you probably have/have had a couple of kids at least in the same sizes at the same time. How do you determine how many of different things to have for two kids (same sex) of the same size? Twice as many? Less? Do they each have their own clothes, or do they share? I’m talking about little kids still, so that might make a difference too.

    And books–what do you do about books? My weakness is books and we really don’t have enough bookshelf space. I mostly buy used and have a running list of books we’d like to have on hand, but still…it’s lots of books…

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Bemis, this are all great questions and I think I will work on a follow-up post. In short? Yes, my kids boys and and girls wear holes in the knees like crazy! The boys are actually easier because I know I can always find jeans for them at Old Navy. I keep my eyes open for they sales (every few months they go on sale for $10 pair) and I try to stock up. Thrift stores are hard, my boys are skinny and can only wear slim jeans (and even those are often too lose).

      Hezekiah and Tucker have worn the same size clothes for years. Up until this year they simply shared everything. A few months ago, we went through and labeled every piece with an “h” or “t”. They were starting to fight over them, so this helped.

      Books? My general philosophy is this: unless it is an absolute favorite, if we can pick it up at the library easily, we don’t need to own it. Most of us have Kindles as well, so any new books are bought in a digital format.

  4. I frequently pray that God will help me be a wise steward of all my resources, using each to their full potential. That includes time, storage space, physical energy, emotional energy etc… When our family was still small, we only owned four plates. I got in the habit of hand washing the dishes and stacking them in the dishwasher to dry. I loved knowing that the dishes in the dishwasher were always clean and ready to go! Over the years that has slipped and my kids think that they couldn’t survive without a dishwasher,lol. This is one habit I would love to bring back.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      We technically have a dishwasher in the house, but we don’t use it. All of our dishes are hand washed.

      • Post about hand washing dishes! My kids act like they are being tortured because we hand wash!

      • I tried less is more with my 3yo because I was so tired of her throwing all her clothes on the floor. I bought her three dresses and four pairs of leggings and put everything else away. Guess what? She sat in her underpants on her bedroom floor all day until she found her sister’s ballet costume from last year. Now all she will wear is ballet costumes.

        I’m still trying with the other girls.

        I’ve adopted the wardrobe capsule idea and got all set up for myself for the winter….but then I got this baby breastfeeding and my outfits were bottle-friendly.

        I used to be on the ball with towels-each kid had their own color and was responsible for it…but then my same 3yo started taking all the towels off the hooks every day and leaving them on the floor next to the toilet where the 5yo “splashes,” so now all the older kids refuse to re-use any towel just in case. I’m washing a lot of towels now that my older kids want to shower more!

        My less is more systems only work if someone isn’t coming along behind me ruining them 🙂

  5. Jennifer Lovett

    When I remarried and gained 3, we had 4 kids together. I worked full time, yet cooked from scratch and worked my little farm on my off time. The kids where 5-8, I decided if I could teach them to hang thier own laundry it was a huge help to me. They started doing thier own laundry soon after and the ton of excess laundry slowed way down.
    Our simple lives ended up being for thrift, but it helped. I learned like you -dont get 30 cups-keep a glass for each kid and adult. Let me tell you it was hard to loose the extra-but it worked. I just never did think of it that way.
    We Loved Camping-and each of the kids where responsible for thier own gear. I was responsible for food. Dad did his and my tents ect., and games. Kids all made sure they had clothes, fishing gear, and where champs at the tents and bags. Camping we each did our own dish cleaning, made sure the last thing we did before leaving was clean up-NEVER leave a messy area. We camped at many kinds of areas, forest and desert, near water and not. Kids always found ways to get dirty-learned to worry about rain on the open tents-(so keep the tent closed) but enjoy the storm-they dont last.
    BEMIS, my girls where the young and old 2, and the boys although 18 months apart in age-where and still are the same size. I bought things like socks and underwear in multi packs-you know 5 or 6 in a pkg-then divided them up. Never a mix-all the same size and color. THEN I dyed them 2 colors. Worked for us. If you have more than the 4 I had, you can make differnt dye patterns, toes only, tops only-Or by tall and short socks ect.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Sounds like you’ve got some pretty great organization systems going for you! Interesting that you dyed the socks. That’s never occurred to me.

  6. Oh Renee, we are such Kindred Spirits! I positively love this. These ideas work for families of any size and they can be life-changing. I keep my toy categories as low in number and as as simple as possible. The boys have two travel cups each and the parts are all interchangeable. I loosely “capsule wardrobe” the boys’ clothes and keep a running shopping list for each of them on my phone with what item/size is needed. If I buy multiples of an item, I never buy more than I have physically proved I need and they are always the the same brand/product so I can interchange the parts or they will stack properly etc.

    I love the camping clothing idea!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      This doesn’t surprise me, Coralee. Your house was so beautiful and peaceful when we were over!

  7. haha! Yes. With keys. If I only have 1 it is very hard to lose!

  8. I loved this post. It is an idea I have had on my own, which began as a reaction to the way I was raised. I’m one of seven, and my mom bought everything she could used or discounted. For some reason, she also felt that meant she needed many, many multiples of everything. (Maybe because it wore out faster?) We had huge wardrobes of rummage sale clothes. I’m talking each of us each season, usually had 20+ shirts and 20+ pants. And a dozen pairs of shoes. We had something like 15 bicycles for the seven of us.It was overwhelming to keep all that organized and usable…after all, it’s hard to find your shoes when they’re in a heap with 80 other shoes.
    I have six, six and under now. I have to manage everything, obviously, and I refuse to let “stuff management” rule my life. So I really try to pare down. My mom makes it difficult. She still loves yard and rummage sales and loves to give me huge bags of clothes. I am learning to just get rid of excess, or store it. My kids have a lot less clothes…maybe 5-6 pair of bottoms and 6-8 tops. I think we could do with less, even. We have just what we need in all other areas as well, and no excess. This can be challenging with cups when you have company, or bedding when you have overnight guests. Overall I like it. It is easier to keep tidy and organized with less. Paring down and reevaluating needs vs. just having stuff for no good reason is always on my mind.

  9. We do things very much the same way with our large (but not as large as yours!) family. With our first babies we had a ton of pacifiers – pacifiers that were always lost no matter how many we had. So with my most recent, we had 4. That’s it. We were doing just as much searching under beds and cribs with 4 as we did with a dozen of them, so it didn’t make sense. When we eventually lost the last one for good, THAT’S how we weaned off the pacifier.

    And I hear you with the clothes. If my kids have much more than a week’s worth (which is how often we do laundry, roughly) clothes get worn, washed, and put back on top of the other clothes so they’re only wearing those, anyway!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes, so true! If you have a dozen pacifiers, they *are* harder to keep track of. Great to know this works for other families too.

  10. I have a family of five and we barely ever eat out, which means lots of cooking goes on in our home. My family is still shocked that we only have 4 pots and pans, total! We didn’t intentionally do this, but it’s been that way for so long that we find that the system actually works! I honestly can’t explain how we do it, but we always have delicious, healthy meals that everyone enjoys. We’ve even hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      That’s great! And with only four pots, only four can be dirty at a time. If you need one, you wash it.

  11. This is a great post! Thank you for all the tips! Since we added two more to our family of 6 this year, making us a family of 8, I need to learn some new techniques!

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