Setting up a calm and restful sanctuary that supports your child’s needs is one of the most powerfully effective points of minimalism in a family. I cannot emphasize enough what a profound difference it makes for a child when they have a space where they feel soothed (protected from any powerlessness or chaos in the broader home environment) and competent (able to be successful in meeting their own needs).
It’s helpful to first think about what you want to happen in the space. For example, sleep, retreat in times of overwhelm, reading, dressing, etc. What functions does this room need to serve?
Then think about the vibe. If you could describe the feeling you hope to impart in one word, what would it be? Peaceful would be the word for us.
Factoring in both the practical and the emotional, there are 4 components I have found to be essential in creating a cozy minimalist bedroom for a child: a bed, rug, bookshelf, and closet.
First, I am a huge proponent of floor beds instead of cribs (as they allow for connection and independence in a way a crib does not), so while a bed is the first ingredient here, I’m really talking about a (comfortable, non-toxic) mattress. So, great news for your bank account, skip the crib and just buy one mattress that will last their whole childhood! And while your kiddo is a little one, simply set the mattress right on the floor. We are a cosleeping family, but even when my kids were sleeping in our room, they still had a bedroom with a mattress, providing them with a cozy personal sanctuary and a path of independence to grow into as they were ready.
Once your child is big enough to where rolling off the bed is not a concern, you can add a bed frame. We got a twin sized Tarva from Ikea and I love the clean lines and earthy feel (and low price) of this Scandinavian style bed frame.
It’s also important to be mindful of your child’s preferred texture and weight for bedding. We love the feel of a soft flannel and heavy comforter. But also consider climate and ease of making and cleaning. We make beds with a fitted sheet and a comforter with a duvet – that’s it. No flat sheets to wrestle with. Easily toss the duvet (which is like a pillow case for a comforter) into the wash.
Can we also take a minute to talk about stuffed animals? This kid loves his stuffed pandas, so we have a bucket near the foot of his bed where they live. This bucket provides the space boundary for this collection. If he wants to bring a new panda friend in, one has to move out.
Lastly, each of our kids has an instrument in their room. Strumming, playing, and practicing is a chill activity in our family that tends to happen in the quiet space that exists while lounging on the bed, so that is where we set them up for success with music by keeping the materials for it in view and easily accessible. Not to mention, they make beautiful decor.
A rug softens the space in a few different ways: it absorbs sound, looks cozy, and provides a gentle landing for all the floor play that happens in a kid’s bedroom.
We use washable rugs from Ruggable in our house (because messes), so I measured the size that would be ideal for this room (go big), filtered for the right size and his favorite color on the website, narrowed it down to a handful of options, and let him choose.
It can be helpful to think of your child’s bedroom as their safe space—the place they can retreat to when they are overwhelmed with upset. Seen through that lens, it’s easier to understand how important it is to round the proverbial edges. They need a soft place to land in those hard moments. So I want to invite you to observe your child and notice what they need and what seems helpful. Perhaps they cocoon (add a dark blanket) or flail (add numerous pillow) or rip (add scrap paper in a basket for ripping). Think about all the senses. Even a door they can close is therapeutic as they are getting to control the incoming sensory input. I know we’re just talking about rugs here, but something simple like that can make a difference in how good (or not) the room feels as a sanctuary. Rooms without rugs feel cold, harsh, and hollow.
Each of our kids has a bookshelf in their room. A bookshelf (I’m partial to the Kallax from Ikea) is very helpful for holding the space for restful activities that we want to foster, but they can also be dangerous: quickly and easily cluttered.
Reading is one of the main activities we hope to support in the bedroom so we have a dimmable Himalayan salt lamp (provides the perfect warm light for bedtime reading and journaling that aligns the circadian rhythm) and books: family read alouds, his favorite series (Harry Potter), and early readers (Magic Tree House). When he was younger, it was one shelf of family read alouds and a lot of picture books. But it’s important to remember that your love of reading is not directly proportional to the quantity of books that you own. We are huge patrons of the library. We read most of our books through the library’s ebook and audio book app (Libby) and we usually have one cube on this shelf for just library books (though we don’t now since the libraries are closed due to the pandemic).
Now let’s talk about toys for a minute. In the Sage Homeschooling and Parenting books I go into detail about how toys live in our home, but it’s worth giving a very brief overview here. All of the toys in our house are communal family toys that are featured on rotation in the main living space. If someone is feeling especially engaged with any one set and they want to work with it independently, they are welcome to bring it into their bedroom for a while. For example, one of those woven bins contains Magna-Tiles. In his bedroom, West can construct elaborate towers that no one will bump into. For all intents and purposes, the Magna-Tiles are “his” while they are in his room. As soon as he is no longer actively engaged with them and he wants to replace that spot with something else, they move back out into the communal space. We don’t store any toys in bedrooms, but we do leave some space for our kids to enjoy undisturbed play and a sense of ownership. Though that space is defined: there are only 8 cubbies in this bookshelf.
Two of these woven bins are play sets and one is his treasure box. This is where he keeps things like magic stick wands he whittled, paper cranes he folded, and special coins he collected. All of these treasures must fit within this one box and we clean it out together about once a season.
The last thing kept on the bookshelf is each child’s bucket for the Bucket System. You can read all about that here, but basically, it’s the soft structure for our chores and homeschooling that honors freedom and self-directed learning along with rhythm and responsibility.
I have a post here walking you through the most recent update to this kid’s minimalist wardrobe and a whole class here on creating a minimalist wardrobe for yourself and your children, so I won’t going into that now, except to establish an open closet (yup, ditch the dresser and remove the closet doors) as a cohesive part of the room. Dressing is one of the major functions that happens in this space, so incorporate it in an intentional way.
Bed, rug, bookshelf, closet—that’s it. I want to emphasize that what is not included in this list is just as important as what is included. The edit, the letting go, the curating . . . that is the most important part of the process. Strip. It. Down! Most families I work with in coaching end up removing half of all the items in the space.
As for maintenance, the kids have a Tidy Bedroom clothespin on their buckets, so each day they are dedicating some time and energy to cultivating the space in a way that feels good for them. Once a season we go through everything together and remove any build up (worn out clothes, papers that fell behind the bed, etc.). The thing is though, when the space is minimal, it’s super easy to maintain. There’s not much to reset even if things get rowdy.
Lastly, I want you to remember that this is a collaboration between you and your child. What is their style? What do they enjoy? Your child is at the heart of this process so don’t leave them out of it. Blue is West’s favorite color and pandas are his true love. That is clear when you look at his space. At the end of this, you’re going to have a really cool bedroom for your kid but you’re also going to get to know them better. Which, frankly, is even cooler than the room.