Raising children in today’s world can be overwhelming. This overwhelm is often caused by a surplus of stuffed animals, toys, and simply having too much stuff. Western culture has trained us to feel like we should reward our hard work with buying many things we simply want but don’t need. Unfortunately, this can cause more stress than the reward it actually brings. In fact, a study done by USC and UCLA researchers found that having too much stuff not only led to an increase in clutter, but an increase in stress as well.
If you have kids, especially young children, you know that they tend to leave a trail of toys and other things wherever they go. Beneath the “discretionary clutter” lies another question that confronts many would-be minimalists. With three, four, five or more people in a household, there are a lot of items that are just needed. With each child comes more clothing, furniture, accessories, sports equipment, keepsakes, kitchenware and more.
It’s easy to picture a minimalist as someone living in a tiny house or a small apartment with only a few essential items. This can lead to dismissing minimalism as a lifestyle because even the bare essentials for a family can feel like they push us out of the minimalist realm. However, the core principles of minimalism can certainly be applied as a family of any size and the benefits can be life-changing.
How to be a Minimalist with Kids
There are many different aspects to minimalist living with kids and there is no one right way to approach it. Let’s take a look at some different ways you can apply this to practice minimalism with kids. Feel free to pick and choose from these as they help you live a simpler life. You can take something new and let go of something old to get there, at the end of the day you will provide a happier life for yourself and your family members.
Disclaimer: Raising kids within a minimalist lifestyle will not be easy, especially at the beginning. It will take getting rid of some things, a load of effort, and an eternity of patience. But, it comes with great reward like spending time with your kids, being more present to watch your children grow, having your family share laughs and positive experiences together and much more. Not to mention, you will raise your children in a simple, decluttered environment focused on the values and lifestyle is most beneficial to your family. So, let’s get started with why minimalism with kids is a good idea.
Is Minimalism Good for Kids?
Short answer, yes.
There are many important life lessons that can be taught to every child through becoming minimalist as an individual and as a family.
In a world trying to constantly sell you things, it can be easy to fall into the trap that buying that one thing will bring happiness. The first lesson many learn through living a minimalist life is that material things are not the key to happiness. As discussed earlier, they can actually lead to higher stress than comfort.
The beautiful secret of minimalist parenting is that this isn’t really coming from your children. No child is born with the mindset that they need dozens of toys, outfits, or accessories. Your child likely isn’t the one who ordered all of this clutter online or took the shopping trips to stock their closet. As parents, we enjoy the feeling of giving gifts to our kids, adding a cute new outfit, or putting a third play structure in the living room. This is because it brings our kids joy. However, just like your own habits, there are many ways to cultivate and create joy with kids that don’t involve more stuff.
We’ve probably all experienced a child’s reaction when discarding a toy, or saying “no” in a store aisle. Kids can hold tightly to stuffed animals and a “favorite” can change every day, leading to dozens of items that feel indispensable. I will talk about this later, but I do want to mention that minimalism for your family members does not mean getting rid of all of their toys or other stuff. It is about being more intentional with what you need and have. It is good to learn that having less stuff can often be better for our health.
A Different Lifestyle
Another lesson learned over time in a minimalist lifestyle is that, just because everyone else lives a certain way, does not mean I have to live the same way. This is such a valuable concept for kids to learn, especially as they go through school. Minimalism goes contrary to the rest of a mainstream culture that promotes consumerism. Your kids will realize they may have less stuff than their friends or might not have the same toys as everyone else. Although there will be a time when they think everyone else is lucky to have as much as they do, they will slowly start to see the benefits of minimalism.
Embracing minimalism does not mean you get rid of everything you own and never buy different stuff ever again. Instead, it means you narrow down the things you own to what you really need and you think intentionally about what you buy in the future. Children grow and will outgrow many essential things like jeans or coats, so you will never be able to get away from buying stuff completely.
When transitioning into minimalism, you will likely get rid of many different things you own which is a great opportunity for giving back and teaching. Instead of throwing away your stuff, consider giving it away to someone less fortunate than yourself. Something old to you can be something new to someone else. So, you can be generous and lead by example for your kids to be generous as well.
Lastly, minimalism can teach your kids the importance of spending time with loved ones. The goal of adopting minimalism into our everyday lives is to get rid of things that distract us from what is truly important, spending time with our family and friends. Whether it is hanging out in the living room or outside playing sports, family time is extremely valuable.
A Guide to Minimalism with Kids
So, where do you begin when you are ready to implement minimalism with your family?
- Start with yourself. Although the benefits of minimalism are very real, it is not for everyone. Be sure that this is the change you truly desire before getting your whole family down the path just to abandon the idea a few months down the line. By minimizing your own things first, you will be able to learn the best processes and you will start to see benefits. This will help you introduce minimalism to the rest of your family as well. Also, your kids will be more willing to part ways with some of their stuff if they have already seen you do it. Lead by example.
- Next, explain to your family what you want to do and why you need this change of lifestyle. Take an evening to sit down with your kids and describe the benefit of decluttering and focusing on only the essential. Explain how you desire to spend more time with them, not cleaning up after them. Be careful not to go into this conversation guns blazing saying how it’s time to let go of all their toys, this will leave a bad first impression of minimalism for your kids. Explain how owning too many things can hurt even though it seems like it should be better. Here you can share your own personal experience thus far living with minimalism. Focus on the benefits you get from it while also setting the expectation that it can be hard.
- Now to the hard part: getting your kids to experience minimalism. A great place to start, get rid of the things your family has never used, no longer uses, and will never use. This can set the tone for your kids and can plant the seed for them to accept minimalism on their own. By starting with the stuff they do not use, they can see that it’s not as bad as it might seem to get rid of their things. Depending on age, it can be difficult for kids to understand this concept. Start by including them in the process and giving them options so they are choosing how to declutter. Then, involve them in the process of donating, gifting, or selling items, so they can experience this gratification, instead of simply having their stuff taken away.
- As you and your family progress along your minimalism journey, there is one major key to pushing through the hard time you may have at first, focus on the positives. This is especially important for your kids. As you see them having more time on their hands on the weekend instead of tidying their things or helping you clean the living room, point out the positives. Your kids may not notice these things on their own so it is up to you to encourage them in their new life journey. This can not only help to further your minimalist objectives, but can also help to cultivate gratitude in your children, which will serve them for the rest of their life.
- As you get the hang of minimalist life, be sure to use the money you save avoiding purchases to treat your family. A benefit you can share with your kids when starting to cut back is saving money. This can be too abstract for young kids to understand fully so it can be a huge benefit to show it to them by taking them on a vacation or going to the local water park. Do something fun you wouldn’t have been able to do before your life change and be clear that this is a result of their hard work in reducing their stuff and being more mindful of the things they own.
- BUY INTENTIONALLY. There is more to minimalism than simply getting rid or your stuff. It includes taking your time in the future when making purchases. Before you and your family adopted a minimalist life, you may have bought toys, craft supplies, clothes, and many other things on a whim. If you continue to do that, you will end up with excess all over again and your toils will be for nothing. So, when it’s time for new toys, do your research with your family. Explain that whatever new toys they get will be their toys for a long time so they need to be durable, timeless, and of course, fun. Invite your whole family in on the research process so that they can learn to do it on their own as well. When buying, keep in mind sustainable manufacturing, sustainable materials, and support your local businesses and makers.
- As stated above, patience is essential. As you could imagine, if your family is made up of young kids, it may take a while for them to come around to giving up their toys and other personal belongings. Things can get a little hot for everyone in the family, it will take time. But, if you continue to be patient, take your time adopting this new life, and stay encouraging, you and your family can enjoy a more fulfilling life.
- Lastly, communicate with your friends and extended family of your new life change. You may or may not want your kids’ grandparents buying toys as gifts. Maybe you communicate that your family would like to receive quality time as gifts instead of toys or other material items. This can get tricky and a little stressful for everyone involved. So, again, be patient and clear with your communication.
- Focus on experiences. Part of cultivating minimalist values in your children includes displacing the desire for things with the desire for experiences. Talk about and plan activities and vacations. Forego a purchase with your child and choose, together to save that money for an upcoming experience. Spend your weekends on fun, free leisure activities. Over time, the experiences will become what is valued, not the walk through the gift shop.
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The Practical Steps
Ok, so conceptually, it probably makes sense. But how, exactly, do you do this? There is no exact step-by-step framework, but here are some actionable ways to start living a minimalist lifestyle with kids:
- Give options – the difference between saying “get rid of 12 of your books” doesn’t work as well as “pick your 20 favorite books and we’ll keep those, then donate the others to kids who don’t have books”
- Use minimalist storage solutions – for the aesthetic minimalist, children can be a hurdle. Find sleek and modern bins, baskets and trays that fit with the design aesthetic of your home. Storing items that used to clutter up a room can actually contribute to that room’s style, while keeping items out of your line of sight.
- Make it a game – “getting rid of your stuff” doesn’t sound as fun to a kid as “let’s see if we can find 100 things in our house that we don’t need.”
- Put items on probation – if there is uncertainty around removing an item, you can place it in a bin or box that will be removed after 30 or 60 days. If your child claims they use something that you disagree with, you can place it in this bin and see if it’s used. This can help with hesitation or emotions around getting rid of certain things.
- Create a waiting period – Similarly, for purchasing new things that are non-essential, put it on a list, then purchase it 30 days later if your family still feels that it’s a priority.
- Hold a garage sale – an obvious step, but even if you aren’t a fan of the process, it will help to teach your kids about money and show them an immediate, positive result of decluttering.
- Use positive language – instead of “junk” say “clutter.” Instead of “less messy” say “more tidy.” By focusing on the positive end state, it will feel less like an attack and more like a positive, collaborative effort.
- Use the library – you already have access to all of the books, music and movies that your family could need. Save money, space and time by using the library for these items. If you are looking for digital copies, check out Hoopla.
- Borrow first. Borrow often. – Create a network of other families in similar stages and be open to sharing items that aren’t used that frequently. Even items like a crib may be borrowed if you have friends that are in between kids. Returning the favor will also help you declutter items that you may not use all that often.
- Use your surroundings – instead of putting a swing set in the yard, go to the park. Instead of buying a trampoline, go to a trampoline gym once a month. Give your kids experiences without purchasing all of the equipment.
- Have a strategy for gifts – before a birthday party, determine what your kid really needs or wants. Ask friends to put money toward an experience, or pool together to buy one high quality item rather than dozens of low-quality gifts. This may be unusual, but most of your friends and family will actually appreciate the ease of giving this type of gift.
- Cut down on keepsakes – not to sound heartless, but you don’t have to save every piece of art that your child creates or all of their baby shoes and outfits. It can be hard to part with these items, but take scan or take photos and catalog them in a way that you can always have the memory, but not the item.
- Embrace boredom – kids don’t need to be constantly stimulated by toys, activities, games or screen time. By reducing or eliminating these things, it will provide space for kids to be kids and use their imaginations. You probably have a lot of great childhood memories that started with boredom.
- Create systems and communicate them – everything should have a place. Tidying up should be a process. Your family should all know these things. Figure out the systems to run your household, then share them early and often.
- Create rules for incoming stuff – “one in, one out” is a good starting point. When you buy something new, discard a similar, older one that you already own.
- Don’t take it too seriously – it’s easy to feel like you always need to do more when becoming a minimalist. This goes against the whole principle of why you’re doing this in the first place. If decluttering or becoming minimalist starts to feel stressful or cause conflict, take a step back. A fun and easy 30% less is better than a stressful 50% less.
So, is Minimalism Possible with Kids?
Yes. But it takes time. Asking kids to slim down on their possessions and limit the amount of toys they get in the future can be hard. Make these changes with your kids gradual. Involve your kids in the process and allow them to make decisions so they can reap the benefits themselves.
Your kids and your family will be better off for it. Minimalism can be a great way to teach kids how to be frugal with money, patient, intentional, gracious, charitable, and live happier lives.
Hey, your kids might even thank you for it someday.