Turning toward a minimalist lifestyle has brought so many good things into my life: less stress, less mess, more savings, and most importantly, more energy put toward how I actually want to spend my days. Rather than keeping up with the Jones’ (not like I ever did anyway), I’m finding that life is way better when you just pay attention to what brings YOU joy. What a concept, right? I know, mind b l o w n.
What is minimalism anyway?
To me, minimalism is all about a mindset of simplicity that gives me space to focus on what I truly value. In other words, it’s all about focusing my energy (and time and money) on things I really truly love (like family and travel) rather than on material possessions that only distract me from living my dreams (like having car payments and debt and endless laundry). In my world, this usually means keeping material possessions to a bare minimum.
But what about when you’re a parent? How can you be a minimalist when you have kids, and all the stuff that comes along with them? And even more to the point, how can you raise minimalist kids in an era of overconsumption, unbelievably effective child-targeted marketing (ahem, Paw Patrol), and a lot of really cute shit that is hard to pass up on?
Here are 9 tips to help you get a handle on the kid-clutter and raise minimalist kids.
9 Ways to Raise Minimalist Kids
- Model minimalism. Shoot. This is #1 for a reason, but it’s a tough-y! In order to impart any values onto your children, those values need to be part of who you are (not just something you say). You likely already see this happening with things like outdoor activities, creativity, or even being messy or tidy. Your kids are watching and they often pick up what you are doing. By modelling minimalism, they will feel what it’s like to live this way and reap the benefits.
- Observe. See if you can raise your awareness of how your kids relate to their possessions. I remember watching my daughter zip around her room dumping bins of lego, then onto the next! Dump, scatter, throw, repeat. Seeing that made me realize that a) we have way too much stuff, b) she isn’t caring for her things, c) she isn’t even playing with them! Try assessing the toys to see how valuable they actually are.
- Eliminate the obvious. There are some things that are just complete junk and have no place cluttering up your life and causing you stress. Get rid of them and don’t look back! Things like incomplete puzzles, random plastic toys from Happy Meals, dollar store fidgets, OUT! Trust me, your kids won’t even notice them gone. Every few months, I comb through the toys and take out everything that doesn’t belong, that doesn’t seem to have a place or a purpose.
- Then eliminate some more. Once you purge the junk (the easy part) you are likely still left with heaps and heaps of toys. Sigh. This is where it gets tricky. What you must realize is that something being of good quality does NOT mean that you should keep it. There are SO many amazing products out there, but does that mean you are going to trade your sanity to house them? NO! Absolutely not. Try finding someone or an organization that you know will love to receive a donation and let go.
- Avoid over consumption. This is all about prevention. If you can become more mindful of how you accumulate kid-clutter, you can then work at reducing this. Child-targeted marketing is an incredibly powerful force! Don’t underestimate it! In some ways, we cannot avoid marketing, it’s everywhere. But just be aware that with every new Netflix show that becomes a favourite, there are likely dozens of figurines that your child will then long for! And believe me, I am still working at this one…my daughter owns a Frozen shovel, of all things! I am not about anti-consumption, but instead, I push for mindful purchases. Think carefully about what items you purchase, and what value it will bring to your family.
- Redefine rewards. It’s no wonder they sell HotWheels at the end of the grocery till. “Billy, if you behave yourself at the store I’ll by you a toy!” It’s a trap! But please, resist purchasing toys for rewards! For one thing, you will be drowning in junk in no time. But more importantly, your kids will learn that getting stuff (whatever it might be) is what happens when they’re good. The same idea applies for rewarding with food, right? Once those kids become adults, they pair being a good person or succeeding with getting stuff or getting a treat. It’s the old “I passed my test, I’m going shopping!” or “I worked hard, I deserve a cake!” So instead, try rewarding your kids with relationship-related things, like doing a family activity, playing a game, having a movie night together, and even verbal praise. You can also reward with privileges (like staying up late, or going to see a friend). Do you see how these rewards are in line with values (family, fun, friendship) rather than consumption (toys & food)?
- Organize and care for things. If we truly love and value our possessions, we need to take care of them. Now I’m not saying that we need to go as far as Kon Mari and thank our purse for doing such a good job, but don’t allow your kids to completely disrespect their things. Encouraging them to organize and tidy up after playing is a great start. And destroying books or colouring on clothing just can’t be acceptable: it devalues the items and the energy that went into obtaining them. Try finding a home for all things so that your kids know exactly where to put them at the end of the day.
- Get outside. This is a biggie in my family. After spending a few summer months on a rural property, I realized that nature is the most incredible playground! (Sounds obvious, right? Apparently not!) My girls hardly play with toys and certainly don’t create the chaos that was happening when we spent more time indoors. If you find yourself overwhelmed by stuff, head straight outside and encourage your kids to get creative, silly, and active! And hey, maybe you join them?
- Don’t feel badly. My favourite tip, and one that I am constantly reminding myself of. There is a lot of pressure on parents to have it all (and give it all), but sadly, it never ends! And as kids grow up and interests change, there’ll be an entirely new list of things that you should have! I think we all need a little reality check at times: kids do not need a room full of toys. They just don’t. They do need activities to keep them stimulated. They need to be challenged, and they need attention. They need creativity and play. But they do not need the latest and greatest toys. Let yourself off the hook by realizing that the marketing companies want you to feel mom-guilt for not keeping up. Just duck out now. And maybe you’re kids will be annoyed, but guess what? That’s also OK.
What helps keep things simple in your home? Please leave a comment below! I’d love to hear your tips on how to raise minimalist kids, because as you know, its a process and practice. It takes time and intention. And there are a lot of things that rope us right back into our old ways. So start where you are today and choose one small way to get yourself moving toward a minimalist lifestyle!
Author: Kate Butler
Kate Butler is a writer, a wanderer, a digital nomad. A mother of two, lover to one, and dedicated to living an inspired, colourful life. She co-authors Flipping Moons and has an online therapy practice, LiveLight Counselling.