Before having kids, it’s relatively easy to embrace your inner minimalist. We simply purge what we no longer need, joyously donating bags of unused clothing or dishes in a rush of goodwill and cleaning frenzy. With children, the moment we find out we are expecting we are presented with a nonstop list of things we “need,” from specialized pregnancy pillows and clothing to newborn bottle warmers and breastfeeding “necessities.” The truth is, people were having babies for a long time before any of these must-have items came out – and while they offer convenience, luxury, and maybe even a few minutes of extra slumber, the reality is that very few items marketed these days are really necessary.
As babies turn to toddlers, and then to children, they bring with them a plethora of birthday gifts, artwork, collections, paperwork, toys, clothes, and more. If you’re like me, you constantly find yourself battling the seemingly endless stream of stuff entering the house. Of course, like most moms, I not only battle the stuff but I also pick up cute things at Target far too often!
The first step then, as with anything, is to consider it from an internal perspective before physically attacking the external effects. Why do we buy things? Because we want our kids to be happy. We want them to be stimulated, we want them to be warm, we want them to have a magical childhood – imagine each of these things taking up a basket in your shopping cart. Can we then offer these things another way? Instead of a toy, offer your time. Instead of a cool new movie, teach them the wonders of science in the kitchen.
Consider yourself the curator of your home – many designers will tell you, if something doesn’t offer both function and form, it is rendered useless. So too, can you consider your position on kids stuff. In Marie Kondo’s famed book on minimalism, she advocates tossing anything that does not bring you joy. With children, we are presented a conundrum then, because while a toy may be annoying to us, it could be the prized possession of your child. Our role then, as parents is not only to contain the clutter, but also to teach our children to reject the constant chatter encouraging the purchase of new things.
While these concepts are often large and life-changing, there are some tangible tactics that any parent can employ to help combat the constant incoming of things into our home. Here are 10 key strategies:
- Artwork Management: Have an artwork management system that works. Some ideas include photographing art, hanging special pieces in a gallery area, going through artwork with children to select a specified number to keep, and using photography books to showcase masterpiece while recycling the originals. Have a similar system of incoming paperwork, notices, reminders. Don’t be afraid to input information into your phone or calendar and then recycle!
- Kitchen Clutter: Don’t fall into the trap of having multiple sippy cups, plates, and utensils. Have a drawer full of mismatched lids, straws, and cups? You aren’t alone. Trade it in for one or two good quality pieces.
- Reduce Toys: Have a one-in one-out rule or something similar. Purge toys quarterly by donating, selling, giving, or disposing. Choose toys that will have a long life. Don’t say yes to every request.
- Less is More: Try to just have one sweater/jacket/hat etc per season. There is no need to have multiples.
- Embrace Your Inner Scrooge. You can enjoy the magic of the holidays without giving in to every desire. Simply say no to holiday themed pajamas, craft kits, toys, and more. Use tried and true pieces that have a longer season than one holiday. Avoiding the commercialized encouragement to constantly consume. Your kids will be just fine without a special Santa plate, Halloween hat, or Thanksgiving themes PJs! Keep holiday decorating minimal with special pieces, focusing on quality or heirlooms over sheer quantity.
- Teach them Young From a young age, involve your children in the process of cleaning, tidying, donating, selling, simply saying no, and giving. Talk to them about consumerism. Discuss the world with them, show them how other cultures live, and talk about how “stuff” can weigh you down. Be frugal, teach them the value of a dollar!
- Gaga for Gifts: Follow the “Something to wear/something to read/something they want/something they need rule for birthdays and holidays. Talk about your lifestyle with extended family. For gift occasions, request some of the following non-gift items:
- Museum membership
- Music classes
- Swimming lessons
- Zoo pass
- Aquarium pass
- Family trip
- Waterpark day
- Movie or show tickets
- Do More with Less: Spend money on toys that encourage children to ask “What can I do with this?,” rather than “What can this toy do?” Timeless toys like blocks, kitchen items, magnatiles, simple dolls, trains and cars will stimulate your child for years to come, as opposed to toys that preform a single function with lots of lights and noises!
- Keep It Simple, Silly! The more stuff you have, the more time it takes to maintain. Keep things simple. Children learn what they see so practice minimalism in your own affairs. It’s not just about stuff. Don’t be afraid to let your children be “bored,” don’t fill every weekend and moment with activities. When else will they learn the subtleties of a crack in the wall, the beauty in a cloud drifting lazily overhead, the peacefulness in a quiet moment. A playroom filled with toys; like a life filled with lights and music, offers much stimulation but little opportunity for reflection or growth.
- Overwhelmed by Choice: Children are easily overwhelmed. Whether that means having to pick a book from an overflowing bookshelf rather than from a few carefully selected titles, to choosing a toy from an overflowing toy shelf, kids simply don’t need all that choice. Imagine walking into a shop that’s smushed from floor to ceiling with stuff. Now, imagine stepping into a boutique showcasing just a few beautifully selected items. Close your eyes and imagine how you feel stepping into each shop. Now imagine you are a child, not armed with the decision making prowess of an adult. Make your child’s life simpler and allow them to truly enjoy their belongings and their days by offering less, avoiding over-stimulation.
The more you think about it, the more sense a minimalist lifestyle makes. No matter how much money you earn, the fact is, is we live in a society of want. We live in a world where we are told that brand-name this, holiday themed-that or whatever the item-du-jour is will bring us some intrinsic desire; whether it is happiness, meaning, convenience, or respect. This is a trap, artfully designed by businesses to increase profits, deliver to shareholders, and drive sales. There is nothing inherently wrong with this – that is the function of a corporation, after all. Remind yourself of this. I am not anti-business – In fact, I hold a business degree. It is our job as consumers to be informed and wise in our transactions, whether for ourself or for our kids. Simply put, no product will ever deliver happiness, youth, respect or any other emotion, unless fleetingly. Ever. These traits come from within, and it is our job as parents to impart them to our children.
So this holiday season, practice finding joy in the in-between moments. The present, not the presents. Being minimalist doesn’t have to mean going completely without or having nothing – it means making careful choices, every day.
How do you practice minimalism in your parenting? I would love to hear in the comments below.