Raising kids is never easy, no matter who you are. It becomes a little more challenging when you are a parent who has chosen to live outside the “norm” by adopting a minimalist mindset and lifestyle. From a hoarder-in-training to a no-shopping minimalist was a transition I never envisioned myself making. If there is anything I have learned on my journey it is that no one could have pushed me into it. Especially my parents. If anything, I have created a minimalist home because I never wanted to find myself drowning in trinkets and clutter like I’ve seen my own family do.
So how do you walk the fine line between encouraging your children to live a more minimalist lifestyle without making them feel so deprived they turn into adults who never get rid of anything? Well, we’ll have to wait a decade or two before I know for sure, but I think I’ve found some of the answers.
Stop buying them toys
It’s common knowledge that parents around the world find it extremely frustrating when kids discard their brand new toy so that they can play with the box it came in instead. I say, why not skip the toy and just give them the box?
With our oldest daughter, we would spend hundreds of dollars at Christmas and her birthday only to find ourselves angry and frustrated when she wouldn’t use any of the new things we had bought her.
Now, after having 2 more kids, we understand that for kids, it’s never really about the toys. Sure, they get excited to open some new gadget that they saw in commercials, but at the end of the day all our kids really want is to feel loved by us and accepted for who they are.
They want to play and use their imaginations. They want to learn about the world around them. It’s in their nature to crave those hands-on, real-life experiences that you can’t get from a poorly made, highly marketed toy.
Which is why we stopped buying toys. Yeah, really. There are some toys that our kids really get into and can use their imaginations with. Things like Legos, costumes, and board games. Those types of things are items we will purchase, but more often than not we buy them experiences.
Encouraging experiences over things
About 5 years ago we lived in a house that was twice the size of our current one. See our full story here. When I look back on the photos I took during the 2 years we lived in that house most of them were taken inside the house. On the couch. In the kitchen. Maybe a few in the playroom.
When I look at pictures I’ve taken after our downsize, most of our photos are outside. We’re chasing waterfalls, hiking mountains, visiting the Science Museum or taking 6-mile bike rides. This is the life I want for my kids. I want to show them how much world there is outside of the walls of our home.
Managing their money
When our kids do want new toys or gadgets, they often purchase them themselves.
I used to not believe in paying kids for certain house chores. Things like making a bed or feeding the dog should just be part of life, right? Not something you deserve to be paid for.
Well, the funny thing with kids, and all humans really, is that it’s a lot easier to form healthy minimalist habits when there is something in it for you.
So we started using a chore chart system where they get paid .10 cents for each day they make their bed. They get .25 cents for feeding the pets and .50 cents when they pick up dog droppings. In fact, they started their own pooper scooper business in our neighborhood.
When they get paid each Monday, their money gets divided into 3 envelopes: giving, saving and spending.
They each choose what they want to save up to buy and then add their money to it each week until they have hit their goal.
Teaching them to manage money like this has not only given them a jump start on understanding finances better, but also forces them to really think about the things they want the most and then work for it.
Don’t limit their stuff
My biggest struggle as a minimalist parent has been just allowing mess and clutter to happen. As I said, there is a fine line between encouraging minimalism and enforcing it so much that they grow up resenting it.
To avoid them feeling forced to live a life with less, I allow them to keep the toys they get from family or ones they buy themselves. Whatever they don’t donate stays in our house until they do. My minimalist journey is mine and while I will encourage them to see the freedom in it that I have found, I do my best to avoid forcing them into it.
People Have An Expiration DateIf I spent all day talking about things or obsessing over objects and toys...I would be doing the exact opposite of what I want to do. I would be giving materials and clutter all the power. Instead, I choose to focus my words on learning and growing and living.
I do my best every day to show them the value of things that can’t be bought. Beyond adventures and travels, I want them to see value in people and the relationships they form. I hope they grow with the understanding that their action figures and Barbies may still be taking up a landfill in 100 years, but the people in their lives have an expiration date and therefore they should be valued.
Raising kids is never easy, but I hope through our minimalist lifestyle they are learning to see a bigger, brighter side of the world than I allowed myself to see at their age.
Renee Benes blogs about her and her family’s downsized life and journey to debt freedom on her blog, The Fun Sized Life.