After my cozy minimalist post the question in my inbox most is: Is it possible to be minimalist with children? My answer: Yes. And here’s how.
I already spoke on my take on minimalism. My view is more about having only enough stuff to feel comfy and happy vs having the least amount of possessions or the smallest home. So, that threshold is different for different people and certainly different for children. I have seen my children be happy playing for hours with one piece of loose leaf paper. That paper turned into an airplane, a dog and a cape… then it turned into a fight so I had to take it away. #toddlers. Does this mean my children’s only toy will be a sheet of paper? No. But they won’t have a playroom stuffed to the gills with blinking, beeping plastic either.
Tips on how to go minimalist with kids:
- be inclusive/mindful
- be respectful
- be flexible
Include the children in the minimizing process. I would be up in arms if John decided he’s tossing half of my wardrobe, and my belongings, and just started bagging my things up. We might end up in fisticuffs, no lie. So be inclusive and mindful of your approach when going minimalist with your children. Include them in the journey. Discuss your reasons, and have them help. Let them know what a good move their making all the way through the process. If the children feel included, you’ll have less push back as you remove their items.
Respect your children’s wishes on certain items. You may be tempted to bag up everything you think should go while your child is at school. Think of how you would feel if you came home from work and saw half of your belongings missing. Rohan has an elmo lovey that looks like it was dragged behind a truck for miles. I would love to toss it and tell him elmo went back to Sesame Street, but that wouldn’t be respectful. If you know your child has one favorite item, but you can’t stand the sight (or sound) of it, try to keep it. Maybe ask that they keep it out of sight or only play with it during certain times of day.
Compromise is key. You may want a 20 item capsule wardrobe for yourself, but your tween daughter may break out in hives at the thought of it for herself. Be flexible in your approach to the minimalism process. Keep the goal in mind and remind your child of it often. This way you can both come to a reasonable middle ground on their items.
These are tips for people with children of all ages.
I have two preschoolers. It would be very easy for me to go the “I’m the boss, you listen to me.” route with this attempt at simplifying our lives, but that would not be healthy.
For those with youngsters my tips are:
Explain in an age appropriate way
When I go through my decluttering of the children’s items, I let them know we are gifting the items to children who may have less items to play with. We talk about how much fun we had with them, and now that we don’t play with it anymore, it’s time to let it be loved by another child. This usually gets them excited to help another kid out. Also explain your reasons for decluttering and minimizing your home’s belongings in a way that they can understand.
Start with your belongings
Let your children see you downsizing your closet, or your collectibles first. Once they see that this is something that mom and dad are happily embarking on, they will likely jump on board. (You can also have them help you with decluttering your belongings so they’re more apt to “let” you “help” them with theirs without a fuss.)
Make it fun
We turn any and everything into a game (or competition) in our house. See who can gather items the fastest, or drag broken toys to the curb first. Find any way to make clearing out the space an enjoyable task and your little ones will be eager to help you.
Make it educational
We are all about sneaking in the learning wherever we can. So have your children help by counting the items they’re donating, or have them hunt for 3 blue items to give away, a big and a small item, or two items with wheels (you get the point). Decluttering is a great task for reinforcing numbers, colors, and several concepts.
Focus on what you have
It may be natural to put the energy on what is going away but try to have young children focus on the items they have left. Point out all the fun they can have with their 3 favorite trucks or what have you. You can also focus on how much more space they have to play and have picnics in their room. Amplify the good remaining to negate the loss of “stuff.”
Pump up the togetherness
The decluttering process in itself is a family activity, but don’t let it end there. As the belongings decrease the space (physically and energetically) increases for more playtime as a family. Remind your children that now that the unused items have found a new home, you can play more games together. Think of other family activities you can do together, whether on the minimalism front or otherwise.
It’s much easier to avoid a case of the “gimme gimmes” if your children aren’t exposed to advertising geared right to them. Avoid commercials and your child will ask for less. You can also stress how cool and multifunctional the toys they do have are, compared to the single use item on the screen. Having control of the ads they see, by using Netflix, or avoiding ads alltogether during screentime with apps like this one (my kids are obssessed) is an excellent option.
I told you how I threw away almost all of my children’s toys…. well… the effort lasted several months. I look around the playroom now and see tons of new items, none of which I purchased, littering the floor. This is when we have to expand our minimalist efforts to extended family and friends. I recently sent the children’s annual Christmas wish list and it had very clear instructions on what not to get for the kids. (I hope they listen lol)
If you have family members as generous as mine here are some tips to help them get on board with your new lifestyle.
Tips for family members:
Explain your mindset and reasons
Your family loves and respects you. They may not understand why you’re telling them not to buy the annual Christmas Hess truck for little Johnny this year. Explain to them your reasons for choosing the minimalist lifestyle and what it means to you and your family. They will be more likely to appease you if they feel included in your reasoning and can understand your mindset.
Offer gifting options that suit you
Let your family know the few items you would like for your children. Thank them for their generosity and remind them that you’re super grateful for anything they choose to give, but sneak it what you’d rather them not send your children’s way.
Ask them to house it for you
This is a negotiation I have a suspicion I’ll have to do this holiday season. My aunts love to pick up random treats for the children. If you live near your family and your children visit frequently, ask them to keep the gifts at their home so the children can always play with it when they stop by.
Offer a compromise
If your family insists on buying what and how much they want (i mean…there are worse problems in the world than over-generous family, amirite?) let them know that you are grateful and will keep them for a certain amount of time, then the pieces that aren’t played with as much will be going to the local shelter or goodwill or other charity.
As you’re going through the decluttering process in your home your children will notice the new energy and clearer home. It helps to keep the conversation going when it’s not just about “taking their stuff out” to donate.
How to keep the cozy minimalist conversation/mindset going:
Let the children in on your reasoning for bringing home the pieces you do. Discuss household items you purchase and let them be a part of the purchasing decision in an age appropriate way. When the children ask for something new, have a conversation, listing the pros/cons and explain fully why you will or wont be purchasing the item. Or have them figure out what they currently have that they’d like to trade for the new item.
Discuss money/living within your means
If your minimalism is related to finances, tell your children and help them understand it. We are starting to explain the concepts of earning, saving and spending money to our son in a more meaningful way. It’s never too early to explain the role money has in your life and help your children understand why you’re making the decisions with it that you are when it comes to your minimalist lifestyle.
Discuss how they feel about the things they have
I was surprised by my preschooler’s reaction to me removing their toys while they were out. It was interesting to see how little his non-favorite toys meant to him. I ask both children now how they feel about certain items that they do (and don’t) play with to gauge what will be going in the next purge and what types of items we will or won’t replace.
Also discuss how they feel about the energy in the home or the space they now have. They may surprise you.
Finally: Be Patient!!
Remember to be patient with children of all ages! This is a process with a natural ebb and flow like anything else in life. You’re on a journey and taking your children with you. Enjoy it, but give each family member time to come around (or not) in the way they need to.
Are you going Minimalist with Kids?
Here are some other posts in the minimalist series:
- Epic Guide to Being Minimalist with Children
- How to: Fitness Minimalism
- I Threw Away (almost) All My Kids’ Toys
- Best Gifts for Kids of Minimalist Parents
- The NO LAUNDRY Experiment!