Friday, August 27, 2010

Minimalism and Kids: 5 Rules to Make it Happen

This is Evie! My daughter. :)

        When I told my mom I was pregnant, she started planning immediately for all of the things we had to get for the coming bundle of joy. The baby needed so many things, after all! Oh, and I had to get my license so I could get a car; no one could have a baby without a car! Then, I told her I wasn't planning on getting a car. I would do the same thing I always had and take mass transit and ride my bike, because it was the responsible decision. She still thinks I'm insane.

       The most difficult part of staying true to minimalist ideas for me with my daughter isn't even my daughter, who is 21 months. It is everyone who cares about her and thinks showing love means giving gifts. Coming from a family where giving something usually constitutes some sort of personal sacrifice, it can be awful trying to tell these well-meaning family members my daughter has enough things already. 

       Cruising around other minimalist blogs, I have noticed a common misconception. Many people claim it is impossible to have children and be a minimalist. I have to disagree. Keeping a minimalist home with children is entirely possible, albeit there is more thought involved. Preplanning is a required skill for a minimalist lifestyle, and I've noticed it comes in pretty handy once you have children, too.

       How do you combat these potential problems? Plan for worst case scenarios and be ready to say no. If you aren't firm with those around you, they aren't going to respect your decision to step outside the norm, and later in life, neither will your kids.

1. Tell people you are a minimalist. This can be a somewhat abrupt information session, where you let them know after you begin the 100 Thing Challenge and give up your car, but it is going to easier on people afraid of change - most of us - if it seems more gradual. Making the decision to become a minimalist is a huge personal experience, so allow them to see what you are doing. Tell them about the changes you are making in your life, about how you are making plans to follow your dreams, and how happy this makes you.

2. Set down ground rules for friends and family. When you explain to others that you don't want to receive gifts, for you or your children, they probably won't understand. If it is really a problem, ask those troublesome family members if they'd like to plan an outing for the kids instead. (Coming next week, a list of ideas for outings! Until then, check out Frugal fun for kids!)

3. Prioritize experiences. If the choice is a toy at $X, or fall soccer for $400, show them where you stand by paying for a great experience for them, even if it costs a little more. Over time, the experience will be worth more, if you account for the joy of discovering a new passion and gaining an appreciation for physical activity. Speaking of passion and outings, how about the ultimate in experiences?

4. Travel with your kids. No, I don't mean take them with you on your vacation to Cancun; take them to a developing country. Let them see first hand what other people go through on a daily basis to survive. Get them involved in volunteer activities while you are there, and watch your child's world grow. There is no child anywhere who wouldn't be absolutely changed by this sort of experience, so get to it! Trips to places like Buenos Aires and Bangkok can yield huge cultural experiences for a great price, and there are lots of opportunities for volunteer work.

5. Say no. This is the hardest one of all, because you're going to make some people unhappy. When telling people no, remember how much happier you are going to be afterwards, when you don't feel torn about what to do with an expensive gift. 

This is a huge topic worth lots of discussion and exploration, so plan on seeing more on minimalism with kids in the future!

Money-Savvy Kids: Parenting Penny-Wise Kids in a Money-Hungry World              Frommer's 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up           Wanderlust and Lipstick: Traveling with Kids


  1. Hey, I just found your blog this morning via RowdyKittens. We are new to Minimalism, although without having a label for it we've been headed in that direction for the past 3 years, with 9 dc to boot ;) So, I found this post interesting, because I agree that it can be difficult for parents & grandparents to cut down/back on the stuff for the dc for sure. As unschoolers I still collect some 'educational' stuff over time 'cuz somebody might learn something' from it, but compared to our friends we certainly don't have much.
    I am so excited to start reading Minimalist sites, and feel a whole new world opening up for me & the family.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Oh, and it was a huge boon to stop gift-giving about 10 years ago at Christmas, but was certainly disappointing for the Grandma's. But they've survived!!

  2. I too came from Rowdy Kittens...

    I´m with you on this. I have a 3-year old and I had a car until 2 weeks ago. I always rode the bike too, but now I wanted to fully commit to making us get out of our butts... Having the car handy was too much of a temptation not to use it far too often. But now I love that we either just walk or bike around.

    I´m a minimalist too and it´s hard to make people understand. My girls grandma tougth I was being really selfish the day I got rid of most of my girls toys-junk... As if the only reason was to have less work cleaning the house, when in fact I wanted to declutter that little mind.

  3. Hi Karen -Labels only help really with a dedicated commitment, anyhow. I know what you mean. I've been joking about being a minimalist for years, but I never made the full plunge until recently. I understand about the educational materials, for sure. I imagine when I homeschool my daughter I'll probably do the same thing. :) Thanks for visiting and the comment!

  4. Hi Marilia -

    Congratulations on getting rid of the car! That is the hardest step for so many when they decide to try minimalism, and taking the plunge can be very intimidating.

    As for the grandma issue, I certainly feel your pain. My mother babysits my daughter while I am at school most of the year, and it is incredibly aggravating to come home everyday to some new, plastic toy that won't last a month. I haven't been able to make her stop yet, so all of the new toys stay at her house - which stacked to the ceiling with clutter. We are currently arguing about Christmas (already?!), but I think I have her convinced to buy a family zoo pass instead of lots of garbage, so she can spend more time with my daughter. I suppose we'll see!

    Good luck with the grandmother. She sounds like she's not an easy woman to deal with. Thanks for the comment!