When people find out that my wife and I have been working towards minimalism (because people rarely ever “arrive”) they will often ask how we do it with kids. This week I wanted to spend some time telling you all some of our best tips and techniques that we have learned and developed along our minimalism journey to help you along the way in yours!
It Is Not Just Decluttering
Sometimes we make the mistake of confusing decluttering or organizing with the practice of minimizing or minimalism. While it is always advisable to organize and sort your possessions in ways that are tidy, aesthetically pleasing and functional, it in no way is a substitution for the act and practice of minimizing. When we declutter it does give the appearance of less but, contrary to the popular adage, out of sight does not mean out of mind. In fact while it may be out of sight it still carries a heavy weight in the psyche which is only as far away as the opening of a closet door.
It Is a Mindset Shift
Minimizing with kids is, in part, a difficult practice to think about because from the time they are born they seem to require more accessories and dongles than a new Apple Mac book! The accessorizing of newborns and infants sets a trajectory of acquisition and collection and carries, for most, through the time they leave the house and then they begin their own families. They they “get to” begin their own collection of stuff.
Also, for so many of us, the idea of having lots of stuff is something that is passed down generationally because it carries with it feelings of security, comfort and even love. From an early age we are taught, either directly or indirectly that “things” are a transference of love and care. While in some baseline levels this is true (i.e. security, shelter, food, water, comfort are all gifts) these baseline gifts are then exploited and used for commercial and capitalistic profit and gain. In order to shift this generational trend and chart a new course we, in our parenting, have to be very intentional to make sure that love is not connected with the giving of things. We also have to be very mindful that we practice what we are preaching in our own lives with our own material consumption. We must do this and model for our children lest we find ourselves on the receiving end of the infamous “I learned it by watching you Dad!” PSA from the 1980’s.
We have also learned that we project a lot of our fear and anxiety of letting go onto our kids. My wife and I found out pretty quickly that our kids had less problems giving things away than we did. The kids would be doing a great job giving their stuff away and we would be the ones interjecting saying “are you sure you want to give this one away, remember we got this for you when you were two…” We were inadvertently placing our connections to their stuff onto them in hopes they would value it the same as we thought we did.
Some Practical Tips and Techniques for Minimizing as a Family
Make It a Game- Most parents, at one point or another, have employed the technique of making work and chores into a game in order to make them more enjoyable and palatable to our kids. Recently my wife and I decided to embark on The Minimalist’s 30 Day Minimalism Game. While it would have been effective and would have modeled well for our kids we decided it would be even more fun and impactful to play the game together as a family. So we made a huge chart to hang on the refrigerator and challenged the kids to the 30 Day Challenge. My wife and I were on a team and the three kids were on a team. Immediately, after the chart was made, the kids went into their rooms and began making their piles. It was awesome. They jumped right in and did an amazing job! At the end of the 30 days not only had both teams hit our marks but we had both exceeded our goal totals and ended up giving away over 1,000 items!
Give Rewards/ Incentives- One of the things that made the game even more fun was that we had a reward for the winners. If the kids went all 30 days and we did not we would take them to a fancy restaurant for dinner, if we tied we would still go to a fancy restaurant for dinner and if the parents won the kids had to take us out for ice cream and they had to pay for it. Needless to say all 5 of us will be going out to a fancy dinner in the near future. Incentives and rewards are a fun way to help the kids get into the practice of minimizing. I do want to warn you to not make your rewards more things. This is, as you could guess, counterproductive. Eventually this will not be necessary and they will begin to realize that the reward is a less cluttered and weighted life.
Keep 1 Give 2- This is a great technique that we use when helping our kids clean out. Most homes are inundated with hundreds if not thousands of tiny plastic toys. We get them from friends and family, every time we get fast food and from our kids schools. These tiny “prizes” will accumulate quickly and become a major culprit of clutter in a home. Our kids kept these sorts of toys in different organizing bins in their room. We developed a little practice a couple of years ago where they will dump one of these bins of the floor and begin to make two piles. They will pick one toy to keep and then pick two to put into the give away pile, then another to keep and two to the give away. This practice is a less painful way to enter into minimizing with kids and their bins of stuff! Plus, at the end of one of these sessions they have given away 2/3’s of their toys which is a pretty incredible achievement!
Teach Them to Value Experiences Instead of Stuff- We have worked really hard in our family to promote and instill the idea that experiences and experiences with each other are infinitely more valuable than anything we could purchase at a store. One of the ways we instill this with our kids is to give them a trip for their birthday instead of a bunch of stuff. I’m not talking about two weeks to Europe but simple day or overnight trips together. This practice is a lot of fun and gives our family more quality time and memories with each other. It also helps us not accumulate more things year after year through the celebration of their birthdays. More than this we are teaching them that there are things are are far more valuable then things and that those things do not rust, cannot be stolen and will never go out of style.