Minimalism and living a clutter-free life has been my journey, not the journey of my family. Living with less has helped me realize my children were not always aware of their fortune and teaching minimalism to children would be a process.
My first realization my children were not aware of their fortune (and probably a little spoiled) was when my four-year-old daughter purposefully dumped out a gallon of bubbles in the backyard. I watched her turn the bottle upside down and gleefully watch the liquid flow onto the ground. I asked her what she was doing and explained she now doesn’t have bubbles. Her response, “It’s ok mama. We can buy more bubbles at Target.” That was the summer without bubbles.
I have learned some powerful lessons when teaching minimalism to children. Here are my tips for teaching your child minimalism (based on my own failures):
1 – Lead by example.
Before you push your family into minimalism, you have to first be a good example of what it looks like to live simply. Declutter YOUR bedroom. Clean out your closet. Have them go with you to take the items to a local charity or Goodwill drop off center. Teaching minimalism to children is easier when they know what the process looks like without it impacting their own belongings.
2 – Practice gratefulness when teaching minimalism to children.
We have friends with entire basements and multiple playrooms full of toys. Toys littered the floors, and it looked like an open box toy store. My children did not have friends with less. They had friends with more, so much more.
Help your children understand how lucky they are to have so many toys and essential needs. Make friends with families who have less than you. If that’s not possible, volunteer through your church or local charities. (I lived in a rich suburban bubble once, I get it.) Help them see their fortune. Maybe sign up for a toy drive, and have your children actively participate in the process.
3 – Involve children in the process
Decluttering a child’s room is easy to do when they are at school or when they are sleeping. I know. I have utilized this method. Don’t get me wrong, sneaky minimalism works with kids. However, you are not teaching minimalism to children when you are giving away their cherished belongings (often plastic junk) in secret.
Explain to your children, in terms appropriate for their age, why you are embracing minimalism. Examples may be “We have too much stuff for mommy and you guys to clean-up every day.” Or, “We are very lucky to have so much stuff, so now we are going to share it with other children who don’t have toys.” I have also explained we are going to start saving more money, which means we will be buying fewer things. This money saved will help us take more family vacations or participate in more family experiences. I then remind them of such experiences.
4 – Create storage areas for certain types of items.
Getting the toy clutter under control will help so much when teaching your kids about minimalism. We have multiple storage containers and baskets for specific items for my kids. When these storage containers get full, the kids get to choose what they keep and what they give away or toss.
The whole idea behind minimalism is to buy LESS stuff. However, it is inevitable they will bring home cherished plastic items (junk) from a birthday party or school event. That is fine. It just has to fit in the storage container for that type of item. I try not to dictate what they can or cannot keep, seeing as how I may not fully appreciate a treasure they adore.
We have a Rubbermaid container in each child’s closet for stuffed animals. They are not pretty, but they are well hidden and hold a decent amount of “stuffies”. Once the containers are overflowing, it is time to declutter those bad boys. I don’t know how we accumulated so many stuffed animals and dolls. I think I’ve only bought a handful in their entire lives. It is amazing how they reproduce and multiply!
When searching for storage container ideas, I love shelves with storage cubbies. They hold a ton of toys, each grouped by type. They also double as a bench or shelf for books.
5 – Enlist the help of relatives
Talk with relatives about your family’s desire to declutter. Start the conversation early, before birthdays and holidays. Communicate anything the child may need. Remember your family enjoys the act of giving gifts, and decluttering is your journey. Just make sure every item has a place in your child’s room. Your kids may surprise you and make space themselves.
Related post: Experience gifts
6 – Cut out TV marketing
If you need another excuse to cut the cord with cable and satellite providers, this is a good one. Billions of dollars are spent on marketing to children every year because it works. Children see advertisements, and then they want more. It is part of our culture. You don’t have to cut out TV altogether, but if you switch to paid providers like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you can cut out commercials to children. (However, cutting out tv with your kids helps too.)
7 – More experiences and less stuff
We retain memories of camping trips, vacations, and memberships to the local museum or zoo. We don’t remember the gifts we got for our birthdays, at least not most years. Give your children the gift of memories. You can often do this without spending much money too. Go on a camping trip, plan a vacation, or visit a local attraction instead of buying more toys.
For birthdays, we plan a family experience instead of a birthday party, every other year. For one, it helps reduce the number of physical gifts coming into our home. It also provides an opportunity for the family to do something extra special together. The kids get to plan the entire day. They choose our meals, our activities, and they do no chores.
Since we buy less stuff for our home, we travel more as a family. My five-year-old is obsessed with San Diego after visiting it for the first time. She is convinced she is going to live there one day, and I can guarantee you she remembers that trip more than any Christmas gift.
8 – Talk about your desired lifestyle regularly
Talk about your lifestyle in your regular conversations when teaching minimalism to children. Don’t wait until you are cleaning out their room to first mention it. Explain how you live differently from others. Focus on the positive side of living clutter-free and how less stuff can make you happier. Point out the positives when they are happening.
For example, when you are on vacation, talk about how that vacation was possible because you saved your money by not buying more stuff. Or, point out how much space they have in their rooms to play since you made room by getting rid of toys they no longer enjoy. You can also talk about the children who benefited from their toys once they were donated. It is such a cool experience to watch your children give with their whole hearts.
9 – Remember teaching minimalism to children is a journey
Most importantly, remember teaching minimalism to children is a journey. It is not a result you will see overnight. Sure, you can go into their rooms and completely clear them out while they are at school one day. However, they will only resent you. Teach them the gratefulness that comes from having so much and choosing to have less, and teach them the power of giving. Help them see the value of experiences over more things. Give them memories.
It is also ok to still give your child things. Here is a list of great minimalist gift ideas for kids.
Enjoy the journey
For our family, the journey to living without clutter is on-going. We are all at different points in our journey. My kids’ rooms still have stick and rock collections. They have jewelry boxes filled to the brim with plastic pieces and prizes won. However, these items bring my children joy.
Continue to work on bringing fewer things into your home and spending less of your money on items that have no purpose. Focus your time and efforts on each other. Go hiking. Take vacations to new cities, and eat good food. That is a clutter-free life.
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