7 Minimalist Lessons I’ve Learned From My Kids

“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” —Angela Schwindt

Children add joy, purpose, and fulfillment to our lives. They bring us smiles, optimism, and cheerful attitudes. And given the chance, they will teach us valuable lessons about life.

Certainly, growing children (physically, socially, intellectually, and emotionally) have added a new dimension to our minimalist journey, but I would’t want it any other way. In fact, some of the most important lessons about life and minimalism have been learned by watching my children. Consider these…

1. One neighborhood friend is worth more than a basement full of toys. My two kids can spend countless hours with their neighborhood friends running from yard to yard, playing tag, catching bugs, or swinging on swings. They can spend every afternoon and evening together without being bored. But take them away from their friends for one Saturday at home with their toys… and boredom almost immediately sets in. The joy of playing alone in a roomful of toys quickly fades. LIFE LESSON: Relationships with others are always more exciting and fulfilling than possessions.

2. Clothes are not worn to impress others. My First Grade son has two requirements for his clothing: 1) that he can get them dirty and 2) that he won’t get too hot. He has never worn a shirt to impress a girl or a pair of slacks to impress his teacher. (He has worn a shirt and slacks because his parents asked him to, but that’s a different subject). I don’t think the idea of trying to impress others by wearing the latest fashions has ever crossed his mind. He feels no pressure to conform or impress. And thus, he’s simply content with a clean tanktop and shorts. LIFE LESSON: Wear clothing for its usefulness rather than as an attempt to impress others.

3. Life’s pains are healed best by a hug and a kiss… not new toys. My daughter falls down often (as most four year olds do). And when she skins her knee, she only wants one thing – her mommy to pick her up, give her a kiss, and tell her that everything is going to be okay. She doesn’t ask for a new toy… she only desires love and security. She has found the antidote to pain and wouldn’t trade it for anything else. LIFE LESSON: Don’t look towards “things” to soothe the pain we encounter in life. Instead, seek love, acceptance, and security.

4. Fancy possessions and character are completely unrelated. I love helping in my son’s First Grade classroom because Kindergarten and First Grade may be the only places left on earth where labels don’t exist. At age 7, everyone is accepted and everyone plays with everyone else. Each person starts the day on equal footing. Nobody is pre-judged by the house that they live in or the clothes that they wear. Oh, that our world would begin to resemble a first-grade classroom. LIFE LESSON: Judge people by their hearts and character, not by the meaningless externals of life.

5. Too many toys in a box only get in the way of the good ones. A funny thing happens after holidays. A mountain of new toys enter my childrens’ lives. The toys are initially meant with incredible excitement. However, after two or three days, they are pushed to the side as my kids return to the tried-and-true toys they had been playing with long before the holiday ever occurred. The new toys we thought would make them happier, don’t. Instead, they just start to get in the way. LIFE LESSON: We often think that material possessions will bring lasting excitement into our life, but most of the time they just end up getting in the way.

6. The more toys you play with, the more time you spend cleaning them up. Because we clean up every night before bed (well, almost every night), our kids understand this pretty simple equation. The more toys we pull out of the closet, the more time we spend cleaning them up. And conversely, the less time we spend actually enjoying them. LIFE LESSON: The more possessions we own, the more of our time is required to care for them, clean them, organize and sort them.

7. A hike in the woods beats a new video game any day. Video games simply can not compete with the graphics, the full-sensory experience, or the relationship of a family walk through the woods. Never have, never will. And for that matter, nothing else produced on television can compete either. LIFE LESSON: Turn off the television. Go outside. Live life, don’t just watch it.

Perhaps children are in this world because we as grown-ups have so much left to relearn…

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    One of the best minimalist posts I’ve read in a while. Well, the best in this week to be honest, but certainly striking and to the point. When do we forget our primeveal minimalism and fall in the trap? Teenagehood?

  2. says

    As they get older though, you will need to remind them of these realities. Marketing of the idea that you need specific stuff to bring happiness starts young.

  3. Cheryl says

    This is so true. Minimalist lesson from my 3 year old: He’s had his preschool back pack for about 2 years now and it’s getting kind of grubby. Not torn, just really in need of a wash. I mentioned getting a new one to him, thinking he might want a fun character one or something. His response: I don’t need a new backpack, Mom, I already have one. Lightbulb! He’s absolutely right. Why get another one when the one he has is completely sufficient. I think of this statement often when making new purchases. The wisdom of a 3 year old.

  4. says

    Awesome. #4 is so true. My wife and I were just commenting about the circle of friends that our oldest (who is in first grade) has. Innocence prevails and everyone is on the same level. The thought of watching this come undone as the years progress is sad.

    #7 is near and dear. We feel fortunate to have to beg our kids to come in for dinner.

  5. Karen says

    Not exactly minimalist, because it involves spending money, but here’s my experience with children and nature…

    A few weeks ago, I spent a couple hundred dollars on bird feeders, seed, a dish for a bird bath, an identification guide, and outdoor kits with kid-sized binoculars, flashlight, compass, etc. It is by far the best money I’ve ever spent on our family. The kids spend hours curled up in our old tent, reading books and watching the birds. They’ve explored nook and cranny of the yard and never want to come inside. They even sleep out there!

    When I mentioned this to my father, he reminded me that my brother and I did the same thing when we were my kids’ age. It made me smile. My fondest memories of childhood revolved around summers spent exploring the creek near my house. It’s wonderful to see my kids have the type of experiences.

    • Dustin says

      Minimalism isn’t about not spending money. I think it’s more so closing to spend it on experiences rather than things that either aren’t practical or won’t be remembered. It seems to me like your money was spent creating an experience for your children and having more life experiences is one of the most fundamental building blocks of minimalism.

  6. says

    “Live life, don’t just watch it.

    I love this phrase – this was my biggest realization in limiting my TV watching time… I would rather have the amazing experience myself than watch a two-dimensional moving picture of someone else having an amazing experience!

  7. says

    A couple months ago, we took all our 5 year old’s toys out of his room and put them in the spare room. He had not been taking care of them and our idea was to give him one toy back per week (if he had behaved) of his choice and only let him have a set number of them back at all. Well, 2 1/2 months went by and he only asked for one! Guess he doesn’t really need all the rest! We’ve been telling the grandparents this all along………

  8. says

    I love this post! My favorites are the first two. My 7 yr. old daughter fits right into those descriptions. She could play with our neighbor for days on end. Sometimes the minute she gets up she wants to know “what Lily is doing today?”. She never tires of playing with Lily. She also dresses herself and there is clearly no concern with what others think.

  9. Antonio says

    I once heard the following:
    “There is a certain danger in having too much; a man with two watches is never sure what time it is, a man with one watch always knows”
    As I get older and observe the world in which live today and observe people and their attachments to their possessions, the more I appreciate not having too much. I live not being a slave to “things”

  10. Deb says

    I love all of these! My favorites are the ones about neighborhood friends and first grade classrooms. My kids (and I!) are blessed to have incredible neighborhood friends – next door in fact! My chosen profession is first grade teacher. It doesn’t get much better than first grade. Seriously. Everyone should spend time in a first grade classroom. :)

  11. says

    My niece understood the problem with consumerism when she was four years old, as she said: “We always want a new toy but when we get it, we then want something else”.
    Life with my 18 month-old is certainly teaching me to live in the moment, with no hurry in the world.

  12. says

    I love this post! When I read the lessons, I just couldn’t help but think about my own kids. It’s amazing what they teach, both through the things they do right and the things they do wrong. :)

  13. says

    Good post, although cant say I fully agree with 7…

    I have many a fulfilling social and emotional experiences in computer games (as well as in real life before anyone says ;)) and by default since they engage the five major senses they too are “ull-sensory experience(s)”.

    Also to say they “never will” is denying the progress of gaming entertainment and technology, especially with the rise in popularity of interactive gaming such as the wii and the kinetik (sp?).which promote activity and increased social gaming experiences.

    But like I say, I’m a geek, so a bit biased towards tech ;)

    I should say that I am not saying gaming is better than a walk in the woods, I love my occasional trips around the many historic ruins near me, I’m just not saying its no worse when engaged with correctly.

  14. says

    Awesome post. And so totally true. Our son is two, and we’re learning those same lessons from him. He’s happiest when he’s roaming around in the backyard, playing with sticks and rocks, digging in his sandbox, throwing sticks for the dog…

  15. says

    I agree with Christie Z. The older the kids get, the more these rules fly out the window. We used to have to practically force our son outside once he got video games! We see the same thing going on with our grandchildren. They are 8 and 6. I think it depends on the household they grow up in too!.

  16. Di says

    Joshua, your posts are always so inspiring and practical. That’s what keeps me looking forward to your next one. My son is grown now and I don’t have grandchildren yet, but when I do, I will keep your ideas in mind. They are very similar to the way we raised our son. My husband and I always limited the amount and types of toys he had. He could never understand why his friends had to spend Saturdays cleaning their rooms. Since we kept things to a minimum and we cleaned up as we went along this was never a problem. We wanted to encourage his imagination as well as encourage him to play outside. We took long walks with him and he loved it, even when people thought we were being mean “for making him walk.” Even today, he does not sit around the house playing games or watching TV/DVDs, but loves to be active —-running, working out at the gym, swimming, camping, bicycling, exploring, hiking, rock climbing. It is important to remember that the values we instill in young children will remain with them for life.

  17. says

    Children don’t know how to be pretentious unless someone educated them to do so, which creates the problem associated with unnecessary possessions, clutter, and debt created from buying unaffordable things.

    Not only do adults need to relearn certain practices, they also need to unlearn a lot of lessons accepted by faulty but popularly accepted assumptions taught when growing up.

  18. says

    Thanks for the post! I’m going to take more time this week to enjoy the ‘little things’ that are truly the big things.
    Through the eyes of a child…. :)

  19. Adam says

    It’s incredible of you to be so sure that a hike in the woods won’t ever get surpassed by those two things.

    Can I express my opinion as fact too?

  20. Jesse says

    I… HATE… KIDS!

    I’m quite young and I remember the kindergarten and first grades very well. A very frustrating time for me. Why?

    -The inclusiveness of kids means they disrespect my personal boundaries and get in my face.

    -Total lack of hygiene standards is offensive (would we tolerate it in older people?), and when concerning ingestion, takes away my appetite.

    -All play and no work. Again, do we adore adults that greedily leech off the sweat of others?

    -Kids are unwilling to accept counter-intuitive evidence.

    -Kids think they deserve special treatment even though they do nothing to deserve it.

    -They are impudent and inconsiderate, blurting the first thing that comes to mind.

    -#7 is right. Kids think they can take on the world, so they turn down TV/film/books/mentors and other sources of wisdom.

    Admiration of these “qualities” does not mollify my anger at them. How do you manage to find them not only tolerable, but enviable?

    In case anybody is offended by my cyberpresence, I am here because I am by nature a minimalist.

    • Alyssa says

      To be offended, I’d first have to value your opinion. Your hate is self destructive and a total waste if your time.

  21. Jeanna says

    you’re not really worth my time…so i will just say this…. I feel sad that you not only have ‘hate’ in your life but that you also feel the need to get on here and talk about it. is this really how you choose to spend your ‘minimalist’ time? i feel sorry for you.

  22. says

    A couple of weeks ago my 6 year old decided he wanted to go on an adventure with Grandpapa – he got his back pack – his collection jar – his water bottle – enough snacks for them both – his reptile/amphibian identification book and his Grandpapa and went out for a rainy walk in the woods.

    I love the independence at this age – the make it happen attitude. Nature calls – our job is to let our kiddos follow it.

  23. says

    Absolutely true and very well said. Somehow we all know these statements to be true but often find fleeting in practice. Number 3 about the hug and kiss ring very true with me and most parents. I wrote a blog post about the value of “kissing ” booboos.” http://www.maryannastea.com/blogs/news
    You eloquently speak about simplicity and minimalism in our daily lives regarding posessions. The same holds true for our food and beverages as well. The sooner we realize that simple foods and beverages made from real food ingredients are better for us, the sooner we will reach a healthier state.

  24. RG says

    Great post! Do any first grade boys care about their clothes to impress others though? Unfortunately, it really changes around middle school. :(

    Jesse – please don’t reproduce.

  25. Finn says

    Nice post, but I also really disagree with point 7. I know you only mention TV and video games, but you could easily extend that to books – basically the same principle. As a kid (and to this day), few things made me happier than whiling away hours reading books. They sharpen your imagination, they introduce you to new worlds and ideas you’d never even imagined and they generally enrich your mind in a way that, I would assume, a minimalist should applaud. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fond of going out into the woods as well, but life would have been a much poorer experience so far if I had had to do it without the inspiration and richness of the books I devoured as a kid. A matter of personal opinion.

  26. says

    Great points. One I would add is that kids are one of the best sources of lessons on work life balance and orientating life around what is most imporatnt based on core values!!!

  27. Jodie says

    I just started following you and have loved every post. This one really hit the nail on the head but as a mother of a 5 year old who is the only grandchild on both sides, how do I reign in the gifts from family members without seeming unappreciative?

  28. says

    I really am enjoying your writing. Kids really do see the world in a much purer way. Sadly where I am from even in first grade that is easily being corrupted. Thus post is 4 years old it appears. I wonder if you have seen the changes. Things change so quickly now.

    I am working towards minimalism and hope my children internalize it’d value.

  29. says

    Yes! 1,000 times yes. Especially items 1 and 7. We live in a nice suburban neighborhood with zero kids outside playing despite the fact that probably 80% of the homes have kids. We have four kids under seven. I would love nothing more for them to be able to knock on a door and go play with some neighbors. But that doesn’t happen around here. It is a constant source of frustration for me. I hope our next neighborhood is better. GREAT post!

  30. Lizzie says

    I enjoyed this post. It’s a reminder about the important things in life.

    I have 2 boys aged 10 and 12 who love computer games and tv. They spend a lot of time on both.

    I’m not worried though. They have opted for the type of console where they can talk to their friends while they play. Not only those they are at school with but those who have left for pastures new. – they know the value of friendships.

    They also recently asked for, saved for and researched about new pets. One son has fish (which have recently bred) and the other is preparing for a gecko. We also walk our dog and play with the cat every day. – they know the importance of looking after each other.

    They help around the house with jobs appropriate to their ages, usually alongside me and each other. – they appreciate the value of teamwork in keeping the house ‘together’ and being part of a team.

    I think we have the balance right.
    I’m very proud of my children and learn from them every day. :-)

  31. Martha says

    The most important lesson I learned from having children was realizing how selfish I am. Having to be totally responsible for precious and helpless children really made me take a good look at my self. Still learning this lesson! I am a better person for having had them. My older brother reminded me today that it is relationships that matter. Nothing else will stand the test of time. Oh, and playing in the dirt is good for us.

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