“Simplicity, clarity, singleness: these are the attributes that give our lives power and vividness and joy.” – Richard Halloway
The minimalist life holds benefits for all.
Numbers of parents think a minimalist lifestyle is simply out of reach because they have children—as if the two are somehow incompatible. But that is not the case. As I explain in Clutterfree with Kids, the principles of minimalism are completely within reach no matter how many children you have or where you live.
And not only is minimalism completely possible with children, it is a lifestyle filled with benefits for them! Since becoming minimalist, I have been continually amazed at some of the lessons my two young children have learned. Over the past years, they have learned:
- That we don’t need to buy things to be happy. We own far fewer things than we did years ago. We purchase far fewer things than we did years ago. Yet, we are far happier than we were years ago. Go figure.
- That we don’t need to live life like everyone else. Even though they are not quite old enough to understand all of the intricacies of our minimlist life, they completely understand that we have made a decision to live different than most people in our neighborhood. Our lifestyle has given them permission to live a counter-cultural life.
- That we live within our means. Although our children are not balancing our checkbook, they do hear us speak often about debt, the joy of not being in it, and our desire to stay out of it.
- That we think carefully about our purchases. Because we believe in giving them ample opportunity to find/grow in their interests, we still need to buy things like toys, school supplies, art supplies, and sporting goods. We just think through our buying decisions more carefully. This is an invaluable lesson for children to learn as they get older. We no longer buy something just because we have the money, we buy things because we truly need them.
- That we gladly share with others. Since we became minimalist when they were young, they have grown up watching us donate many of our belongings to others. They have seen generosity in action.
- That clutter is a drag. They have seen how minimalism creates a home where clutter is scarce. And when it does show up, it can be quickly remedied—and usually is.
- That we love spending time with them. Our minimalist home has allowed us the opportunity to spend less time purchasing, cleaning, organizing, and sorting things. We have gladly replaced that time managing stuff with spending time with them.
- That we are in control of our stuff. Not the other way around.
Minimalism with children is entirely possible. However, it does require a little more effort, a little more thoughtfulness, and a lot more patience. As you embark (or continue) on the journey, here are some practical steps to consider:
1. Explain your decision. Your children are thinking human beings. Therefore, no matter their age (our son and daughter were only 5 and 2 at the time), sit down and explain your decision to them – include the reasons why you are choosing to become minimalist and the benefits you are hoping to receive from it. And because teenagers typically jump to far-reaching conclusions, assure them that your decision does not mean you are no longer going to buy anything… it just means you are going to intentionally think through your purchases in the future.
2. Begin minimizing your possessions first. Minimize your personal belongings first and your shared family belongings second. It would be unfair to ask your child/teenager to thoroughly adopt the lifestyle until you have done it personally. Also remember, you will learn valuable lessons when you remove your personal clutter – valuable lessons that will put you in a better place to help your son or daughter navigate their journey.
3. Remove the items they do not use first. Minimalism is about paring down to only the essentials. It is about removing the things in our life we don’t need so we can focus on the things that we do. And while most homes are filled with things that are not needed, they are also filled with things that are not even used. Start there. You can begin by removing the clothes they no longer wear, the toys they no longer they play with, and the other things they no longer use. That’s an easy first step. As you begin there and talk them through the process, they may begin to naturally start asking themselves the question, “How much of this other stuff do I really need anyway?”
4. Focus on the positives. As you begin to see the benefits of minimalism in the life of your children/teenagers, point them out and focus on them. Just because you are observant enough to notice them, doesn’t mean they see it quite as readily as you. Does their room appear tidier? Do they spend less time cleaning? Is it easier to find things? Can you notice less stress or less distraction? Are you more relaxed as a parent? Encourage each other with the positive benefits that you notice.
5. Treat them to fun experiences. One benefit of minimalism is that you spend less and have more time on your hands – so you should have some extra disposable income and the time to do something with it. Use it to create fun, family experiences. Do something new that everyone will enjoy. Take a trip to the beach, the amusement park, or a weekend in the city. You don’t need to spend all of your new found savings on one trip (especially if you are trying to get out of debt in the process), but a practical experience that highlights the benefits of your decision can go a long way in helping your children understand your minimalist decision.
6. Choose your purchases carefully going forward. You will still need to buy things going forward. Children will outgrow their clothes, their toys, their school supplies, and their sporting goods. They are not going to stop growing and developing. You are absolutely still going to buy things going forward… you are just going to put more thought into your purchases than you did in the past. Replace “Do I want this?” with “Do I need this?” And help your son or daughter ask the same question. It’s one of the most important lessons they will ever learn.
7. (A word about gifts). We have taken the approach of still allowing our relatives the opportunity to buy gifts for our children. It is an expression of their love. They desire to show their love by giving gifts and our children feel loved when they receive them. We did not want to take that away from our family. However, we have tried to communicate with our family ahead of time and offer them a suggested gift list of things they need prior to birthdays and holidays.
8. Be patient. Be patient with your family. Offer them plenty of time to adjust to minimalism rather than being pushed into it. Minimalism is a lifestyle that needs to be believed in and adopted. Show them plenty of patience. And after all, if it took you 30 years to adopt the lifestyle, it would be foolish to assume they will fully adopt it in 30 minutes… or even 30 days.
Let me assure you. Minimalism is completely achievable and beneficial for you and your family.
I’m struggling with this because I’m the only adult in the house who wants to be more minimalist. So for example if my children get money for a birthday I want to put it in their savings until there’s something they really want. My partner wants to take them to the toy shop to let them choose something. And then of course they want everything they see and end up buying anything without carefully thinking about how much play they’ll get from it. He thinks I’m mean for not letting them spend the money on whatever they want. Similarly if I ask them to go through toys or books and select some they no longer need that makes me mean.
My older children are old enough for me to know that the toys/games etc will naturally reduce as they get older so I don’t really stress about how much my younger children want to keep at the moment but I’d still like to minimise the amount being brought in to keep it to a semi manageable level of toys.
Try explaining why you want less stuff. For me, it’s causing me stress and making me not enjoy living in my house as much as I could. After a long day, I would love to be able to EASILY put my shoes away and sit on the couch. I get aggravated when I have to move things out of my way to even sit down. I also can’t stand when I can’t find something and I think that will happen less if we have less clutter to look through.
I’m realizing that just because something CAN fit doesn’t mean we have to keep it. If its too hard to spend 30 seconds to put it away than why should we keep it? “I” need space in my house too.
Explain how something makes YOU feel vs saying THEY need to change. Hopefully your family will try and compromise.
I’m a beginner too so here we go :)
Dale M. Crist says
Very nice article, exactly what I needed. Very useful post i really appreciate thanks for sharing such a nice post.THANKS
What would you recommend about Minimalism as your kids grow? My husband and I want to stay in our home that only has 3 bedrooms and our hope was to always have 3 kids. He worries that once we have another child, we will have outgrown the house because our oldest (boy) may be 8-9 years old before the 3rd child may arrive and his question is, “How do you ask a 15 year-old to potentially share a room with a 7-8 year old?” What would be your advice? I keep thinking, there are plenty of families all around the world that don’t have the luxury of putting every child in their own room and people make do with what we have, it can’t be as bad as he’s making it sound. Am I on the right track? I really want us to live below our means and we plan to pay off our house as early as possible, in the next 9-10 years. He worries that having another child could derail our plans to make this house work for us long-term. Really appreciate all your work in sharing your passion of living simply!
Hi! I was the 2nd of 5 kids in a 4 bedroom house. My two brothers always shared, and my sisters and I rotated who had their own room. That meant I was 15, sharing with my 8 year old sister at one point :). There was occasional conflict but for the most part it was just understood that that’s how it was. Just make sure to observe boundaries and give your teenager space other ways. I think especially having minimal toys and stuff in the room will help too, so there’s not a fight over clutter! Good luck!
Hi! I was the 2nd of 5 kids in a 4 bedroom house. My two brothers always shared, and my sisters and I rotated who had their own room. That meant I was 15, sharing with my 8 year old sister at one point :). There was occasional conflict but for the most part it was just understood that that’s how it was. Just make sure to observe boundaries and give your teenager space other ways. I think especially having minimal toys and stuff in the room will help too, so there’s not a fight over clutter! Good luck!
Reema Sahay says
Hi, I am from India. This was the first blog on Minimalism that I chanced upon about 2 years back. Your story resonated with me. I did not want to spend all my free time into cleaning and organizing. From that day to this, I have taken small steps into Minimalism. Of course, there’s a long way to go but it all happens organically.
I have been reading this blog for a long time. Today, I just decided to thank you for inspiring others.
Here’s a good tips resource for helping teens sort through their wardrobes. In my experience being supportive and first being a role model in one’s own minimalism is essential to getting our teens onboard. https://stylerevivalist.com/2016/06/09/7-steps-to-guide-a-teens-closet-clean/
Michael Boyink says
There’s a whole community of families simplifying and downsizing out there. For some it’s just a way of life. For others it’s a process they go through in order to move into a new life – one of fulltime RV travel, living fulltime on boats, moving into tiny houses, or into big city apartments. We have links to all of their blogs in the resources section on our website: https://ditchingsuburbia.com/resources
I think that it might be easier with young children but when you are starting with your teenagers and you live in a upper-class town with fancy people and fancy things, it is very difficult for kids to not want to “be like everyone else”. I think a good parent resolves to do what they believe in and allow their teenagers to make their own decisions. It’s teaching by example not forcing your will on them. You attract more flies with honey! ;)
Amy Sproles says
We downsized and as a result have a lot of clutter. We are getting the clutter out. My kids are learning the joy of having less. It is a slow going process, but it will be worth it.
I have a question: how can I get my 5 year-old daughter to donate the toys she doesn’t use or has outgrown? She falls apart every time we suggest donating anything, but she has so much she can’t even find everything she has! We are very generous people and, having lots of things, we give and donate regularly and are not attached to things. I want to declutter but don’t want to traumatized her either! She seems to find reassurance in things… Any tip?
I realize this is a very late reply but honestly I would leave it alone. I have 3 kids and you I’ve found that it is better to honor them where they are at. Each kid is different. Some are more attached to their stuff than others which is simply a difference in temperament. I’ve seen some parents simply go through their kids stuff and give it away without consulting them or asking them at all. I think this is very disrespectful. I would never just start tossing my spouse’s stuff out because I decided I wanted the minimalist lifestyle. That would be a sure way to create resentment and probably distance him away from the lifestyle forever.
I would simply wait and eventually she will on her own want to donate some things. Every once in a while, you can simply say I’m going to the thrift store or having a garage sale. Would you care to donate anything and if she says no, just accept it. It will change as she gets older. Right now, however, she likes her things and that is okay. Just remember her feelings matter and honoring her choices is just as important as the adults.
Mary Eileen says
Beautiful answer! Your child is fortunate to have you as a parent.
If they are things that are not used, I gather them after the children are sleeping, and tuck them away in a box. After a month or two, if they have not been missed or asked for, then I donate them. If they are asked for, then I give them back. I also cull clothes that are too small or torn or stained while doing laundry. It is an easy time to get rid of items not fit to wear any longer.
That is what I do too, Michelle! It works really well. If I asked them (5 and 3), they’d insist on keeping everything!! This way, I noticed what they never play with, and tuck it away to see if it is missed. 95% of the time, they never ask for it again.
When my kids are at school I go through their things and take out the stuff that they don’t even use anymore and they do t even know it’s gone. And if they do see a smaller and smaller amount over time I explain to them it was broke a or had a year or even that some other kids didn’t have any toys and they usually agree that it is ok to get rid of the stuff. And most of the times start to declittwr themselves and bring me bags of toys. The feeling of giving to those who have less makes them happy now.
Just an idea…..let her lead the cleaning process. 1) Suggest to her that she has many toys and that she could donate some of them to help out less fortunate kids. I did this after learning about a family that lost all their belongings in a fire. I sent my then four year old’s toys and outgrown clothing to the fire loss family’s three year old in an effort to give back in our community. (Disclaimer: It was right before Christmas and my child was NOT into it so be forewarned ?.)
2) Only donate things she chooses. Give her the decision making power. They are HER things so when you come in to clean and choose what to donate, it violates her sense of control and is probably fueling the tantrum/meltdown. Start small and just have her choose which toys to part with so her things are not disappearing without her knowing about it. Think of it from her vantage point. Mom is taking away MY stuff. If you do it when she is away, like I used to do, this may make it worse. If her toys mysteriously vanish while she is at Grandma’s, for instance, she will become wary the next time she visits Grandma. Definitely leave it up to her and let it all be her idea. You may be surprised what she picks to part with when she chooses to declutter. I usually am when my six year old helps declutter her toys.
3) Really build it up to get her on board. Maybe take her to a hospital, homeless or battered women’s shelter, Goodwill drop off location, or the fire department and she could could see where the items will go (not if that would traumatize her further obviously ?). I have found with my girls that this gets them more excited to donate. It gives young kids a concrete/tangible idea of what is happening with their belongings and may help win over your daughter.
4) Let her pick three things to donate the first time. Start very small to get her on board. Then, have her select the items and take them to the donation drop point with you. If you really talk it up and get her excited, it may help to eliminate the meltdown. Maybe? Hope this helps!
mon green says
This is a great article. We are in the process of handing our large house over to my sister and her kids and paring down everything enough to move us and our 2 kids into a 30′ bus. Its a hard one though, even though we have always owned very few things, and own less by the day, i still find myself designing and redesigning because I am worried about having enough living space and storage for food etc. If only there was a list of bare minimums to survive that I could start with and build up to our needs
So I LOVE this! I am looking into minimalism and I’m really excited to get my family started and to have a clutter free home! So my question right now is what do you do with kids clothing? We have TONS of kids clothing… We have 3 boys, soon to be 4 boys so we usually use a lot of hand me downs. Which results in having lots of boxes of clothes in the garage of clothes that will fit them later or that did for them and will fit younger ones.. But it’s not neat and is quite stressful to keep up with. What do you recommend? Organizing them or just giving them away and buying clothes as they are needed? I just don’t know what to do with all the clothes! Lol
We have tubs of hand me downs given to us. What we do is organize by size, and keep 5-6 winter outfits and 5-6 summer outfits of each size. We trust that as things wear out, we can replace them or that more hand me downs will come along. All the rest get passed on to others that may need them. One winter coat, and one windbreaker/light jacket per size. Also, no need for tons of shoes. One pair of tennis shoes, one pair of winter boots, one pair of sandals. One pair of dress shoes, if you wear them regularly. With only 10-12 outfits, at least 2-3 sizes fit in a storage tub. So, there should not be a ton of tubs needed to store the clothes. 3-4 tubs would likely store all the clothes needed. For an infnt, I would keep 8-10 pajamas per size, as that is what mine wore almost all the time, and then 3-5 cute outfits. 2 blankets are generally enough as well. Do you have 12 blankets and hundreds of outfits? Pick a handful of favorites, and gift, donate or sell the rest.
Thank you!!!! I always struggle with how much to keep for children and infants as I am hoping to have another soon. I have some wonderful things from my first child that I don’t want to have to re-purchase especially as my circumstances changed financially since then. That list is super useful!! Thank you!!!
I found that for me what worked best was limit their outfits to 9 (shirt/pants) i have a washer so its easier to do a load a day to keep up with everyones needs. Vacuum sealed bags are great also fo storage. You should look in your neighboor hood if any store can give you credit for your extra clothes so you can buy some more when needed.
That is a great idea! The clutter with kids stresses me out. I love the idea of paring down the clothing. I tend to hoard hand me down clothing but then get stressed over it when I switch out clothes at the end of a season. Thanks for the tip!
I actually give one gift per child at Christmas and have for years. I don’t feel like I’m depriving them. We enjoy our family time instead. It’s pretty awesome.
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michelle lyden says
I am extremely new (2weeks) to this way of thinking and i am finding it the most liberating thing i have ever done. I live in UK and our kids are awash with material stuff as is my partner and I. We have an 11yr old and 18mth living in a two bedroom flat. I have started the slow process of clearing out bag by bag. I’m spending about 30mins each day and jst sorting charity, sell, recycle. I have been dropping little quotes each day into my conversation with my family and i can see my partner coming around to this also. He is a ‘keeping up with the jones’ type of person so it will take more effort to get him fully on board but i am confident that he will and he will feel the same as me when he does. I appreciate all the comments above and it has gave me loads of tips on how to keep the kids wanting to a minimum or atleast how to deal with it when they come.asking. I cant wait to have a clutter free home and mind and i will enjoy getting there and being liberated each time another bags/box leaves our home for good.
I appreciate this article because you DO HAVE KIDS!! So often the ones that give advice on living with kids are the ones that don’t have any. I have five kids ages 8-19. I have always homeschooled (which requires a lot of books, like it, or not). My 19 year old works full-time, and my 18 year old is a college commuter. To say we do not need more stuff or square footage than a single person or a couple without kids is ridiculous, but I have been drawn to “less is more” since I got married 21 years ago. It can be a constant battle because of well-meaning friends and family. My family does NOT get it. When I try to suggest certain gifts I am accused of depriving my kids or asking for things because it is actually me that wants them and not my kids. We live in a small house with very little storage space, and we all have hobbies so we really have to keep on top of things. We have always lived on one, lower than average income. When I had three little ones you could definitely recognize the minimalism when you walked in the door. It’s gotten a little trickier with five kids all growing older. Anyway, I appreciate your website, and would love to hear from anyone out there that is minimalist and has a large family.
Marta Clark says
Great article! We practiced minimalism when our children were young because we didn’t have any money. As someone already said, a pile of cloth diapers, a few cotton baby blankets, half a dozen sets of clothing, and a car seat were our only purchases for baby #1. A few months later we bought a cheap stroller. I have always been amazed at people who, expecting their first child, remodel the house, buy a huge vehicle, and then fill house and car with special furniture and toys. What stress!
Fast forward a dozen years–Our favorite way of dealing with teenagers is to give them a set amount of money and let them make their own choices within their budget. The way we put it to our oldest son (who loves expensive toys and nice clothing): “Here is what we plan to spend on clothing for you this year. The money is now yours. The choice of what you buy and what you wear is yours. If you need new jeans, it’s your choice whether to get one pair of designer jeans or five pairs of cheap jeans.” The system worked fabulously. From that point on, we never had a single hideous scene in a store where we were trying to force our choices on him, and he was begging for something we weren’t willing to buy. He was motivated to prowl the clothing stores (we were living in Milan, Italy at the time) to find bargain clothing that he really liked at a price he could afford.
His younger brother took an entirely different approach to his clothing, and bought almost nothing. His wardrobe consisted of T-shirts he got from sports teams and hand-me-downs, and a couple sets of the types of shirts and slacks required by his high school. (The kids had laundry baskets in their bedrooms and did their own laundry from ninth grade on, so keeping his tiny wardrobe clean was his problem, not mine.) He asked his grandparents and other family members for clothing for birthdays and Christmas, so he didn’t have to spend his money. When he had to shop, he went to Goodwill.
Their sister was somewhere in between. She mostly spent her money on specialty clothing for her favorite sport–horses–and bought top of the line things for that, but little else.
In summary–minimalism is about making choices, which is something we LEARN to do. Children need to learn this skill well before they leave the nest. With children, minimalism isn’t something that the powerful parents should impose from outside, but should involve the children to the greatest extent possible at their present age.
A scene that lingers in my memory is the vision of standing in our oldest son’s dormitory the day he arrived at the university. As a continuation of loosening the tethers throughout high school, we had a very clear understanding with him of how much money we would contribute, and how much he was responsible for, which included all his discretionary spending for the year. Around us kids were wheedling their parents for money for this, that, and the other, and parents were badgering those same kids to make sure they did this, that, and the other. We stood there with our son, chatting pleasantly. He was about to be on his own, and he felt up to the task. We were letting him go, and knew he was ready.
Marta, I love your attitude. I realize your comment is a couple of years old but I really wanted to comment on it. I loved your statement that minimalism isn’t about the parents imposing on the kids. I think this is so important to realize. I would never just go through my kids stuff and decide what *I* think is important for them to get rid of. They need to have a voice even if I don’t agree with their choices.
I’m looking more into this at the age of 55 but I’ve had 55 years to reach this choice and I don’t know if my kids will be on board but that will be their choice. Thank you for your great insight.
Since discovering the minimalist lifestyle months ago, I’ve put great effort into downsizing my own belongings while putting in just as much effort NOT to push my decision onto my husband and young daughter. I know my husband won’t get rid of anything, especially if I push. So I don’t, and it’s funny because he has gotten rid of more things since I’ve stopped pushing. And my daughter, who is four years old, has joined in as well; wanting to donate some of her things, too. I was so proud. Until the little old bus helper lady sent my daughter home with a few toy catalogues (does she not have grand kids to give them to?), because “it’s Christmas” and now my daughter is back on the “I want, I need everything” train. Damn. I was almost there.
But it’s just a small road block. At first I was annoyed, but then realized what is the difference between those stupid newspaper inserts compared to the commercials on our tv? You can’t hide from it. So, now when my daughter brings home a toy catalogue from miss little old bus lady, and she tells me what she wants, I ask her to show me what she doesn’t want, and all of a sudden she’s not so interested in the things she thought she wanted.
Being new to minimalism with kids is definitely a work in progress.
The Knitty Gritty Homestead says
Forwarding a link to this to my husband! I spent the day yesterday reducing our children’s clothing by half. Talk about liberating! We have four children and I feel like I spend all my time/energy maintaining/washing/sorting/picking up clothes. Now each child has one laundry basket full of clothes, and the bins/bags/boxes that used to be stashed under the beds and in every corner are GONE. I feel lighter! The baby’s clothes are next, then mine. Thanks for this…we’re making huge changes in our life and this reassures me that we’re on the right path.
I say keep living your minimalist lifestyle and the rest will follow. My son is only 7 but already has way less than most kids, by choice, He loves his Legos, a few cherished stuffed animals, his art supplies and he loves to read. He also has a gaming system but I admit I play more than he does. : )
He cherishes life experiences, always asking to go to do an activity or visit a place. He is happiest digging in the sand at the beach and playing baseball. I am very grateful he is this way because it makes my life so much easier.
He is very good about getting rid of things, like the mountains of paperwork from school. He gets to choose what he wants me to keep and tosses the rest. And when he does, I praise him for helping him and that I love him, not material items. He gets that, which makes my heart sing.
As he outgrows clothing or toys, we sell or donate them. The money goes toward either a replacement (Like a bike, he needs a larger size) or goes into his bank account. I match the amount and he has a nice little savings account going on.
It can be done, Like I said, just live your life and the rest will follow suit.
Hello, I enjoy reading all of your article post. I like to write a little comment to support you.
I’m just approaching to minimalism, and one of my doubts was how to become my whole family(two little girls, my husband and I) minimalist.
Your blog is an inspiration for me. I will continue reading it and trying to change our life for good.
Hi, my husband and I have two small children (5 years and 18 months)… we are aspiring minimalists and have started our journey about 4 months ago… anyway, how we explained our new ways to our daughter was with questions to her… “would you like it if we did less clean up and more family time?”, “how would you feel if mommy didn’t ask you to clean up so much?”, ect… she has been great with it.. her toys consist of 3 smaller bins, one for horses, one for barbies and one for babies, she has some stuffed animals, a tub of dress up, one shelf of books, 2 coloring books, some paper, paints/crayons are in one zip lock baggie.. I have explained to her that if she gets anything more, she has to get rid of something… meaning we will never over fill her bins, ect. and if she gets presents and then don’t fit, she will give older toys to little boys or girls who don’t have toys. It’s worked great and I do find she appreciates her stuff a lot more. My 18month old has one “treasure box” of toys and it will never exceed that, but like today we went to a friends house and he was able to play with all sorts of different toys we don’t have, so you could tell he appreciated going to another little boy’s house for a play date :)
Just wondering how you go with hand-me-downs and hanging onto things for subsequent children. We have 3 kids; boys – 5, 3 and girl 18mths with a boy due in a couple of weeks. We keep toys clothes books etc as the kids grow out of them so that the next can have them but this makes for a huge number of boxes stored in cupboards and garage waiting for a child to be the right age. Not too mention hand-me-downs from friends and family…any help on this one???
I came from a big family that was always strapped for cash, and thus a hit minimalist. My parents used the spaces in the top of the closets and under the bed to store the outgrown clothes that weren’t covered with stains. When I was young, I took on the role of going through the kid’s clothes every year in the summer and weed down to approximately one week’s worth. The rest were either boxed up or donated (we passed around the boxes to neighbors and cousins too). The toys did seem to be exploding, but that’s what happens with 8 kids. Even so, the toys were always bought based on a long-term approach so there aren’t any battery operated or Happy Meal trash pieces, and we did go through the toys every few years. Now I’m a mom, and I get 97% of my children’s toys from my parent’s basement. The winners that lasted over 15 years of weeding and fit kids ages 2-27: oldfisher price toys that don’t take batteries, a wooden train set, marble rolls and legos (duplos too), the chevron cars, and the box full of plastic animals/dinosaurs and my little ponies. (We never liked the barbies or dolls much, it was more fun to feed the bottle to the T-rex). A basket full of costume pieces (handmade from previous halloweens) and random woven belts and scraps of fabric and some wooden blocks and random tools and kitchen things we swiped along with some cardboard boxes was what we used for make-believe. After choking hazard age, we added a bag of aquarium marbles and pretend money to the make-believe. Stuffed animals were personal property (my mom did buy us lots of them, but she admits that was because she loves them, and we weeded through them every year.) Baby toys, bicycles, etc. got donated as soon as we outgrew it (and we’d get used ones when the next child seemed interested). Helmets and carsests were kept until they expired.
As for books, picture ones were carefully chosen for their readability as bedtime stories or the really good non-fiction, the rest donated. We ended up with only a small bookshelf for picture books. The chapter books belonged to each person and were usually only bought (as Christmas/birthday presents) after we’d read them (or the earlier parts of the series) at the library, usually several times. A library card is a wonderful thing. Puzzles and games filled our home too, but got regularly weeded, and I found out that my library’s PERC has frame puzzles and games for checkout too.
Robert S. says
Great article. It is actually much more beneficial when you are forced to live and explain the minimalist lifestyle to a young child who you love with everything you have. We must be constantly cognizant of practicing what we preach. Recently divorced, I found a small studio in downtown Seattle, and my 3 year-old loves it. Less stuff, more time to get out of the apartment, and an immediate cut in overhead, resulting in more liquid cash. Kids who grow up with parents who embrace minimalism, arguably, have a greater chance for understanding the simplicity of just being happy with what is in hand. How fun is “Movie Night” when it’s an actual event you plan for with your kids? Take your life back and spend more time with your children. When we’re on our death beds we’ll be smiling knowing we maximized our time with those we love.
Great, I will be passing that website URL on to my daughter, who is expecting her 2nd child in the autumn.
I started out pretty minimalist, having been tipped off in an excellent little German book (I’ve meanwhile forgotten the title, unfortunately – it was 28 years ago!) about all that you don’t need… I thought that was brilliant. I had nothing anyway as a young, single mom and was grateful for all gifts and loans and not needing much.
However, more difficult was to stay with it. Everyone around me thought I needed stuff and we accumulated so much and totally lost sight of reality. Although I have to say there is much more rubbish to be had in Britain/US than we already had in central Europe!! Now it is worse than ever, we had nothing like a lot of the expensive junk available.
My wake-up call came when we were drowning in stuff after about 10 years and I gradually de-cluttered as my children got older and am now much happier. My daughters are actually all really good about not being influenced by brands and such, but there is such pressure from the society around us. Although my eldest daughter got off to a good start and was happy to do without a lot of things when she had her first child, gradually over the last 3 years she has also accumulated quite a bit through gifts and secondhand (though nothing as silly as a wet-wipe-warmer – gosh, how I laughed!). I think she would like to declutter a lot of them, really, so this website might help her to have the courage of her convictions.
If I were having my kids now, in my 40s, I would probably do things differently and be less influenced by others. I went to a baby store with my daughter and did not find one single thing I thought my grandchild might need. Not a single thing. The only thing we bought for him so far was a car seat, as you have to have those by law nowadays (my daughter travelled in a Moses basket on the back seat when she was small…). Otherwise, I find myself at a loss what to give when occasions come round, no needs and plenty of stuff. Sometimes I don’t give anything, just have him round to my place to play instead. He prefers that, I think.
Karmen Personett says
I used to be a minimalst and saw little value in stuff. And then slowly, or maybe not-so-slowly, we accumulated tons of stuff in our marriage and then more with kids. I think once we had a house, the rest of the family began donating all their unwanted items to us. 4 kids later I began my minimalist rampage. It has been a year long process. I’ve reduced the number of clothes/shoes that each person is allowed to have (we can just do laundry more often, right?), have donated bags and boxes and trunkloads of items we just don’t need. I would estimate that 70% of my kids toys have disappeared and the amazing this is that they haven’t even noticed. I was fretting this week about getting rid of all the little people toys….I thought maybe I should keep either the bus or the plane, but in the end they both got donated. My kids would rather make a “car” out of a shoebox. My dad made sailboats out of cardboard boxes with each of them recently and they had days of fun with these….and then when the excitement wears off, it’s easy to recycle that toy. I love uncluttered spaces. When I feel that I don’t have time to sit and enjoy my kids, play a game or go to the beach because I’m too busy picking up the house, I know it’s time for another round of decluttering.
My mom laughed in my pre-minimalism days when we had our first baby at the amount of stuff I thought we “needed” for a baby — she used to work as an OB nurse and they would ask the moms if they had a place for the baby to sleep, noting that an empty dresser drawer would work.
If I had it to do all over again, I would beg and borrow the absolute minimum to get the baby out of the hospital (car seat, clothing, blanket) and purchased NOTHING because the rest accumulates pretty naturally on its own between gifts and hand-me-downs. People, myself included, are pretty happy to pass all that junk along as soon as baby has out-grown it and as others have noted, a lot of it is completely unnecessary (even bad for you and I discovered with the baby wipes and the worst case of contact dermatitis/diaper rash that just seem to get worse the more we changed her — duh!) .
I have moved from cute things (outfits, toys) to useful things (diaper covers, slings) to monetary baby gifts. A lot less warm and fuzzy but a contribution to a college savings plan is a lot more useful than another little outfit or toy. Plus, now I just can’t think of much that I WANT to gift them.
I have been interested in this lifestyle for years now… but, I’m still working on getting there. I have a husband and 2 children (14 & 10). I just recently started purging one bag/box at a time. It truly makes me sick to see the money we wasted!!!! …and makes me think at least twice before I buy another THING. We’ve been together for 15 years. Neither of us has gotten rid of a whole lot of our accumulated STUFF. I am READY. We go to a cabin every year that merely has battery power and gas… no electricity… no clutter… only what we NEED. We ALL come home so happy, only to heave a heavy sigh from the burden of our things. I’m hoping that once I’m through my STUFF, seeing my example will encourage and inspire the rest of my family to follow suit. Any words of encouragement would be warmly welcomed and greatly appreciated!!!! :o)
Rebecca Donnelly says
I am just starting to read and really want to have this lifestyle and I am feeling so overwhelmed. I did start last night just doing one thing and creating one bag to go but it is difficult to imagine the work required to get through the whole house. I have lived simply most of my life because of moving often and being single until I was 39 years old. Now I have a husband and two very young kids and haven’t moved in 5 years and the accumulation is astounding!! I have been obsessed with moving lately and I think it is solely because I think it would “force” us to begin this process. Any advice on staying calm and on track would be greatly appreciated!!!
joshua becker says
just one bag at a time. no need to do the entire house in one day. small steps. juts pick one room and start there. and don’t feel bad about starting with the “low-hanging fruit,” – that’s the easiest place to start
Cloud, camille, and anyone else interested: http://thesimplebaby.wordpress.com/. (Thanks for the name!) I figured that why not, I could possibly have something to say. (As you can read from the intro post, I’ll most likely think about these things more towards the end of the year ;)
Anyone willing to contribute or share stories, please drop a line on the comment box. I will later get an email to match that I will put public on the site (I try to avoid spam so I won’t be using my regular one).
CL Hebberman says
I adopted this approach in in raising my 4 children.
I was overwhelmed by the pressure to buy buy buy to sate my children’s happiness.
Money doesn’t = love.
My parents believed it did and now my whole parenting approach is completely opposite the thier’s.
My children are much happier with less,it means their choices are minimalised and easier to make.
hey kl…..couldn’t agree with you further. and great idea with a blog….insecure new mothers need some other advice than the commercial driven baby major websites….(you know the ones, dont you?!)
my son started even from the beginning to eat with a normal plate and spoon, because he wanted it and did not like the plastic ones. by the time he was one year, he could eat alone with a spoon and started out with a fork. now, with 20 months he uses a normal spoon and fork by himself and he enjoys it so much. That I bought all this stuff on the baby lists I came across, was because I was insecure and scared and wanted to be perfect. Even our fancy stroller…honestly, I bought it for my own satisfaction….my son rode in it a few times and then decided that he wanted to just push it and walk on his own.
So, I would applaud you or anybody starting a blog about “the simple baby”….
Shelley September 15, 2011 My roommate read His Needs, her Needs when she was eagnged. The funniest advice was to practice good hygiene and to brush your teeth everyday. It was funny, but I guess some people don’t practice good hygiene!
camille: It all depends on what you choose. In US, people are used to having a huge amount of baby stuff. I laughed myself to near death when I heard you have electric baby wipe warmers. I mean, I live in one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world (Finland) but the idea of baby wipe warmer is absurd. First, baby wipes are already room-temperature, which quite appropriate, and second, you don’t need them. There’s a tap, the sink, and running water. And honestly, kids do not care if the water is quite cold (I’ve tested).
It is just a small sample but I think very descriptive of the problem. I have friends who raised their first child the first year by spending less than a couple hundred bucks. They had second-hand diapers (not disposable ones), the baby changing table was a towel on a floor, the had no car, no strollers (they did have quite a few different wraps and carry-on slings they used when on the move, and they did travel quite a lot), and no baby bed (the baby slept next to them in bed). These were not poor people, or cheapskates, but well-earning professionals who had decided what was necessary and what not.
Most toys are unnecessary. Our kid plays with any household equipment he gets, obviously also with his stuff sometimes, and gets the biggest kicks from non-stuff experiences – hanging out and playing catch with us, helping out with any household chore (you should hear the laugh and see the excitement when he helps in carrying laundry from laundry basket to washing machine, a few at a time) and just going out to play. We chose to have strollers and keep the car, had safety seat, got him his own bed when he was about 6 months, and had most clothes second hand (and most toys, now unused, as gifts). Add a milk bottle or two and you are done with all equipment you’ll need. We did not buy any “baby specifics” such as baby towels or plates unless we got them somewhere. When the baby starts to eat (4-6 months), plastic mug might be a good idea as it might get thrown. And something to cover up the kid when they start to eat real food.
It really takes just common sense, and possible abstination from commercials (and their evil variety, infomercials.) But a blog about the subject might be a good idea, to spread the word.
I would also counterclaim (as many already did) that simplifying actually means more to parents and while it may take more effort (as in coordinating more people’s possessions) also the benefits are even greater.
I started being more interested in environment, politics, agriculture, and food quality as I was pregnant with my first child. This is quite a natural path since you do want the best for your kid, and why not start with a better world :) Countering consumerism and getting rid of stuff was not yet given much thought (while I did see the connection there). It was a natural next step though, as piles of stuff started to grow around the small kid.
We are far from being minimalist yet, but have made some clear decisions in that direction and are slowly shedding extra stuff. Anything clearing space out makes living easier with a kid who loves to move around and move stuff. (We also found that our little one LOVES to clean and he also learned fast that things have predetermined places and tries to keep them there – much better than we manage.)
We did decide that we won’t move out from our 2 bedroom apartment just yet even though there’s a second kid coming. We will also try to keep our car (which means we need to find smaller baby seats because otherwise we won’t fit :) We do need to clear up more so that we’ll live comfortably. Sites like this are a great help in motivation – while having less stuff does eliminate need to clean as much, getting there does take a whole lot of cleaning…;)
….isnt that the core, that we do not KNOW how to spend time with kids?! I myself had to learn it; go from a busy work schedule (which also boosted my EGO and gave me a sense of social value) to sitting down and starring at an ant, repeating the word “ant” at least 100 times, and again pointing at it again and again and getting excited about that. Now, I realized that through my son I have come closer to living in the NOW, being present than anytime before. And I can enjoy it…. most of the time, BUT not all the time. Looking around at other parents, mainly mothers, it seems that scheduling playdates, doctors appointments and driving their kids to any possible event and hobby, is the major thing to do to run away from that presence which is often extremely uncomfortable.
Another thing that has helped me to live simple with a baby is living in Africa….WE DO NOT NEED ALL THESE SAFETY SECURITY GADGETS, people do not have them here and need them, and their children grow up to KNOW how to handle dangerous situations. READ the CONTINUUM PROJECT from Jean Liedloff.
BIG THANKS FOR THIS!
That’s great advice in regards to young kids and teenagers, but I was wondering if anyone had thoughts about practicing minimalism with a baby?
When I look at friends or relatives who have one, it seems their house is instantly taken over by mountains of baby-related equipment, and I’m hoping to avoid that when the time comes.
Is there perhaps a resource or blog you could recommend that addresses that particular phase of family life?
You really don’t *need* much stuff with a baby. I bought a pile of cloth diapers, some clothes (which my baby didn’t wear too often because it was a hot summer), a car seat, a baby carrier to wear her, and a washable changing pad. I eventually got her a baby gym and someone bought a swing but they don’t need much for toys – they are fascinated with what’s going on around them and really just want to be held.
I have just found your blog and it is so good to read about other parents that embrace the same values as us.
When grandparents have asked what the children might like for gifts, generally at Christmas time, we have often answered that the children love to visit the zoo, discovery museum, etc, and that we like to purchase yearly memberships for these places. The relatives have been SO on board with that – they love sending the money, or part of the money for family memberships – they know that they are purchasing a gift that will really be used and enjoyed, not tossed to the side.
minimalism really does work with kids. our 11 year old was raised that way. our almost 10 year old we adopted from china, so in a sense he was raised that way to. they would much rather walk to the park and play football or basketball then come home and order pizza than spend money on toys or things. when they get money, they almost always spend it on pizza, candy and movies rather than stuff. of course they know “mom will throw it out” so why bother?
Miss Guimba - Third World Minimalist says
My children are very imaginative when it comes to toys. They can make do with boxes and tissue paper rolls and come up with amazing toys out of them. It inspires me to look for other ideas to make do with what I have, too.
The only problem with adopting a minimalist lifestyle with children is that other children seem to have embraced the consumerism at such a young age. I gave my 8-year-old emergency money because I didn’t believe she needs an allowance yet. She brings her own lunch to school. When other kids found out that her money was half what the other kids have, they taunted her. It broke my heart to have her suffer through that, but I told her that having money isn’t everything and that it doesn’t make her less of a person if she doesn’t have as much as the others. She took it in stride, but the mother in me wanted to protect her from these acts of cruelty for going against the norm. I just console myself that I have kids who will grow up without having to rely on things to boost their self-esteem.
You are absolutely doing the right thing! BE counter cultural! As a school counsellor for many years I can tell you without a doubt that the mainstream way of parenting is not setting up our kids well. Simplicity, love, truth, grace and presence.. these things mean so much more than image, brand, conformity and distraction. Cheering for you.
Zengirl @ Heart and Mind says
Children are natural at being minimalist, we as a parent, relatives and peer pressure gets eventually for them to become future consumerist. I wrote similar thing in my last post, we all can be minimalist our own ways and what stage of life we are plays a huge role in it.
Nick Lowery says
My parents are constantly using the excuse of still having kids (my younger siblings) as justification to not be able to live simply. They say they have certain responsibilites. Your post however is an excellent representation of how these responsibilities can be fulfilled while still pursuing a simpler life. You have explained it in a way I have been unable to. Thank you for the resource, I will be sure to share it with them.
Really, REALLY great advice. I’ve found that kids are typically really generous with their stuff – and when they have too much it overwhelms them and they don’t even play with the good toys. My only problem is a kid who is very sentimental. She wants to give, but cries thinking about who gave it to her, or when she got it, and those memories make it difficult for her to give even an unused item up. I’ve been photographing things for her to remember – that seems to help!
Adventure-Some Matthew says
As an uncle, but not a parent, it seems to me like those with children might benefit more from a minimalist lifestyle than couples without children or singles. When your decisions effect more than just yourself, you can have a greater impact:
– You will buy many times less (toys for yourself and your children)
– Better food for more mouthes
– More people does not have to equal more square footage
Not to counter your #2 point, which makes practical sense, but our family’s foray into minimalism began, ironically, with our children.
Anyone who has kids is familiar with that pre-birthday/pre-holiday exercise that I have come to call the “Thinning of the Accoutrements.” My wife and I would always go into our daughter’s room and try to make room for new toys (See point #7, above) by eliminating the ones that she had outgrown. It was easy to do as Ariel replaced Elmo and CandyLand replaced the Shape-O-Ball. Our daughter was always on board, too, saying things like, “Okay. We can give it to someone who doesn’t have any toys.” (Yeah, she really was that compassionate, even at age 2.)
One day I said to my wife, “Why don’t we ever do this with our things? We never replace what WE have, we just add to it.” Then I started thinking, why do I have 6 multi-tools, 12 flashlights, 7 coats, 5 tents, etc., etc., etc.?
So a year ago we went through EVERYTHING we own. It was a two week ordeal that eliminated about 80% of our excess. This year, we did it again but in much finer detail. We now have a LOT less “stuff” than we used to. Most went to charity. The neighborhood was having its annual Garage Sale, so we took advantage of that, too. (I can almost see Joshua shaking his head.)
I know minimalism is about simplifying… which, in turn, is about increasing the time you have in life to do the things you enjoy. But my experience is that there is an opportunity cost in adopting this life style on the front-end. Many hours went into going through, literally, everything we own, setting up for a garage sale, boxing/transporting things to charity, eBay-ing rarer items, etc. But once those things are finished there really is a lot more time as we don’t need to maintain nearly as many things as we had in the past.
And all this began with this simple task of preparing a toddler’s room for the bi-annual onslaught of materialism. Who knew?!
You are absolutely right – simplifying your life is not just for young singles without kids. I have two of my own and they have been part and parcel of this journey over the last few years. I think they can teach adults a few things about minimalism too :)
It was funny reading this because as I’ve continued reading your blog I was curious how embracing minimalism with children in the house would play out. Nicole and I don’t have any children yet, but we definitely want them (when we’re ready) and I wasn’t sure how we’d approach that when the time came. Needless to say I’m holding onto your article for future reference and much appreciate you writing it! :)
Gisele Schembri says
I think if you are minimalist before the children come, it will be much easier for you. If your child/ren are used to the idea from the beginning they’ll embrace it as their norm. Me, on the other hand, I’m finding it very hard to get anywhere with my child about this subject because he plain refuses to let go of anything.