So, the idea of minimalism with children is on your mind.
Maybe you are a card-carrying minimalist and you have just discovered that you are pregnant (congratulations!) or perhaps you are minimal-curious but have children already and aren’t sure it would be fair on your family.
Either way, you are asking yourself:
Is it even possible to be a minimalist if you have kids?
Minimalism with children
There is a common suggestion that minimalism and children are thoroughly incompatible, common schools of thought being either:
- Minimalism is about having a neat and tidy home at the expense of the child and that they would be being forced to live in an adult space, not a family one. Or:
- It is simply an unattainable ideal and you must put aside any notion of a simple and minimal home while you are raising little people.
But in my experience, I have found that children can actually thrive in a minimalist environment if handled well!
Raising mini minimalists
Firstly, children are naturally inquisitive, they will play with anything. The whole world is a toy in the eyes of a young child. The truth is they simply don’t need all the latest gadgets and shiny things.
Of course, I’m not suggesting they should go without – they need stimulation and there are many brilliant toys on the market – but they don’t need them all. A smaller selection of cherished toys is better than boxes and boxes of things that will go unused and gathering dust.
It is an important lesson for children to learn that items have value, that things can be cherished and used again and again, not played with once and then discarded. If we raise our children with this mindset, I can’t help but feel it will stand them in better stead in the future, readying them to stand up against today’s throwaway culture.
In fact, there are a lot of important lessons that minimalism can teach children!
Minimalism as a learning opportunity
Children are too often raised in an environment that teaches them to believe that to be a success means aiming for a high paying career, large home and all the latest trends, regardless of whether or not they want or need those.
Teaching them minimalism from an early age encourages them to see that they don’t need possessions to live a happy and fulfilling life, that there is more to life than that.
They will learn about the importance of time together. As a minimal parent, you will likely find you have a lot more time on your hands to spend with your family. You can spend time going on adventures, visiting places, having days out and snuggling up at home, rather than endlessly maintaining some semblance of control over all the STUFF. And, of course, time spent with you is what they really crave after all.
It’s also a good way to learn life skills. Let children help with organising. Having minimal toys is less overwhelming for children when it comes to putting them away. Give them easy access organisation solutions and encourage them to put their own toys away when they are finished playing.
But remember, it isn’t all about keeping tidy…
Making a mess
Minimalism isn’t about ruining a child’s fun or maintaining an impeccable home over a fun one. Anyone who has ever spent time with children will know that the amount of stuff they own has nothing to do with the amount of mess they can make – they can make a mess with anything!
And so they should! It’s so important for children to make a mess and explore, and contrary to what you may assume, minimalism can encourage this.
It is so much harder for children to get messy in today’s world, distracted as they are with all the bright shiny children toys and plastic as far as the eyes can see.
With less toys, children are encouraged to use their imaginations. And that can be no bad thing.
Encourage minimalism with children not to deprive them, but to enrich them!
Let them play in the garden, build dens with sticks, twigs, blankets and boxes.
Simple toys are the best teachers, as The Stick Book by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield can attest! Pages and pages of all the fun things you can make and do with that most humble (and free!) of childhood toys – the stick! 🙂 Just flicking through this book made me want to run headlong to the nearest forest and play for hours!
Babies and minimalism
There are different stages of clutter, just as there are different stages of a child’s development, and when you first have children it will be particularly difficult to keep the clutter to a minimum.
There is a HUGE amount of stuff that comes with babies, and although much of it is unnecessary (no, you really don’t need an entire piece of new furniture dedicated solely to nappy changing!), a lot of it isn’t.
Be selective, but don’t stress about it. The truth, is small children do go through clothes fast, whether through growth or repeat outfit changes due to exploding nappies and food fights. For at least the first few years, you will likely need to take several outfit changes with you everywhere you go. And socks. You will always need to take more socks with you than you could ever have imagined.
But you can bring children up in a surprisingly minimal way. Be mindful about any new item you are considering bringing into the home and ask yourself how much use you think it will get, realistically.
Of course, people will want to buy gifts for your children (and you!). This is a normal response to the arrival of children and every birthday celebration thereafter, and it can be hard for non-minimalists to understand why you wouldn’t want all the things they wish to lavish upon your little ones.
Please remember that this is a display of affection and love, and it likely means a lot to relatives and friends to be able to offer these gifts.
Personally, we choose not to deny family members the opportunity to express themselves and their love in this way, it’s important for them to give, and for the children to receive (also providing important lessons on gratitude!) but if you feel very strongly about it, you can always offer guidance.
Let people know in advance if there are particular items you need or your children want. If space is an issue it is always worth reminding loved ones of this. Having a small home is a legitimate reason for not purchasing large items!
You might also consider asking people to pool in to buy tickets or annual passes to places of interest, or classes your children will love. This provides repeated days of fun without the clutter.
If people still insist on buying lots of toys for your children, you can always keep them in selections to be rotated. This ensures that children don’t get too bored playing with the same things all the time and keeps the chaos at bay.
If you already have children and would like to start living more with less, don’t be afraid to involve them in the process! My children were 5 and 7 when we downsized and to my surprise got really into it!
Start by having them pick out their very favourite, can’t live without things, and then split everything else into ‘maybe keep’ and ‘get rid of’ piles.
Alternatively, turn it into a game and put items into a bag which you hide away for a given period of time – every item they notice is missing during that time they get back. If they don’t notice it’s gone, they probably don’t love it enough to keep. (But please take care with this one – obviously, be selective about what you remove! Just because they don’t remember it straight away, doesn’t mean they won’t further down the line, and just because you think that scabby old bunny toy has seen better days, doesn’t mean they do!)
Go gradually, and don’t try and get rid of too much in one go! Having a good clear out can be great for unearthing long-forgotten toys and games which your children we delighted to rediscover. The aim by the end of your declutter is to have accumulated a collection of items your child utterly loves and wants to be able to access and play with whenever they’d like.
Raising mini minimalists doesn’t have to be hard and it certainly shouldn’t deprive your children.
Ultimately, you want the best for your children, and being raised in a loving home, where everyone respects each other, their possessions and the space in which they reside is a big win in my book.
Minimalism gives children freedom to explore the world around them.
It isn’t about having nothing, it’s about removing the distractions but still offering them the opportunity to pursue their interests, so they can focus on what they love to do.
My kids are now 9 and 12. They like the usual preteen things – they watch Youtube and play computer games – but they also have a love and appreciation of outdoor spaces. They like going camping and exploring but also cosying up for family movie nights with popcorn and blankets. They like board games as well as digital ones, they like to create and make a mess, but they’re pretty good at clearing up after themselves too (mostly!).
All in all, I think that encouraging children to think differently about what we choose to own, and the items we allow into our space can have a very positive effect. Minimalism with children is not only possible, it’s beneficial.
For further reading on this topic, I can thoroughly recommend Joshua’s Beckers book ‘Clutterfree with Kids’, which provides an in-depth and positive take on living minimally with children, and how it can benefit both parent and child.