Natalie Oman, LA based mom of two daughters and a yorkie, encourages moms to take 5 minutes (or less) to improve their lives at her Instagram @5minMommy.
Minimalism is all the rage- documentaries on Netflix, Tiny House plans, Facebook Groups and Meetups all dedicated to the practice of minimal living. BUT if you have children, this may seem like mission impossible.
Kids have an uncanny knack for picking up, receiving, holding onto, emotionally attaching to, being obsessed with THINGS. The amount of things my 3 year old encounters on a daily basis are mind boggling. I don’t even understand how 3 year olds didn’t die of boredom before toys. Just kidding. I know how they didn’t die- they developed attention span, relationships, and creativity to play with their environment not toys. It’s crazy though in this world to live like that, right?! I mean, we aren’t living in caves with only sticks and rocks. We want our kids to have the good stuff in life! We want them to enjoy life and not be disadvantaged compared to their peers. BUT do toys, clutter, and more STUFF accomplish those things?
Whelp let me tell you what has happened in our household… Like so many other new parents, we didn’t know what to buy, what we would need, how we would raise our first little girl. So we took the advice of others, received countless hand me downs, and filled up our house with toys and kids books and DVDs and parenting books and all the other things that young families NEED…or do they? I am so grateful for all the gifts lavished upon us when we were building our family. HOWEVER, I wish I had embraced a minimalistic and clutter free way of life before bringing kids into this world – kids who observe my every move. LITERALLY every move. When we moved (5 times in 4 years), I was stuck packing box after box after box of STUFF that I didn’t need, use, or even necessarily want. I remember parking my 18 month old baby girl in front of PBS kids so she wouldn’t need me to hold her every second so I could pack boxes. She wasn’t interested in TV at that point but she gained an interest because mommy was busy with stuff. She realized TV could entertain her and “hold her hand” when she was bored/lonely/etc. Now I’m all for teaching your kids to help, but at 18 months the desire to UNpack is greater than the desire to pack…
I wish I would have created a play space outside of the bedroom that my girls shared when we moved into our first house. Instead all the toys were kept in their room but when the littlest was sleeping, the oldest would watch TV because she didn’t have her own space to play. I wish I would have “thinned the herd” of toys BEFORE we moved. I wish I would have made donating toys a regular weekly/monthly habit, not a traumatic, once-in-a-great-while thing. I wish I would have had my girls practice making gifts/cards instead of buying our friends and family more toys/things.
So needless to say, I am on this journey with you. Starting is the hardest part. Here is what I have learned on the first part of my mission to live Minimalist with Kids.
Communicate Your Why
Children have an incredible capacity for memory. If you repeat your reasons, your positives, your mantras, kids will learn them. They are subconscious little sponges that soak up and apply everything they hear. As they are watching TV, attending school, and live in our consumer-obsessed culture, they are absorbing and implementing that culture in their own life. How much MORE do we need to refocus them on our new family practice of minimalism. Write notes on the mirror saying “people not stuff” or post in the kitchen “joy not clutter” or in the car say “contentment not consumerism”.
Remind them of the joy of giving and donating. Travel and show them the poverty that surrounds them so they can be grateful with what they have. Watch documentaries or listen to podcasts about intentional living and minimalism. Make up songs, repeat catchy sayings, and fill your home with posts reminding your family of the WHY.
Teach By Example
Kids are pretty smart- when it comes to implementation, they can catch a hypocrite red-handed. Part of the reason to Communicate Your Why is to have them keep you accountable. Show them how you ENJOY purging, selectively buying, choosing your obligations, putting away your few possessions, decluttering, stressing less, and embracing minimalism in your own life. If you don’t ENJOY it, how can you expect them to want to do it too? When you purge the house of your own useless belongings, kids will notice a difference. Start with your own adult possessions, move onto office/kitchen/living rooms and let kids see how it affects your life and demeanor.
Also, decide how minimal you want yourself and family to be. Are you going to only have one chair in your living room and 3 t-shirts to wear? Are you going to have a limit on how much you store in the garage/basement/attic? Are you going to focus on the purging or the selective buying? One size does NOT fit all when it comes to Minimalism. Each family is different so you have to choose what works for you.
Make it FUN not a chore
“Fill this box with toys to get rid of” and “clean up these toys or I’m throwing them away!” and “I’m giving this away because you don’t like it” are all phrases that have come out of my mouth in the frustration of decluttering. Does that seem like a conscious choice for my kids or a dictator deciding for them? Would you want to declutter if your mom is a stressed out crazy person wielding the power of throwing away toys willie nillie??? As the previous steps explain, they need to understand the WHY and they need to see your EXAMPLE.
Try giving them a purpose for decluttering. We had a friend with a new baby that we were going to give some toys to. I showed my girls a picture of the little newborn baby and told them to fill up a small box of things that this new baby could use or like. It was amazing how fast they filled up the box. I’ve also asked for toys to be donated to school/church so that they can play with those toys when they go there. Much easier to get rid of a toy in their room if they can see it when they get to school/church.
Have a Plan
As with any new habit or lifestyle, you have to have a plan. It is fine to declutter at Spring Cleaning, but if you want to LIVE a LIFE of Minimalism, you need to have a plan on how to implement it on a daily basis. Cleaning up toys before dinner, weekly house decluttering, monthly donations, volunteering with the poor, traveling to see other standards of living, cultivating your lifestyle with like minded people. Figure out what you want to do when the kids receive gifts, gather nature items, get hand me downs, take home artwork, get party favors. Write a new list of gift ideas for birthdays and holidays that include more experiences, memberships, savings plans, clothes, and toys that will grow with them. Teach them how to save and buy something they really want- the patience and sacrifice required will teach him about the value of money and bring them more joy when obtained.
Embrace and enjoy a life of minimalism. Lead your kids with your own lifestyle and show them your own enjoyment and contentment. Minimalism with kids is a MISSION POSSIBLE but it will look different for every child/person/family.