Minimalism with kids – Getting them on board

We love them so very much, but they’re just not the most “minimalist-friendly” people. Kids leave things everywhere, or just flat-out lose them.

They make so many messes. They break things for no reason. And they are expensive. And wonderful. So wonderful that it can lead potential minimalists to question whether it’s even possible for them.

Minimalism with kids

When I say minimalism is possible for everyone, that means the parents too! I know questions are bouncing off the walls of your mind about how this is possible.

That must be crazy difficult! Why wouldn’t you want your kids to have stuff? All the other kids have stuff. What will the other parents think? If I take away all their stuff I’ll never hear the end of it!

Those are reasonable concerns, but there is indeed a method to the madness. Raising your children with less things inevitably forces them to work their brains more which is awesome for cognitive development and creativity.

Parenting today has become automated and centered around things. You’re automatically assumed to be the better parent if you have the tri-wheel, safety lock, double-strap smooth glide stroller complete with three cup holders and a basket compartment rather than a plain umbrella stroller.

Baby swim classes, the latest toys, the cutest clothes, bottle warmer, automatic swing, nanny cams. A device for them to watch while you cook dinner. The more things they have, the better we can “parent”.

Parenting has largely turned into a competition. We want our children to have the best; we want to feel like the best parents. We don’t want our kids to not have things that other kids have. For this reason, it can be good to make a list of things to throw away.

But how much is too much? How many toys, videos, apps, games, classes, and extracurriculars is one too many? And at what point are these luxuries affecting our children’s development? We can cut all those worries out through a method called minimalist parenting.

Minimalist Parenting

The truth is that if you have a young child or even two young children, your minimalist lifestyle will probably look a little different to most others. However, you can still practice minimalist family living when your kids are at a young age.

“Less” parenting, how does that work? First, it’s best to start easy when your kids are young. This negates the inevitable adjustment period and saves you hours of listening to groans of boredom.

If your kids are already older, all isn’t lost! Just start as soon as possible and take things slow and steady. If you pull the rug from under them you’re bound to get pelted with a whirlwind of tantrums. Be understanding of their feelings, but stick to your guns.

Second, minimalist parenting is going to take some mental adjustment on your part as well. Not only are we going to have to give up the “more” mindset when it comes to our most precious gems, but we’re going to have to give up just a little control to our kids in order for them to develop into intelligent and independent little people.

We jump through hoops to create happiness for them and make their lives as easy as possible. That’s wonderful, but too much can prove to be a developmental crutch. 

By now I’m sure you’re wondering what minimalist parenting is and how to do it. In the spirit of parenting, let’s go through this list of rules: specifically, the top 5 rules of minimalist parenting.

Top 5 Rules of Minimalist Parenting 

1. Don’t buy your kids a bunch of toys and devices

You don’t have to be obsessed with keeping your kids entertained all the time. When kids have less to absorb their attention they’ll allow their imagination to take over and they will find something to do.

Today, though, parents have gone as far as to get their kids their own electronic tablets complete with their favorite games, video apps, and a camera. We’ll readily stick a device in front of our two-year-old if it means we’ll get some time to do some work or knock out some chores. 

It probably goes against everything you believe but here’s the truth: it’s totally okay for our kids to be bored. Boredom never hurt anyone. Ultimately, their minds won’t let them settle for boredom; this lack of stimulation will spark their innate creativity and critical-thinking (important brain muscles).

For older kids and teenagers, the lack of stimulation will also lead them to find ways to bide their time. They might choose to get some homework done or do a little studying. They might even pick up an extracurricular sport, or discover their love for chess or the trumpet!

Plus, our willingness to shower our kids with the latest and coolest things all the time contributes to their lifelong attachment to these objects. We’re indirectly teaching them that joy is derived from acquiring something.

They’re learning by watching us. If we constantly give them things to show our love, they begin to measure our love for them by our willingness to buy them things.

Instead of investing all that money in toys and gadgets, invest it in experiences and activities. Trips, vacations, quality time with family, and memories teach them to value who and how they spend their time rather than what they have. 

Allow your kids to go outside and play. Nature play is great for their development and gives children a limitless opportunity to stretch their creative muscles.

You don’t always have to set up exercises and activities for them. Try not to direct their playtime or make so many decisions for them about how to spend their time. Also, try not to patrol them so closely when they are playing! This leads us seamlessly into our next rule.

2. Don’t hover over them

Here’s something you also might not want to hear: it’s okay for your kids to make mistakes. You’re not a bad parent if you’re not there to catch them every single time they fall.

As a matter of fact, allowing them to figure things out on their own feeds their problem-solving skills. Kids are more capable than you think, don’t underestimate them. They have the keen ability to tirelessly go after what they want, and the awesome power to fall on their faces and get right back up again!

Cultivate those skills by not always doing it for them. Let them try a few times before you intervene if they can’t do it. You’ll be surprised at how much they actually can do. 

Give your kids more power over how and where they use their time. Keep in mind that letting your kids decide how to use their time does not mean that they should be allowed to sit around all day and do nothing.

But it does mean that you don’t have to set up a new activity for them every 30 minutes. Don’t plan out every hour of their day so meticulously. 

3. Establish trust with your children

In order to be able to let your kids off the hook, you have to establish a certain level of trust and sense of responsibility in your children.

Make sure they are familiar with safety rules and boundaries (once they’re old enough) before you let them go free. Having this established trust helps you and your child build confidence in their ability to handle themselves appropriately and be safe.

This is especially important with adolescents. It’s important that there’s a solid foundation of confidence between you and your (pre-)teenager.

More than feeling like they can handle themselves appropriately, it’s vital that they feel like they can come to you if they make a mistake. It makes you more comfortable too.

I’m the spirit of establishing trust, you’ll also need to communicate with your children and trust them to tell you what they need. When kids are overwhelmed, you know. Minimalist parenting is very to-the-point.

If something isn’t working we don’t spend too much time on it, we move on to the next thing. In order to move in the right direction and get an idea of what will work, you have to be willing to listen to what’s not working for them. 

4. Don’t fill up their schedule

They don’t need to be engaged in ten different extracurriculars and they don’t have to attend every classmate’s birthday party.

Organize their schedule just like you would yours: by prioritizing the important events and putting off the others. Be conscious of not stretching your kids too thin or creating expectations that are overwhelming. 

Don’t forget to incorporate some downtime into their day too! Time doing nothing is also  just as important for kids as it is for you. Breaks and rest time allow children to learn how to bring themselves down and sit with their thoughts.

Let older children make their own decisions about their schedule. Don’t force them to engage in anything (without proper cause, at least) or make them feel pressured to pursue a certain sport/instrument/skill.

With less material things to distract themselves with, it’s likely that they’ll naturally fall into their own groove or find their own passion.

5. Don’t police them

If you have more than one child, they’re bound to experience some friction between them at one time or another.

When this happens, don’t be so quick to referee. Disagreements are a regular part of life. Developing conflict-resolution skills is vital to a kid’s social health and social interaction skills. By finding their own way through conflict, they’ll grow to be able to recognize and empathize with people’s feelings more.

They’ll garner a better understanding of how their actions affect others. It also makes them more open to compromise and sharing rather than when they’re told to do it.

For older kids, the adage is true: “strict parents make sneaky kids”. Adolescence is a crazy time, but try your best not to make your children feel confined. Intense feelings of restriction can lead to rebellion and friction.

You’re not expected to be neglectful, of course, but be more open to things that they want to do. If you genuinely don’t feel comfortable with them doing something, make sure they understand why. 

Top Tips for Minimalist Parents

1. Use early morning and late night hours for yourself

Take the time between when the kids finally nod off for the night and when you do, to decompress, do something that makes you feel good, or reflect on the day.

If you’re too conked out at the end of the day, wake up earlier than them in the morning and enjoy some quiet and a warm cup of tea. Your personal time is imperative to good mental health, so it’s important that you spend time on yourself too.

2. Minimize their closets

We have the habit of purchasing lots of clothes for our kids. We usually get them new items of clothing because they’re on sale or really cute, and not because they need them.

Start decluttering their closet by taking out and donating what doesn’t fit anymore. Then take out clothes that they don’t like to wear or don’t really wear that often.

Consider tossing duplicates as well if they have a lot of them. Only buy new clothes to replace them when your kids grow out of them or damage them. When you buy new clothes for kids, buy them one size larger so they don’t grow out of them so quickly.

3. Replace material treats with activities

Instead of congratulating them on their awesome report card by taking them to the store to pick a new toy, take them on a trip to the zoo or bake them their favorite dessert.

If they’re of appropriate age, let them pick one stay-home-from-school day. Shift away from object-based reward systems. This can also be a good idea if you’re concentrating on low income minimalism, as it can help you to save cash too.

4. Make them clean up

If you’re going to keep your house “minimalist-neat”, you’ll need your little ones’ participation. Reinforce cleaning up and putting things away after they’ve used them – try not to be too strict, but the reality is that you’ll have a much simpler life with less stress if you can get them on board too.

The earlier you start instituting clean-up rules, the easier you’ll be able to get them to do it. So, if you can get them into good habits early on, it can stop you from feeling overwhelmed later down the line.

Final Notes

Minimalist parenting sees past the “more” that is idolized in the parenting community in order to focus more on our children’s development. By giving your kids more freedom, you give them the room to socially, mentally, and creatively bloom on their own. 

More isn’t always better. Children not only build attachments to these things, they also develop dependency on these things that then makes it hard to operate without them.

Your two-year-old won’t go to the potty without her iPad. Your four-year-old won’t go to sleep without his white noise machine. Your five-year-old won’t go to the doctor’s office without his favorite light-up toy.

What happens if one of these things breaks? If this sounds familiar, start by limiting how much your children engage with these things. Use a timer to track how much time they spend with their things and wean them off in increments.

Finally, keep in mind that if you are transitioning into minimalism with kids of considerable age (over the age of 3), they are okay. It’s going to surely be an adjustment, especially if the kids have been showered in things before now.

You’re likely going to hear the complaints and dreaded groans of boredom. Keep your cool, rest-assured that they aren’t going to die and that this will pass. Once they see that you’re not going to fold on your decision, they’ll naturally begin to fill their time however they can.

This is when their minds will expand, their imaginations will grow, and they’ll discover new things about themselves and the world around them.

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