Here’s a super common sentiment I hear whenever I start talking about keeping house with kids:
“If you have kids, your house will be taken over by a bunch of kid-related junk, and you just have to accept that.”
Really? I mean, I know it does seem impossible to get away from the constant influx of stuff, especially now that I have 5 kids! But do I really just have to accept that my home will be a big storage unit of kid stuff? Is it ridiculous to think that we could all just be happy with a few nice things we need? Is it mean to ask my kids to live so differently than their friends and the culture that surrounds them?
I don’t think is so far out of reach as all that. I’ve written about why toy minimalism gives my children a better childhood, and I’ve slowly transitioned our whole family into a very simple lifestyle. And guess what? We’re all happy and healthy and don’t feel deprived.
Remember that this is a process
Developing a minimalist mindset has been a process for me. It takes cultivation. Over the last few years of watching me, my kids have caught the vision to! They have seen the benefits first hand and they know how happy it makes me to simplify. I want to win them over to my way too thinking, not drag them kicking and screaming with me.
Here’s how I think about helping my kids embrace this life of simplicity, without feeling deprived or thinking that I’m the Grinch who stole their normal childhood from them.
I feel that the best way to get my kids on the simple living bandwagon is to let them see me in action! It’s easy for me to think all the inspiring, minimalist-y thoughts, but never let my kids in on what’s going on in my head!
When we are shopping, I’m careful to let them know that I like something, but I don’t really have a good place or use for it, so there’s no need for me to own it. I want them to know that it alright to admire something lovely. There are so many great things in this world, but they don’t all need to be in our house.
When I’m decluttering, I also take care to talk about my appreciation for the things we have. If I’m giving a way a piece of art, I might say “I enjoyed this art of a long time, but it’s just not my style anymore. Someone else can have it.”
It’s helpful for them to see the logic behind my decluttering. Otherwise it might just seem random and feel like I could start chucking our belongings anytime. I want them to trust that I take due consideration of my actions, and model for them how to do the same as they grow up.
If required my children to consider every single item they would be using in our home, it would quickly become overwhelming for them. So there are times when I just go ahead and decide what family items we’ll keep, and what we won’t. I haven’t done this perfectly, but I’ve been careful enough that they trust my judgement.
Edit out specialty kid items
For example, our family has been using the same 6 towels from IKEA for the last five years. We don’t have special kid towels. Yes, they know that special cute towels for kids are a thing, they think that they are cute, and so do I. But they don’t feel the need to possess them. We use grey towels, and that’s just the way it is!
Another thing I’ve edited is kids dishes. Our littlest uses an extra small vintage jelly spoon, and a blue metal camping bowl. Every one else uses my pretty blue and white china every day.
They know how much I LOVE my china set and they feel special that they get to eat off of beautiful dishes every day. (These are thrifted items, so if they break I’m sad but not devastated). No drawers or cupboard stuffed with plastic mismatched kid plates with compartments for different foods. No bulky faux utensils (that don’t work well at all). They get “grown up” plates and eat with real silver plated silverware.
This is the opposite of deprivation to their minds. They get the royal treatment at Mom’s table, they are the guests of honor!
I never go behind their back
It’s really important that my children be fully engaged in our simple way of living. The last thing I want is for them to feel like Mom’s ideals just exist to deprive them of having what they want.
I’ve made a commitment that I won’t sneak anything out behind their back. If it’s time for something to go, I’m careful to keep them in the loop, and build their trust in my judgement.
Now of course I don’t make a big dramatic announcement when it’s time for something to go! I just say something like, “You’ve out grown this lovely dress, it’s time to give it to someone smaller than you.” Or “we haven’t read this book in a long time, I don’t think it’s really our favorite anymore.”
This way they know that I’m thoughtful and considerate of their feeling when it comes to decluttering. Or course there are times when I let them know that I’ll be reducing our shoes stash, but don’t have them watch me putting every single thing into the give away bag. I just want them to know that they’re not going to wake up one day and they favorite pair of shoes will have disappeared without warning.
I understand that the “sneak it out while they’re not looking” tactic is popular. But if I may be candid, there is no ideology of living in this world that is worth me damaging my trusting relationship that I have with my children. I know exactly how it feels to want the junk gone NOW. But it takes time to shepherd children along into a new way of thinking, and every family and each individual child may adjust at a different pace.
If they have always know a life of holding onto their stuff and treasures, I’ll help them learn to release it gently and openly. I don’t want them sneaking around behind my back, and I’ll show them respect by not sneaking around behind theirs.
Why do we feel we need multiples of so many things? “Just in case” and “spare” items can clog up a home quicker than you can say “Cinnamon Wicket”.
Now, I’m not always super strict about this. I love hats and my kids definitely have more than one awesome hat. But watch out! It doesn’t take long before the “just in case” items can outnumber the things we actually use. As for us, I’ve let go of nearly all of them.
If we have extras of things, I let my kids choose “the best one” to keep. This is awesome because it means that we get to use favorite things more! We use our best and favorite things every day, and that’s livin’!
Does it really save money to keep extra things?
Well, technically it may occasionally save us a few bucks to keep multiples and extras of a bunch of things for the kids. But I’m not willing to sacrifice our peaceful way of living to save a few dollars.
In fact, I have gigantic warehouses filled with pretty much anything I could want or imagine and I keep all of my “spare” things there. It’s called Amazon.com. I think of it as my own personal storage unit for anything I might need in the future. It can be on my door step in two days. And I don’t even have monthly storage unit fee to pay!
Seeing extra stuff as a burden
I no longer believe that having children means accepting that my house will be a wreck. I’m not talking about perfectionism, for that can be a burden as well. But I do require my children to keep our home tidy and to clean up after themselves regularly.
They know how quick and easy it can be snap a room into shape, and we talk about how this is one of the huge benefit of living with less!
When a room is messy, it warms my heart to hear them saying “can’t we get rid of some of this stuff so we don’t have to keep picking it up?” Music to my ears, kids.
Avoiding the clutter creep with kids
Impulse buying is something I have struggled with, and it’s basically how modern marketing for kids works. I want help my kids see how very un-urgent most purchases are.
If my kids have something in mind that they want, they have to wait. Sometimes it’s a short wait, sometimes it’s months. But the important thing is that they learn that their impulses are not nearly as urgent as they can feel.
There’s no need to hide away
One thing I don’t want to do is sequester my kids away from reality. I want them to know that it’ alright to see and like something, but not need to have it.
Of course there is always balance in this. We don’t walk down the toy aisle very often, because it can turn into an opportunity for coveting what we don’t have. We don’t look at every single option for kids clothing in the store, because it can lead to discontentment with the clothes we have.
I don’t march them down the candy aisle and announce that they can’t have any of it. But they know that the candy exists, and they know we’re going to go by and not get any, and continue to be happy with our life.
We spend more time cultivating things we love
We have less in many ways (less stuff, less crowded schedule, less bookwork) in order to create space for the things we need more of!
It take time and effort for my kids to truly understand the phrase “less is more”. They’ll be learning it at home until they grow up and fly the coop! But I’ll keep inviting them to see the the blessings and the benefits of choosing a simpler life.
I want them to know that we don’t just have to go along with the ways that seem “normal” to this culture. We have the luxury of choosing a life that is suited to us perfectly.
Satisfaction in the Lord
Lastly and most importantly, though I do want them to enjoy the blessings of this life, I want them learn to turn to the Lord for their true satisfaction.
This is a life long process, but as their Mother it’s my job to keep showing them what it looks like to be satisfied in the Lord, and inviting them to take part in it.
I love decluttering and simple living, but I want my children to know that my true joy does not come from any particular lifestyle or good habits, but only from following the Lord. And the more we follow him, the easier it is to let go of everything else.
I’d like to hear from you! Helping our kids learn to live with less in this culture can be a delicate process, what are you doing to help your kids catch the vision.