How To Live A Minimalistic Life With Kids

I hate clutter of any kind. Before I had children, it was pretty simple to keep my house in order and practice my passion for less. Everything had its place and I made a habit of shopping only when necessary, practicing environmental stewardship by recycling and repurposing what I could. My desire was to live with as small a footprint as possible, buying local, growing what I could, keeping chickens and trying to avoid being hooked up in the stream of commercialism.

Kids and all their ‘stuff’

Then, there were children. All of a sudden, my oh-so-minimalistic life became less easy to maintain and clutter began to creep in. I could not understand why babies “needed” so much stuff. There was the stroller, the pack, the walker, the endless array of toys that my relatives seemed to think were absolutely necessary for a happy child. But what could I say to the well-meaning grandparents who showed up with something new and shiny every time they visited? I just nodded and thanked them. My children played with the toy for a few hours and it landed in the laundry basket, — a.k.a., the toy grave.

After the birth of my second child, I made a conscious decision to rid the clutter and begin living a minimalist life with children in tow. First, there was the great purge, the day that everything deemed unuseful found its way to the yard sale. Those things that made the cut were organized and given a rightful place within the home.

Teaching kids the art of minimalism

Teaching minimalism to your kids early on will help form positive habits for life.
Teaching minimalism to your kids early on will help form positive habits for life.

My children are now 17, 20 and 23. To this day, they all understand and respect the art of minimalism. They know how to save money and keep their homes organized. They have a strong passion for living a life that respects the environment.

Of course, this mindset was not impressed without times of difficulty. Fighting against the societal pressure to have it all allowed many a powerful teaching moment (and even tears) as my kids began to understand how to sort out the difference between needs and wants.

Don’t get me wrong, my children had plenty of amazing experiences and our family memories are rich. But remember, stuff fades away and experiences last. I got into the habit of giving my children “experience gifts.” This has been something I have been faithful about to this day.

How can I embrace minimalism with kids?

After raising my children with a spirit of minimalism, I feel like I am in a good position to share some of my tips for making less really seem like more in your own family. Over the years, here is what I have learned:

Be a living example

One of the best ways to encourage your family to adopt the lifestyle of minimalism is to “be the life” you want your family to be. This means sticking to the course yourself and always being an example to the rest of your family.

Keep the conversation going

In order to fully understand the meaning of minimalism, and keep everyone in the family motivated, conversation is essential. If you have young children, it is paramount to discuss minimalism and be on the same page as your spouse. Before embarking on the minimalism journey, have a conversation about the lifestyle and why it is important. Talk about things like the difference between wants and needs and the positive impacts that will come about from such a lifestyle.

It is also important to share your struggles with each other. I found this particularly helpful as my children grew older. They had friends that were consumed with stuff. At times, this made it difficult for my kids to make appropriate decisions and have positive thoughts about minimalism. However, when we shared our struggles, we got back to the root of why we needed to stick to the plan.

Enjoy the simple things

Encourage minimalism by getting kids outside instead of buying them stuff.
Encourage minimalism by getting kids outside instead of buying them stuff.

If you get into the habit of enjoying the simple pleasures early with your kids, it will become a habit. Children tend to mold to whatever has the most influence in their lives. When my kids were young I could keep them engaged in the woods for hours, collecting rocks, pinecones, studying birds and building forts. They always came back with a treasure box of art supplies and things to study.

We also had movie nights in the backyard and art classes. My kids even loved to perform plays and musicals whenever they got the chance. Yes, keeping things simple took a lot of energy, but it was well worth every ounce. I see the fruits of my labor two decades later.

You don’t have to throw away everything

When I had to figure out a creative way to deal with the 1,000 Littlest Pet Shop figures and a plethora of Hot Wheels, I had to get creative. Instead of getting rid of these things all together, I allowed my children one day a week to break out these toys and have a playdate. At the end of the day, the toys were packaged back up and stored in the attic for another day. To this day, my kids have their Littlest Pets, which they claim they are saving for their own children. They key is making sure that your children appreciate what they have. The second we stop appreciating, the more we want more.

Let your extended family know your intentions

When you make the decision to live a simplified life, be sure to let your extended family members know. It is likely that some of them won’t understand your decision. But, in order for them to respect your desires, you need to let them in on your plan. Who knows, your lifestyle may rub off on some of them and this is a great thing.

Develop ‘simple’ family traditions

Practice minimalism in your house with simple holiday traditions.
Practice minimalism in your house with simple holiday traditions.

Rather than spending a ton of money on things such as birthdays, graduations and Christmas, my family adopted some really fun and frugal traditions. We had many Christmas celebrations that involved homemade and recycled gifts that my kids worked on all year long. This is a great way to swim against the current and still have a memorable holiday.

Be engaged

A lot of times, parents replace time spent with their children with stuff. This is something that is very popular in our culture. Whether it be phones, computers, televisions or just stuff in general, parents who are really busy give their kids a lot of items instead of making the time to just be with their children. Parenting is hard, yes, but it is such a blessing to replace stuff with time spent with your children. My life is certainly richer for this decision.

Allow your children unstructured playtime

From the time my kids were little, I allowed a good chunk of the day for unstructured play. I would generally give them a few props — be it silks, blocks or a backpack full of art supplies — and send them on their way. They learned how to work together to have fun, make decisions and enjoy each other in a very simple and sweet way.

A few more tips

Adopt a pet from a local shelter to encourage minimalism and simple living.
Adopt a pet from a local shelter to encourage minimalism and simple living.

Here are a few other tips for living simply with kids:

  • Homeschool — or, in my case, unschool
  • Use public transportation, walk or ride bikes
  • Ditch the television and play games instead
  • Get a family pet from a local shelter
  • Encourage your kids to journal and draw daily
  • Make community service a weekly activity
  • Shop locally to keep dollars in your community
  • Keep a garden and raise chickens
  • Visit thrift stores instead of buying new
  • Sponsor a child in a third world country
  • Visit the library frequently

— Susan Patterson

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