The more the world turns to consumerism and materialism, the more I notice the uprising of parents who want to raise kids who go against the grain. The need grows higher every day. We need to be raising kids who are focused on the right things, because they’re the ones who can turn things around when we’re no longer here.
It’s not that things are bad. Just as money isn’t the root of all evil, but rather the obsession with money is, so it goes with the love of all the things. Consumerism is America, and it’s hard not to catch the disease.
One of the most valued goals my husband and I have in raising our herd is to guide their focus to the right things. By over-indulging them, we are doing them a disservice. Not only are kids who have a ton of toys less artistic, more overstimulated, and more likely to be materialistic adults, they’re not very fun to be around.
When we had a big playroom loaded with toys, my kids were never more annoying. They were whiny, always bored, and had no knowledge of how to entertain themselves. I don’t blame them- the toys being manufactured today leave no room for imagination or, ironically, play. They do all the work for our kids! They light up, make realistic sounds, the baby dolls actually go poop, what’s happening?
Kids are wired to make things up, play pretend, use their imaginations, and explore the outdoors.
Brian and I have gone to great lengths to limit technology and toys in our home, but at the same time, we’re pretty relaxed about it. We don’t go crazy, we don’t forbid technology (it’s actually a big part of our homeschool). It’s less about specific rules and more about being intentional with our kids, and it’s working out great.
Our kids have developed their creative gifts in incredible ways since we started limiting technology and toys, their relationships with one another have improved dramatically, and they’re now capable of playing without the need for adult attention for hours at a time every day. It. Rocks.
So what does all this technology talk have to do with minimalism? Minimalism isn’t just about how much stuff you own. It’s not about getting rid of everything or only having white walls. Minimalism is about choosing to create an atmosphere focused on what truly matters, and removing (or limiting) all distractions.
As minimalists, Brian and I are not only intentional about the things that take up space in our home, we’re also intentional and mindful of what takes up space on our calendars and how much of our kids’ time is spent in front of a TV. It’s a mindset and a lifestyle, not a list of rules for possessions.
So what about our kids? I’m gonna answer some of the most common questions I'm asked about them in this post that will cover what our kids think about our lifestyle, how they respond to it, and how you can teach your kids about minimalism if that’s what you’re wanting to do.
FAQ About My Kids + Minimalism
How did your kids respond when you first removed most of their toys from the house?
At the time I did my initial purge, I started with the toys, and my kids were around ages 4, 2, and a few months old, so I pretty much took charge over the process. I got rid of everything that wasn’t absolutely loved, or a constructive/imaginative play item. However, that was just our first round, and we’ve regularly purged the toys since then.
The reaction to the first time was sort of, “oh! It’s so clean in here mom! Did you get rid of my stuffed animals?” That’s all my daughter (the 4 year old at the time) cared about. I didn’t get rid of them, by the way, but moved them into her room.
During all our follow-up purges, the kids were vocal about the few items they wanted to keep, and I listened to them. Their reaction to purging has always been curious, but cool with it. I made them a part of it more and more as they got older. I didn’t want them to feel helpless or like they were being punished and losing all their favorite things.
What do your kids do instead of playing with toys?
Well, they still have a limited amount of toys they play with. They have wooden blocks, trains and tracks, Legos, puzzles, and a few random toys they love. All our toys fit into one medium-sized box.
Other favorite activities of theirs are reading (or looking through books for those who can’t read yet), coloring, painting, all types of art, catching bugs outside, playing dress up, exploring the yard, making up their own sport games, imagining scenarios and stories then acting them out, building houses and forts out of boxes or the laundry hampers (yeah, they get really creative), and their favorite thing right now is pretending to be animals and creating a pretend world/story out of that. They could do that for hours!
What do your kids think about your lifestyle?
I would say they don’t really know anything else, but they do. They see the difference when they go over to friends’ houses and we talk about that. It’s funny because every time we visit someone else’s house, at the end of the visit there is always at least thirty minutes (usually more like an hour) of polite pickup I have the kids do. They have to clean up everything that was taken out while we were there as a courtesy to our friends opening up their home to us. Almost every time, on the drive home, they’ll tell me how much they hate cleaning up all those toys and they’re glad they don’t have to do that at home.
I think they know what’s going on, and so far all I’ve really seen is gratitude from them.
Do your kids ever tell you they miss something you’ve purged?
Nope. Not once. The only toys that’s ever happened with are the ones that have been lost in a move or accidentally left behind at the park. If you saw the live stream where I purged our toy box with my kids, you know they really couldn't care less, ha!
How should I go about introducing my kids to minimalism?
Just be honest with them! Depending on their ages, talk to them about how there are other kids in the world who don’t have money and can’t play with cool toys, and ask them to pick ten toys they no longer want to play with to give away. Make it a happy family adventure that they get to be in charge of so they don’t think they’re being punished.
Kids are so kind and giving; they usually love being in charge of things like this. Make this a weekly tradition until you’ve pared down all you can, and stick with it. Eventually, minimalism just becomes a part of your family’s normal way of life and the kids will start coming to you with things they want to purge.
How do you handle the random little odds and ends that kids somehow always end up with after school, church, and spending a day with grandparents? It feels like it never ends.
Agreed! Those kinds of things are always adding up. Now that we’re on the other side and the bulk of our purging is over, I go through the house once a month or so and do a mini-purge. I take the kids with me and we get rid of anything they don’t play with. It keeps things under control so we don’t end up back where we started, and teaches them to live with a minimalist mindset without making a big deal out of it.
I never want my kids to think that I couldn’t handle any non-necessity toy in the house or that I was crazy about making them throw things away the second they brought it into the house. I’m pretty laid back about it, and I think it helps them accept this way of life really easily.
How do you handle explaining to your kids that they don’t need as many toys as everyone else at Christmastime? How does Christmas look in your house?
I don’t explain that they don’t need as many toys as everyone else- to me that makes it feel like I’m punishing my kids for no reason. I make a big point to keep our lifestyle feeling very normal. Like I said above, I’m low key and relaxed about it, I don’t get crazy or perfectionistic about it.
Christmastime is our favorite time of the year, and I mean that for Brian and I too. I think a lot of the time parents come to dread it for financial reasons, but we know it’s no big deal and we can bless our kids without struggling come January. It makes Christmas what it should be- about giving, joy, and Christ.
We implemented the wisemen tradition about four years ago, and we absolutely love it. Each kid gets three main gifts each (some people theme these gifts. ie: something to play with, something to wear, something you need. I don’t do that but it’s a good idea). The kids know this is how Christmas works with us, and they get other gifts from relatives, so they don’t feel like they’re missing a thing. Doing the wisemen tradition is so many shades of awesome. It allows us to get the kids some really great gifts without breaking the bank, and it eliminates the need to “fill up” the space under the tree. In our house stockings don’t count as wisemen gifts, so we tend to get pretty creative with those!
To read my full post on how we do Christmas, click here.
How do you help your older two deal with peer influence? Like seeing what other toys friends have when they visit and then wanting them.
I honestly haven’t dealt with this much at all. A couple of times, my oldest two have played with a friend who had an awesome toy and talked to me about how they wish they had that toy, but that happens whether you’re a minimalist or not. Nobody has all the toys, so what would you do if your kid came home from a friend’s house tomorrow and said, “Caleb had an awesome toy truck and I wish I had it.” Not many of us would go down to Target and get the truck, so it’s really no different in our house.
In terms of my kids noticing the amounts of toys in other people’s homes, the only time that’s been mentioned to me by my kids is to say how much they hate how long it takes to clean up after a play date, which I mentioned earlier in this post.
What do you do with gifts given to your children that they LOVE but you can't stand and they don't fit with your end goal? It feels cruel to take away a gift that they are pleased to have received for their birthday.
That does feel cruel, and I wouldn’t do that. I let my kids’ toys run their course, even if I’m annoyed that someone gave it to them and I wish they would tell me to donate it. It’s not about me, and I don’t want to damage my kids or make them resentful of a lifestyle I’ve chosen for the betterment of our family. After a few weeks or months, depending on the child and the toy, they get over it and choose to put it in the donation bin without me having to say anything.
How do you handle birthday parties and gifts from other people?
With a very grateful heart. I love that people want to love on my kids and give them nice things! If they ask me what they should get, I kindly tell them whatever it is I know my kids would want and that I would be thrilled about (usually art supplies or backyard toys), but if not, oh well! Like I said, it’ll run its course and it’s not the end of the world.
How do other children coming into your home react to the minimal toys?
I would imagine there have been some funny conversations between my kids’ friends and their moms on the way home from our house….
“Mom, are they POOR??”
“No, Jimmy, it’s worse. They’re MINIMALISTS. Don’t tell your father.”
But nobody has ever said anything or wondered where all the toys are in the house that I’ve heard. I do notice a big difference in a play date at our house over play dates at friends’ homes. The kids play longer together at our house and there’s a five-minute pickup time afterward, versus the overstimulated screaming and bickering between my kids and their siblings followed by forty-five minutes of me saying “say thank you to Mrs. Johnson and clean up NOW!!” That's a perk, fo sho.
How do you deal with sentimental items that are not sentimental to your kids?
I wrote a post on how to handle sentimental items (which you can read here), and I don’t try to make my kids feel sentimental about things if they don’t. I just deal with it the way I think it should be handled :)
How do you limit technology in your home? What does that look like?
It’s very laid back and not about rules. During this season of our lives, Brian and I are both running businesses from home and our kids are homeschooled, so technology steps in and helps us get work done when we need it to. However we definitely are a low-tech family, so here’s what that looks like…
We don’t have a main TV in the house. Sometimes the kids will watch Netflix on their homeschooling laptop. There’s a tiny TV in the kids’ room that is only for playing Super Nintendo. It’s a legit 90’s set up, ha! Super Nintendo is limited to 30-60 minutes a day, depending on what we have going on. I’m not against having a TV and a Wii and all that fun stuff. We just haven’t felt like our kids really care right now, and we’d like to hold off on getting into all that if we can, although I’m confident we can make some awesome family game nights out of it once we go down that road.
Our kids spend 85% of their time making up games in the living room, playing outside, or creating stuff (art or Lego buildings or puzzles usually). The other 15% of their time is spent eating, pooping, playing Mario or watching Paw Patrol.
That's all the FAQ on this topic for now! I hope this post brings some clarity to being a minimalist with kids, and inspires you to make some positive shifts in your own home.
What about you? Do you implement minimalism in toys or technology in your home? Are you thinking about it? If you have another question, go ahead and drop it in the comments section.