A Minimalist Family
The concept of minimalism and children seem to completely contradict each other. I get it. Just thinking about all of the things that come along with kids – the toys, the clothes, the accessories, the classes and activities, the playdates etc is mind boggling. But minimalism doesn’t mean that you live with nothing. It doesn’t mean you get rid of the TV, or that the children don’t have toys, or that you essentially live out of a suitcase. For my family, it means that we value experience over stuff; that a clutter free home creates space for intentional living; that with less shit around, we have more time for the things that set our souls on fire. If it helps, we don’t really consider ourselves minimalists per se, more that we strive for simplicity in life
Generally speaking, our lifestyles are out of control: busyness is a badge of honor that we wear proudly. The common belief is that we live linear – go to school, graduate college, get a good job, get married, buy a home, have children, retire then die. If you look at that list – there’s a pretty sizable gap between having children and retiring, right? What do we fill that space with? Well, work. And family holidays I suppose. Maybe some new toys to keep up with the times – smart tvs, a bigger car, maybe even a bigger house. And to afford all this stuff, we have to work, work, work and work some more. For many of us, we commute there and back making the typical working day up to 10 hours long. Then we settle into family routine, chores and prepping for the next day, leaving us with an hour or two at night to ‘do what we want’. And tomorrow? We get up and repeat it all over again.
Minimalism accepts that life doesn’t have to be this way. That life isn’t linear – it’s cyclical. Minimalism teaches you that the one to two hours at night where you get to ‘do what you want’ is where the beat of life lives. That one to two hours should have more priority. That engaging in experiences that set our souls on fire shouldn’t be a reward for a hard day of work. It should be what drives us each day. Living minimally allows us to create the space to make that happen.
So no, minimalism and children isn’t the biggest oxymoron out. Kids can be minimalists too. If anything, they complement each other perfectly – allowing our kids to have a slow childhood like we did back in the day. A minimalist family is a lifestyle and one that we can all achieve!
Benefits of Being a Minimalist Family
As I mentioned earlier, our current lifestyle is crazy hectic. We are in an age of technology – kids are glued to screens (which, I am not TOTALLY opposed to, but I’ll go into that later), toddlers have iPad’s strapped to the car seat (no judgement here! I was guilty of this too lol), kids are signing up for social media way below the legal age, obesity rates are rising, activity rates are declining and we are seeing more and more health problems and nutritional deficiencies as time goes by.
Kids today need minimalism more than ever.
I’m a Mum of soon-to-be three under 3.5 years old and a step Mum to two. I’m also a primary school teacher. So I get it, I really do. I have seen a few sides to the situation that faces children today. I was the first time Mum, who bought everything because I thought I would need it (not to mention the stuff was beautiful). I was also the Mum that didn’t use the majority of that beautiful stuff. I was the Mum who was overwhelmed with life, spending the majority of my time cleaning and rushing around to activities instead of bonding with my kids. I am now the Mum who is 18 months into the journey of minimalism. I still have a long way to go, but hand on heart I can see the benefits and positive impacts for both myself and my children. So it is a journey I will continue to persevere with!
Minimalist Rhythms and Routines
I was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1987, so my childhood was in the 90’s. I was right on the cusp of the internet and cellphone age – but I lived the typical, simple childhood that you would widely find in New Zealand. Where kids would go out after school on their bike without a device, knowing only that they had to be home by the time the street lights came on (i.e. dinner time lol). To hang with friends, you phoned them up and invited them over. Summers were spent at the beach, exploring, wandering, swimming. Weekends were spent outdoors too – there weren’t rules. You were just a kid and lived as a kid.
Today, things are obviously different. In some regards we can’t change or fight this – it’s just a sign of the times. Our children can’t really go out safely without a way of contacting them; we probably can’t be lax enough to say “go do what you like, be home before it’s dark.” But we can slow things down.
We can learn that busier doesn’t equal better.
We can learn that children just need to play. They don’t need classes, activities or tutoring from the age of two, three or four.
We can remove the distraction, the shiny things that twinkle and demand attention.
We can ground them.
We can give them a slow, simple and magical childhood.
And we can do all this through a slower family rhythm. Don’t worry – it doesn’t mean throwing out your TV and restricting your social life. A rhythm is as unique as a family is and each would look different. The key is to consciously consider what you want your family’s daily rhythm to look like, then create space to allow it to happen.
Minimalism and Toys
Okay, so let’s blow the number one myth out of the water. Yes, minimalist children do have toys. Now my children are little – so we are in the prime stage of toys (and lots of them). I have ideas and dreams of what this may look like as they grow older, but I’ll speak mostly from my experience for now.
Absolutely my kids have toys.
Related: How to Declutter Toys
I won’t lie about it lol. If you stepped into my house during the day you would see a trail of destruction. There would be barbies with clothing discarded next to them; a balance bike lying in the hallway with a trike somewhere behind it; a plastic farmyard which sings a God awful song, and plastic farm toys to go with it; a play kitchen with concoctions of wooden food throughout; books littered across the place; and the odd teddy here and there. And that’s just inside.
So yes, they do have toys. But these toys are becoming more thought out – about what will last, what will serve different ages, what are learning tools or imagination inspirations rather than just ‘keeps them busy and quiet’ toys (and look, we all need some of these too). The collection is consisting of more wooden toys than plastic, more books than anything else – and the key is – all of them have a home. Some are on display. Some are in the ‘toy cupboard’ where they live for a little while and come out on rotation, or when the children ask to use them.
What we don’t have is multitudes of everything. As a family, we love to travel. Love, love, love it more than anything else. Each time we go away, we take a little backpack with some books and 2-3 toys in it. While we are away, we often observe the kids – and we notice something fascinating: they don’t really need anything to be entertained or happy. One holiday we took colouring pens and stickers. The Air BnB had a little toy cow. Both our kids played with that toy cow for hours each day. Taking it out exploring, making up games with it, playing from their imagination. It is truly amazing to see what they do when they have the space to create.
Gifts & Parties
So yes, minimalist kids can have toys and they can have gifts and parties too! Remember, minimalism is all about how you value your time and what is important to you. We have done birthday parties for both our children so far (3 years old and 1 year old), and going forward will celebrate with a birthday party for milestones and then every even year.
To be entirely honest, I love throwing them a little party – making decorations, creating a yummy grazing table, and watching them have fun with their friends and those close to us. But I do know, all too well, how overboard these parties can get – and quickly too! But like I said, it’s all down to you and what you want / what works! We live frugally, so I do try to stick to a budget when throwing a party (pivotal word being try haha). However, we don’t go overboard on gifts so money is often saved elsewhere.
This may change as they grow older and they have more opinion on what they would like – but at this age, their decision making is generally “what kind of birthday party would you like?” to which the answer is “ballerina fairy” (Miss 3) or “yes” (Master 1) haha.
When it comes to gifts – there’s so many different approaches out there, read more about it here: Minimalist Gifts & Celebrations. We favour less over more, buy quality over quantity, and prefer to give something that won’t just take up space in another person’s house – such as an experience or voucher… or food lol, food is always a good gift.
I think that if you asked someone what minimalism meant – one of the common responses would be something regarding living in a somewhat empty space. Absolutely there is an element to living in a decluttered home when you choose the minimalist lifestyle – but it’s less about Marie Kondo-ing your house and more about choosing to live in a less materialistic way.
To be fair, Marie Kondo and her decluttering buzz is what set me on this path. I remember when Master H was probably 6 weeks old and feeling totally overwhelmed with the clutter (shit) in our house. We had a beautiful dining room table – something I had always dreamt of owning, because in my head it would make me a ‘real adult’ apparently lol. However, we never sat at this beautiful table. Why? Because it was converted into Mount. Washington i.e a mountain of washing and other shit that has no home.
Something had to change, and knowing the saying “a cluttered home equals a cluttered mind” I jumped straight into decluttering. My intention at this point was never to live with less – it was to sort the state of my home out so that I could figuratively and literally breathe easier. For 6 months a friend and I decluttered, room by room. And over this time, as more space opened up in my house, more space also opened up in my mind – and I started to learn about myself and what I want from life. What I want for my kids lives (while I still have major influence over them).
I recently read a blog post by The Minimalists with the title: “Organizing is Well Planned Hoarding.” While I don’t agree with the organizing side of it (I’ll share more on that later!) I love it when it reads:
Storage is Well Planned Hoarding.
I have a thing for baskets and boxes. Literally, I can recall times over the past 13 years where I have popped to the mall to look for baskets and boxes. Lol, what the f right?! So don’t get me wrong – I think there is a need for storage and organisation – especially as a family! But when you are buying stuff to store your stuff… you may have too much stuff.
Marie Kondo mentions in her book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, that she’s never been to a house that doesn’t provide enough storage space. Yet each house seems to have overflowing closets, or a whole bunch of shit crammed into the garage. The problem is not the houses, or lack of storage space. The problem is that we are hoarding. Without even realising it, we are hoarding.
All those magazines under your coffee table, that date back over the past two years? Hoarded.
All those books you’ve read once and may or may not ever read again? Hoarded.
All those clothes that you are keeping for when you lose weight, or just in case, or for one day I might wear it? Hoarded.
A collection of 10 different watches? Hoarded.
There’s obviously a couple of elements which come into play here – an attachment we have to stuff, the concept that stuff equals success, and probably mostly that we don’t even notice it until that’s all you can notice! Once we trimmed all the fat, got rid of the shit and were left with (mostly) essentials – I did enjoy organising it and storing it in an aesthetically pleasing way. The things you choose to keep need to have a home, and the home needs to be functional. Also, the more children you have, the more stuff you’re likely to accumulate – having a functioning storage system is critical. You can read more about Storage Solutions for Children’s Toys here.
Letting Go of their Childhood
My kids are wee, so it’s easy for me to lead the way right now. I am the Captain of the ship, and this is just life to them. They don’t know the difference if they have five toys or 500. They don’t care if they wear the same clothes over and over – actually sometimes they want to haha! But what happens when they grow up?
To be honest, I am looking forward to them reaching the age where we can work more in partnership. That’s a huge value in our family – that the children and us are partners in life. We are no better, no more powerful, no superior to them. Once they begin to cognitively understand more and form personal opinions we hope to co-create principles to live by (yep, that’s right – no rules guys!). During this time, I would hope to teach them some aspects such as decluttering and our values of not placing emphasis on material goods.
But as they grow, they outgrow too. There are cute outfits from their first year of life. The outfit they came home from hospital in. Toys which they loved, but no longer play with. And what do we do with these? Because frankly, sometimes it is hard to let go. (Or, you let go all too easily and later regret it.) I have a keepsake box for each of the children. I ordered the large one, and I’m grateful that even then, it’s really not that large lol otherwise I would be tempted to fill it in its entirety. Miss F’s has little in it – her outfit from her first birthday, invitations I’ve made for each party, a cute wee hat she wore as a baby. Nothing hugely sentimental. Master H’s has more – things I wish I had kept the first time around such as his hospital bracelet and coming home outfit.
I regularly go through their things and weed out the clothes that no longer fit, or the toys that are no longer played with, the books that are no longer for their age. And often, I see something and think “they don’t like / use / play with it anymore, but I love it. So I’ll keep it.” and back into the closet it goes. For what? Me to look at and appreciate, I suppose? Lol. Not that I stand in their wardrobes doing that. So more likely, it’s because sometimes we get confused. We confuse an object that we love for a representation of our child. Miss F had the most beautiful dress for her third birthday. It cost a bomb too. She thought it was okay. And she wore it maybe 5 times. It no longer fits, but it hangs in her brother’s wardrobe. I do admire it each time I pop clothes away, but I don’t know the reason I am holding on to it. Our next, and last child is a boy, so I can’t hand it down. For some reason though, I am attached to this object – it’s beautiful, and I tell myself that it represents Miss F at three. But really, by keeping this for her – I am just passing on my clutter to my adult child. Rather than passing on something that they truly loved and allowing them the space to decide if they want to keep it or not. We need to learn to Let Go of their Childhood.
But how can we live a more simple life, in today’s hectic world?
Today, more than ever – simplicity may seem out of reach. We are raised to believe that busy is best and this is hugely ingrained in our minds and being. The thought of working only 3 days a week, or our kids not participating in 5 different extra-curricular activities can leave us feeling like we aren’t doing ‘enough’. We aren’t ‘keeping up’.
What if I told you that living more simply, doesn’t mean you don’t partake in life? It doesn’t mean saying no to everything and living the life of a hermit. Instead, it means rediscovering our values, what fires us up each day – and putting those at the forefront of our life.
There are so many ways to get started on a more simple life. And so many different aspects that we can incorporate in our life – not all will resonate with you, so you need to tune out the white noise and read, listen and research to find out what will work for you – what will create more space in your life to relax, enjoy and be present.
Simple Living is Holistic
As with minimalism – the concept of living a simple lifestyle is more than just getting rid of your things or clearing your calendar. It’s a holistic approach; it’s looking at your life and deciding: I want more than being busy, I want more than being distracted, I want more than my to-do list. I want more: quiet, calm, time, space, love, relationship, whatever tickles your fancy really.
And to do this – you need to look at your life from all angles and determine where and how you can simplify it. I’m talking about simplifying your:
You 100% do not need to be a slave to your money. We have lived the pay check to pay check buzz and it’s definitely not a vibe. We are so conditioned to believe we need more, more, more material things – but in reality, if we really look at our priorities and wants in life, often we can make some cuts, pare some things back and live a much more free life.
Want somewhere to start? Check out 8 Books You Need to Read Now to get you on your minimalism journey.