Sunday, June 14, 2015

Children and Minimalism - Yes, You Can!

I've followed the blog ZenHabits for quite a while now, and am always inspired by the simple, concise message of Leo Baubata's posts (crossing fingers to interview him here on the blog eventually; we had a plan back in fall but could never get it coordinated.) One of my favorite topics are his posts on minimalism. Children and minimalism, keeping a simple home with kids, raising minimalist teenagers in an age of consumerism, and so much more. And before I proceed, I'm gonna take a moment and explore that word, minimalism. Many people believe a minimalist lifestyle means making a monk-like commitment to shucking off all material things and living like a pauper.

And that's not true. Minimalism as a lifestyle is simply about living more while spending and acquiring less.

Less stuff means less money spent on stuff. Which can mean less time working. More time to have experiences. Enjoy moments. I'm personally all for working less, but that's just me. Taking the summer off  (with the exception of freelancing) has been a good reminder to me about how important simple living is to us. One week off, and I feel like a new person.

Minimalism works for us because makes our lives easier, bottom line. We have a small space. We live on one income - mine. Too much needless stuff would lead to clutter and frustration, and the pressure to buy a lot of needless stuff would lead to debt and possible financial crisis. No thanks. In order to teach this as a core value, however, I needed to be the lesson. I would have to embody the practice of minimalism in my own life, which isn't always easy, because I like stuff. We all do. But like so many things in life, acquiring stuff is a habit, and habits can be changed.

Books like the one below, which talks about minimalism from a spiritual perspective, were very helpful to me. I totally recommend this one, Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth. 

Minimalism is good for the wallet, the home, the soul and the environment, but it can be tricky to some families. Often people say their children are the reason they can't lead a simpler life. Here are some things I do and have taught my son to do that work very well to keep us in balance.

1. Have a place for everything, or it has no place in your space. If we have nowhere to put something, it can not come home with us. Bottom line. This also works for duplicate or almost-just-like-something-we-already-have things. If there is a plan to purchase something, then something needs to be relinquished to make room for the new thing. We do this for clothes, books and toys, too. If something new comes in, something old goes out. No excuses.

2. Teach financial smarts from an early age.Though it isn't the most exciting way to spend a Saturday morning, I often have my son sit with me while I do our monthly budget. How much money I make is no secret, nor is the amount of monthly expenses we have. I divide the remaining balance by the number of weeks left until the next payday so there is a clear understanding as to how much money can be spent in a week. For older children like my son, this really helps put into perspective why it's important not to be too in-the-moment when it comes to spending, and it also teaches valuable money management skills.

3. Turn off the television. Many children ask for things they would never know existed if it weren't for the constant barrage of commercial advertising. There are numerous reasons to limit a child's exposure to television; this is just one.

4. Keep birthday and holiday gift-giving simple and encourage family members to respect this. My son's Christmas wish list is limited to 10 items. We especially honor the rule about new things coming in and old things going out during these times. With small rooms and small spaces, it would be very easy for our home to become jumbled and cluttered if we didn't restrict what can come in. I also stress consumables at Christmas - gift cards to restaurants we enjoy, the movie theatre, etc. These save us money and make for very enjoyable outings. This year we received 4 nice gift cards and it was wonderful!

5. Teach your child to enjoy space in the home by streamlining as much as you can. A bookshelf with just a few items. A wall with space to rest the eyes. Clean lines in decor. White on white. Simple. While this may not be your decorating tastes, it makes the chores of tending house a lot less time consuming if there is less to be picked up, sorted, and arranged to begin with. Children's spaces should not be busy, but peaceful. My son has a couple of toy buckets that slide under the bed, making cleaning up a cinch for him. When the bookshelves get too filled, and they often do around here, we purge and donate to the library or trade them in at a local used book store. He has one 'working' table where he can leave out Legos and projects he's in the middle of.

6. Teach gratitude for what you already have through service to others. My son and I volunteer at our local soup kitchen, and I can't think of a better lesson against over-consumerism than serving those less fortunate. It's humbling beyond measure. If your child/children is old enough, please reach out and volunteer somewhere with them. It's truly a life-changing experience.

7. Buy quality, not quantity. How many pairs of shoes does my child actually need? No matter how many he has, he will choose one favorite and never touch the others. I learned this early on! So now, he has one nice pair of sneakers, a nice pair of non-sneakers for dressier occasions, and Crocs/flip flops for summer play and leisure. That's it. Three pair of quality shoes that will last a few seasons (or until his foot grows) and not require a ton of space. I also use this approach with coats and jackets, or anything that, really, my son doesn't really need 5 of. Buying quality also teaches him to take care of what he has. I invested in a really nice jacket for him this fall in a mall shop, and he took special pains to ensure it was hung up properly and always changed out of it before playing because he understood it was a nicer garment than the hoodie he wears for outside play.

7. Utilize the movie rental services and your local library. We love Netflix, the RedBox, and our library! Why? Because we can enjoy them and they don't take up space! RedBox movie rentals and library books go back, and Netflix of course is streamlined through the computer so we don't need to purchase an actual film. Probably not very good for the book/movie consumer market, no, but it works for our home and budget!

8. Lead by example. While shopping one Saturday a few years back, I came across a pair of blue wedges on sale that, oh my, were just too cute. However, as I was trying them on, my son reminded me that I already had a pair of blue shoes. Although these were deeply discounted and not really that similar to the pair I had at home, I recognized that this was a teaching moment and I needed to walk the walk if I were going to talk the talk. As much as I wanted the shoes (and I admit, clothes and shoes can be my weakness. And yarn.) I put them back on the shelf and thanked my son for the reminder.

9. Explain to children the subtle reasoning that often lurks behind desiring more and more stuff. "Kids just want a lot of stuff sometime so they can impress other kids and make them like them or they think they need it to be happy." Those were my son's words this morning when I told him the subject of this post. While this may be a more difficult concept to instill, the idea that having a lot of material possessions will impress others or make them like you or make you happier doesn't begin in adulthood, it starts in childhood. One of the most important lessons I feel that we can teach our children is that this is a hollow pursuit; we should never equated our personal worth or success in life with how much stuff we have. As he has matured, this makes more sense and he can also understand better why, when he goes to the home of a child who has a gazillion things, he should not feel that he is missing out or deprived of anything. Everyone is different and families have different priorities; ours just isn't material things. I've also let him watch the short video, The Story of Stuff. Priceless.

9. Give children experiences with money and earning money. On vacations, my son has a set amount of budget for souvenirs. When it is gone, it's gone. He understands this and is very careful with his spending - often he doesn't even spend it at all! In addition, he get opportunities to earn money by doing small jobs like weeding a neighbor's walk, helping my parents with things around their home, etc. For big ticket items, like the $110 Hobbit Lego set he's currently working towards, I generally tell him I'll meet him halfway, meaning if he can earn half, I'll put in the other. Currently, he has about $35 saved up towards the Lego set. This keeps me from having heart failure every time I open my credit cards statements, too. It's natural to want to give your children the things they desire, but it's so important to teach them to work for what they want, not simply to ask and expect.

10. Don't forget the spiritual aspect of it all. Whatever your faith, most do not preach that the acquisition of possessions is a path to happiness; it's just the opposite. A simpler life is not at all about doing without; that's the mindset many people have which turns them against the idea of minimalism. It's about having more quality to life and less quantity of things. The spiritual aspect can help reinforce that this is a lifestyle choice that's important to you and your family for deeper reasons than the budget or space in the home.

I also find a lot of inspiration from books and websites showcasing Scandinavian homes and design. My love of that region makes me a bit biased, but man, when it comes to beautiful minimalist homes, they've just got it nailed across the pond! Check out this blog by a London Designer living in Sweden to see how beautiful minimalism can be!

Now, I'm off to enjoy this beautiful Sunday morning by interviewing a race car driver for a freelance magazine assignment. Not too shabby!

Happy Sunday!



Grace Contreras said...

Awe, Amy thank you for this inspiring blog post! It brought so many positive memories to my heart relating to my own parenting experiences. I enjoyed reading this article blog. I can relate to many of the points highlighted within the article that can enhance minimalism characteristics in self and those around us. When my daughter was being raised in my home, I as a single mom practied many of the steps, we moved to sc and the first eight years I didn't have a t.v. in my home; living on acres of land was our adventure's and afternoon matinee movies and weekly Saturday afternoon's in the local library etc. Money saved lead to traveling for the holiday's and momentos were things found during the travels: shark teeth, sea shells, driftwood and so on. Holiday gifts were items we made one another, many of these are still embraced as family traditions with cherished memories as my daughter is now 29 and living out of my home since she was 19 years old. It warms my heart when as an adult she travels tovrhe beach and we still spend time together looking for shark teeth, she packs food and cooks, we get up early to see the sunrise together, go for walks and get excited when finding thingsvom nature walks. Life is enriching and priceless living a minimalist family lifestyle.

Mari said...

A great post and a great list Amy! Like you know I couldn´t agree more that less quantity and more quality is so much better in life :) I was happy to hear about your summer and your possibility to have a long holiday. It´s not that easy to arrange that financially but I´ve noticed that the better chances you have to arrange it for yourself when you learn to live simpler! I wish you and your son beautifully relaxing summer days :)