When I asked my Facebook friends how they minimalize their lives, I was surprised by how many people responded. I knew about the tiny house movement, but I wasn’t aware of the more widespread movement to downsize everything from possessions to clothes to finances. Friends recommended books, documentaries and podcasts about how to live a minimalist life and the benefits they’ve experienced like less stress and healthier finances.
I’m particularly interested in how this trend can be applied to parenting both in practical application (less stuff, more imagination) and emotional application (less overwhelmed and more centered).
You can minimalize without moving your family of four into your kids’ playhouse. Here are some great tips from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and teachers on how less is more when it comes to raising kids.
Avoid accumulating more things
Does your child really need twenty new toys for his birthday? More important, do you really need to have twenty new toys in the house to clean up? Can you imagine how much money and stress you’d save a year if all kids’ birthday parties were gift-free?
Obviously, you can’t make your kids’ friends have gift-free birthdays (although you could try to talk the parents into a glorious "all gift-free parties pact" that would save you each hundreds of dollars a year), but you can throw a "no gifts necessary" or a "please no gifts" party for your child. In return, don’t give party favors – they’re just more junk and more money.
Or you could ask for donations to a specific cause that means a lot to your child (art, books, animals) in lieu of birthday gifts. The money spent on the gifts your kid doesn’t really need could greatly benefit other kids or charities.
Instead of your child earning a toy for a full sticker chart, offer an adventure – a trip to the skating rink, a hike, or a concert. Then the reward is a reward within the reward of family time.
Instead of toys, ask grandparents to donate to a fund for a weekly class or annual family membership to museums, zoos, or theaters. A toy is just a toy. An experience is a memory.
To prevent over-gifting our own kids, follow the rule of four. A friend suggests buying one thing a child wants, one thing he needs, one thing he can wear and one thing he can read.
Practice purge before purchase
You can also call this the "one for one" rule. You have to get rid of one thing before you buy another. That means no impulse buying toys or clothes for your kids (or yourself), only things with intention and room to store them.
Make kids part of this process. It’s so good for them to practice letting go of what doesn’t serve them anymore to make room for things that do.
A friend says that she puts out a huge black bag at the beginning of December and tells her kids that they have to fill the bag with toys so Santa can take those toys to kids who need them. She said sometimes it works too well, because they put in a lot of viable toys in a bid to get on Santa’s good side.
Get a library card
A library card gives your kids access to hundreds of books without you having to house them or pay for them (the books I mean - you still have to house and pay for your kids). Many libraries also lend movies and give access to books on tape. Plus, libraries are a great and free way to spend an afternoon.
My kids’ daycare taught me a great trick. Halfway through the day, they clean up the toys they’ve been playing with in the morning and get out a different set of toys for the afternoon. This works like a charm at home, too. You don’t have to do it daily. You can trade out toys weekly or even monthly. Rediscovering an old toy produces the same desired effect as discovering a new toy.
How to get rid of what you’ve got
A couple of my friends say they get inspired to clean out their house by watching Minimalism: a Documentary About the Important Things on Netflix. There’s also a The Minimalists podcast, by the same creators of the documentary.
Many of my friends have suggested inspiring books about minimalizing any of Dave Ramsey’s finance books about slimming bloated budgets, Simplify by Joshua Becker, and this book about the KonMari method of organizing. One friend wisely suggested looking for these books on Audible, so you can listen as you work and you don’t have to add yet another book to your large pile of books.
Donate used items for extra incentives
If it’s hard for you to let go of things like tiny, adorable baby toys, motivate yourself by giving to a charity that specifically benefits kids (Baby2Baby is a good one). You can be a big help in your own community by donating to local organizations like women’s shelters and children’s charities.
If you don’t know where else to start, call a local religious organization like a church or mosque - they can be great resources for connecting goods with those who need them. When you donate instead of tossing things in the garbage, you get rid of stuff while helping someone else and getting a tax break. It’s a win, win, win.
For even another win, find a qualified charity (one recognized by the IRS) that itemizes receipts so you can get a tax break from your donation. Technically, only itemized receipts would be accepted in an IRS audit for donations over $250. Don’t be afraid to ask! Call ahead and let a charity know that you have a lot you’d like to donate but you would need an itemized receipt for tax purposes. If they can’t offer one, find a charity that can. In Los Angeles the National Council of Jewish Women is a nonprofit that helps families and gives itemized receipts.
Let the less emotionally attached partner do the ridding
Boxes of baby clothes occupied our garage well after our babies were toddlers. I kept saying I needed to go through them, but my husband finally said, "Why do you want to put yourself through that?" He had already sorted the stained clothes from the ones worth donating with my daughter, and even he cried a little.
"You’re right," I said. "Take them to the women’s shelter. NOW!" Before I had time to ponder all my babies’ clothes being gone, my husband packed them in the back of his car and left.
If you tend to get emotionally attached to items or you have a hard time making decisions about what to let go of, get a friend to help you or just leave the house and let your partner get to work.
Slow and steady wins the race
Think of minimalizing as a lifestyle change and not just a frenzied diet. A friend of mine said that she plans to move her family into a smaller house (around 900 sq feet) so her family can "live small and vacation big". For the last year she has been creating a capsule wardrobe for each member of her family and culling through the rest of their possessions to downsize.
All of my friends who are on a quest to minimalize caution that it is a process and a change in habits and thinking that isn’t always easy, but they all say it’s worth it. They claim less stress and time doing laundry, more money, happier kids, and a new found sense of freedom.