Second-Generation Minimalism: Can You Pass the Spark to Your Children?

Does a minimalist home create children who remain minimalists as adults?  

That's an important question.  Can you successfully transmit your religious beliefs to your children?  Your ethical practices?  Can you build bonds of love and respect that last through generations?  These are the "same" questions, aren't they?

The answer seems to be "Often, but not always."

An anonymous reader was curious about this after reading an earlier post about toys:

I have two small children myself and my story resembles yours in so many ways....  How [do] your kids feel about this change today?  Do they remember?  Do they hold any grudge against you for introducing them to minimalism or are they thankful?  Are they minimalist themselves today?

I left a quick reply to this reader from Norway:

My kids are not minimalists....  They do remember, and they've never expressed any grudges about having fewer toys.  I think I became better at choosing toys they really wanted, rather than buying stuff that caught my eye that they didn't really care about.  They had fewer things, but more cherished things....

Since then, I've continued to think about these questions.  Thank you, friend, for your thoughtful inquiries!

Minimalism isn't one-size-fits all.  It looks different for everyone.

Minimalism isn't about owning a certain number of things, or about living in a big empty space with one chair, one lamp, and a piece of modern art.  Minimalism is a lifestyle that enables you to discern what really matters to you.  It's a way of choosing what's essential to your happiness so that you're not weighed down by things that keep you too busy, too distracted, or too in debt to pursue your most valued goals.  Minimalism brings freedom to appreciate and savor the people, activities, and things that bring joy to your life, while removing everything else.

So I should not have said that my grown children aren't minimalists, just because their minimalism looks different from mine.

My daughter is married and has two sons, aged 3.5 years and 5 months.  Her family lives in a small two-bedroom apartment.  Even though there's a lot of children's stuff, I can see that she works hard to keep only the toys and clothes the boys use.  My older grandson has a lot of toys, but they all have a home in storage cubes and bins.

My daughter and son-in-law both love to cook and bake, so they have a lot of kitchen equipment beyond the basics.  Their kitchen is small, so drawers, cupboards, and counters are quite crowded, but the items are used regularly.  Unlike many young families, they cook most of the time and rarely eat out.  They also like to have people over for dinner and board games.

They have no debt, and are industriously saving to buy a house.  My daughter has put her teaching career on hold during her sons' preschool years, so her fiscal contribution takes the form of sticking to a budget and practicing frugality.  These choices enable this young family to focus on what's important to them.

My son is currently living on a tiny budget as he has just started his own business.  He has two roommates in order to minimize housing costs, so the only room under his complete control is his bedroom.  This multi-purpose space is his office, sewing/craft room (his hobby is cosplay), as well as where he sleeps.  His closet is crowded with costumes and sewing supplies.  But I have no doubt that all of these things are useful and valuable to him.

My son has some debt, which he regrets.  When he first started working and living on his own, he acquired a lot of things he didn't have cash for.  He's now sorry about his impatience and the fact that his financial situation is less stable because he has bills to pay.  I believe he would agree that stuff is no substitute for freedom and security.

What do my kids say about it?

I asked my kids what they believe was positive or negative about their early exposure to minimalism.

My daughter said she remembers my anger and frustration before The 20 Toy Rule, and that it made her feel upset.  Since she's studied child development, she pointed out that children have strong feelings about things that belong to them.  They might feel that a toy is part of their identity, even if it's truck number 35.  A stern decision to "just toss this garbage" is very scary to a child.

As a 6-year-old, she could understand that the mess was huge, and there were lots of toys they didn't even play with (throwing them out of the toy box to find what they really wanted).  She thinks the best lesson I taught was how to choose their favorites and let go of the rest.  It kept the process of sorting "kind of fun," and made the things they kept even more special.

My daughter is just starting to teach her older son how to give away "truck number 35," and he too seems to enjoy the process when approached with the attitude of "What's special that you want to keep?" rather than "Let's just get rid of all this junk!"  She mentioned that it takes a constant effort on her part to keep clothes and toys pared down, because kids grow and their interests change so fast.  The more open-ended toys have the greatest longevity.

My son remembers feeling more of a grudge about this process when he was a teenager.  A time comes when your teen deserves some autonomy, and I probably should have acknowledged this a little sooner than I did.  A parent can still require that a teen's belongings not be scattered all over the common areas of the home, and that basic cleanliness (floor clear so it can be vacuumed, sheets changed regularly, no food) be maintained in the bedroom.

However, my son also said that his early experiences with choosing and culling were valuable.  As an adult, he realizes that money, space, and time are finite, so knowing how to choose items that are useful and consequential to him (even before he buys them) is an important life skill. 

Bottom line...

I'm happy to say that my kids absorbed some minimalist tendencies after all!


Updated January 2023


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