Why Minimalism is Better for Kids
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The typical American family is drowning in stuff: toys, clothes, electronics, trophies, paper, plastic. It's a privilege to be able to afford this abundance, but when it comes to our kids, we're a nation of hyper-consumers. Perhaps you've seen this statistic: the US is home to just 3% of the world's children but consumes 40% of the world's toys.
I'm going to let that sink in for just a moment....
Cut the toys in half, and the number would remain overabundant. Cut the number in half again, and it's still more than enough!
Obviously, we all want our children and grandchildren to be happy. That's the impetus for buying all of the toys, clothes, and other items. But the avalanche of stuff is doing more harm than good.
Attachment to a toy or a blanket is a natural stage of child development. Psychologists call these "transitional objects" -- items that help comfort a child as he transitions from being emotionally dependent on parents and caregivers to having a bit more independence. The "mine!" stage begins at about age 2, and by the age of 6 kids place special value on the things they own.
But while attachment to one or two special toys is healthy, the idea that it's necessary to have a lot of possessions is learned from us.
We know that advertisers want to create desire. When we are exposed to advertising (or to other people who have been exposed to advertising), we may come to believe that certain products will make us happier or more popular and acceptable to others. Our ad-fueled insecurities might cause us to buy designer clothes, electronic gadgets, cars, trips, houses and more so that we can establish ourselves as valuable and worthwhile.
This really becomes a problem when it spills over onto our kids. We buy the toys, the clothes, the classes, and more so that they won't be odd or left out. They see other kids whose parents do the same, they interact with ad-filled media, and their sense of personal worth becomes skewed as well.
Minimalism creates the space, the time, and the freedom for family relationships to stop revolving around physical possessions. As Peter Bregman, author of Leading with Emotional Courage, explains: "When we set out to simplify, what we're really saying is 'I want to focus on the things that matter most to me.'"
For those of us with children, that definitely includes them.
5 Reasons to Raise a Minimalist
1. Clutter can overwhelm children and increase their stress.
Kim John Payne, a family counselor and author of Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids, says that it's better to teach children to own less, and to keep those few belongings organized. "Keeping a room or house orderly can make your life feel more orderly," he writes. Peaceful, tidy surroundings can help your child stay calm and focused.
2. Owning less saves time and reduces arguments.
We've all become frustrated with toys scattered all over the house. It can cause some unpleasant interactions with our kids. Yet the glut of belongings may be impossible for them to deal with. They may not be able to clean up their rooms and play areas because they are overwhelmed. Owning fewer items means that each item can have a home, and that cleaning up can become a matter of a few focused minutes rather than a time-consuming impossibility.
3. Learning to consume less is a way to practice discipline.
We all want our children to grow into responsible adults, and self-discipline is a part of that. "Kids who don't learn to exist within boundaries may become adults who don't set them," says blogger Joshua Becker, author of The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life. This doesn't mean you have to limit your child to three toys on a white shelf. Give him control over a clearly defined space, such as a container or a closet where he can keep anything he wants, as long as it fits within that physical boundary.
4. Your child will feel more secure with less emphasis on consumerism.
It's hard for a child to learn she is a worthwhile human being when we have taught her, from babyhood, that she is what she owns. If one of the main ways we show our kids that we love them, or that we think they are good or special, is to buy them things, kids will certainly equate acceptance and happiness with stuff. Start trying to limit that stuff, and you may uncover some worry and insecurity in your child, a lack of self-worth fostered by repeated trips to the mall.
5. Less shopping enables you to teach other values.
Let's be honest. When we continually shop for ourselves and our children, it doesn't matter how many sermons on selflessness, sharing, justice, gratitude, and eco-awareness we or others preach. The stronger message is that stuff will make us happy, and that self-gratification is always okay. We set an example of always needing more, and of perpetual spending. We model a style of living that exceeds what our planet can sustain. Even when the constant purchases are experiences rather than things, the repeated lesson is one of entitlement and greed.
A simpler lifestyle reduces clutter and anxiety, obviously. But it also creates time for family play and conversation, and leaves room for a healthier self-image and more positive values to bloom. And isn't that what you really want for your kids?
P.S. If you liked this post, you might be interested in my book, The Minimalist Family: How You and Your Children Can Find More Joy with Less, available on Amazon.