How to Be a Minimalist Parent
- Our kids are drowning in toys. The U.S. is home to just 3% of the world's children but consumes 40% of the world's toys.
- Clutter can overwhelm children and increase their stress. It's true for us, and it's true for kids too. Peaceful, tidy surroundings help everyone stay more calm and focused.
- Owning less saves time and reduces arguments. When items are messy and scattered, it becomes hard to find what you need or function with ease in your home. And with too many toys it may be impossible for a child to put things away. Fewer belongings leads to less frustration and conflict.
- Children feel more secure with less emphasis on consumerism. Our own ad-inspired beliefs tell us that certain products will make us happier and more acceptable to others. When these beliefs spill over onto our kids, their sense of personal worth becomes tied to their possessions.
- Less shopping enables us to teach better values. 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. Even when the constant purchases are experiences rather than things, the repeated lesson is one of entitlement and greed.
Yes, it's tempting to shop for new toys or clothes, but the majority of children in prosperous countries have more than enough of both.
My favorite alternatives invariably require time and attention.
That's what my parents and grandparents gave to me. I remember helping my grandmother weed her garden while she told me about the different things she was growing. I remember how she patiently figured out a way to teach me to crochet (I'm left-handed, unlike all the adults in my life). I remember my grandfather singing songs and reciting silly poems for me and my siblings, and playing for us on his harmonica. My mom read to us and worked on all sorts of crafts with us. My dad took us for walks, read to us, and let us "wrestle" with him on the floor. He took us to the park and the library every week.
The trend today is for parents and grandparents to buy classes and experiences for their children and drive them hither and yon almost every day. There seems to be less time spent talking, working, or even eating together (unless you count fast food in the car, on the way to another activity). When we are at home, grownups are busy with work or chores or on a device, and the kids are expected to leave them alone. No wonder more toys, videos, games, and devices are desired.
The message from parents and grandparents seems to be, "I love you, so I'll buy you something. Now go entertain yourself with it so I can do my thing without interruption, since I've sacrificed so much money on you and spent so much time carting you around."
Kids get used to this kind of neglect.
Eventually, they want to be left alone to do their own thing, and parents are simply the source of funds to buy what they want. If a parent or grandparent suddenly feels the need to have a talk with their tween or teen, they find a non-receptive attitude. Why should it be any different? Attention was never paid before; intimacy was never developed.
That's not a situation I ever wanted with my own kids, nor with my grandkids.
10 Excellent Minimalist Gifts for Children
1. Talk and listen.
Communication is two-way. Talk to your baby and respond to his babbles, and keep on doing this as the conversation becomes more mature. This is a priority, not something to fit into a minute or two on the way to soccer practice.
2. Get down and play.
Go ahead and show her how to build with Lego, but be ready to follow her lead as well. Tea party with a Teddy bear and a Hulk action figure? Impromptu game of knock the block tower down with the pull-back train engine? However she wants to play, play it and have fun!
3. Send real mail.
My Grandma sent me cards and letters from quite a young age, and eventually we shared regular correspondence until her death in 2005. Most of my life, I only saw her once or twice a year, but I had tangible reminders that she was thinking of me much more often. Today, I send photos, drawings, and little notes to my grandsons.
4. Read aloud.
I developed a read aloud tradition with my kids as they were growing up, and I enjoy reading to my grandsons now. I've even read picture books during video chats.
5. Draw together.
It's as easy as a piece of paper and any writing implement. Draw an animal, a garden, a car, a train, or a house for your little one. Draw a circle and decide what you can make out of it (a spider, a clock, a pizza, a planet, or something else). Collaborate, and don't worry about artistic merit (you might surprise yourself).
6. Play games.
My siblings and I always loved it when our parents joined us in Monopoly or Clue. My husband's uncle played a card game he called Up and Down the River with the whole family. Jon and I play dominoes with our older grandson, and look forward to teaching him Uno. During our last video chat we played Simon Says.
Our daughter bakes with our older grandson, and he loves "helping" to make cupcakes or cookies. Premade cookie dough is a simple alternative – roll out balls of the dough and press a candied cherry or Hershey's Kiss into each one. Or try a simple no-bake recipe.
8. Visit the park.
Take a picnic (even a sandwich and an apple is better eaten under a tree). Kids love it if you go down the slide or swing with them. Toss a ball or a Frisbee. Or sit and watch together for birds, squirrels, ants, butterflies, clouds, etc.
Even young children can learn "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" and make the animal sounds with you. When they're a bit older, it's fun to try rounds like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" or "Three Blind Mice." Later, you can make up your own words to popular songs – this can get quite silly.
10. Teach them to help you.
Our older grandson loves to get Papa's screwdriver and "help" with a task. He likes to put napkins and silverware on the table, ready for a meal. As both boys get older, we'll involve them in more jobs.
There really is no substitute for these minimalist gifts, whether your goal is less clutter, stronger values, a surer sense of self-worth, or greater intimacy and understanding with the children in your life.