Do you remember when I started a permanent series on Minimalism twelve days after the new year? Well, twelve days after that, I signed a contract to write the cookbook The Minimalist Kitchen, which will be in your hands April 2018. This series (and life) took a major pause as every effort went into creating the book. I wont write a whole lot more on minimalism in the kitchen until after the book comes out, which creates plenty of space to talk about minimalism from a different perspective. Since the beginning of January, I’ve gotten several emails about minimalism and kids with subject lines like—SOS, Help, is it even possible?!
This post is an ongoing series on practical minimalism. Minimalism is typically marked by living with less. I also like to think of it as living intentionally and efficiently. Minimalist living exists on a spectrum. We’re a family of 3 (two adults and one
3 4 year old). This is how we’re trying to live a leaner life.
After putting Hal to bed two nights ago, I sat down on the couch and asked Kev, “Did we do enough?” It was her 4th birthday. Minimalism touches every part of our life, down to the number of presents we give her. (I say we, but it’s me who’s calling the shots since it’s something I feel more strongly about.) We gave her two presents + a birthday party. The party will be a simple one with her favorite donuts, friends, and temporary tattoos. Like usual, I mention on the invite: no presents just your presence. “Am I doing this whole thing wrong?” I ask him. Because as I scroll through Facebook, I see 4-year-old birthday parties that look so different than the one we’re throwing.
I’ve been teaching Hal that different doesn’t mean wrong, it just means different. But as I sat on the couch that night, my minimal mindset felt all sorts of wrong. Am I depriving her? Because I tend towards minimalism, should I raise her that way? I say all this to begin this series on the same foot as you. For the most part, I have more uncertainties than answers.
I’d love for this series to be conversational and communal. So to start, will you add your questions and post ideas to the comments? (They can be related to kids or not.) I’ve started a list of my own. Before the holidays hit, we’ll tackle: Holidays, Presents, and Minimalism. My stomach is churning just thinking about writing that post. In addition to post ideas, do you know someone who is a practicing minimalist with kids (even if they don’t call themselves one)? If so, shoot me an email. I’d love to have a couple expert contributors to this topic.
Hallie’s Room Details
Sources: Artwork in matte brass frame | Lamp (homemade) | OK to Wake Alarm Clock | Indoor/Outdoor Rug | Similar Shelf (our was thrifted) | XO Letters spray painted gold | Similar Wicker Basket
I love this post! I do not have children, so this type of thought behind being minimalist was very interesting to read. Thank you for sharing!
so happy that you are starting this discussion!! I wonder some of these same things!! we lean towards minimalism in a lot of areas but are struggling in others (umm i just want all the minimalistic jewelry…oxymoron, i know). We dont have children yet, but have started discussing the whole gift thing and both were raised opposite when it comes to ‘gifting’.
Recently we had a joint party for my 6 and 7 year old. (Birthdays are only a month apart) We rented a large play space, I put a limit of how many friends they could invite, had finger foods and the biggest thing was we asked for no gifts and hand made cards instead, if they wanted to. It was great! There was more time to play with their friends and no hurt feelings over the gifts (something that always happens at kid birthday parties).
Since then we’ve adopted this as our rule and we only make cards for the parties we are invited to. Sure we get funny looks sometimes but it’s more meaningful. Plus, I’d be spending at least $150 a school year on gifts for other kids if I bought gifts for all the parties my little ones are invited to.
Recently this has trickled into family parties as well and my children took my Father a vase of mammoth sunflowers they grew for his birthday. He loved it and was so proud.
Christmas we only do 4 things (pjs since they are always needed, a book, a toy and a Santa toy, then a treat in their stocking) then a family gift.
But it’s the general state of our home and parting with clutter that is harder. I love to pair down but my husband feels VERY differently. That is something I could like more thoughts on, minimalism with a spouse that does not.
I love how you chose to design a birthday party for Hal and don’t think by any means you have deprived her. I’m not a mom but have done missions work much of my life and can tell you that isn’t material things that bring us joy but rather relationships. I have seen such a deep joy in the souls of those around the world who do not even own a home. You are giving Hal a greater gift by bringing people in her life to love her and for her to connect with. I also think it’s so healthy for children to live a life where they don’t get everything they want and can start learning what it means to be content at an early age. I don’t see many positives in kids owning an excessive amount of possessions – but would more so believe that this would hinder them from learning self control in buying items, living within their means, and once again finding contentment in life outside of material possessions. There is a reason why most of Americans are drowning in debt and it isn’t because they grew up to a minimalist tune.
I’m not a minimalist so maybe my comments won’t be helpful, but my dad was a minimalist before minimalism was cool. As his daughter is was really hard for me because giving gifts is definitely one of my love languages. I don’t know if receiving gifts would be one if I hadn’t had minimalist adjacent parents but I really had a hard time, when I was little, and still sometimes now, with the fact that my hard thought out gifts would disappear over time. Or that they just didn’t want them at all.
I’m trying to be a minimalist myself. It’s quite a struggle for me, especially since the the holidays are slowly approaching.
I don’t have any children, but I imagine I would be quite happy to see a kid’s party invitation that says “no presents just your presence”. (Just asked my husband, and he thought it was alright too.) Showing your girl minimalism from a young age is quite an awesome gift if you ask me.
I feel like I may be an odd-person out in this list of comments as it seems like everyone is already achieving minimalist tendencies in themselves and their children. I am not. I want to be more minimalist…but, I am really struggling with implementation. I have achieved a minimalist decor for our master bedroom, but just about every other room in our house has so. much. stuff. My DD’s room is really immaculate by some standards, but her shelves are still overflowing and unorganized and she has piles of stuff everywhere else in the house (especially our living room, where she likes to play). I don’t buy a lot of gifts for holidays, but we seem to get something small everytime we go in a store and she gets a ton of gifts from other people. I guess I just want to say that I am not there yet and looking for guidance on how to get there…Thanks!
My kids are 13 and 10 and I have tried to keep things minimal – something three sets of grandparents and their generosity have not supported. When they were small I didn’t want them kids to have too many clothes, too many toys, too much sugar or too much help doing things they should be doing for themselves. Economy and self sufficiency are common themes in or family (vs. selfishness and helplessness). And I think my girls have turned out great – they are sensible and helpful, thoughtful and practical. What I would change is the amount of stress my philosophy created in my head and within my extended family. No one agreed with me and I had to monitor everyone’s purchases and plans. It was just so frustrating. We live in a small house that couldn’t hold all the fun, but often cheap and tacky things, the grandparents wanted to give; I had particular ideas about what my kids would wear and I wanted to choose those things for myself (they pick out their own clothes now); I wanted the opportunity to buy my kids toys and books that I thought were meaningful and somewhat educational, as well as not stereotypically “girlish” or hideously pink and sexist, etc. All of my goals were good and I did my best to achieve them for years, but it was stressful for me and annoying for the grandparents – not to mention the people we invited to parties who read the “presence not presents” line and found they were torn between taking us literally but feeling absolutely ungracious when they showed up without a gift, or following their own feelings about generosity and manners and bringing a gift anyway but making people who didn’t bring a gift feel awful. Not comfortable for anyone. As it worked out, I got more flexible as my kids grew, and though I am still committed to minimalism, I don’t carry it out in ways that cause me stress, make the grandparents miserable or make my kids feel like weirdos. It’s a compromise that’s not easy for me, but had to be made. I was transferring too much of that stress to my family. So I whole-heartedly support minimalism and think kids are better off if they sometimes do without. They need to know that we live in a wealthy country with a culture that is the opposite of minimal and that it takes will power and sacrifice not to be obese or buried in credit card debt or consumed with consuming. But I think these are lessons to be taught with love and not anxiety, by example and not by lecture.
Yes! Taught with love and example not anxiety. Love your comment.
I’ve been thinking lately about how organization can sometimes be antithetical to minimalism. For example, my husband and I have a ton of books, and I was just OVERCOME with anxiety because these books were everywhere–stacks on the floor, stuffed in desk drawers. But then we had these amazing built-ins built for the living room, and suddenly we had SO MUCH ROOM. In fact, we had room for MORE BOOKS, and so everything I was doing to limit our book-buying–going to the library, donating books regularly, reading things online–all of that went out the window. Does anyone else experience this? Sometimes I find myself living in this mindset, like, I’m “allowed” to keep this stuff I don’t really use, as long as it’s nicely organized.
That’s so true. I also have books in stacks everywhere, and in boxes in the attic. I know it’s not good for them and I plan to build more bookshelves but haven’t yet. But am I building the shelves because I need to store the books or so I won’t have to get rid of them?
I live in an older home but it is at least 25% bigger than the one I lived in 10 years ago and over 100% bigger than my apartment before that. A colleague recently asked me if we had enough storage in the house and I told him, “We would if we didn’t have so much stuff.”
I discovered the want / need / wear / read strategy online a couple years ago, which we use for Christmas gifts. Our son gets one or two items from each category which gives each gift a purpose and keeps the spending (and stuff!) under control. We also request books if anyone is adamant about getting him a gift for birthdays.
Ahhhh, I wish I knew the right answer to this! In some ways I’ve felt like it’s too late for us, with kids aged 15 and 12. I’m a minimalist at heart, but haven’t exactly raised my kids this way. We’ve been trying to put it into practice in the last few years, but this mama heart HURTS when I’m wrapping Christmas or birthday gifts and there are only a few. I always end up caving and buying more. The last year or two we’ve tried to give experiences for birthdays – for example we are taking my son on a weekend trip for his birthday, but the pressure to also have something for him to unwrap great upon my shoulders.
I strive for minimalism, but for me I think it will be a constant goal. It’s something that I’ll never actually achieve, but I’ve come to terms with that and I think it’s ok. I don’t feel like we are excessive consumers of stuff, but we certainly have more than we need and I usually feel like our house is overflowing. Especially with kids stuff. In fact, as I’m writing this my husband and oldest daughter have just come home with two new toys. Hahaha!
While I do appreciate the idea of minimalism and strive towards the the idea of what that concept looks like for myself and my family, I must admit that I do struggle with how minimalism fits with being sentimental. I am still learning how to keep my sentimental tendencies in check with my desire towards living more minimally. Definitely a learning process.
We strive for minimialism in our home and also go lean on the gift giving/party throwing aspect of celebrating. I’ve found that just as it rings true to the toys in our home, when kids receive less, they can appreciate the one or two gifts more fully and actually enjoy them instead of being overwhelmed by exuberance and not even knowing where to focus first. Not all of our family supports this and so it is a constant practice but it feels right for our family. It seems that in the end, we’re raising children who are more grateful and ultimately more imaginative and creative.
This is a great conversation to start! We have two little girls (6 and 4), live in a modestly sized home west of Chicago and are trying our best to raise them to the tune of minimalism. We’ve tried out best to keep toys that meet a quality standard but I’m finding that my oldest is beginning to have toy interests that are strongly influenced by her peer group (think a hunk of junk pink, plastic Barbie house). I’m finding it hard to maintain my standards for toy consumption without making her feel limited in what she wants to play with. What are your thoughts on this?
I grew up in a very different culture than what my kids are in now – where I’m from, gifts are A BIG DEAL. It was only when I moved away as an adult that I realized gift-giving is quite one-sided, in that the gift is more about the giver than the receiver. So in our house, sure, give whatever you want, and sure we’ll take it, but 90% of the time we won’t keep it. Usually I ask our families for particular things (usually PJs or a pair of shoes); anything we don’t ask for is likely to end up at the local charity shop. The things that we do keep are cherished; my kids will know where all of their stuff came from and which friend/family member gave it to them. They kids have plenty of toys and books, but like everything else in our house, they have a designated place. If the toy bins are overflowing, if books no longer fit on the shelves, if we are overrun with stuff, I get really anxious and want to chuck the lot – so I am careful not to get to that point! I just feel like the less we have, the more time the kids get to read/play with each thing. I think for us it’s more about editing rather than not acquiring at all. Clothes are a bit easier because we all have a variation on a uniform: my husband wears suits for work and t-shirts & jeans on the weekends; I mostly wear dresses; my son has the same pants, shirts and PJs in 10 variations; my daughter wears dresses year-round with added leggings in the winter, and I buy her 10 sets of PJs a year. My kids have three pairs of shoes at a time: a nice pair, a seasonal pair (sandals or boots), and runners. Instead of stuff, we invest in experiences (watching plays, nature walks, road trips), memberships (like the pool, zoo & museums) and holidays – we were in London in June, going to Thailand in December and NYC in May next year.
My 2 youngest just turned 6 & 8. They each received 2 gifts and a small bowling party with a neighbor. Everyone had so much fun! Came home and grilled out and had very homemade looking cupcakes. . The girls loved just running around together and “decorating ” the house. We strive to find joy in the simple things and birthdays are no different. Feeling that extra attention and love is what we all wish for! ? You are doing great momma!
Thank you so much for this post and the series. I certainly am looking forward to following along. I think I tend to worry about my selfishness in imposing my personality traits and desires on my children, and husband as well, who is more of a hoarder by nature. I want to ensure that my desire for minimalism in the home is as a means of intentional nurturing; teaching my children at a young age the discipline I have had to work extra hard to attain. How do I restrict the toys and the mess in an deliberate way that points them to choose gratitude over coveting? Is my desire for minimalism a means to implant contentment and self-discipline in their lives, or is it just because I personally get overwhelmed with too much stuff? It’s an every day challenge for me, certainly.
Minimaliam in general is such a complex and personal topic (how much is too much for one person may be vastly different for another) but adding kids into the practice can make the concept even more complicated. We just celebrated my son’s fifth birthday and I had the same questions swirling around in my head. Am I imposing my values and taking the fun out of their childhood? But isn’t that what I’m supposed to do as a parent?
I haven’t always been good at minimalism in practice, as my desires can sometimes get the best of me, but I have been improving and recognizing it’s benefits with the children: longer, more sustained play with a few favorite toys and less clutter and less to care for = more time to play. Also, fewer toys means the kids value what they have and respect where it came from, as well as the amount of money and resources that went into the toy. I’ve been in communities where the message was “don’t worry if you lose it, we will get another one” and that never sat right with me.
I’ve limited the toys to Lego, books, a handful of games and a toy chest of favorites that is constantly cleaned out. I don’t think their play lacks anything by having less, but sometimes I wonder if I’m allowing them to figure it out on their own. When I set them loose at the Children’s museum, they tend to “hoard” all the play groceries and sit in the middle of their mess! They LOVE going to other people’s house to play with all of their toys, and that sometimes makes me feel bad that they don’t view their home that way, but at the same time, I know they can’t possibly sustain play with all of those things. I’m tying to minimize the cycle of desire and waste by talking to them about the idea, as well as modeling it.
As a mom of 3 (19, and 2 newly minted 5 year old twins) the questions around birthday parties and presents hits home. We just celebrated the twins turning 5 and we did a friends party at a bouncy house place sort of last minute. Our original plan was to take them to NYC and explore museums and the park. But the guilt when they started asking if they were having a friends party “like last year” (an at home over the top party). We quickly shifted gears and found a place to have the party. My biggest reason for not wanting that big party was the inevitable plastic toy junk that would now enter the house. UGH I also did not want the twins thinking this was an every year thing.
We started last year scaling back the Christmas gifts and that actually went pretty well.
Looking forward to your future posts!
I’m so glad you are doing this and will be following along! We are pretty paired down as a married couple but the kids stuff is just so hard. Do we hold to stuff in case more come along? How do we set boundaries with other family members? What systems do we use to help the seemingly constant rotation of clothes and toys and books?
These are a few idea I have: have the conversation with your kids continually and don’t hide what you are doing (within reason – re: getting rid of things) I try to have a conversation monthly that we will be going through our toys, books and clothes to decide what we are ready to share with another person, usually tying in how family and friends have shared with us. We’ve also done the toy rotation bin – we don’t get rid of it – we just put some things away for awhile and then pull some things out to gain new interest. Again – kids are involved..I don’t stress them out if it feels too much but I’ve found they get used to it and are generally interested in the new rotation that it lessens the stress for putting something away. Also, if a new one comes in – something has to go out…true for clothes and toys.
I have always been taught that it is quite a faux pas to refuse a gift, or to instruct others on gift giving (no gifts, cash only, here’s my honeymoon registry, etc.), so this sends up red flags for me. I think that the exchange of gifts is an important cultural tradition, as is learning to give and receive graciously as a child. It may not be that you are denying your child material things, but rather important social knowledge and development. Gift giving is a kind of cultural quid pro quo, so I also wonder if the parents of the children who attend your party will feel strange about asking you to attend theirs, given that they have been told not to bring your child a gift, but they won’t give you the same instruction. This may put your kid in an awkward friendship position. It may also result in issues (guilt, embarrassment) for other parents, who perhaps rely on birthday gifts to provide their children with new toys or things the parents can’t afford to provide on their own. I think I really understand your motivation for the kind of party you threw — your child has plenty, the world is full of waste, let’s not ask other people to buy a bunch of plastic from China that we’ll immediately wish we didn’t own — I think I would feel the same way! But I also think there are deeper implications, in terms of class and culture, around this issue. It’s definitely interesting to think about. Thanks for the thoughtful post.
It’s all a spectrum and all about your priorities. We started asking my parents to give us memberships or experiences instead of presents for the kids. A zoo membership meant that we could thank them every time we went. We started this when we lived in a small house with no good place to store clutter. It made sense for us. We’re trying to stress to the kids that instead of getting the THING, we get the right thing.
I think you’re doing an awesome job! I read somewhere that giving more than one gift at a time actually lessens the perceived value of each gift, so I think going with one or two is a perfect approach. I also think having a small and intentional party sounds lovely. She is so lucky to have a mom who can make her birthday donuts 🙂 I don’t have kids, but based on friends and family with kids, it seems really hard to keep extra toys and kid-related clutter out of the house. Good luck!
Wow, I love this! I don’t have kids, although we’re trying, so I’ll definitely be following along, as I would love to have a mindset like this from the beginning.
It seems you often hear people discuss how they have too much, but being proactive and preventing the stuff in the first place seems better, but of course harder. 🙂
I’ve seen really extravagant parties with my kids’ friends, and I like your approach much better. We did very simple parties, old fashioned games like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey or something and cake. I think it went fabulously.
I think requesting that little friends not bring presents depends on your lifestyle and social circle.
We did not buy small things for our kids on a regular basis, and most of our social circle was similar, so our kids were thrilled to receive $10-$15 gifts of toys or crafts.
Yes they were “junk”, but the whole ritual of choosing something for a friend and giving it, and on the other side receiving it graciously is so valuable.
It ‘s funny the things that I realize later in life that my parents instilled in me. I struggle with having too much stuff because I love the pretty things but do I NEED it? no.
When i was a kid though, my mom would take my shopping to pick out a plant when I went to a birthday party. So we still got the experience of selecting and giving but didn’t have to worry that it would be a duplicate of another gift or an unloved thing. If the kid didn’t like plants, well that’s a whole other issue. 🙂
I am so excited that you’re tackling this! I feel the answer has to be somehow related to quality over quantity, right? In the end, the most important thing is that your children feel loved, understood, and cared for and that we teach them that our relationship with them is not necessarily tied to a Pinterest-able event. At the same time, as someone who enjoys good design and beautiful products, I don’t want to send the message that deriving pleasure from beautiful objects or events in life is wrong…
It’s such a hard balance! I try to buy well-designed, long lasting toys and my daughter is totally into the cheap toys phase and I’m like ?
Look up Allie Casazza, her blog is all about minimalism and motherhood.
Can’t wait to hear your thoughts and ideas!
Awesome, thank you! Reaching out to her for this series!
Thank you so much for this post! I have a 5-year old daughter and though I don’t call myself a minimalist, it is something that I definitely lean toward. When it comes to my daughter, I love finding ideas on how to maintain a healthy minimalist approach with her (and especially with parties and celebrations). I’m looking forward to reading this series!
Thanks for being here and saying hey! More coming soon!
I’m struggling with the same issues about minimalism and kids. I go back and forth from “there are too many toys” to “we should buy more toys!” It’s a constant battle. I am fascinated to hear what others have to say, and not just about toys, but I love that you brought up the party aspect as well. Since I certainly don’t have any answers, I’m very much looking forward to reading more of your discussion!
My husband oscillates in the same way between too much and too little with toys. Which brings up a good point—the balance. I talk a bit about this in my book that’s coming out. But I think the balance part is one of the hardest aspects because it requires so much ongoing attention and only gives grey answers. More coming soon!
I understand the struggle and have a few questions about this. How do you reconcile different perspectives? (You tending more towards minimalism than your spouse) How do you handle other relatives questioning your choices? (“Kids need toys!”) How do you show gratitude for others whose love language is gifts when you don’t want to accumulate more stuff?
Such good questions. I have so many of the same ones. Tackling these soon!
I’m of a similar mind to you when it comes to birthday parties/holidays. Personally, I think less IS more – more room to be creative, more enjoyment of what’s happening rather than what was received. We plan to alternate party years for our daughter (just turned 5), so a party with friends one year, a birthday adventure with just family the next. We also ask for no presents at birthdays and follow the 4 gift idea of want need wear read. One for each category. We do this for her birthday and Christmas. My husband and I either give each other one gift or we get a family present. It works for us so I’m not too bothered by what others do.
The one issue I do have is curbing the crazy amount of stuff the grandparents bring into our home. Particularly my MIL who likes to thrift shop. I have no problem buying second hand and often do so myself but she buys SO. MUCH. STUFF. It’s taking over our house. If you, or other readers, could give some tips on dealing with that, I’d be grateful.
So much good stuff! I love this gift structure idea. Taking notes over here too! The extra stuff is so hard to deal with. So far, I’ve taken the approach that I return the excess (outside of what we need) and get a gift card (if it’s an option), or I donate it. Mentally, too much stuff makes me an unhappy lady. I’ve decided that a happier, sane mom is better for my daughter than the alternative. And like you said—she’s happier too and somehow knows how to play when she can see her toys.
Sierra’s 4th (side note: our babies are getting so big!!! ?) is next weekend and her dad and I are taking her sans baby sister to a kids museum she loves, with a stop for vegan donuts at Whole Foods along the way. Then we’ll come back to Nana’s house for cake. I will admit I probably got too many presents – books, a few art supplies, and some clothes – but otherwise I feel good about the mellowness of the day. We had very simple bday parties as kids and I hope to continue that going forward. Next year I’ll keep it to two gifts;) Happy birthday to Hal!
I know! 4?! How did we get here? I love the idea of gifting an experience. Those are things I remember most from childhood. Happy birthday to Sierra too!
I can’t wait to hear your opinion on the holidays. We had our first baby in July (first grandchild for both sides and first great-grandchild for my grandma who is a chronic over-buyer already…), and I’m absolutely terrified about how much STUFF we will receive. I want to be grateful, because I know a lot of people love our babe, but man, I can’t stand the idea of bringing so many things into our house.
I resonate so much with this. We are the only grandchild too. It’s tough. It’s tough to know what to do with the excess stuff. It’s also tough to know what to say, if anything, because relationships are so important.
We don’t go over the top with gifts and holidays. I like to keep things paired down and simple. What we’ve noticed about our three kids is that they appreciate the little things so much and they’re happier when their lives and they’re rooms aren’t cluttered. They’ve learned how to entertain themselves without needing a lot of stuff. This is how we’ve always done things with them, so they don’t know life differently, except when they go to friends’ houses who have a lot more toys. They never complain afterward that they don’t have enough, though. We also have them choose some toys to donate at Christmas time to make room for new gifts. Hope this helped; pretty sure I just rambled.
So helpful thank you! And good affirmation that after we cleaned out my daughter room, she played for longer than I’ve ever seen her play in there.
We aren’t minimalists, though I am loving trying to get there, but we aren’t big consumers. With our kids, Christmas was only three presents: one thing you want, one thing you need, and usually a book. Santa (because I never told them about him, they just heard about him through their friends and culture) only brought inexpensive stocking presents. The stockings ALWAYS had scotch tape because, holy cow, my kids went through the tape. I don’t think they ever felt deprived, or realized that other kids were getting piles of gifts. I’m looking forward to reading these posts!
Love this gifting structure!