When we first started on our journey to become minimalist, we had no idea how this life style would impact our kids. Would they embrace it? Will they fight it? How will it impact them emotionally? Is it really a lifestyle we can obtain with kids? We had so many unknown questions floating in our heads.
As new parents, we saw ourselves starting to fall into the “parent trap” of needing to buy toys either because they wanted it, or it was a celebration (i.e. birthday, holiday, achievement, etc.) or because it was educational. We always made an effort to donate or resell toys that our children no longer needed or used, but it wasn’t enough, our house was still swimming in a jungle of toys that often went unplayed with – even the day after it entered our house. It didn’t take long for us to realize that our kids’ quality of childhood was suffering because they had too much stuff!
The whole world of consumerism and technology points us to buying the newest toys or the latest gaming gadgets. Consider these statistics cited by professional organizer Regina Lark: The average U.S. household has 300,000 things, from paper clips to ironing boards. U.S. children make up 3.7% of children on the planet but have 47% of all toys and children’s books.
So, how has our minimalism affected the kids? Really, it’s had quite the positive impact. Here are the top 5 ways we have seen minimalism impact our kids.
1. Less entitled
Our kids do not feel like they are entitled to get a new toy when we’re at the Dollar Store or Walmart. They love seeing all the new toys and playing with them while we are in the store, but rarely do they ask if they can have it. Often times they’ll carry a doll or stuffed animal around the store while we shop and then when it’s time to check out they say their good byes and put the item back. Don’t get me wrong they are human beings after all and occasionally they ask if they can have something, but they don’t feel like they have a right to get it.
Our kids do not expect constant entertainment – instead they make up their own. When we’re traveling to our next stomping grounds we have some long days spent driving in the car. The kids have a fun time entertaining themselves in the back seat. They are either telling stories, playing guessing games or just making each other laugh. The kids also love exploring new rest areas and checking out new truck stops while we’re on the road. The truck stops are a kid’s heaven filled with endless treats and the latest novelty toy. It’s a place just packed with entertainment for all.
Not only do the kids entertain themselves on the road, but they will play outside for hours every day that we’re at our new RV resort. The RV is a natural incentive to invite the kids to go outside and explore nature.
2. Focus on Experiences
When you begin down the journey of becoming a minimalist, you encounter many different social and societal norms that can conflict with your way of life. A good example would be Christmas, it’s a holiday for celebrating and also exchanging many gifts. We don’t frown or discourage gift giving but rather we try to embrace experiences for the whole family.
Collecting experiences in lieu of stuff is the gift that keeps on giving, and it doesn’t end up being the new toy that gets broken after an hour of play. Right? Us parents/ grandparents have all been there. You spend countless hours, time and thought picking out the perfect toy that ends up braking after only a couple hours of normal play. It’s both heartbreaking and stressful since the child is often very upset that their new toy is broken and on top of it you now add one more broken toy to the fixit list or garbage pile.
To escape this heartache and stress, we try to do family trips or experiences for holidays, birthdays or special occasions. Like one year for Christmas we did an epic road trip to see 6 National Parks when we only had Coco, who was 2 years old, and, Nika, who was not even 3 months old. It was the trip of a life time! We were blessed to meet extended family in Mohab, UT for the holidays and we also got to celebrate momma’s 35th Birthday in an amazing place! The kids still look back at those pictures and love talking about what we saw and did. It’s a memory that will live on forever!
Don’t get me wrong, we still do minimal gifts for big holidays like Christmas and Birthdays, but keep to the basics. We try to keep it to the rule of 4 items: (1) item they want, (1) item they need, (1) item they wear, and (1) item they read. We’ve been doing this since our oldest was 2 years old and it has worked great to help keep our minimalist ways.
Minimalism has made the kids more grateful for the toys and items they do have. We have taught them that items aren’t easily replaced. They either cost money, time or energy, and the kids need to respect and take care of the items they do have. We no longer run out and buy a replacement or replica, but rather use the broken toy as a lesson to learn respect and a reminder that others in the world go without.
It’s so easy in our disposable society to feel entitled, especially with dollar stores. Kids learn how easy it is for parents to succumb to buying a quick fix or feel good toy to make their child happy or smile. These little learned behaviors can have a big impact on the way they handle future items, things or people. It starts early teaching kids that things are nice and enjoyable, but people and experiences are even better.
Our oldest, Coco, who’s now 5, always thinks about others needs and wants first before herself. A good example, is even when she’s getting a treat or a reward, she always thinks of her siblings or friends and wants them to enjoy the special moment or experience with her. It’s not always about what she’s gaining, but more or less about who she’s experiencing it with. She always brings a BIG smile to my face when I see her putting someone else’s happiness first. That’s is something I will always be grateful for!!
4. Social Skills
Our kids have always been social butterflies, but when we decided to minimalize and live in an RV their social skills only excelled! Maybe it’s the tiny space, their personality or residual effects of life living on the road, but our kids “LOVE” meeting and playing with new friends.
When there are less toys all over, the kids need to find creative ways to have fun. One of our kids’ favorite things to do is to play at local parks and playgrounds. One reason they love going to new parks is because they get to meet new friends to play with. They end up creating stories and adventures with their new friends as they jump around the playground. It’s great to see their social skills flourish.
Spending so much of our time living in RV parks also helps in this area. Since we are in a smaller space, the kids want to get outside more often. When you’re in an RV park, there are not fences and as you walk through the park, our kids meet other kids to play with. This has been an especially great way for them to meet new friends when we are staying for a month or more in one park.
5. Charitable Giving & Community Awareness
When our journey to minimalism first started, we would talk daily with our kids about needs vs. wants. We would ask them questions throughout the day to make them think and really understand what the difference was. We would ask questions like is this item something you need to live like food, shelter or clothing? Or is this item something you want like a treat, toy or game? We would also ask questions like how many toys do you need? Does having more toys make you happier? We’d also talk about how there are some boys and girls in the world that don’t have any toys at all. This would always get the kids minds racing as to why these kids don’t have toys or how they could help the kids who are less fortunate.
All of these conversations started to really make an impact on how our kids viewed their possessions and helped them think not only about their own needs and wants, but others too. We usually go through and donate or sell items we no longer needed or use throughout the year. The kids take an active part in this with all of their old clothes and toys. They will often come to us with an bag full of old cherished toys and say that they want to donate them since they no longer need them, and they want to make someone else happy.
They are always thinking about ways they can help others or how they can help make someone else smile. Whether they are complementing someone on how nice they look today or picking a wild flower for a new friend at the park. They love spreading joy and compassion to others through non-material things.
They also love spreading community awareness by helping to pick up garbage throughout communities. We make it a fun family event each week where we all get a plastic bag and see who can collect the most garbage. The kids are more conscious when they see garbage tossed around roads and parks. They are always rushing to pick it up or asking why someone would do that and not help take care of Mother Nature.
There are so many positive things that have come from the minimalist lifestyle that have not only impacted our kids, but have also helped us to become better as a whole family. We have made it a top priority to focus more on the value of experiences and exploring the great outdoors. We choose to collect rocks, seashells and memories vs. more traditional toys. It has been a truly amazing experience seeing our kids grow and prosper from this new found life.
Are you inspired to live more minimalistic? Do you feel your kids have too many toys? What impacts do you think minimalism would have on you or your kids? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.