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Monday, December 14, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 50 - Minimalism explained to children

Ann Jutatip, Flickr

A child of mine, the "stylish" one, was complaining once again that she does not have enough clothes, or that too many of them are hand-me-downs from her sister. A few years ago, the "clothes question" had become so annoying (read: a tantrum every morning when it was time to get dressed) that we had eventually removed all clothes from her bedroom (which was a lot, as both her dresser and closet were bursting at the seams), and resolved to pick her daily outfit ourselves, even if that went against my philosophy of autonomy. That strategy had proved successful: presented with no choice at all, said child would quietly comply and put on whatever we had picked for her. What she needed was not more choice (despite all her claims) - what she needed was less choice. 

She was not the first nor the last person to feel overwhelmed in such a situation: faced with too many options, human beings have a harder time making choices, and can even experience anxiety.

Eventually, her clothes went back to her room, as she had grown older and more mature, and was now able to chose her daily outfit in all serenity. But recently, she paid us a nice nostalgic revisiting of the good old times with a new "clothes crisis". 

Unfortunately for her, she did not know (or did not remember) who she was dealing with. Faced with her tantrum, I did not get upset. I did not ignore her complaints either. No. I did much "worst": I organized a little crash course on psychology, social inequality and environmental sustainability... just for her.

When dealing with someone who does not quite understand something, and especially when they exhibit a defensive or even hostile attitude, I like to begin with questions. And so I started with this one:

What are some of the things that we sometimes refuse to buy for you, that you would like to have?

She was quick to find examples:

  • Electronics
  • Junk food
  • Candy
  • More clothes
  • More toys

My second question quickly followed: 

And why is that? Why do we say no to those things on a regular basis?

The answer to this was harder for her to formulate (she did mention the fact that junk food is "not good for you"). It was now my turn to explain why we are being such cruel parents:

1) Your own well-being. Doctors and psychologists agree that owning and using electronics regularly is not good for children. The same is obviously true for eating junk food and candy. As for extra clothes and toys, we know that owning too many things does not make a person happier; it can even make you more miserable.

2) Other people's well-being. Who makes the clothes, toys, and electronics you want? Poor, underpaid, underage people who work in difficult, often dangerous, settings. Do we want to support that? It was easy to illustrate my point. I showed her this video of a 9 year-old girl who works 12-hour shifts in a sweatshop in Bangladesh. Putting things in perspective, you said?

3) The planet's well-being. Every time an object is made, it creates pollution. The less we buy, the less objects will be made, and the less pollution will be created.

I truly believe in children's ability to understand the underlying reasons for choices and actions; because of that, I will keep explaining things. Who knows what the next topic will be?


2015 is coming to an end, and people ask me what I am most impatient to buy once the project is over. My answer is simple: nothing at all. I do not crave any more belongings. A year was more than enough to find detachment from the material sphere. More than any desire to start shopping again, I have a desire to stay on the minimalist path, for I have discovered the well-being that accompanies it.


Project 2016 is in the making!  Are you ready to make real changes in your life? Are you tired of new year resolutions that die after just two weeks? I might have a solution for you. Stay tuned, and to make sure you don't miss anything...

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  1. You are a cruel mom, but I know whom you take after ;-))

  2. Sadly, I was engaged to and lived for 8 years with the 40 year old version of that girl of yours -- but that she did not have a mother willing to teach her in such a wonderful way. A great line of questioning, at a time when she's able to learn. Well done, Mom!

    1. Oh, I had not considered what it might be like to have a partner who is like that. Thank you for making me think.

  3. Can't wait to see what you have up your sleeve for 2016...sorry about Facebook and Twitter....I don't play there.

  4. There;'s a reason that they say being a parent is the hardest job you will ever have.

    Of course there is always the possibility that once your kids are on their own, they will do what they have always wanted to do. Then your hardest job will be accepting them for what they have chosen.

    1. I agree! Being a parent is all about doing the best job you can... and then letting go.