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Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 40 - Children and minimalism

Sam Nasim, Flickr

"Of the many people I've met who are not good at tidying, 
most had parents who cleaned their room for them." 
(Marie Kondo)

Minimalist wannabes with children often face the challenges of simplifying not only their life, but the life of others who may or may not be cooperative in the process. In fact, many will say that you just cannot be a minimalist while you have kids at home.

Here are some of the obstacles you might face when trying to simplify, downsize and declutter with children on board:


Consumerism is all around, and children are not immune to it. Oftentimes, they do not have the perspective required to question it either. Which makes them easy targets. Marketing reaches our kids, who in turn reach out to us, who eventually reach for our wallet. Not all kids are into "stuff", but if you have one that is, you know what a daily struggle it can be to constantly say "no, we are not going to buy this".

If you have children, you might also have well-intentioned relatives (and even friends) who enjoy showering them with presents. Which might help cut down on costs, but which also means more stuff in the house.

Add to this the fact that children don't usually have a natural tendency to pick after themselves, and you find yourself with a cluttered living space.

My personal solution is a very big serving of patience and persistence: I trust that with time, my example, and maturity, my kids will gradually learn to distinguish between "just the right amount" and "way too many" possessions. In the meantime, I help them:

  • make the connection between work, money and purchases;
  • figure out their priorities (if you get this, you cannot get that);
  • feel grateful for what they already have;
  • go through their belongings and donate what they don't use.

What are your strategies?


Many will argue that it's impossible, based on the amount of stuff that comes with children, and based on the need of parents for some level of intimacy, to live in small quarters with a family. A tiny house might be nice for one or two adults, but add kids to the mix and it suddenly feels like a recipe for disaster.

Interestingly, a certain number of families opt for very small house nonetheless (or to live on a boat, which is equivalent). I invite anyone who wants to learn more about how to make this possible to google "children+minimalism" and even "children+tiny house".

In our case, what I find the most interesting these days is that despite each of them having their own individual bedroom, my daughters often insist on sleeping in the same bed. I expect this to come to an end at some point during their teenage years, but it goes to show that children might not always have the needs that we attribute to them: right now, one bedroom would suffice.

Any realizations regarding children and space?


We live in a culture of individual growth and fulfillment. If you are a parent, chances are you want just that for your children. Of all the ways to spend your money, experiences have been shown to be the most conducive to happiness. By sending your children to camp or having them participate in organized activities, for example, you are providing them with experiences. What we often forget, however, is that experiences do not all come in the "highly structured and organized form". Some of the best experiences are spontaneous, disconcertingly simple, and free. A sunset. A hummingbird. The sound of the rain. But of course our children won't notice if they are incessantly taxied back and forth to activities or sitting in front of a screen.

I want to suggest that we simplify. Believe it or not, children do not enjoy being rushed all the time: "Hurry, we're gonna be late for your [fill in the blank] practice/lesson!" Who hasn't heard their kid ask "Can we just stay home and do nothing for a change?" I think it says it all.

Have your kids ever showed appreciation or even asked for some alone time/doing nothing?

Work/life balance

If nothing else does, having children will force you to reassess the role you give to work, the time and space it takes in your life. Caring for little ones on top of yourself, your living space and your career can exhaust you on good days. In my neighborhood, a large number of women (if not the majority) have work arrangements that allow them to work part-time, from home, or both. There's no reason why we should rush through life and not have time to watch our children grow up. There is no easy decision, and there is no perfect situation, but unless you are dealing with crippling poverty, there are options (and they apply to dads, too).

How do you balance it all?


After the last of three blog posts on "duties", a reader asked: "Is it your duty to have children?" I do not want to get too deep into that argument, but here is what I have to offer for now. Once they have become adults, today's children will be the ones to support the economy. That is one argument. On the other hand, with each new human being comes more environmental footprint. That is another (opposed) argument. I am no expert in demographics, but something tells me that a slow, gradual decrease in natality might be our best solution from a global standpoint. The economy will adapt. There are too many people on Earth for it to remain a healthy planet... unless we change our ways drastically, of course.

What are you willing to do to ensure future generations a place to live?

For more on the benefits of simplifying with children, you can click on the following links:

Do less 

Simplify everything  


It's becoming obvious that I won't be able to quit sugar cold turkey. After two pretty good weeks, I fell for it again. There are so many occasions to consume sugar, and I might not really want to skip them all. Perhaps it will be more realistic to lower my consumption without making it completely taboo. On the other hand, I have begun to cut down on another substance: caffeine. I was not consuming that much - 1 cup of coffee in the morning and 1 cup of tea in the afternoon - but I realized it was still too much on some days.

Big news regarding my absence of spending:

First, it's official that I have completely lost the habit to buy - especially since I'm not even the one who does the groceries: last week, I did go to the grocery store for a couple items, and when came the time to pay with my card, I completely blanked out on how to actually use the card. I looked at the machine, hesitated, tried to swipe, and the patient cashier had to remind me to "put the chip in the bottom" for me to regain my consciousness. Crazy!

Second, less crazy but definitely more exciting, is the fact that I have saved enough, in those past 10 months, to make a significant extra payment on the mortgage, hence shortening its term. Woohoo!

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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    And my child is a wonky one (apple/tree/falling close :-)) but she does love alone time and alone creativity time.
    for now anyway.
    bring on the tween years :-)

    1. In my own experience, the more we grow the more we resemble our parents! Whether that's a good thing or not. ;-)

  2. I'd say your descriptions on living with children today is pretty accurate! Then there was my parent's childhood, especially my mother as my father was "privileged" as his father was on a military pension due to being wounded and disabled in war, and because of that their small family had a steady small income. They were still minimalists however. My mom was raised in poverty. She never had a toy. Her doll was an ear of corn in a towel. Her dresses were made from potato sacks, and toilet paper was cut newspaper to give you some idea. Her parents worked hard and improved their lives over time. My parents met at 14 and with my mom's brains and my dad's hard work, they lived an American dream.

    1. Sometimes I wonder if the American dream is still alive. Let's at least hope that people have a chance of attaining their goals with hard work (and brains!)