As a child, I grew up with lots of toys, more toys than the average kid. You name the Barbie and I had her…and her entire wardrobe. When I got married to my husband, we (as most couples) received an endless number of wedding gifts; and as the years went on, we accumulated so many belongings that we finally had to rent a storage unit since they no longer fit in the house. A couple of years ago, our financial situation changed a bit when my husband, being very overworked, decided to use the Swedish benefits of paternity leave. Unfortunately, this came with a huge pay cut, but we didn’t care since he and our three children were happy. To make it financially, though, we had to downsize. That storage unit was the first to go. And so began our journey to a minimal life….and a much happier one, may I add.
Today my husband and I and our three beautiful children live very minimally, which for us means a lot fewer belongings, clothing and toys; no TV; and way less spending. We get asked often how we can live minimal with small children.
I think that to practice minimal living, you must be very patient with your children. You need to explain that, yes, we do not need to live like everyone else, and that living this way comes with benefits for them.
Since we began living minimally, our children have learned many lessons. Here are some of them:
- Belongings don’t make us happy in the long run. We used to have far more belongings, a TV, and toys for the kids; but we’re much happier as a family.
- Living like this does not make us freaks; instead, we may be an inspiration for other families.
- We have zero debt and survive on less money, which means that we parents do not have to work as much, so we can take more time off to be with them — like a full 2 months during summer break.
- We’re good at reusing and fixing things that are broken, and we think about purchases and whether we actually need them. These days, if something breaks, instead of asking me to buy a replacement, they ask me to fix the broken item.
- They are better at sharing and are not so attached to belongings anymore, so they happily share clothes and toys with their friends.
- It’s easier to clean up with less clutter.
- They know that they are the most important things to us and that we love spending time with them.
- We save the planet and our wallet by living minimally. I’m so surprised that our children save their own money and hardly ever want to spend it. Our 12-year-old daughter saves her money in order to take her special friends out for a treat instead of spending it on herself.
- We value experiences rather than belongings. They know that going camping or visiting an aquarium has a more lasting impression than a toy.
In general, our children are all onboard when it comes to zero waste and minimal living. However, there are times when my daughter feels a little jealous of her best friend and how many new toys and clothes she is getting from her parents all the time. We address this not by faulting her for having these feelings but by empathizing with her as well as explaining to her that everyone should live according to their truth and passion; and that our passion is to spend more time together and spend less on belongings. Usually that works and, when asked if they want to live our life differently, the answer is always “no.” Although she sometimes wish she have the same amount of clothes or belongings as lots of other girls when asked she in reality does not.
We live by example, so we began reducing the number of our belongings before reducing those of the kids. The first step we took was to remove items in storage that we did not use — those things usually are easier to live without — and were very surprised when it was our children who asked us to sell our TV. It’s just not fair to expect children to remove their things before we have proven first that we do fine without ours.
I think that parents should explain and keep reinforcing reasons for living minimally and what the benefits are for children, no matter what age. (I also allow them to do what they want with their own money.) Always focus on the positive, like how much better it feels with less clutter, how much easier it is to find clothes to wear because of having less to look through, and how much simpler life is; and that it means more time for fun things like arts, crafts, adventure and family time.
Treat your family to fun experiences, and show them that you now have more time and spend less money in order to have experiences like going to the beach or an amusement park, or going on a trip together.