• Mother Minimalist: On Raising Minimalist Kids


    My smart, witty and ride-or-die (not so little) daughter Emma is turning 11 this July. She’s been brought up in a minimalist home since forever – even though she could argue it was she who taught me to be a minimalist even before she was born... and she’d be right. You see, contrary to the popular belief that babies are a handful and need a million things for their well-being, something in my mommy brain made me believe babies needed only the bare necessities to be safe, to feel loved and to grow up happy – and in my own particular situation, I was right.

    So much is told to women while they’re pregnant – not only by their doctors but by society in general (about the well-being of our children). We’re told that we need 1-1000 gadgets to feed, comfort, teach and entertain our babies and they do that by playing on our worries and our vulnerabilities. That’s how we end up with these tractor-like strollers, blaring "educational" toys, rockers, bottles... all tucked away in our basements – and as our children continue to grow, we continue to be pressured into buying the next fad that we think will make our lives easier and our little ones happier.

    The reality is that babies and kids, in general, need less than we think to grow up healthily and happily. I’m not saying that all they need is dry nappies and full tummies but however long our lists are, the reality is they probably need only a small percentage of that to be all they're meant to be.

    It is true what they say... that once you become a mother, you will never (and I mean never) know a life without worries. And it didn’t take me long to realize how the system manipulates women into becoming consumers by using that innate potential for worry to their advantage. Sadly, over-buying things that our kids don’t really need is like having a headache and taking a (placebo) pill to make it better. While we might get the sense that the problem is gone, it will continue to be there until we address it.

    Mothering as a minimalist gives us the power to raise kids that are mindful, healthy and that don’t suffer the pressures to keep up with oftentimes unattainable lifestyles. It creates little humans that feel a sense of responsibility and empathy towards others; and that has been the case with my daughter. Ever since she was little, she’s never had an issue hearing the word "no" when wanting a toy and not getting it. She’s detached from material things and takes care of what she has so when it comes time to give things away, she can give them away in the best shape possible. She cures her boredom with creativity and she doesn’t feel the pressure to get the next cool toy or wear the next line of clothes.

    So you might be asking yourself how you might mother as a minimalist too... and here are the basics of what you need to know:

    Care for your own mental and physical health first
    Even the littlest thing is capable of getting to us when we are not taking care of ourselves. We become more reactive and less rational when we don’t put our needs first; when we don’t feed our bodies and our souls the way we need.

    Connect with your kids
    There is nothing that children crave (or need for that matter) more than connection. Play with your kids, have conversations, ask questions, reply to theirs and truly spend time together away from phones, televisions and distractions.

    Do not purchase things for your kids by reasoning that either you want to give them all you never had or all you did have
    Emotion-driven purchases will always pile up. Forget about that toy you always wanted and never had. I can assure you the lack of or the abundance of something didn’t create your character and it won’t create your kid’s character either.

    Have conversations before you say "yes"
    Ask your kids why they want that toy or that one specific brand of glue to make slime (real-life scenario for me) and use that to teach them how advertising works. Use technology to your advantage and research the difference between the product that advertisements are telling them they need and other equally-as-good brands that might be cheaper (and in the end even better for our planet). We should all be making informed purchases in the end.

    Teach your kids to detach emotions from things
    Don’t encourage your kids to want material things to fill voids. They should feel happy, entertained, cool, interesting and more, regardless of having that one object or not.

    Use the "one in, one out" technique with them
    If buying something they want fits your life, your home and your budget ask your kids to get rid of one thing before you bring a new one into the house. If they are not able to let go, then maybe it isn’t time to continue to purchase things that will simply accumulate in your home.

    Teach them to save
    Instead of whipping out your credit card when your kids ask you for something, check out the price, have that conversation and offer your kids a part of the money to buy it. Explain that the other part can be paid for using their savings. This is not only to teach them the value of money but it also stops them from wanting everything and it makes them stop to consider their own desires.

    Prioritize experiences and knowledge
    Saying "no" to the unnecessary will open room to invest in things that will have a lifelong impact in their lives. Maybe you can trade the next Transformers for a nice theater play, an art course, Jiu-Jitsu lessons or something that will give them know-how and the comfort of time spent in a group of other children that share their same interests.

    Do not buy good behavior and do not punish bad behavior with material things
    Kids should be obedient, studious and kind simply because it’s good for them – not because they’ll get something out of it or they are scared that something will be taken away from them. Rewarding your kid’s common good behavior with things creates entitlement and that will be detrimental to how they grow up. Use your words to encourage them and teach them, not things.

    Spend moments in gratitude
    Everyone can overlook how lucky we are when we are on auto pilot. Have daily, weekly or even a moment once in a while in which you and your kids spend a moment to express gratitude for the things you have. Gratitude helps us to not take things for granted and to value what we have. It makes us happy and allows us to also be perceptive of the needs of others. This is a gift you could be giving your children, one that will change their lives forever.

    Living with less leads to a fuller life, no matter your status or age - minimalism can have a positive effect on your well-being and that of your family; it allows you to not feel like you are falling short all the time, it reminds you how to live, it gives you the freedom of "slowness", it allows you to truly delve into unforgettable moments of play and it inevitably and indefinitely takes a burden off your shoulders.

    Wherever you are at in your life and whatever your finances look like right now, give "less" a chance. That’s my proposal (and my challenge) to you.

    ph. cover: caroline birk other: sanne hop
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