Inside: Here you’ll find the second in a monthly Q & A series I call, “Ask a Minimalist.” I’ll be addressing frequently asked questions regarding minimalism, decluttering, and all things simplicity.
Here we go! It’s month two of my Ask a Minimalist series. Every month I’m answering FAQs about minimalism, decluttering and simplifying life. This month’s topics include getting our kids on board, finding a place to donate or sell valuables, and how to move away from bringing home souvenirs when traveling.
Q: My son will be 4 in November. He is an only child. We have accumulated so many toys and he seems to remember all of them. He’ll even ask about things from when he was 1. How do I go about simplifying without scarring him and making him feel like we are just throwing out his stuff? We have been simplifying our stuff for some time now and taking him with us to donate our things. He still doesn’t seem to get the advantage. What words, phrases, or language could I be using to help him understand and appreciate this process, especially with his toys? – Jill
A: Becoming a minimalist isn’t an easy process. But doing it with kids in tow is next level material.
My kids were 7, 4 and 1 when we started to ditch our excess. With their varying ages and personalities came different challenges and hurdles when letting go. It had me asking lots of questions, “Can I just sneak half of this crap out in the middle of the night? What do I keep for the baby? Do I let them each keep the same number of stuffed animals?”
Every kid is different. Each one will respond to the idea of owning less based on the unique way in which they were created. My youngest, who just turned four, has a different relationship with her stuff than my older two because minimalism is all she’s ever known. My son however, he stills remembers when our home uses to resemble a ToysRUs Express. I kept waiting for him to have the same ah-ha moment as I did, cry tears of joy and thank me for saving him from a life of consumerism. As I’m sure you know, that’s not really how this typically plays out. There were tears alright, but they were far from tears of joy. He just doesn’t part with stuff easily.
It sounds like you’re doing a great job of leading by example and involving him in the process of decluttering your home. That is certainly the most important first step.
What I’ve learned as we uncluttered our home is there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this decluttering with kids thing. You have to take it one day, toy and conversation at a time. Implementing minimalism with kids is often about playing the long game.
The single, biggest impact you can make in your home is with what you allow to come in from now on. They will eventually outgrow their excess clothes and get over their Daniel Tiger obsession. It’s the next phase and season you’ll be able to make the biggest impact. Choose today’s battles wisely.
As for now, here are a few strategies that have helped me lead my kids toward letting go little by little.
1. Establish Boundaries
Designate a space, bin, box, or closet for their toys. Allow them to choose what they keep, but what they can keep must fit within it’s designated space.
Boundaries are an important life skill for them to learn, and what better place to start than with toys.
2. Pay Attention to How You Word Things
When it’s time to let go I’ll choose two items and say, “How about we donate this one and keep this one.” It helps them focus on what they have rather than what they are giving up. It empowers them with a choice, while offering them the permission to let go of something they aren’t using.
3. Do a Trial Run.
A few months back, my son was having a really hard time maintaining a tidy room, even after minimalism. I went through and boxed up a handful of stuffed animals, blankets, trinkets, and toys he’d been holding on to. I promised not to throw them away. We kept them boxed up for a few weeks and then went through it together. By the time we went through it, he had forgotten all about it and let go of most of it.
4. What if They Ask for It Later?
It doesn’t happen often at all, but there have been a couple of times when my kids have said, “Do we still have….?” I’ll remind them that we donated the item in question. For added measure, I’ll even remind them of exactly who we donated that item to. “Remember we donated that to the refugee ministry at church last Christmas so moms with very little money could still give there kids a Christmas present?”
They’ll take a brief moment to tell me they are bummed, but it never lasts long. They get over it and then head off to find something else to do the job of the item they were looking for. Fewer toys have made my kids much more resourceful.
5. You’re the Parent
At a certain point we just have to play our executive decision card. Remember you’re the parent and you get to set the standard for what you keep in your home.
Here are a few other resources to help you along the way:
For more practical tips to decluttering with kids download the FREE Decluttering With Kids Cheat Sheet
Q: The one problem I keep encountering is where to donate really good stuff and trying to find someone who can use my discards. My mother recently passed away and she had some beautiful, high-quality items that don’t fit anyone else in the family. Since they are older than one or two years old, most consignment stores won’t accept them. I don’t do business online and am not tech-savvy enough to post items online. Do you have any suggestions? – Stephanie
A: When it comes to letting go, some items are just trickier than others. For example, my husband is ready to donate our nursery rocking chair. I on the other hand, am not. It’s currently sitting in the corner of my bedroom being used as a reading chair. This is where I nursed all of my babies, read them stories and snuggled them through middle of the night fever spikes. See? Even typing that out confirms I am just not ready yet. Not sure if I’m supposed to admit that as a minimalist blogger, but there you go. I’m a human person too.
A year ago we donated our crib. What I found in the process of letting that crib go was that when an item has played a major role in my life, donating it is always easier than selling. Selling can sometimes feel like we are putting a price tag on our moments. Because of that, we are more likely to put a higher price tag on the item, ultimately preventing us from ever letting go.
But just as you’re experiencing, finding a place to take our precious possessions isn’t always easy. However, there are so many brick and mortar donation locations in my hometown and I’m sure there are in yours as well. To find those local spots, you’ll have to do a bit of Googling. Here are some ideas to point you in a more focused direction.
- Local rescue mission
- Refugee service centers
- Local churches are often well connected with needs in the community. If you aren’t personally involved in one ask a friend who is or give one a call.
- Pregnancy service centers
- Women’s shelters
- School theater departments
- Church nursery or daycare
- Facebook has been a great place to find people who may need your items. You can sell items individually or combine like items together in a lot, posting them for sale on your local local rummage sale site. If you post an item as FREE, it will likely be gone in less than a day. Many towns also have Freecycle pages on Facebook as well. Here you can see specific needs ranging from clothing, to household appliances, to building materials. People will post specific needs such as“ISO (in search of) 5T boys winter clothes.” You can reply and arrange a drop off or pick up. It’s a great way to find real needs in your very own community and fill them!
Q: When returning from vacations away, instead of junky souvenirs, do you have any suggestions for how to transition to no gifts? – Charlotte
A: I’d suggest you start by first transitioning to consumable souvenirs. We always used to bring our kids souvenirs from every trip. Once my husband even came home from a trade show in Las Vegas with snow globes for each of our kids. I can’t think of anything more cliché than that. Now, we only bring home consumable souvenirs and it allows our kids to get a little taste of our adventure.
When my husband and I went to Europe this summer, I literally crammed a warm, freshly baked, loaf of bread and a box of macaroons into my backpack the morning we flew home from Paris. They were so excited for the chance to eat real french bread baked that very same day in Paris. They want to go to Paris so bad now… Solely for the bread and macaroons of course. I mean, can you blame them? Consumable souvenirs allow us all to experience the trip a little bit longer without adding stuff to our home.
We don’t always bring home consumable goods any more either, but it was a great way to transition away from things like snow globes.
I love this line by my friend Denaye Barahona of Simple Families on the subject of souvenirs.
“If we truly want our children to seek out the REAL gifts in life, we have to change the way we buy. The people, the life, the love, the relationships…those are the gifts.” – Denaye Barahona
Have anything to add or questions you’d like answered in future posts? Comment below or email me directly. Stay tuned for next month’s Ask a Minimalist. It’s going to be sooooo good!
You can find last month’s Q&A post, here.
For more inspiration
Declutter Your Life
3 years ago I was overwhelmed with my life, while growing more underwhelmed with it’s direction by the second. It felt as though all of my time and energy was going toward the accumulation and management of STUFF. What little time I had left over went toward overbooking and overcommitting my family to all.the.thing!
When introduced to the concept of minimalism and everything changed!
Living with less will gift you the time, space and much needed perspective to put the things that truly matter most first. If you’d like some help getting started download my FREE Beginner’s Guidebook to: Declutter Like a Minimalist. It takes a deep dive into the 7 important steps to getting started as highlighted in my popular post, Declutter Like a Minimalist.
It’s time to stop managing our families and start leading them!