Inside: While there is no one size fits all approach to becoming a minimalist family, there are certainly some practical ways to help your kids get on board. Here you’ll find the three words that helped my kids embrace minimalism plus a FREE practical cheat sheet to decluttering with kids.
The tension was mounting and we were getting nowhere!
You see, about two months prior, my husband and I had made the decision to lighten our load. After years of accumulation, busyness and wasteful spending, we decided to right the ship and become a minimalist family. We had just made major progress in many areas of our home and it was now time to tackle our kids’ bedrooms. It was obvious however, that some of us were more on board than others.
My then seven year old son was having nothing to do with it! He would not let go of a single thing. From scrap paper to figurines, stuffed animals to broken toys, he wanted to keep…it…all.
No matter how I presented it or how enthusiastic I was, he was holding strong. I’ve got to tell you, my presentation was pretty solid too. Many rational adults would have followed me to the ends of the earth after the purpose driven, motivational speech I presented to this small boy. But, nothing was working.
I was confused and growing increasingly frustrated because I thought I’d played it perfectly.
Becoming a Minimalist Family
When we first went minimalist I had every intention of tackling my children’s toys on day one! I was certain our toy situation was the root cause of the stress in my home. However, after a little research I soon realized that starting with my children’s possessions, rather than my own, was a recipe for minimalist family failure.
If our new minimalist lifestyle was ever going to outlast my initial enthusiasm and become a part of our real life for the long haul, it was critical that I first do the hard work of leading by example.
So there I stood in my son’s room, shocked to find him refusing to let go of any of his possessions. I thought I’d done everything right. Didn’t he watch me declutter my own stuff? Didn’t he see me leading by example? Hadn’t he felt the benefits?
Still, I found myself deep in hostage negotiations with a seven year old, and running out of ideas.
I Took a Different Approach
Suddenly, it dawned on me.
This was all my fault. I did this, not him. We spent the first seven years of his little life raising him to believe stewarding our possessions well, meant keeping it all.
It’s all he knew. From the example I set with my own stuff, to the importance I placed on his, everything was a treasure.
To him becoming a minimalist family wasn’t simply about letting go of the things that don’t “spark joy.” It wasn’t even about removing the junk to “make room for what matters most.” Because it all sparked joy, it all mattered most to this sentimental little boy. Every single piece of plastic he owned was a treasure in his eyes. To him these things were a part of his story. They were a part of who he was.
When it All “Sparks Joy”
My arms fell to my side and my gaze grew empathetic as I looked into his. Slowly I said,
“I am sorry.”
I went on to explain,
“This is all my fault. I taught you wrong your whole life. This is hard because I raised you to believe that our stuff matters so much more than it does. You’re right. This is NOT easy, and I am so sorry for that.”
Now I’m sure I continued on and on in true mom fashion, but the rest of what I said is a blur. I simply remember his change in demeanor during this pivotal moment in our minimalist family journey.
In that moment, it stopped being him vs. me in a battle over ninja turtle figurines. Instead, I validated his feelings, came along side him, and redistributed the painful weight of letting go.
It began an authentic conversation about growth, grit, change and a willingness to admit when we’re wrong.
Things were different after that. Not easy or quick, just different. That conversation lead the way in establishing a foundation of trust as our family continues to journey together toward what matters most to us.
Two Years Later
Here we are two years later and my kiddos swing back and forth between loving and simply accepting our family’s minimalist way of life. They can’t help but occasionally want #allthethings because after all, they’re still human children. But, if you really dive into a conversation with them, they’ll acknowledge there’s more rest, joy and adventure found in our home today.
What I’ve come to realize first and foremost in my effort to transform my kids into minimalists, is that I’m not really interested in them becoming “minimalists” after all.
My hope is not that when they’re grown they will live in tiny homes with minimalist capsule wardrobes. I don’t need them to someday tell stories of how their courageous mother took a stand against birthday party favors.
No, my hope is that through a lifestyle of less, they will have a deeper understanding of who they are and what they truly treasure. We’re hoping to better equip them to choose contentment over entitlement, generosity over selfishness, faith over self-reliance, and grit over taking the easy way out.
Whether they one day decide to call themselves “minimalists” is up to them. I couldn’t care less.
All I care to do is light the path as I lead by example. Not just with my soul, but with my stuff as well.
Start With Sorry
Not a day goes by that I don’t witness the countless benefits of less in my children. Even if they can’t yet see it for themselves.
While there certainly isn’t a one size fits all approach to shifting your family toward a minimalist lifestyle, humility, authenticity and patience are absolutely essential.
It wasn’t until I lowered my guard and stopped painting it as easy, that we finally started making forward progress. Of course the road was still rocky, unpredictable, and at times even painful. Every five steps forward, led to two steps back. But little by little, toy by toy, we began to lay a firmer foundation for our family.
Start with “I am sorry,” and use it as an opportunity to redefine what treasure looks like in your home.
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So lovely. Currently working on this with my family. Thank you for your advice
I love this approach. I’m also a minimalist mama but I feel like saying “I am sorry” to our kids goes so far beyond that. Sometimes we forget that our kids are people too. Even though the things that matter to them aren’t the same as the things that matter to us, we have to remember that THEY matter to us, and as a result their concerns should matter too. Empathy is kind of hard with kids because the stuff they’re upset about usually seems so menial, but it’s not to them. I think you are reminding us of that, so thank you.
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