Parting with our excess possessions can be a daunting task physically and emotionally. We work through questions such as “Is it useful?” “Do I need it?” or “Is Is it beautiful?”. These questions of reason may work for us but may not be enough at the start for our children.
When I started this owning less journey I began with my own stuff for the most part. As I continued to make progress with my things I began giving more attention to my kids’ things. I remember unpacking boxes of their stuff after a move and thinking, how am I going to get rid of this stuff — because children don’t actually benefit from too many things. I could keep it all boxed up and tell my kids it got lost in the move, tell the mailman he’s got the wrong house every time a gift is delivered, OR I could start helping them learn to apply a minimalist mindset for themselves. Teaching your kids (rather than just telling your kids) how to apply a minimalist mindset does take a big dose of intentionality and a bit more coffee–but it’s entirely possible and so very worth it!
7 ideas to help your kids in letting go.
If your kids are young enough and aren’t concerned with you giving away their things then sure, a packing party might be your best option! But for those of you with old-enough or stuck-on-stuff kids, these tips below may help you guide them in letting go of what isn’t serving them.
1. Let them see you do it, and talk about first.
I de-owned many of my own things and applied the minimalist lifestyle to my own decisions first. I purposefully involved them in simple decisions that had nothing to do with their things such as “Do you think our family needs 5 wooden spoons…how many can we give away?” I chose to talk about items that had nothing to do with their things first.
2. Every struggle is an opportunity.
See their struggle as an opportunity to learn rather than a battle to be waged. Sure, there are times we parents must draw the boundary line, but when everything becomes a battle no one wins. If we force kids to let go of their things against their will, we’re likely motivating them to hold onto them more tightly. When we see their struggle to let go of excess as an opportunity for compassion and empathy, we can then begin to help them.
3. Casual conversations go further.
I focused on inserting the benefits of minimalism throughout casual conversations — all the time. They might hear me say, I’m so glad that is all we had to put away, now we have a little more time at the pool! Or “After we declutter the living room we can have movie night” Or “I’m so happy I’m finally giving away this shirt I’ve hardly wear, now someone else who needs it can wear it!” My goal is to highlight that we aren’t giving up something, we are trading something — the good for the best.
4. Help them identify their why.
Just as your why is essential to your motivation for change, so is your child’s. Write down what motivates your child or ask your child what their favorite activities are. List the healthy options such as riding bikes, going to the pool or beach, etc. Experiences over stuff when possible. These are the things you can use to shift their focus away from accumulating more clutter during your casual conversations.
5. Support and acknowledge their feelings
When your kids express their feelings, even over a desire to keep a candy wrapper, acknowledge them, respect them. In frustration of the clutter it can be easy focus on the result and forget about the process — but it’s not the result that makes us stronger, it’s the process. Help them name their feelings and identify their motives, then guide them to their why.
6. Make it fun and motivating.
Make it fun by giving a direct reward for their efforts. As I talk about in my new book Minimalism for Families, we have decluttered the living room/toy bin together and then celebrated with a movie night (popcorn and hot chocolate included) in that room. Maybe your child would like to set up a tent (store-bought or make-shift) sleeping party for the weekend with flashlights and popcorn included! – but in order to do so, they’ve got to clear out a good portion of their stuff for the fun. Allow them to choose and then help them box it up and set it out of sight. This allows your child to experience a direct benefit — that less can be more fun.
7. Broaden their perspective.
Volunteer in your local community together and look for age-appropriate resources to share with your children. For years my kids have been fascinated with the photo documentary Where Children Sleep — stories of diverse children around the world, told through portraits and pictures of their bedrooms. This broadens their perspective and helps them see others have needs and most of the people in the world live with much less.
Documentaries are another great way to broaden their perspective. Here are a few we have watched together.
Living on One Dollar follows a group of college students who spend a summer living in a small Guatemalan City where the average income for families is less than $1 a day per person.
I watched this with my 9 and 11-year-old and they actually completely engaged, even asking more questions afterward. Since then I’ve asked my kids, can you imagine living on a dollar a day? I have to think about this myself. A few months later they suggested we watch it again for family movie night!
This documentary explores human happiness through interviews with people from all walks of life in 14 different countries, weaving in the newest findings of positive psychology. It makes a case for humans being most happy in societies that place a high value on close relationships and strong communities.
Minimalism explores how our lives might be better with less by taking the audience inside the lives of other minimalists from different backgrounds – architects, artists, scientists, families and a former Wall Street broker – all of whom are striving to live a meaningful life with less.
Tiny is a story about people living small. Tiny follows one couple’s attempt to build a Tiny House from scratch with no building experience, and profiles other families across America who have downsized to live in less than 400 square feet. Through homes stripped down to their essentials, the film raises questions about sustainability, and the changing American Dream.
Through working on my own stuff first I learned some hard lessons about myself that I’ve been able to share with my children. As a parent living a minimalist lifestyle I’m better able to help them find a healthy balance in their own lives — to love people and use things — to let go of the good stuff and hold onto the right stuff.