Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.
As you might know, I consider myself a minimalist — at least, as much as you can be with kids.
Kids are almost antithetical to minimalism: having them brings new resource consumers into the world, not to mention how much clutter and chaos and complications that come with even just one kid.
But as we parents know, they’re worth it.
Kids bring complexity and clutter, but they also bring to parents joy, simple pleasures, an infinite amount of contentment without needing material goods.
As a minimalist, I enjoy uncluttered spaces, beautifully simple things, experiences over material things, living with and doing less rather than being obsessed with more, and finding contentment.
As a parent, I enjoy the messiness of kids, their chaotic way of living, even their loudness and crabbiness — in addition to how sweet, cute, beautiful and fun they can be.
So how do we reconcile the two? It takes a little bit of balancing and the right attitude. Here’s how.
1. A relaxed attitude, and patience. Minimalism is counter-productive if you become obsessive, and become a clutter-Nazi. We become minimalist so we can remove the extraneous, and focus only on the important. The kids are what’s important — not the lack of clutter, or having the simplest lifestyle. Always remember that. And then, breathe. Relax. Let go of your frustrations, your expectations, your desires for perfection, and instead adopt a minimalist attitude: of going with the flow, of living in the moment, of enjoying your kids and experiences rather than things. Being a parent can be frustrating, if you let it, or it can be fun, if you learn patience and adopt this relaxed attitude.
2. Don’t schedule too much! Any minimalist should adopt a minimalist schedule: put too much on your calendar and you’ll be stressed and rushed. The same applies to your kids’ calendars, and your family’s calendar in general. Keep a family calendar with everyone’s schedule — Google Docs is good for this, but a wall calendar also works well. This way you can see what everyone has coming up for the week (and month). But avoid filling it up — try to leave as many empty spaces as possible, so you can relax and enjoy each day, rather than rushing around. Don’t let your kids join too many clubs or sports or activities — this is a mistake many parents make these days. This leaves the kids with no downtime — they need it as much as you do. Sometimes it’s good for them to go outside, use their imagination, get some fresh air, and do nothing planned.
3. Enjoy the simple pleasures. Slow down, take some time to just be with your kids (and your significant other), and enjoy those little moments. You don’t have to do anything — simply going outside and enjoying nature, reading a book on the couch, or just lounging around together, can be amazing. Bake some cookies. Look for bugs. Do a simple science experiment. Wrestle. These things don’t have to cost a lot of money or be a big deal — but they really are a big deal. Enjoy them.
4. Do a group decluttering. While giving up possessions can be traumatic for kids (and adults), decluttering as a family can actually be fun. Make it a game — haul everything out, sort into piles (things you’ve used in the last year, things you haven’t), put into boxes, and go and donate boxes together. It’s actually really fun for kids to rediscover old toys. If they can’t bear to get rid of them, put them in boxes and rotate the toys every few months — then it’s, “Hey, new toys!” every time you open up a box.
5. Focus on quality toys, not quantity. Most kids have way too many toys. For their birthdays and Christmas, they get craploads of crap. Instead, focus on good quality toys, made of durable materials (like real wood) that will last, things they’ll use and love and cherish for years. Classics usually work best. Fewer but higher quality items in general is a good policy.
6. Teach them good habits, and set an example. The habits you teach them now will last a lifetime. Teach your children to put things away when they’re done with them, to declutter, to buy less, to do less but to focus on what’s important, to focus and to be happy now. Talking about these things helps — but the best way to teach is by example. Don’t force them, but show them. Your example will go a long way.
7. You don’t need to carry everything. Travel lightly — both on long trips and short errands. Many parents tend to take every possible thing they might need, just to feel prepared, but this security is an illusion. Carry few things and you’ll be less stressed, feel lighter, and freer. Take only what you truly need, not what you might use.
8. When things go wrong, breathe, and smile. And things will go wrong. It’s inevitable — so accept it, breathe, smile, and move on. Or in another light, nothing goes wrong — it’s all part of the adventure of being a parent, the adventure of life. Each moment, each child and each life is perfect, as it is, messiness and all.
9. Don’t force. Minimalism is best when you let it happen gradually and naturally — especially when it comes to kids and other loved ones. You can’t force a philosophy on others, kids included. You have to influence, by (again) setting an example, showing why and how it’s important to you, letting them adapt and adjust. Things like this take time. Don’t force it, but let it unfold. If a kid doesn’t want to declutter his room, don’t force it.
10. Simple school papers and artwork. Other than toys and clothes and other possessions, one of the biggest sources of kid clutter is school papers (homework, report cards, notices from school, other papers they bring home) and artwork or other things they’ve created (at home or school). I’ve let these pile up in the past, and trust me, if you have a lot of kids you can end up with piles and piles. A simple system will help bring these papers under control. First, have one place for all incoming papers, and process them daily — weekly is also fine but daily ensures nothing piles up. For school papers, take immediate action: sign papers, put dates on your family calendar, scan things you want on record (perhaps report cards), then toss everything. For artwork, have a place you display a few pieces at a time, such as a bulletin board or your refrigerator (5-10 pieces is good). When new things come up, put them on the board or fridge, and get rid of the old stuff (scan them if you want the memory).
And again, remember that getting rid of clutter and simplifying what you do is a means to an end: the space and ability to relax with your family and enjoy the simple pleasures of being with them. Go, and be happy.
For more on minimalism, see my blog mnmlist.com, or check out my ebook: The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life.