Minimalist Families: Amber from Crafting my Life

Children, Minimalism and a Happy Medium
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For many years I’ve been working to downsize my life. There are a lot of reasons, really. I want to create a more peaceful living space. I want to find more time to do the things that really matter to me. I want to live more frugally. I want to reduce my environmental impact. I think that these are sentiments that many people can relate to. Our world can be so fast-paced, and the idea of stepping out of the hustle and bustle to find a simpler life is pretty appealing.

My husband shares my desire to simplify. We regularly make trips to the thrift store, carrying bags full of old clothes, boxes of books we’ll never read again, and boatloads of toys our children don’t play with. And yet, in spite of our efforts, it sometimes feels as if we’re treading water. No matter how much we remove from our home, more stuff materializes to take its place. And I can’t help but blame my kids.

Having a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old presents some challenges when it comes to minimizing. One of my biggest ongoing challenges is the art supplies. We have more markers than two children could ever use. We have jars of glitter and old egg cartons and popsicle sticks and googly eyes. We have paper and scissors and pipe cleaners and glue in many forms. We have finished (and half-finished) art projects spread throughout our suburban house. I want my children to have ready access to art materials, and asking two small children to keep those supplies organized is totally unreasonable. But the amount of art-related clutter really gets on my nerves.

Sliding kids
My kids on the school playground

The art supplies are just one example of how my desire to give my kids a happy childhood can compete with my desire to simplify. I know that my children don’t need much to be happy. Like most kids they often prefer the box to the gift that was inside it. But if you ask them, they almost never want to part with the gift all the same. And so I struggle with where to draw the line between my desires and theirs. When is imposing my lifestyle choices on them reasonable, and when does it cross the line?

As parents, we all make choices for our children. I know that. My husband and I are the ones who decided to live in a house in the suburbs. We buy the groceries, we set the daily schedule and we make the house rules. My kids bear the brunt of many decisions I make, and I don’t really sweat it. If they have fewer toys than their peers, I don’t feel compelled to go out and buy them more. But on the other hand, I remember the thrill I got when I was seven years old in 1983 and my grandmother gave me a Cabbage Patch Kid, and I’d kind of like my kids to have that experience, too.

Jacob has a spray nozzle, and he's not afraid to use it
Beware a toddler carrying a spray nozzle

I suppose that there’s a balance we strike in all things. We can teach our children to be savvy consumers of media, so that they don’t blindly believe whatever they see on TV. We can pare down our lifestyle and explain why we make the decisions we make. And we can indulge some of their deepest desires, just as we indulge our own. If there’s something I really want, having it would enhance my lifestyle, and the price is within my means, then I buy it. We can make the same sorts of decisions for our children.

We can also accept that just like everything else in life, minimalism with children will look different than minimalism without children. I will probably wrestle with art supplies for some time to come. I will spend lots of time picking things up and wiping things down, no matter how many things I give away. There will be crayon marks on my walls, and block towers in my family room. And there will be stuff in my house that I could live without, but maybe my kids couldn’t, so I’ll suck it up and seek that happy medium.

I wonder what you think. Where does your own choice to embrace minimalism end, and your children’s right to self-determination begin? How does that change as your kids get older? And what do you do to keep all the art supplies contained? I’ll take any tips that you can give me!

Amber is a crunchy granola mom of two who lives in suburban Vancouver. She blogs about her family’s adventures at Strocel.com, and she runs an online course for mothers about living with intention at Crafting my Life.

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Comments

  1. KT says

    Ahhh the crafts…
    Having 3 kids who LOVE the markers, pencils, erasures etc… we have fought with finding a method of organization for years!!
    Finally we invested in the ‘stanley mobile work centre’ which seems to work well. It has may different places to store stuff, and it manages to contain ‘most’ of our supplies. We also have a large box that contains all the paper, colouring and work books.

    Hope this helps.

  2. Emily says

    Art supplies are tough, for sure. Honestly, though, the most helpful thing in our family has been to teach the children (yes, even the two-year-old!) how to get it out AND put it away independently. I got a lot of tips on how to do that from Montessori schools, actually, and you can find videos on youtube showing children putting away their supplies if you want inspiration.

  3. Andrea says

    Which is more important: a rich joyful childhood or decluttering? Those block towers and art projects are an important part of a child’s development. Children learn through play and play requires a bit of “stuff”. Over the years, my husband and I have gotten rid of our stuff to make room for children’s things. I don’t blame my children for their clutter, I find ways to organize their things.

    We have a dedicated toyroom so the kids have their own space. We have an an art cupboard in our kitchen, my dining room buffet drawers/cupboards hold books and educational games and we keep extra cardboard boxes in the basement closet. Children are messy and I embrace it!

  4. E.N. says

    As a mother of 4, I’ve been struggling to find that happy medium. We keep all toys and art supplies contained in bins. If something new comes into the home that they wish to keep then something has to go out to make room. My 6 yr old has been the hardest to convince that less is more(Mostly due to a weekly gift giving MIL). My home isn’t as minimalist as I would like due to toys and such, but it is as close as I can get with kids.

  5. Erin says

    We’re pretty minimalist in most aspects of our lives and it’s reflected in our selection of craft supplies. We’ve got paper, crayons, paints, scissors (1 pair) and glue (1 stick). And we have a ban on glitter in our household. There’s a fine line between the kids having a great time and me spending an entire afternoon cleaning up the mess they made. The kids aren’t deprived and I’m happy because there’s not too much of a mess they can make with limited supplies.

    It’s possible for kids to have a rich, joyful childhood while at the same time having a minimalist-ish, decluttered home. In fact, I’d argue that it’s less overwhelming for kids when they’ve got a limited amount of “stuff” surrounding them – this can include art supplies and toys, as well as other household things.

  6. Nathania says

    We have a “useful stuff” box for markers, rulers, glue and other art supplies – if X can’t find something I say “look in your useful stuff” – if she says it’s not in there then we know it’s time to clean up!

  7. Stacy says

    What do you do with books? I have 3 kids from 2 to 7. So I have books for the little one, each stage growing up, and even some we aren’t quite ready for. They start neatly on a bookshelf, but with all of the book love, they are constantly all over the house! Books are so important for growth and learning – so they seem hard to part with. Any advice?

    • KT says

      I have to admit that we have TOO MANY books… which we are working on. I have a bookshelves in their bedrooms for most of the books, but I keep a small basket in the living room, and a small space on the shelf in the play room so they can ‘quickly put them away’ without having to take them ‘all the way back upstairs’ to their rooms – their words not mine!! Every week or two I put most of them back upstairs until more migrate down… not a perfect system but at least it cuts down on the visual clutter.

  8. Susan says

    We have far too many ‘useful box’ and craft supplies, especially since I hate doing craft with my son and he doesn’t really care much for craft. We both just love the idea of doing lots of craft! So I have bought oodles of supplies and then realised that we had all these things that my son still hadn’t used two years on.
    I passed some on to my nephew, and put the rest in one small box, with a matching box of markers and crayons.
    I’m trying to whittle it down to just one packet of crayons and one of markers, one glue, one pair of scissors, a few stickers and a small amount of coloured paper. If ever we want something specific we can go and get it.

  9. Mariza says

    I limit my 5 yo to 10 crayons (beeswax block crayons), but at her age, I think that she should only have three (primary colors) and that’s it. And I also give her paper. Period. That’s it, no other “art supplies.” We do watercolor painting, and that’s a very special activity that I set up, they paint, and then I put the paints away. My oldest daughter has a box of color pencils. One box only and she keeps very neat.
    I don’t believe in having all the paints, paper and everything available all the time. I think that we should honor doing art. Have a quiet time and set up and put away. Drawing is OK to do whenever they wish, but not painting. Painting is special. That’s my own personal opinion, of course.

  10. Jenny @ exconsumer says

    Hi Amber! I have a six-year old and a 20-month old, so I know where you’re coming from with the kids’ clutter.

    The art supplies are a challenge with my oldest, so we cleaned out a tv cabinet in the living room and gave him the responsibility of organizing and keeping his art supplies in the cabinet. If things are left out of the cabinet, they’re gone.

    We also have LEGOs that were spilling into the dinning area, so those are now kept in my son’s bedroom.

    It’s an ongoing challenge to respect my oldest son’s wishes (the one-year old doesn’t complain much!), while still keeping the clutter to a minimum.

    Like you, I also want my children to experience the delayed gratification of receiving a much desired toy. In fact, I think by keeping possessions to a minimum, that desired toy will be much more exciting to receive.

    After all, I too received a Cabbage Patch doll that I cherished when I was younger. :)

  11. Jo@simplybeingmum says

    Hi Amber – our circumstances and outlook are very similar – I have a 6 year old and a 2 year old (nearly 3). It is indeed the art supplies and such that do cause the clutter, but I want to encourage their creativity. My daughter regularly says she wants to be an ‘artist’ when she grows up – and that fills my heart with joy. We can only do our best to show them there is another way – Jo

  12. Meryl says

    I used money I got as a gift and bought a set of elfa drawers from the container store and set up a art area in our dining room. They were expensive, but having all our art supplies in one area with a great work area on top makes me so happy. Everything is sorted in to drawers, and our boys, who aren’t the best cleaner uppers, are pretty good about putting the art supplies away. When the get some sort of a creative idea, they go running in and pull out what they need.

  13. Carrie says

    This post really resonates with me. On a literal level, because I’m in the middle of trying to reorganize my kids’ art supplies, and on the big picture level, too. It’s true. I try to teach my kids that they’re not going to get every bauble they see, that they don’t need all that, but sometimes I fear I’ve gone too far, like the time that we tagged along with friends to American Girl Place in Chicago and my 5-year-old looked around with such awe, but when I reminded her that we were not there to BUY one of these dolls, she answered a little too quickly, “I know.”
    (And don’t feel sorry for her — Grandma ended up getting her one that Christmas, and two years later she’s finally grown into enjoying it.)

  14. Kate says

    This is what works for us: I have three kids 6, 5 and 2. Less is more in my opinion. I have one pencil box for colored pencils and markers and another for crayons. If the boxes can’t close, it is time to remove some. The lack of artistic supplies actually can fuel their creativity if you allow it. They stay in a drawer in the kitchen that they can reach and I have paper in there. We have four reading spots with small baskets for books. They only hold about 4-5 books each. Having the most books is not what makes your kids smart.

  15. Carollida says

    I have 3 children and homeschool. I think it’s great to have plenty of craft supplies around. It helps a child develop and express themselves in many ways. I have tried to keep my children pretty minimal for many years. I don’t declutter books and art supplies. I have a spare walk in closet in my bedroom that we use as a supply closet. Everything is neatly stored and organized in it. We are able to keep plenty of glitter, paint, clay, playdoh, glue, papers, scissors, toilet paper tubes, cleaned out milk cartons, milk jugs, paper towel tubes ect. Paper towel tubes are great for sending pictures to family members in the mail. Anything you can imagine is in this closet and organized. This closest is not insulated well, so it gets really cold in the winter time. Not fun to put freezing clothes on! It works well for us. This is also where we keep the books we love. I love allowing my children to be creative. This is the only area that has a lot of stuff in our home.

  16. Elyse says

    I appreciate your post recognizing that your childrens’ creative needs (or just desires for possessions) are equally important to your own desired way of life. I am becoming more attracted to minimalism and do not yet have children, but this is something I will have to consider when I do. As I child I had many many art supplies. I now have a career in music, but both my work and leisure time still involves a lot of creative work/art. I prefer to make gifts rather than buy them. I always loved art, and I’ve made many things over the years–even sold some. So even though I don’t need any craft supplies to live, I do enjoy them and find them useful. I am getting better at organizing them and letting go of unfinished projects (finally!)

    I would recommend keeping all different kinds of art supplies, so your kids have options and inspiration and encourage them to organize those things as they grow older. If you require your children to live minimally against their will, that could make them feel rebellious. However, no one needs 78 highlighters, so perhaps there is an opportunity to eliminate duplicates without them being missed. I saw a really neat idea on Pinterest called Santa Sacks where kids leave out old/new toys for Santa to take to other kids. What a great way to teach giving and also reduce the amount of stuff in your home. You could do a variation of the Santa Sack idea any time of year. By giving your kids the choice and showing them how it helps someone else, I think that would make them feel empowered and excited about minimizing.

  17. Elyse says

    Also, something I would highly recommend for storing creative supplies–label the containers, so everyone knows where things belong. I know that sounds really simple, and you probably already know, but I just wanted to mention. It will feel less cluttered if the containers are all uniform size, about the size of a shoebox works great for most things. I like to use stackable ones with lids and labels on the front. Clear or not is a matter of preference. Clear plastic is probably most durable and sensible for kids so they can see what it is. Also, use ziplock bags or small tupperware containers to separate like things. It works much better than rubber bands. Markers in one. Crayons in another. Paintbrushes togther. All the rolls of tape. All the glue. All the paint. Then you just get the supply bags you need instead of taking everything out and making a big mess. Hope that is helpful!

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