Children, Minimalism and a Happy Medium
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.
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.
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.