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We recently visited some friends and family members who we don’t see very often. They were thrilled to pull out boxes of old toys from the 70s, mounds of McDonald’s toys from the 90s, and Beanie Babies in pristine condition.
I sat in silence as I watched my 11 month old eagerly dig through the boxes and bags. She picked out each piece, one by one, and plopped it on the floor behind her. She was on a mission to touch every single item, stopping only occasionally to admire a new color or texture.
Once she was finished with one box, she moved onto the next. And when she was finished with the last box, she darted over to the mountain of magazines piled high on the coffee table, ripping through the pages and tossing them like confetti around her. Then she was off and away to the bucket of tennis balls, stacks of DVDs, and neatly folded clothes in the laundry hamper.
The house was a disaster. And while my baby was having fun rummaging through every item on her level, I wondered what she was gaining from it. What was she learning from digging through so much stuff and creating chaos? She wasn’t able to focus on any one thing because there were so many things around her. Was she overwhelmed? How was this experience shaping her?
Our home is naturally baby-friendly. My husband and I have always liked less. We adapted to a lifestyle of living with less when we moved into our 700sqft rental. Our things have their own space and we rarely have them in piles around the house. Especially now that we have a toddler – we never have anything on her level that isn’t meant for her to have and learn from.
Why? Well, for several reasons. There are benefits to being minimalist parents. We enjoy having a tidy space. We also enjoy giving our child the freedom to roam the house without being in danger. She is able to focus on one task at a time without being overwhelmed by mounds of stuff and doesn’t create messes in the meantime. Our space is her space – mentally and physically.
Being a minimalist parent isn’t about eliminating everything from your life – it’s about choosing your things wisely and intentionally, raising an introspective child, and living slowly from day to day. Below are ways in which you can learn how to be a minimalist parent.
Determine Your Values
By determining your values, you know what’s important to you and what isn’t. This will help you to decide what sorts of things to buy for your child and what kinds of items you will accept into your home for them to play with. What are you okay with your child exploring independently? What would you like for her to learn to love?
If you’re a music lover, you may invest in instruments for your little one. Maybe you’re a book lover and want to collect a small stash for your tiny human. An animal lover? Then maybe animal figurines. Do you enjoy building? Offer your baby a mallet and supervise her play. Into sports, movies, games, fashion, travel, culture? You see where I’m going.
Evaluate Your Child’s Interests
Young children are into everything – literally – the cabinets, drawers, bags, boxes, etc. As they grow older, evaluate their interests. Do they most enjoy objects that make sound? Do they like playing in dirt and being outside? Do they find joy in using their hands?
Once you understand your child’s interests, then you can cater to them by providing certain things for them – and you don’t need 100 of said things. If she likes action figures, get a few action figures or encourage her to dress up and play pretend. If he likes art, buy him a few art essentials or enroll him in art class.
Investing in classes and experiences is a great way to reduce the stuff in your home. It also allows your children to interact with others, and who knows, maybe you’ll learn something, too!
Get Outside More
Being outside with your children influences them to appreciate the world around them. If you have children who love being outside, it limits how much stuff you have in your home. Admittedly, you may need more outdoor gear in the long-run, but at least most of it is multifunctional.
Gardening is an excellent way to inspire your children and teach them how to live slowly, sustainably, and minimally. Biking is a great form of exercise, while also being an eco-friendly mode of transportation. Hiking doesn’t cost a thing and is great for the mind, body, and soul.
My husband and I started hiking with our daughter when she was 4 weeks old. I strapped her into her Ergobaby and walked for miles. 10 months later, she absolutely adores riding and admiring the canopies above her. Now, she knows when we’re going outside and cries when we come back in. Who knows. Maybe your tot prefers to play with dead leaves and clover flowers instead of stuffed animals and baby dolls.
Involve Your Children with Household Duties
Involving your children in household duties and chores prepares them for the real world and encourages minimalism and simple living. It occupies your children with helpful tasks – sweeping, dusting, drying dishes, folding towels, mixing ingredients – all the while teaching them life skills.
And you don’t have to wait until they’re older to start. Toddlers can learn how to fold washcloths, measure ingredients, and chop vegetables. Put some spinach in front of your 11 month old and let her rip it apart for your lunch salad. In Bringing Up Bebe, Pamela Druckerman talks about 2 year olds in France making yogurt cakes all by themselves. If we believe they can do it, then they will.
Talk to Your Family and Friends
Talking to your friends and family members about your minimalist lifestyle is crucial to a successful journey in minimalist parenting. Lay the ground rules early – share your philosophy on life and parenting in a way they will understand and appreciate. Explain to them that your theories and practice will follow you not only in your home, but where you visit and travel, as well. Tell them that you are practicing living with less and that you don’t need things just in case or because they’ve been saving them for a time like this.
It’s okay that you don’t want things. You don’t need to justify it, but maybe they’ve never considered that a life with less actually creates more space for your and your family – more space to live, experience, and be who you were meant to be.
How have you practiced minimalist parenting? Tell me in the comments below.