So I feel like I need to start this post with a disclaimer because the title is quite...heavy. Minimalism for toddlers, I mean it sounds a bit intense - like I make my two year old sleep on a mat in an empty white room and play with sticks.
"Minimalism isn't about getting rid of your stuff. It's about focussing your family on what really matters in life." Why kids need minimalism, Denaye Barahona.
As always, I am coming from the position of having very little living space and minimalism looks different for everyone. We have stuff, we have toys, we have knick-knacks, we have THAT drawer that is stuffed full of stuff that doesn't go anywhere else, it's just proportionate to our living space. However, one area where we really really make a conscious effort to be at our most minimalist is when it comes to kid's stuff. Here's why:
When I was pregnant with Arthur I got excited about buying ALL the baby things for him. Cute clothes, every gadget under the sun, the beautiful baby carriers, the bottles and sterilisers and cribs and baby swings, play mats, toys...the list just goes on. There is a never ending market for baby things because the people selling them KNOW that expectant parents are excitable creatures and very likely to fork out for every gadget going. In fact parents in general are an "easy sell". Parenting is hard work, we want whatever we can get our hands on to make it easier on ourselves and I understand this impulse, I really do. However, what we really end up doing when we start the endless buying cycle, is making things harder on ourselves. How?
- Kids have so many toys that they can't actually find what they want to play with which leads to far less non-parent led play, constant fighting between siblings, stress and anxiety in kids. It also generally leads to more screen time and less time outdoors. Whiny aggravated stressed kids.
- Parents feel trapped into constantly buying their child the next thing, because they are bored with what they have. Stressed, in debt parents.
- Parents are constantly trying to find space and/or storage solutions for the endless toys, games, sports kit, craft supplies that their kids begged for - but have now cast aside. Less space at home.
Why choose minimalism?
Joshua Becker has written a great article on the subject "Why Fewer Toys Will Benefit Your Kids" but here are some of the best reasons he lists from our family's perspective:
- Kids learn to be more creative.
Not just in terms of what we think of as creativity - arts and crafts, music, painting etc. but creative and imaginative in their play. I think the best toy we've bought has been Arthur's play kitchen - he will happily spend a couple of hours cooking us meals, cleaning it, feeding his bear and bunny "coffee" and pretending it's a shop. A good toy will act as a sort of leap board, which encourages and is a catalyst for imaginative play which mans that...
- Kids become more resourceful.
Which is important for later education: "Fewer toys causes children to become resourceful by solving problems with only the materials at hand. And resourcefulness is a gift with unlimited potential." (Joshua Becker)
- A tidier and clutter-free home.
One of the biggest advantages of less toys and THINGS in general is that we have a tidier, clutter free home. It takes 10 minutes to tidy Arthur's room and he has space in there to get his toys out and play with them (which is great because there'll soon be two boys in there!) We've set his room up so he can reach almost everything himself and tidy it away himself too using baskets and low cupboards and shelves. Because it's so easy for him to tidy, he's learning how to keep his space clean too. Yes he still does have more stuff than I'd like (especially cuddly toys!) but it's a work in progress, like everything we do - it's all about learning what works best for us.
How to start
As I've said, this really doesn't have to be a question of heading straight to your children's rooms armed with bin liners and steely determination. It doesn't actually mean you need to get rid of anything straight away if that seems too daunting.
- Start with looking at your child's room. How many toys do they actually have? Can you see the floor? Take everything off the shelves and make a pile of what you know they absolutely LOVE and use every day, favourite dolls, the play kitchen etc. Make a second pile of things they use once a week or so, dressing up clothes, craft supplies, sports gear. Put everything else in a box. When you're putting everything back, make sure that the things they use every day are the most accessible. Put the box in a cupboard somewhere, if they don't ask for something in that box for a week - donate the box to your local charity shop.
- Resist the urge to buy. For Christmas and birthdays we've started to buy gifts using the idea "Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read." This Christmas that will include Father Christmas presents - so four (small) presents in total and one from each set of grandparents. When it comes to grandparents, we send a very specific list a month before Christmas or birthday to them and ask them to choose something from the list. This might seem high maintenance but we don't have the space in our home for excessive or large gifts.
The rest we buy on a needs must basis; clothes, a bucket & spade set for the beach for example, a fun umbrella for la rentrée and arts and crafts supplies throughout the year.
- Use your purchase power! Shopping like this throughout the year for your kids should mean that you have a little more money to spend when you do buy on quality toys or in local or independent shops. Quality products will last longer and your kids will take better care of them knowing that they are special and won't be replaced the moment they break.
As I said, minimalism looks different for every family. For us, it helps our family function the way we need it to, in a way that contributes to our values and lifestyle. It's certainly not for everyone, but there are definitely some benefits for both parents and kids in the idea.