I thought I’d republish this post from January of this year, especially since several of us might be dealing with an onslaught of toy overload in the house, what with Christmas just a few days ago. Hope your holidays have been peaceful and fun. Mine have!
Simple living, going green, and generally doing away with the unnecessary is gaining popularity. And that’s cool. But it’s all for naught if we don’t pass on a love of simplicity to the next generation – we depend on them to do a stellar job stewarding the earth’s resources.
I was very mindful of this when I was writing the manuscript to my book. While I was doing research for the chapter about getting rid of unnecessary toys and paring down kids’ schedules, I was astonished at all the research out there that indicates that children need lots of downtime, lots of freedom, and lots of room to use their imagination. It’s hard to do that when we complicate their lives.
This attitude isn’t that hard to pass on to our kids, if we provide an atmosphere at home that values simple living. Here are a few tips for creating that environment, especially for the preschooler crowd.
1. Be hyper-selective about your toy selections.
Kids really don’t need many toys – in fact, the less toys “do,” the more room kids have for their imagination. Let the kids play, not the toys. Stick with the classics like wooden blocks, balls, art supplies, and books. They’ll last through multiple children, and they’ll stay fun longer – longer-lasting toys mean less purchases, and less purchases mean a less cluttered home.
2. Make your own toys.
Even better, let household items serve double-duty as both its original purpose and a toy. Dried beans or rice is great fun. Wad up your socks and play dodge ball in the backyard. And who hasn’t seen a kid pore over a simple cardboard box? Kids have a ball making the toys, and the homemade aesthetic furthers the simple living atmosphere in your home. Less toys = having fun with what you have.
3. Rotate those toys.
This is easy to do when they’re younger, so start right away. Only keep out about half the toys you own, and in six months, store those away and bring the others out. In six months, repeat again. Toys will be new again, and you didn’t spend a dime. Plus, the ones that are out to play will probably be played with more.
Photo by Jon Oakley
4. Let them be involved in your shopping process.
Kids absorb our habits, our ideas, and our choices, so explain the why behind your actions. If you’re at a store with your three-year-old, say, “I really like this red shirt, but I have a shirt like this at home, and I only need one. So I’m not going to buy it, and instead, I’ll look for a purple one.” When you’re at the grocery store, say, “I’m only going to buy six apples instead of 12, because they’ll go bad before we can eat all of them. That will waste our money.”
They might not understand exactly what you’re saying, but they’ll see that there’s a method to your madness – that you’re selective about what you bring in to your home.
5. Let them purge with you.
If you have routine of regularly purging your home, let them be part of the process. Ask them which of their toys they think another family would enjoy more, and let them see for themselves when they outgrow their clothes. And then explain what you’re doing on the way to the donation center.
6. Have them earn money for their treats.
You can start this much younger than you think – in our family, our four-year-old earns a nickel for every extra chore she completes above and beyond her basic tasks. It’s not much, but it provides her the opportunity to manage money and make decisions about where it goes. The earlier children understand that “money doesn’t grow on trees,” the more they’ll appreciate the value behind the things they do own. Wise money management is part of good stewardship – a cornerstone to simple living.
7. Encourage the right words.
Instead of “I want that!” or “I really need one!”, ask your preschoolers to simply say, “I like that.” It’s really subtle, I know – but this switch can transform their attitudes. I find that it tempers the greediness behind their statement, and helps them understand that just because we want something, it doesn’t mean we can have it. It also helps them see that it’s not necessarily wrong to want things – it’s simply a matter of choosing what’s worth your hard-earned money.
Photo by David Pfeffer
8. Be selective about their friends.
I don’t suggest being a jerk and shunning anyone who’s not exactly like you. But if your preschooler routinely socializes with another child who gets everything they want, and who has a room filled to the brim with toys, it might be harder for them to appreciate a clutter-free home and intentional simple living. Make friends with all sorts of people, of course, but be sure to include friends in their life with similar values.
9. Sponsor a child.
As a family, sponsor a child who truly doesn’t have much. It’ll help your child put a face and name to poverty around the world, and it will instill a more compassionate worldview. She’ll further see how blessed she is, and that perhaps her simple-living family who doesn’t have every toy from the store still has an awful lot. Compassion International is a solid, reputable charity, and they’ll send you updates and photos of your sponsored child.
Keeping your home decluttered means having fewer things, which increases the value of the items you do own. When you couple this with an attitude of cheerful frugality, compassion, and joy in the little things, your family’s home environment will reflect the best side of simple living – appreciating the little things in life. What a great way to enjoy childhood.
How do you encourage simple living in your little ones?