9 ways to encourage your kids to live simply

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and is currently traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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.

mom and kids shopping
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.

three girls playing in the dirt
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?

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Comments

  1. What a wonderful article. I’m going to retweet it straight away! Thx

  2. I really like your suggestions, especially because I find that I am going into the right direction.

    I just wonder whether number 8 couldn’t be considered from a different point of view, too:
    My son’s best friend has all the toys in the world that you could want at their age (2). And my son loves going over there and playing with everything, which means that we don’t need to have all those plastic toys at home because he gets to play with them there. (The boy has LOTS of older cousins who handed down their toys to him, which is different from parents buying it all, granted.)
    I wonder whether that is age-related: Would older kids react differently and really wonder why their friends have everything while they don’t? While younger kids just enjoy the availability of the toys?

  3. Great post!
    I really like to idea that minding your words can change your attitudes.

    My son is only 10 month now but allready there is so much stuff…
    But there is the old question: How do you deal with all the well meaning people buing it?
    Sadly my in-laws have no understanding in simple living.
    I really have mixed feelings about donating gifts, one part of me feels really bad about it and the other part just wants to get rid of as much stuff as posible…
    It doesn’t help that my mother in law thinks giving things to people you don’t know is a way of wasting them (which is a bit odd because shes really generous around people she knows)
    Maybe this is just the first-time-mom-insecurity but I would really like to know how others deal with this problem.

    • hi nora – i definitely understand the challenge with the well meaning people. with our daughter, i explained to the families, friends, and our very gracious shower hostesses that we would prefer not to get toys. the reasoning i gave was that our house is quite small so we do not have room for an extensive toy collection and also that as a family we prefer to have less stuff. i won’t lie to you…some people grumbled about it and others just flat out ignored it. at that point, though, i had been honest so if people still wanted to buy toys, i didn’t have an ounce of guilt about donating toys that we’d already indicated we didn’t have room (or a desire) to keep.

      another thing i did was to create a book registry because reading is very important to us and i didn’t/don’t mind having a ton of books that can be easily stored in a bookshelf. we continue to reinforce the no toy preference at birthdays, etc.

      i’m due with our son in the next couple of weeks and it’s been so great because people now know about our preferences and have not been giving us toys – yay!
      .-= aimee´s last blog ..valentine’s day crafts =-.

      • I love the idea of a book registry!

        One thing I did was plan ahead. It’s more important now that we’re essentially a one-income family. For my son’s birthday, for example, I asked for next winter’s winter coat. For my daughter at Christmas, I asked for gymnastics lessons at the parks & rec – a more “experiential” gift.

        Nora, I know your little one is small, but they grow so fast – so consider “next size up” clothing or even zoo passes for that first trip there. :-)
        .-= Robbie @ Going Green Mama´s last blog ..Awesome mushroom pasta =-.

    • One thing you might want to suggest to grandparents is to give their grandchildren ‘experiences’ rather than things. They could give passes to a museum, music classes, pay for a sports or even plan a little weekend trip. These experiences will create lasting memories for the children. If the grandparents are close enough to do activities with the kids it’s great for both parties, if not be sure to send lots of pictures.

      • Love the “experience” gifts! I’m usually shy about offering gift lists for myself, but this year for our little guy (15 months old) I tried to be specific about what we would enjoy. Among our suggestions were classes (music, movement, etc.), books, clothes that are needed now and later, and diapers. I also mentioned that we’re very ok with gifts from consignment stores–that makes me feel like I’m contributing slightly less to the world’s “stuff.”

  4. Thank you for this great post. I have two children about 11 years old and one 3 years old and so we have a lot of toys, that I don’t have to buy new. This christmas, my little one received a dolls house (about 8 years old) with some new things in it. The rotation idea works very well, too.
    .-= Micha´s last blog ..Kaffe Fassett – Socken =-.

  5. So many of your thoughts here are spot on for my experience thus far in mommy hood. We try to keep things simple with toys and such for the kiddos, if not for any other principle than not having a ton of money to spend in the first place.

    This week, I made colored rice for my nearly 2 and 3 year olds and they sat and played in it for more than an hour. Homemade playdough, paper mache dolls and houses…these are the things that the kids seem to enjoy for the longest amount of time. And when they’re done, we can either store or toss them with no regret.

    Thanks for the great encouragement to keep pushing toward more simplicity and veering from the ‘norm.’

  6. As a single mom I find this article very interesting. Part of it I have been applying to my son since day 1. I have always wanted my son to grow up to be a responsible and simple man.

  7. I found this article interesting. We’re trying to do most of this with our daughters. As a response to how to deal with well-meaning, over-giving grandparents, we’re in the same boat. My children are the only children on both sides of the family and everyone wants to spoil them. What I found that helps is being proactive about what you need/want for your children. On occassions, I’ve asked for specific articles of clothes, art supplies, puzzles, and for my daughters’ upcoming birthdays, both sides are contributing to a swingset for our backyard. Most of the time, people are thrilled to get us something we really want. On top of that, because I know my children are going to be overwhelmed with new items on birthdays and holidays, we don’t add to it. So far, with an almost 2 and 4 year old, they’ve never noticed that Mommy and Daddy don’t buy them presents.

  8. You know, I’ve gotten so many questions from readers about how to deal with well-meaning folks who bombard your children with toys, I should probably just go ahead and write a post on it.

    This topic regularly comes up in the comment section on this blog. If you have the time, try flipping through some of the archives, perhaps under the “kids” or “green & frugal” section. You might find ideas from other readers among them all. :)

  9. I love the simpleness of changing I WANT! to I like that, I wouldn’t have thought of that one on my own, and my kids have sure gotten to the I WANT stage… Like EVERY thing they see! Thanks!

  10. 1. Model it
    2. Get them addicted to the outdoors
    3. make sure to talk about all the positives of what you are doing
    4. watch the movie wall-e. my kids cried after that movie, so devastated by all the junk that filled earth. We refer to that movie often when considering “do we need this plastic?” item.

    Even doing all these things and more, like the ones you’ve listed, some children are just pack rats. I have one! (have 3 kids total) She might own a antique shop someday or something. We are trying to channel her collections into earth friendly toys like glass marbles and such, but still… it’s a challenge.

  11. Yes yes and yes! The peer thing is the greatest challenge, though. I am still struggling with how to handle invitations to birthday parties that are all about the gimme-gimme-gimme. Of course my daughter’s party was “no presents” and instead the guests brought coins to contribute to her birthday donation to a horse rescue — and all the parents said “what a lovely idea!” — but so far no-one has taken a similar tack. It’s tough.
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..A Fun Giveaway for Gardening with Children =-.

  12. On number 8 at first I read:
    I SUGGEST being a jerk and shunning anyone who’s not exactly like you.
    I was a bit confused until I re-read it, Lol!
    Great suggestions, I really struggle with keeping my kids life simple, we have way to much toys and watch way to much TV.
    I really love your idea of changing the phrase “I want that” to “I like that”
    My son is always yelling out that he wants everything he sees, I think that change of phrase willl definitely help with his attitude about things :D
    Thanks

  13. Fantastic post! Like some of the previous commenters, we are involved with some well-meaning family members who like to shower with gifts. We encourage giving gifts of “experience” – zoo memberships, etc. Although that doesn’t always work, it is a great first step. Tsh, I would LOVE to see what you have to say on the subject! :)
    .-= Sara´s last blog ..Why I am so proud to be a Thirsties retailer! =-.

  14. As a first-time-mom-to-be, I thought this piece was so inspiring I posted about it and linked to it from my own blog. I love these ideas. Thank you!!
    .-= Allyn´s last blog ..Living Simply =-.

  15. I think I’m going to post a link to this on my classroom website. Such great ideas for helping parents get a handle on all the ‘stuff’.

    As a waiting adoptive parent, I’m in the information gathering stage of parenting. I found myself nodding in agreement at every point.

    Thanks for the great post!

  16. I was so proud of my 8-year-old this Christmas when she came home from school and told me that she needed to change her letter to Santa. Because she had originally asked for three things, she worried that he would think she was being too greedy when she really just wanted to give him some options to pick from. She thought really hard about the ONE thing that she really cared about and asked for that instead. She was appalled that some of her friends asked for almost 10 things on their lists (and later discovered that they got everything they asked for).

    Her words helped affirm that she really does pay attention to our family values despite the attitudes of her peers. I personally couldn’t have asked for a better gift myself!
    .-= Jenni at My Web of Life´s last blog ..I’ve Made It…Time to Enjoy the Ride =-.

  17. Great post!

    We are adamant about our toy collection. Things must be wooden, if not, they must encourage loads of open ended play. Our kids love books, because we have a bunch of good, quality books, that we actually read to them.

    My husband and I are working very hard at simplifying and purging our home of all of our stuff.

    I know that as we create an example, our boys will glean from that.
    .-= Jane´s last blog ..The job, Great is HIS Faithfulness =-.

  18. Great ideas! I love getting your posts..thank you so much for the inpirations every day.
    I just wanted to share an idea that we did at our house. I am attempting to declutter and live more simply, too. My daughter’s school was having the kids bring in coins to donate to Haiti..so we sent a tub of coins. The next day, she wanted to do it again. I suggested that she go into her room and clean out some toys from her room and I would buy them from her. We talked about money and I helped her put price tags on the items…anywhere from 1 cent to $1. I told her that she could donate the money she earned and I would donate the toys I bought from her. It was an awesome experience…

  19. Great post, thank you!

  20. I just wanted to pass on an idea that my kindergartner and I did this past week in an effort to live more simply.
    Her school was having a coin fundraiser for Haiti. We sent some coins to school and the next day she wanted to do it again. I suggested that she go into her room and clean out toys that she no longer plays with or that she thought other kids might enjoy. I talked to her about money and then helped her put price tags on each of the items ranging from a penny to a dollar. She then set up a store in her room and I bought all of the items which we are going to donate to a local charity and the money she raised is going to Haiti. It was such a fun experience!

  21. I just wanted to pass on an idea my kindergartner and I did this past week. Her school was raising money for Haiti by asking the kids to bring coins to school. We sent some money the first day and she came home wanting to do it again. I suggested that she go into her room and clean out any toys that she no longer played with or thought other kids might enjoy. We then talked about the value of money and I helped her put price tags on each of the items ranging from 1 cent to 1 dollar. She then set up a store in her room and I went shopping. We are going to donate all of the toys that I bought from her to a local charity and she is going to donate the money she earned to Haiti. It was a great experience for both of us.

  22. I just found your blog a few days ago through a friend and have enjoyed your posts. I don’t have any children just yet, but I think even as adults, we can model after some of the suggestions you have listed above. Thank you.

  23. It is such a challenge to raise children who will not “want, want, want” when today’s culture glorifies “stuff.” I like the change from I want to I like.

    I also make sure to tell my children it’s not that “we can’t afford” something, it’s that I “choose not to spend the money” on whatever item. I want them to realize that our lives are not to be controlled by money and things, that money is in our control.

    My in-laws love to go over and beyond what is necessary. This year I’m simply going to tell her instead of buying 10 outfits for a child’s birthday, please pick one or two that MIL loves. For my sons birthday this year, we’re taking a mini vacation instead of buying gifts. Small changes that make a HUGE difference! :)
    .-= Lindsey@ Mama Sews´s last blog ..a good read =-.

  24. Another idea is not to glorify something that is ‘new.’ For example, instead of saying “Do you want to wear your new dress today?” I might say “Do you want to wear the yellow dress today?” I’m hoping my kids will value things for its intrinsic value and not the fact that it is ‘new.’

  25. Yesterday I filled a tub with red and white beans and some measuring cups, spoons, bowls and muffin tins. My kids (2 and 5) have been having a ball with this and I think I can probably even use the beans afterwards since they need to be rinsed before cooking anyway. Their other favorite toy is an old mattress on the floor for jumping and a ball of yard for winding around furniture and making webs (or laser beams!).
    .-= Melodie´s last blog ..Winners Of Honeysuckle Breast Milk Storage Bags =-.

  26. This is a wonderful article! Last week I was finding my kids begging to use electronic entertainment whenever they got bored. We put a stop to that right then. They now have one hour a day of media time. Wii, computer, movies…they all count. It has really helped them unplug. I find they are a lot more peaceful when their time is spent reading, drawing and playing with simple toys. It also helps my oldest concentrate on his schoolwork.
    .-= Laryssa @ Heaven In The Home´s last blog ..New Cupcake Paintings! =-.

  27. I love this! I’ve always asked attending Bday guests not to bring only toys.

    One, because the kids have to take out & try every one of them, and it really drags the party out WAY too long. Also, some poor well intentioned old Aunt’s toy will get the oh so popular snarly face when the not so cool present is opened.

    Two, living in a small house the storage is a HUGE factor. I do like the idea of rotating toys so they seem new!

    With today’s economy as tight as it is, letting the kids have their own garage sale is working really well for us. They keep the profits and can buy what they want with it. Mom supervised, of course!!
    .-= Kelly (Your Life Organized)´s last blog ..How can I sign up for AboutOne? =-.

  28. What a great post Tsh!

    I am so proud of myself that my kids love to walk the aisles of Target and look at the toys but rarely ask for something. NEED is the word we use. We always ask the kids if we really have a NEED for something – that helps them stop and think. Works wonders even with a 3 year old.

    The trick is to help them take pride in doing the right thing. It is not easy but it works ….

  29. I love that you are trying to teach kids better values. Consumerism has rampant in this country for far too long, and fixing the environmental problems that we have developed over the last century will really be the work of their generation. I will pass along this blog post to my own readers.

  30. Oh, Tsh! You KNOW I love this! Great suggestions and reminders. I am going to implement the “I really like that” change in our house. So practical and helpful!
    .-= Megan at Simple Kids´s last blog ..Steady Days giveaway winner! =-.

  31. I really like your ideas.
    Like others I have nodded repeatedly through the points and I am highly interested to read about how to deal with grandparents etc. on birthdays!

    There is one things appalling. It has been mentioned once or twice: The use of food items instead of real toys – to store or toss afterwards.
    I don’t consider it a good example to play with food or throw it once you’re done.
    Maybe think of similar items that aren’t edible instead? Like pebbles instead of beans?
    .-= Annika´s last blog .."beloved Chicago man" =-.

  32. This is a great article and we have really tried to do many of these things with our two little ones. The toy thing really does get aggravating because they seem to have so many and then nothing gets really played with and you are right – they end up using a cardboard box anyway! I love watching them use their imaginations. Our kids even get excited about helping me prepare food, corn on the cob or making homemade pizza. Raising green kids is so great :)

  33. We have a 4-year-old daughter. Here are a few ways we train her to live simply. We teach her to:

    Serve other people (Help deliver meals at holidays, make giving a priority, help wherever there is a need, etc.)

    Clean up after herself and stay organized. (yes, it works) :)

    Be responsible and thankful (We hold her accountable for what’s expected of her. This includes saying, “I’m sorry for…” and “thank you” when appropriate.)

    Appreciate whole food-based nutrition

    Love the learning process and explore God’s world (we homeschool)
    .-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Homeschooling… Gotta love it! =-.

  34. This is a wonderful post! It coincides with our new way of living and I definitely needed the tips!

  35. avatar
    Denise C. says:

    Great Post!

    My (almost) 4 year old son is in the habit of saying how much he “needs” something. Most of those somethings are toys. I try and tell him in the nicest way that he does not need it. A need and a want are two different things.
    He is beginning to understand the concept.

  36. Start young! Love the Outdoors, breath some fresh air, play and dance to music… We just experienced a house fire and lost all but 1/4th of all we possess which brings us round to just about right. I have a large family and stuff is paramount here. I am constantly taking things to charity otherwise its like laundry, I become buried! My children grew up with toys that belong to collections and most all were toys that were those used for creating. One thing that has been a wonderful bonding play time for us is music in all its forms. Instruments, playing, sharing, dancing, making…I love the saying ” When the toys of childhood have faded away, the gift of music remains.” So true. So wonderful. Enjoy your play time with your children…they grow so fast…

  37. I love this post. What I would really like to know is how to trim down the toys and stuff and learn to live more simply with my family when we are already way too far the other way. We are bombarded with toys and clothes from both sides of the family (I have flat out asked them not to and it still comes), we have way too much electronic stuff (my husband loves it) and I feel like screaming and running off to a little cabin in the woods to teach my kids how to bake bread. lol. Seriously though, I do all the things with my kids to try and teach them to appreciate a more simple life (I do bake bread with them, they play with boxes and recycled stuff, we have loads of books, I take them on nature walks, yada yada yada) but they still constantly want ‘stuff’ and want to play with electronic toys. I am not sure what else to do. Any suggestions?? I can’t wait until your book comes out.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Merry Christmas break =-.

  38. Great article thanks you I have been working with my kids on simplicity they are young, 2 and half and 8 months but my oldest is already always saying he needs something, like a new toy something.

    Plus he has two sets of grandparents who are not into living simply. LOL

  39. I love this – it’s so compatible with our approach – at the moment I’m having a guilt attack cos I asked for no gifts for my daughters 4th b’day party and for parents to contribute some party food instead – people think I’m weird or mean – but my children are so lucky and have so much (too much IMO) already…
    .-= Kirsty-Abu Dhabi´s last blog ..Me | Abu Dhabi Photographer =-.

  40. #7 is just what I needed (or liked)! haha! Good on ya!
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..Snow; Coasters; and Knitted, Beaded Bracelets =-.

  41. avatar
    Christine C. says:

    I love reading your blog! You have such wonderful ideas! Thanks so much for inspiring me!

  42. Wow. Fabulous post.

    I try to keep the toys to a minimum–my son’s favorites are simple duplo/lego blocks–but somehow toys seems to materialize out of nowhere. It’s a constant battle to keep them cleaned out and rotated.

    But I love your suggestions and attitude. Thank you.

  43. Do you have any suggestions for applying these principles to teenagers? Some, such as being hyper-selective about “toys” can be applied easily. But then others, such as being hyper-selective about friends, are not so easy since their world is so much larger. I plan to look for ways to implement #s 4-7 immediately.

    ~ Amy

  44. I always enjoy reading your posts, and this one is definitely one of my favorites so far so I’ll tweet about it now to share with my followers, too. Thanks for such great writing. Janis Brett Elspas of http://MommyBlogExpert.blogspot.com

  45. Great post, Tsh. I’ve been following your blog for about a year now and love it! As I approach yard sale season, this is great to read. It gives me a starting point, having a 3 year old in the home. Keep up the great work!

  46. I loved that you noted the difference in a child saying “I want …” and “I’d like …” We’ve always taught our children that “I want” is a statement that doesn’t get them anything. To us, they are simply choosing to share their desire for something. All too often parents jump when a child says “I want…” as if they were being ordered to do/get something and as long as they can get a “please” along with the order all is well. If children want something they need to ASK for it – “May I have that?” My standard response to “I want…” is “I want to go to Bermuda,” then I proceed to ask the people around me what they want which often gets a laugh, but makes my point. We are not here to wait on our kids nor to giving them every toy, snack item, or game they want.

    Going beyond just trying to adjust our attitudes about stuff, we recently rented our house and toured the US in an RV for a year. Our 2 boys got to bring 1 tub of toys – mostly legos and fort-building items, some Nerf guns, things like that. I was amazed at how imaginative they were once the distractions were gone and how much they enjoyed playing together. They spent hours exploring outside and spent much more time reading. I am convinced…less is more!

  47. Wow, I really wish there was a simple, nice way to send this info to my family members.

  48. I’m so in tune with you about the toys. Kids really don’t need that many and our culture can really over do it in this area. I know I’ve bought my granddaughter some toys that she really never used. I get mad at myself for spending money that I didn’t need to. We’d be set with some books, puzzles, and craft material. How easy!
    .-= Tina @ Ride On Toys´s last blog ..The Top 4 Little Tikes Ride On Cars =-.

  49. I was looking back through the archives and found this. Thank you! It is also comforting to know I am not the only one combating “over-giving” grandparents. One side of the family (my side of course) gets it and our request for fewer gifts, the other side, not so much. I have tried the “We would love a membership to the zoo!” We received a membership to the zoo along with 50 other presents (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP!) What do I do, my MIL seriously doesn’t get it. SOS help! (ps she expects the toys to be there when she comes to visit.)

    • I know this won’t help you this year, but perhaps next. I’ve heard it suggested, especially if the grandparents want the toys displayed, to have the grandparents keep the toys at their house to be special toys that are only played with when the grandkids come to visit. This is good for several reasons: 1) you don’t have to cart over toys every time you visit and then forget them when you leave 2) it creates a special bond between grandchild and grandparents and 3) they’ll be less likely to buy a lot of toys if they have to store them. Everybody wins.

  50. I have young adults and I did most of what you said with them when they where little, to this day they are very simple to please. I recommend limiting their toys and carefully watching their friendships. Some friendships can create discontentment to be sure. Also…nix the catalogs, especially if they are full of toys…again breeds discontentment.

    On another note…if you are going to limit their toys…you must be active. Nothing frustrates a child more than boredom. If your child is already used to having things you can’t take everything away and not give them alternatives or your child will rebel.

    • Breeds discontentment? That sounds a little creepy, more like over-sheltering your kids than actually teaching them to appreciate that less is really more.

      I think it’s just really the simple things; kids love attention more than they love toys. I think it’s just become indicative of our too-fast culture that parents don’t have time for their kids and so throw a toy their way to keep them occupied. It makes us feel good to give our kids that latest toy/gadget and keeps them out of our hair= win+win for most folks. You have to break out of this cycle and see your kids for who they are and love them, but most of all show that love by having time for them and showing attention.

  51. Very well put article.

    In my experience, it is very important that you sit and play with your kid. The toys does not matter that much. Time together covers the lack of expensive toys. Expensive toys does not cover for the lack of time together.

  52. avatar
    Jennifer G. says:

    I second (3rd, 4th, . . . ) the idea of asking for experiences. Zoo and children’s museum memberships have been some of the best gifts we’ve been given. Online wish lists are also helpful. I’ve accepted that the G’mas are going to ignore my gift guidelines (no batteries), but they’ll click on a list. If I make the toys in the upper ranges of their budgets, we get fewer of them.

    To help my kids declutter we do a “30 minute cleanup”. My 3 boys share a large room which can get very cluttered, very quickly. We give them 30 minutes to clean up. Whatever isn’t where it belongs goes into a bag. The understanding is that if they can’t put things away in that amount of time, they have too much. This leads them to put away what they treasure most first. Hubby and I go through the bag pulling out any treasures and giving away the rest. The special things are given back as a surprise later.

    We still have too much stuff, but these things are helping a lot.

  53. Lovely post. With our older kids it’s been fun to read the Little House on the Prairie series or Ralph Moody’s Little Britches series as a way of showing them how kids lived more simply and with more chores and responsibilities a century ago. These books have led to some great discussions about what’s a need and what’s a want.

  54. Tsh,
    Great topic. We implement most of what you mentioned and our kids are quite content with very few birthday presents and no Christmas presents.

    Encouragement to parents who are struggling to implement this . . . sometimes it takes firmness; sometimes it takes explaining again how much we have compared to most of the world; sometimes it takes rephrasing as Tsh pointed out. But the earlier you start (we started when our kids were just born), and the more consistent you can be the better.

    Also clear to us, the money we save by not having a lot of stuff allows us to spend more time together as a family. We talk about this with our children and this helps them process the “no, you can’t get that better” And instinctively, they don’t miss having things since they are very content from just having love and support.

    Finally, we often sit around the table and start off meals with what we’re thankful for. Encouraging kids to see what they have in their lives, and developing gratitude for this, helps them let go of their wants.

  55. This is a great post! This Christmas, at my parents’ house, there was only one kid (my nephew) and he got 80% of the gifts and most of them were repeat toys that he had gotten at his dad’s house earlier that day! I didn’t realize how much I had really simplified until, after seeing all those toys spread out, I started to get overwhelmed and anxious.

    The worst part is my sister just had me come over and simplify his stuff! We saw, at least for a few weeks, how much he thrived when he didn’t have so much, and now, it’s all been replaced in one day. Ah, Christmas.

  56. I have sponsored a child through Compassion for about 8 years and I got to meet her on a trip to India. It is incredible to hear about her and share in her life. It has been a wonderful experience for me and my children as we read letters from her and see pictures. I will never forget sitting halfway around the world playing cards with her during our visit. Incredible opportunity to make us aware of just how blessed we are.

  57. Re# 5. We get a lot of hand-me-down toys and clothes, and my kids have always loved them best because they belonged to a favorite cousin or neighbor. When my son was three, he said, “I love this shirt because it smells like Paul.” Yes, it was washed, but somehow he could tell.

    As a result, they are always happy to give toys and clothes they no longer want to friends and neighbors (or to Goodwill or ARC) where they can be loved by someone else. It has been fun for us to see the same shirt worn and loved by several boys in the neighborhood.

    I would add: PRACTICE NOT BUYING. As a stay-at-home mom, we often would spend rainy afternoons at toy stores and book stores to look around, test drive the toys and come home with NOTHING. They could see that some toys that were fun the first visit weren’t that fun the second visit. They also learned to defer gratification and save up for stuff they really wanted (instead of buying cheapy junk they could afford).

  58. Along the lines of sponsoring a child and having your children get involved with purging would be having them be involved in the donation process, dropping off old toys to a shelter or hospital is a great way for a child to see that his/her gifts are real, rather than getting a letter or dropping of a box at Goodwill.

  59. We spend all year making a list of things that the kids say they like and then review it before the holidays to see if they are still interested. Then I add those items if I agree with their choices to an online wishlist. Our rule for opening the gifts is that they are allowed to unwrap everything on Christmas morning but they can only take one toy out of it’s package. Then each day after that they get to choose another toy to open until they are all opened. It’s interesting to see what they chose each day and they really enjoy and play with that item instead of playing with it for 5 minutes and then tossing it aside for the next new thing.

  60. My kids are grown, but I now have grandkids. One thing we always tried to do is give them toys they had to interact with, not just be entertained by. Blocks, building sets, art sets, etc. As my kids are becoming young adults, we gave tools of their hobbies or trade, or experiences. This cuts down on needless clutter. Be intentional about the toys your kids have, and if something they receive doesn’t fit in, consider donating it.
    Bernice
    http://livingthebalancedlife.com/2010/christmas-2010-what-worked-what-didnt/

  61. avatar
    Emily @ random recycling says:

    I have always believed in the motto, for every new toy you need to give on away. I realize it’s harder now with a growing family and various ages playing with toys. I’m going to have to work on putting groups of toys away for a few months to make them feel new again.

  62. Number 7 has always been helpful here. Our kids might say “that’s really neat” or something like that, but not “I want that” or “Can I have that?”. Since we live very frugally, they see us doing without every day. We also make sure they have spending money so they can splurge on things that are worth it to them, which may not be things we’d pick for them. After all, I splurge on my chocolate truffles. :)

  63. This article is just what I needed to read right now! My husband and I have been talking regularly since the holidays ended about the need to pare down and purge all of the extra and have been struggling to find a way to introduce this way of thinking to our toy-loving crew of 3 children. Now I have a simple guide to get us started and I’m very appreciative!

  64. What a wonderful article, and at the perfect time as well! My husband and I have been talking about how we would love to move toward living more simply, especially after all the holidays toys have spilled over abundantly in our home. We’ve just been unsure of how to help our children understand and embrace this way of living, so this is a very helpful guide for us to get started. Thank you!

  65. Tsh,
    Do you know anything about crunchyparent? I saw a link to her in the classic toy post but it goes to a generic site. My children and I just discovered felting and learned alot from a youtube video that she posted. I was interested in going to her blog/website but maybe it no longer exists?

  66. Nowadays it is very important for children to lean the importance of love. This ways proves really helpful to inculcate the qualities to love and affection as this world is full of hatred.

  67. I have a 5 and 7 year old and a couple of tips I would add are:

    1. Don’t buy them what they ask for. Especially for Christmas or Birthdays. They are only asking for things because of advertising or peer influence. If you do buy what they ask for then they will play with it for one or two days and then it will just take up space.

    2. Its hard to go wrong with lego.

  68. These rules will result in the children getting a feeling of deprivation in their early teen years (or really as soon as they meet other kids), and a massive spending spree as soon as they get out of parental control, quickly followed by financial crash and debt.

    Yay for setting up kids for failure to adher to a personal belief system.

    • I agree with Martin! Insisting that child gives away (“declutters”) toys that they love can have horrible consequences, such as fostering the desire to hoard things (including food). I have four children…two have a very easy time giving things (toys/clothes) away (it is always their choice) and two love to keep almost everything. Modeling simplicity is wonderful; forcing it is not.

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