Simple living, going green, and generally doing away with the unnecessary is popular. 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, and that begins with what they learn in their formative years.
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, particularly for the preschool/early childhood crowd.
1. Be hyper-selective about 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. Give them more freedom.
Kids need lots and lots of time outside, as well as unstructured play time to help them navigate the world on their own. Coddling our kids in the name of unfounded safety means inhibiting their ability to find contentment wherever they are.
A feeling of discontent will often lead to a desire for more stuff, more activities crowded on the calendar.
3. Rotate those toys.
For little kids, 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 be played with more because fewer choices means the ones available are easier to access.
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.
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6. Have them earn money for their treats.
You can start this much younger than you think; in our family, our preschoolers start earning coins for every extra chore he or she completes above and beyond basic tasks. It’s not much, but it provides an opportunity to manage money and make decisions about where it goes.
Now that they’re older, I don’t have to hound them to do their chores, they simply understand it as a way of life around our house. Mostly. (They’re still kids.)
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.
- Related: How we help curb the ‘I want that!’s
8. Simply don’t buy them stuff.
Of course, there are birthdays and holidays. And occasionally, it’s fun to buy new things. But kids really are happy to play with what’s around them—if we give them the chance.
Photo by David Pfeffer
We often prohibit their innate willingness to create with what’s around them with store-bought things.
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9. Sponsor a child.
As a family, sponsor a child who truly doesn’t have what they need to live. It helps to put a face and name to global poverty, and it will instill a more compassionate worldview. They will better understand how blessed we truly are (and if you’re reading this, you’re most likely in the top percentage of wealth in the world).
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 childhood.
(This post was first published in 2010, but it still rings true today. Timeless.)