by Katie Ashton
Are you still recovering from the avalanche of gifts your children received over the holidays? Are you already dreading Valentine’s Day and Easter? If you answered yes to these questions, Katie’s story and tips below will inspire you to practice minimalism with kids.
We are all mindful of the choices we make as we enter a new year and as we strive to be the best version of ourselves.
As I ponder my goals for the upcoming year, I do it against a backdrop of consumerism, excess and wasteful, though well-intentioned gifting. It has been weeks since Christmas, yet I am still wading through the minefield of presents my girls received from those who love them the most. Is it time to give our kids less stuff? Is it time to lay the foundation for minimalism parenting with less toys?
Society has conditioned us to believe that ‘more is more’. Your neighbour moves from their ‘starter’ home to their ‘forever’ home and you are led to believe that should evoke feelings of jealousy. A colleague upgrades their car and we are to swoon over it, the new debt they have procured isn’t given a passing thought.
A friend gets a pricey new bag and we rush to check online and send the link to our partner without pause to consider if it is something we really need. In the world we live in, how can we go against the grain?
I get it, I love gifting, but I love it to be meaningful and purposeful. My child has the most wonderful, encouraging and creative teacher. She guides my child when my patience is depleted and she leads her in craft activities where my skills are lacking.
I’d love to find a way to properly honor this person who is instrumental in my child’s life, and society tells me that way is to buy her a small gift at Christmas. But who benefits from this token gifting?
Is it parents racing around in the lead up to Christmas to fulfil their obligations? Teachers laden with 24 new mugs to find a home for? I don’t think it’s the children who benefit. They might do better in the mayhem of Christmas in a calm, nurturing, and mindful environment.
Like most children in the developed world, my kids have everything they need to not only survive, but to thrive, they don’t need more plastic distraction, but I bet they’d love the gift of time with those who love them.
It has been much discussed in the media of late, how children benefit from experiences over things and I kept this in mind as I churned out responses to family asking what the girls would like. I mentioned Farm park tickets, mermaid school and dance lessons. Each experiential suggestion was met with ‘yeah, but what can I get them to open?’
I can tell you what the elder of the two did open a stocking left by Santa that she found when she woke in the very early hours of Christmas morning. While I sat in her room biding my time ‘till reasonable o’clock, my little six year old opened a handful of small gifts (socks, lip balm, chocolate) excited and thankful for each one.
She took time to appreciate the small amount she had, putting the paper in the bin and shouting ‘thank you Santa’ out the window into the dark night. The magic of Christmas was truly felt. This was a peaceful, special way to start the day, though perhaps a little early.
Fast forward a few hours and the same child who had been gratefully sucking on the orange from her stocking, sat dazed amongst piles of hastily opened presents. She had only briefly looked at each one before going on to the next, asking when we were going to grandma’s to see if Santa had visited there.
The adults surrounding her were proclaiming ‘this is what Christmas is all about’. Well for me, it’s not, it just can’t be any more as I am drowning in consumables, most of which statistics show will be in landfill by the time we do it all again next year.
The more I minimize, the more relaxed our lives are. The girls’ play is more purposeful and constructive and I have more time to focus on them. This can only have a positive impact on our lives. I've realized that practicing minimalism with kids makes me a happier parent.
That said, when I explain this to the wider family, I am seen as mean and they overcompensate to ‘help’ my children have a ‘proper’ Christmas. While we don’t want to offend the ones we love, how can we enlighten them on the benefits of consuming less, when society tells us otherwise? How can we practice minimalism with kids?
This year it is my intention to lead by example. I aim to guide my children toward making more purposeful choices in 2018. I will practice minimalism with my kids. With both girls being too young to fully grasp the concept of money, we will discuss the value of the things they think they need using the amount of hours I have to work waitressing to get it.
Marketers decided the toy our children must have this year was the ‘lol big doll’, and if my eldest wants this toy, undoubtedly so will her shadow. So how many hours will I have to trade serving customers, washing dishes and cleaning toilets to get my hands on these? Seventeen. Two whole days.
That is before I take into account phone calls, internet searches and a tour of toy shops near and far to get hold of them. All this for a toy that they will surely love for only a few days.
I will encourage them to think of the activities we can indulge in if we were to have those two days back to spend as a family. It could be a weekend at the beach, swimming in the ocean, flying their kites and snuggling up together under the stars after dark. It could be a trip to the ice rink or the trampoline park with time in the afternoons for reading, baking and playing board games together.
I will tap into their memory banks and remind them of all the times before that we have shared this quality time together and how that made them feel. If after a thoughtful discussion and some time for reflection they want the ‘must have’ toy then they will get it, we all love our kids and want to empower them in their choices.
But if my kids want to give up two days of quality family time in exchange for a fad, then it is time for me to do some reflecting of my own and work out ways to strengthen the family bond.
This time next year my children will have less to open come Christmas day, but they will not be upset nor churlish at the thought. They will know they aren’t loved any less or are any less deserving than their peers. Rather, they will be part of our mindful journey to practice minimalism as a family.
The hope is this time next year our focus won’t be on what we don’t have. Instead we’ll be thankful for the things we do have in abundance like time, love and many, many trips to the farm park.
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Katie Ashton lives in Glasgow, Scotland with her funny and energetic daughters. She is a freelance writer and aspiring novelist, as well as barista as backup job in case she decides she doesn't like writing in third person any more. You can enjoy her adventures of travelling as a single parent on her blog Soaring Solo.
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If you keep things minimal around the gift giving seasons, how do you do it? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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