Why Kids Need Minimalism (and How to Go About It)

We’re heading towards that time of year when kids start noticing all the things they’d like to find under the tree on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, most of those things will be discarded within a couple of weeks or months (if you’re lucky).

It’s not their fault, they’ve been conned by the marketers to believe they really ‘need’ [insert latest fad here]. The problem is, the fads are never ending. December’s ‘must have’ toy or gadget will be jettisoned to the bargain bin come January and something newer and better will have taken its place on the shelves.

Those marketers are wily, even we adults with our years of experience continually fall prey to their tactics, so how on earth can we expect our children to be immune to the advertisements that bombard them from every device and media source possible?

The Marshmallow Experiment

It starts with mastering the art of delayed gratification. The science on this unequivocal: 40 years of Stanford research found that people with this one quality are more likely to succeed. It also requires a more minimalist approach to life, but more on that in a moment. First, marshmallows. Would you like one or two?

In the 1960s, one of the best-known studies in the history of psychology took place at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School. Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford, put preschoolers in a room one at a time and gave them a treat (e.g. a marshmallow or a pretzel). He then explained that they could either eat it right away or wait 15 minutes and get another one.

Mischel and his team tracked the kids into adulthood and discovered that the ones who’d been able to hold out enjoyed more success in their life. Their grades were better, they did well professionally, they were healthier and they even fared better in relationships.

Fortunately, all is not lost for those who fall into the ‘one marshmallow’ category. In his new book, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control, Mischel explains how self-control can be mastered and applied to everyday challenges, such as weight control, quitting smoking and even planning for retirement.

A Case for Minimalism

Why Kids Need Minimalism

We live in a clutter culture, where too much is never enough. Researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) found that cars have been banished from 75 percent of garages to make way for rejected furniture and cascading bins and boxes of mostly forgotten household goods.

We need to learn self-control or risk drowning in stuff. Literally.

Most people assume that living with less isn’t possible once you have children, but as Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist explains, “The principles of minimalism are completely within reach no matter how many children you have or where you live.”

He goes on to say that being minimalist with children is also a lifestyle filled with benefits for them. As a father of two, Becker says he’s continually amazed by the lessons his kids have learned since the family adopted a ‘less is more’ way of life.

What Kids Can Learn From Becoming Minimalist

By introducing them to minimalism from a young age, Joshua has helped his children come to grips with ideas and concepts that many adults have yet to master. Imagine if we’d all learned these lessons in grade school, how different the world would be.

  • We don’t need to buy things to be happy.
  • We don’t need to live life like everyone else.
  • We live within our means.
  • We think carefully about our purchases.
  • We gladly share with others.
  • We love spending time with them.
  • We are in control of our stuff.

How to Become Minimalist With Kids

Why Kids Need Minimalism

The life lessons from living this lifestyle are definitely worth the effort. However, as Joshua points out, it requires a little more thoughtfulness and a lot more patience to get the minimalist ball rolling. The most important thing is to explain your decision to your children.

If you barge ahead without involving them in the process, you can’t reasonably expect them to be onboard with the idea. It doesn’t matter how old they are (Joshua’s son and daughter were only 5 and 2 at the time), sit them down and explain your decision in a way they’ll understand.

Talk through the details of why you’ve decided to embark on this new lifestyle and also make a point of highlighting the benefits e.g. you’ll have more time for them, the house won’t be so cluttered, etc. Be sure to tell them that minimalism doesn’t mean never buying another thing again, ever. It’s about being mindful.

Once you’ve explained your decision to them, start by getting rid of your own stuff first and shared family belongings next. As Joshua rightly says, it would be unfair to ask your children to buy into the lifestyle if you have yet to clean out your own closet.

Trading Chaos for Calm

Denaye Barahona of Simple Families says that by raising her kids as minimalists she’s chosen to trade chaos for calm. For a lot of parents ‘calm’ may seem unattainable in a household full of toddlers, tweens or teenagers, but Denaye is of the opinion that it very much is.

“It’s also good for our children and our families,” says Denaye, who has a Ph.D. in Child Development and specializes in Family Wellness. “I know what a young child needs to grow, develop, and thrive. And I know a few things about what it takes to bring harmony and happiness to a family unit.”

If your children are still very small, adopting a minimalist lifestyle will be a lot easier than if they’re older and have already accumulated a lot of stuff. However, don’t let that put you off. It might not be easy and you’ll probably find yourself battling some resistance, but stick with it. The long-term benefits will far outweigh the short-term discomfort.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W12 months ago

thanks for sharing

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago


Lesa D
Past Member about a year ago

thank you, Angela...

Amy Ingalls
Amy Ingallsabout a year ago

When my children were small, we always picked out toys to give away before Santa came. They were told that it was Santa's rule. To this day, all of my children have a Goodwill bag going at their homes at all times, another thing they had growing up. We just add stuff as we come across it or realize we don't need it and donate when full.

Rosemary H
Rosemary Habout a year ago

My parents used to get rid of stuff I wanted to keep (some of which I miss to this day) which is probably why I firmly believe in making room to keep good stuff! Death to minimalism! I call it the B & B look. Bed & breakfast. You can stand it for a few days but no longer....

Amanda M
Amanda Mabout a year ago

We've already been living a simpler life (believe it or not, it's easier to enforce when you're living "deep blue collar"), partly for financial reasons and partly because as a SAHM I am thoroughly burned on on cleaning up after everybody and prefer to have LESS of it to do. Less clutter = less housework, or so the theory goes, anyway. We had long since adopted the "3 item list" requirement when taking the kids to Santa, explaining that he only had so much room on the sleigh with the world population being what it is, and they took to it. Throw in getting a copy of "Money Secrets of the Amish" (Lorilee Craker) years ago, which has plenty of advice that ANYBODY can use regardless of religious beliefs or cultural heritage, and I've basically taken it and run with the advice (at least the advice I hadn't already grown up with. Same rules apply this year, and it works great!

One Heart i
Carl Rosenstockabout a year ago


Anne F
Anne Fabout a year ago

We bought Legos (no little cars) and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a year ago

good post, agree. ty

Peggy B
Peggy Babout a year ago