There is a growing trend toward minimalism and voluntary simplicity. I have written about it many times here. We made a huge leap towards minimalism and a more simple life last year. We moved from a large house in the suburbs to a small 1000 square foot house in the city. We downgraded to one car and we got rid of 50% of our belongings. You kind of have to when you move into a smaller place. It was a wonderful experience and has helped us see more clearly what kind of life we want to shape.
We are moving again to a better area of town and a slightly nicer home but it is only 300 square feet bigger and lucky for us that wiggle room translates into better closet space (so we can ditch our dressers), a dishwasher, and an extra bathroom. Once again we chose a place that is right next to one of the major Metro Parks because being close to nature is what we value. It was only after living so simply that we can move into this equally modest home and feel like we are living luxuriously. And because we don’t want to move tons of stuff.. even if it is way less than what we had a year ago… we have given away or sold another 50% of our stuff.
Another benefit is seen in the kids. They use to be big time beggars for new stuff and they rarely showed appreciation when they got the stuff they wanted… it was just expected. Now they ask for a lot less and they appreciate what they do get, more.
When you choose to raise your children in a frugal, non-consumerism sort of way, you are going against a powerful advertising media. Images of the latest movie and its accompanying toys, video games, and action figures are all over the walls, cups, trays, and containers of fast-food restaurants. Television commercials tempt your children with compelling advertising, making your children think they just have to have the latest cereal, candy, video game, or toy.
Some families are collectors every modern convenience there is. You take your child to Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s house, and the Smiths have every imaginable gadget. Your child gleefully plays with the electronic games and toys, thoroughly enjoys the big plastic kitchen, and watches all kinds of DVDs. You may even feel guilty, thinking you are depriving your child of all this fun.
What can you do to counteract the materialism that still dominates much of our culture?
* Don’t feel guilty. Modern parents are made to feel as if they are depriving their children of “the best” if they don’t sign them up for every lesson, take them to every movie, or buy them every brain-enhancing toy. Advertising companies are paying billions of dollars to make you think this. It is not reality… it is a fictional version of reality they are selling. Let it go. Don’t “buy” into it. You are not depriving your children; you are enhancing their mental and emotional development by letting the real world around them captivate and interest them. Do you think the Smiths’ kids are really better off because they spend all their free time in front of a television or playing with a DSI?
* Minimize media first. This includes movies and television. After all, it is advertising that manipulates us into thinking we need this and that. If possible, get rid of cable entirely. We opted to get Netflix and stream it to our TV via our Wii.. which was a gift. We get a lot of gifts now from family who think we are deprived, LOL. Anyway, the Wii is not played very much. Instead they use it to get on demand movies via Netflix. No commercials!!!! You can also choose to limit TV to DVDs or videos, preferably those that you check out from the library. And speaking of the library…
* Use it! The library is there for a reason. Plan a trip with your kids at least once a month. Stock up on books and other materials, and take advantage of free library programs. Many local libraries host various children’s activities from storytime to matinee movies to live music.
* Involve your children in cleaning clutter and donating to charity. Let them help, but make limits and rules so they don’t end up keeping everything. Give them a box and tell them you expect them to fill it with stuff they don’t use or play with. Tell them you are filling your own box too and do it. You can also Freecycle the boxes of toys if you prefer.
* When you do go to the Smiths’ house, talk to your children beforehand. Let them know that the Smiths have a different lifestyle than you do. Don’t be critical of them, but help your child “own” your frugal lifestyle by emphasizing that minimalism is your way of life. I tell my kids that our minimalist lifestyle is what allows us to have season passes to the zoo, science center, water park, ect. It also allows us to take vacations and it allows them to go fishing a couple times a week, like they love because mom and dad don’t have to work as much as the Smiths do. We value life experiences and spending time with family more than accumulating “stuff”.
* The Smiths are nice, of course, but it’s helpful to look for families with children who have a similar minimalist philosophy. When your children get together, they can enjoy being creative together and won’t come away with “green eyes” of envy.
It is not an overnight process to change things if your kids have developed a taste for living a life of excess but it can be done and everyone can be a lot happier for it. We are not against buying things that make our life easier or more enjoyable but we are against mindless consumption and raising our kids to link their self worth to how much cool stuff they have.
What about you? How do you counteract the effects of media and modern society in your home?
Wednesday, September 1st, 2010