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Teaching our children minimalism

Obviously we do not force an austere, monkish existence on our children. Yet, we still think it is important to instill in them certain values: a wariness of consumerism, sustainable thinking, recognizing joy in objects. I can give you three examples of how we have been teaching these lessons:

1. The Rock Collection

3 year olds are very curious little bipeds, just learning to exercise their ingrained skills of gathering. While taking walks to the park or beach, our littlest hominin would stop every few steps to inspect the surrounding geology and select a sample. She would bring all sorts of rocks home, with no discernible rhyme nor reason — just whatever struck her fancy in the moment. We decided to introduce some regulatory measures: she is allowed to have a maximum of 20 items in her rock collection; to get a new one, you have to get rid of an old one. The key is to have her take stock of her collection before going on a rockhounding excursion, to make space before getting a new sample, rather than just bringing home any old rock from any old walk and making a decision to keep later. Prioritization and planning for the future are some nice lessons here.

2. The Paper Tray

Paper tray

From rocks to trees. My older daughter is in school and brings home reams and reams of paper creations. She is a budding artist with some impressive Star Wars portraiture skills. Digital photography makes it a lot easier to capture the memories without having to deal with physical storage, but we instituted a limit on what she could keep by giving her a 2 inch high paper tray. Periodically she goes through the contents in an act of “life editing.” We leave the decision of what to keep and what to cull entirely up to her. The key question of course is: what sparks joy?

3. The Christmas Cull


Make room. That is a concept little ones easily understand. Last year, before Xmas, my wife sat the kids down and told them that before Santa brings any new toys we have to make room. The girls had to take stock, determine which were their favourites, and give some of their unused toys to other kids. It was pretty successful and not painful at all.

These three stories are examples of how to teach little ones that more isn’t better, how to identify valuable possessions, and how to say “good-bye” and “thank you for your service” to other possessions. A pretty good basis for full-on minimalism in the future, if they so choose.