I wrote a page for 5 step minimalism and I’m planning to write some variations of it just to show how everyone can use minimalism adapted to their own needs. There’s not only one way to live for all of us and also the concept of minimalism can vary depending on the situation. Minimalism can be a big help for many overwhelmed parents so I start with talking about 5 step minimalism with children.
There’s something universal in the the way parents visualize the future. We want to see our children happy and living as healthy and balanced life as possible. We want them to learn new skills, be able to concentrate at school and interact with other kids in a kind, empathic way. We want our everyday family life to be smooth instead of chaotic and we want to have time to do fun things together with our children.
Having less makes that all easier. If being surrounded by clutter, mess, distraction and busy schedules makes you feel stressed, anxious or just overwhelmed what do you think it does for your children. Having a manageable amount of toys and clear structure and routines in life can usually benefit every child and is obviously crucial for kids with challenges in focusing or following instructions. For that reason steps 2 and 3 – creating structure and clearing clutter – are like small miracles we can use to make our everyday life better.
Children love to know what is happening and what is expected from them the next moment and in the near future. If they are not listening or following instructions and you feel you are always running late and repeating them the same things again and again it doesn’t usually mean there’s anything wrong with the kids or that they are misbehaving on purpose, it simple means you haven’t given them enough tools to act any other way.
Start with going through your daily routines and find out if there’s clear enough structure in your life.
Take two sheets of paper and make two posters to put visible somewhere in the middle of your home (kitchen, hallway). Write the daily schedule for the kids to the first one and the weekly schedule for them to the second one. Make them very clear and write morning and evening routines in the exact order they are supposed to be done and – this is very important – add printed pictures or photos next to everything. This way even young children can check what is happening whenever they like, even though, of course, you explain everything to them a few times a day and especially before morning and evening routines.
Visual instructions are the more important the younger the kids are and essential for children with any kind of neurological disorders like dyslexia, ADHD or autism spectrum disorders. However, in my experience they are generally useful to most kids.
Explain the weekly schedule to your children in the beginning of the week and the daily schedule in the morning. Point the images and give them details like “before lunch time we need to go shopping and then to the playgroup” and that “tomorrow there’s a doctor’s appointment and we need to take a bus to go there” (and yes, add the pictures of the both of them). Give a warning ten minutes before it’s time to get dressed and if leaving the house seems still difficult add pictures of clothes in the right order on the wall so the child can just follow them and the whole process is automatically much easier. Explain in advance what you need to buy in the grocery store and make a list with pictures so the kids can follow it and won’t be bored.
I know all this may sound unnecessary if you have only one child and plenty of time to calmly explain everything but sometimes with several kids and maybe some extra energy and extra mess many everyday situations can be chaotic or overwhelming and it can be useful to make everything structured and give children clear, visual instructions and timetables. If your children go to daycare or pre-school they probably have their own written schedules there as well.
Create functional spots for everyday routines. Make sure your bathroom is uncluttered and has everything in order for morning/evening routines so your children can do them automatically. Put the daily pile of clothes in the right order next to the beds in the evening so they are there ready to put on in the morning. Have a box of healthy snacks easily available in the kitchen to offer before grocery shopping, hunger makes everything just worse. Buy a compact but good quality selection of cleaning supplies and keep them in order so your weekly cleaning becomes an easy routine. Add small, functional details here and there in your daily life.
Having less toys can have a drastic positive effect on kids simply because tolerating mess and distraction is often even harder for small children than it is for us adults. It’s obviously good for them to have some books, art supplies (like crayons and paper) and maybe puzzles around every day as those kind of toys help children to learn skills they need. Also, it’s important to listen to your children and see their personality and let them do things they are naturally interested in and to remember our target is not to be control freaks but to have less and make our everyday life easier that way.
Go through all the toys, group them (just like you do with other stuff at home) and collect everything your kids don’t need and donate those toys to charity. Find a place for everything you keep and store them in labeled boxes or baskets (again, add images to boxes so kids can collect their toys also without help). If there are still several toy baskets keep only one or two available for playing and put the rest in the closet and change these weekly or monthly and the kids have always “fresh” toys to play with.
Teach your children to use public library from early age and you have always new books to read without buying more and avoid stereotypical gender roles and let both your sons and daughters play with the same toys and choose what they want. Children are not born knowing what is supposed to be suitable for boys and girls, it’s all taught by adults. One of my boys enjoyed taking care of his baby doll and another one loved soft toys and generally seems to love animals as much as I do.
Keeping yourself motivated to continue minimalism is easy with children because the positive effects of having less clutter and more structure and routines in life can be seen so quickly. Life becomes easier instantly. This is also how to get your spouse and the whole family to take part of the process in case they were not sure about it in the beginning: show them example. Be honest with grandparents and other relatives and tell them how it’s really overwhelming for you to have too much clutter in the house and ask if they could take the kids to see a theatre play or to organize them a picnic instead of buying them more toys.
Remove unimportant things like too much television, too much sugar and too expensive hobbies and focus on essential. One hobby per child is usually enough. Make sure your kids get their meals regularly and cook them simple, basic food. Start evening routines early enough so the kids have time to calm down and falling asleep is easy. Read to them and let them run in the park every day. Do small trips to the nature every weekend (this kept me sane when my boys were young and had a lot of energy).
Encourage your children to do what they are interested in and offer them possibilities and supplies whatever their passions are (geology, designing clothes, painting) even if it’s something unique because these kind of hobbies keep them busy in a positive way and will be good skills and strengths later in life.