Okay, Mamas. This is an upfront disclaimer that I am a “minimalist in-progress.” Can we just agree that there is a middle-ground somewhere between shaming people who have throw pillows and keeping every book you’ve ever read? Maybe room for a family still clinging to their dying DVD collection, but intentionally inching towards minimalist living? That would be the category my family fits into.
Minimalism is all the rage, right? But what does it have to do with our families? One study found that an average 10 year old owns 238 toys, but only plays with 12 of them on a regular basis (1). Raise your hand if you just started mentally counting all of your children’s toys? (Yes, every Barbie shoe and Lego block counts.)
When I chose to embrace minimalism it was because I saw it as a way to raise content, grateful, and creative kids- the kind of kids who use the things they have with the fullness of their imagination; kids whose general state of happiness floats above the “need” for more and more stuff. Firstly, you’re right if you think that it must be BOTH satisfying and also completely terrifying to purge mass quantities of stuff with small people living in your house. Secondly, the peace found at the end of the process outweighs the energy and time commitment it takes – I promise.
As I’ve introduced this concept to the people in my kids’ lives (in other words, the people who give them gifts), they almost always get around to asking, “but what about Christmas?”
What about Christmas? Won’t there be a full-scale revolt if the pile under the tree shrinks suddenly?! How do you even get started with something like this? First…
Get your kids on board – I think most of us underestimate our kids. Children tend to be open to new ideas when they understand why something is happening. Talk to your kids honestly. Explain how wonderful it would be if their lives (and rooms) were only full of the things that they love and the things that they use. Talk up the beauty of simplicity! They’ll have less things to pick up at “clean up time.” They’ll be able to find that treasured item that always gets misplaced under a pile of junk.
They will follow your lead – Before tackling the playroom, demonstrate the process in other areas of the home and let them be part of the process. Cleaning out the pantry? Mommy is getting rid of things she doesn’t love and doesn’t use. Let them see how you make decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of. Watch an episode of Marie Kondo’s new show on Netflix together, and then hit their closets asking, “Does this bring me joy?” (my girls LOVED this part! They even made Daddy do it). Make it fun and exciting, a whole new way of looking at things.
Start the process now, not on Christmas Eve – But what about Christmas?! This is a lifestyle change, guys. It’s going to take some getting used to. So the sooner you start having conversations the better. That also gives you the chance to work with your kids towards simplifying their playroom and bedrooms before a huge influx of gifts.
One thing that’s worked really well with my kids is giving them the option of only picking up the things they love. This is a winner in my house especially when the playroom floor is trashed. I frame it like, “guys I’m going to do you a huge favor. All you have to do is put away the things that you use and that you love, and Mommy will handle the rest.” Note: be careful to preserve trust and to respect your children during this process. At our house, the kids know that those trashbags go to the basement before they head to Goodwill. I stash them there for 2 months, and if they aren’t touched in that time, they get donated. The girls understand this process, so they are way more willing to let me haul that singing Elsa away in a plastic bag.
Clue in the relatives – People are going to think you’re crazy. Get comfortable with that. They’re also going to be really uncomfortable NOT buying loads of stuff for you and your kids. Don’t apologize about going against the grain, but do give them ideas! If you need some, keep reading. Make an Amazon list for each of your kids and share it with family members. Most people want to get gifts that really bless you, and are thrilled to know exactly what that is.
What do you buy them?
- Subscription boxes & magazines: what’s better than one gift that gets ignored in 2 weeks? A give that comes 12 times in a year! There are subscription boxes for everything from cultural cooking to woodworking. Google your child’s age/interest and I bet you find something amazing. Our absolute FAVORITE is Letters From Afar.
- Experiences: Museum & Zoo passes, Aquarium memberships, movie giftcards all fall under this category. My in-laws made the sweetest “box of dates” for our girls last year. Each 1st of the month they would open an envelope with a pre-planned date with Nana & Grandpop in it. It was super fun!
- Classes: How about getting grandma and grandpa to invest in a skill your kids are dying to work on, like gymnastics, swimming, karate lessons, space camp?!
- Open-ended toys: These are toys that can be used in more than one way, and for more than one age-group. I’m convinced that my kids could have happily survived the last 7 years playing with just silk scarves, Animal Figurines, and Magnet Blocks. Those are our top three for sure. (your standard cardboard box also fits in this category)
- Consumable items & Handicrafts: Art supplies are a hot commodity around here, and are always a crowd-pleaser. I mean who doesn’t love a fresh box of crayons or an elaborate coloring book. This is also a great time to invest in a hands-on creative skill like crocheting, felting, sewing, beading, woodworking, or musical instruments.
Focus on the stuff that isn’t “stuff” – Since down-sizing our Christmas, we instead have time, energy, and mental space to pack the whole month of December with memory making. In fact, Advent kicks off the week of Thanksgiving in this house with a cranberry/popcorn/orange garland making fest. We read all the Christmas books, sing all the songs, watch all the movies, eat and bake and just generally pack this month full of good times. Here’s five ideas to get you started:
- Read good books together as a family: Sarah Mackenzie at Read-Aloud Revival has a great reading list! Grab a bunch of Christmas picture books from the library, wrap up 24 of them, and open one a day to read as a family. Or better yet, pick a big juicy classic novel like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to read over dinner each night (with Turkish Delight of course).
- Drive around the neighborhood with cocoa looking for Christmas lights.
- Make homemade salt-dough ornaments or sugar scrubs to give out to friends and family as gifts.
- On Christmas Eve make (more) cocoa and have a night picnic under the stars. We always take our popcorn garlands outside at this point, and hang them up on the trees for the animals.
- Set up a card making station for your kids full of stickers, stamps, and glitter. We make cards while listening to carols or audio-books all month long, and then bring them to a local nursing home. Focus on the GIVING, not the getting.
Further reading suggestions: Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne, Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquilyn Smith
Listen to JoLynn on The Outnumbered Mama’s Podcast to hear more about her minimalist lifestyle, and how she and her family celebrate Christmas.