If you’re like many Americans, chances are your family is swimming in stuff: toys, clothes, trophies, electronics, cheap plastic figurines. To afford this abundance is a privilege, of course, but when it comes to our kids, we’re a nation of overconsumers. The U.S. is home to just 3.1 percent of the world’s children but consumes 40 percent of the world’s toys. Researchers in Los Angeles went into 32 homes to catalog the overconsumption epidemic: In one child’s room alone, they counted 165 Beanie Babies, 36 figurines, 22 Barbie dolls, three porcelain dolls, 20 other dolls, one troll, and a miniature castle. (“Where was everything else hiding?” you might ask.)
Much of this stuff is around for an ostensibly sweet reason: We buy lots of toys, clothes, and other items for children to make them happy. Unfortunately, this can backfire. All the clutter can actually overwhelm children and add to stress, says Kim John Payne, a family counselor and the author of Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. What’s best for kids, says Payne, might be teaching them to have only what they need and to keep those few belongings organized. It’s not just about being neat: “Keeping a room or house orderly can make your life feel more orderly,” he says. In other words, calm and focused surroundings can help your child stay calm and focused too.
The perks of minimalism could even reach into your child’s future. “The practical benefits of owning less are more money, more time, more calm, more freedom,” says blogger Joshua Becker, a father of two and the author of The Minimalist Home.
Plus, learning to consume less is a way to practice discipline, a skill that makes it a lot easier to become a responsible adult. “Kids who don’t learn to exist within boundaries may become adults who don’t set them,” says Becker.
But in a culture of consumerism, how do you raise a minimalist? How do you teach children, who are bombarded with messages from media and peers that they need the latest toy or pair of sneakers, to be content with fewer things? Some ideas ahead.
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