The journey to a more peaceful, simpler life looks different for all of us, and there is no one size fits all, step-by-step plan or method. For those of us pursuing simplicity as families with children, it is important to remember that while we are working toward a life of greater peace, the everyday press toward that goal can be anything but peaceful.
Though each family member’s sentiment is of equal importance and should be validated as such, opposing views can work as counterproductive stumbling blocks to peace, or worse yet, become permanent rifts in familial relationships. If tender hearts are wounded and relationships are damaged in the process, all of the minimizing in the world will not yield a harvest of peace.
There is so much truth in Dorothy Law Nolte’s poem entitled, “Children Learn What They Live.” Children become accustomed to a certain way of life, and just because we see the light about minimizing our excess to find peace does not mean they will instantly understand or jump joyfully on board overnight. What we are doing may well be the total opposite of what they know and understand, and it will more than likely require a lot of discernment to maintain unity in our homes while helping them transition to a new way of thinking and making this process work. Here are a few things to remember along the way.
1. Kids don’t realize it, but they are actually happier with fewer choices.
My husband and I walked through over 12 years of infertility struggles before having our son, Zach, so it is not surprising that after he arrived, we wanted to give him everything his little heart desired. This meant he had a LOT of toys. He didn’t even play with most of them, but always had a few, select ones that he consistently gravitated to and enjoyed the most. Looking back, we realize that too many choices have always caused Zach distress, and fewer choices have always equaled greater peace.
2. Your kids will follow, if you lead by loving example.
Again, they learn what they live. What you do, they will want to do. The truth of this has played out many times in our home, and I have been amazed at how contagious minimizing is and how Zach has automatically followed in our footsteps. As you quietly go about the process of minimizing, your children will catch on, become inquisitive and interested in what you are doing, and they will follow suit.
3. Wait it out until they think it is their idea.
Patience is paramount. Respect the fact that their personal property belongs to them, and keep in mind how it would feel to have your own cherished things wrenched from your grasp against your will. When they come to the point of releasing possessions of their own accord, they will not feel forced or resentful of letting go, and both of you will know they did the right thing.
4. Keep in mind that some things should be kept.
If you see your child having an especially hard struggle letting go of something, maybe it is best for them to keep it. Kids have a very keen sense of awareness that is lost to those of us who have lived a long time and become jaded.
There is great wisdom in trying to look at things through their perspective, and when they are respected, they learn respect. Perhaps they will want to give something up in the future but today is not the right time. Or it may be one of the few things they will carry with them into adulthood to remind them of today. Sometimes, it is best to let things be and stop trying to force the issue.
5. Teach them the reality of “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Talk to them about the homeless and/or needy and the fact that there are children who do not have anything at all. For years, we had a bread ministry and also a clothing ministry that took in donations of toys, clothes, shoes, and household goods. We always took Zach with us to pick up and deliver bread and essentials to those who needed them, and he saw firsthand how abundantly blessed he is. It generated a sense of deep compassion in him that made it far easier for him to release excess possessions.
If your kids can see the joy that comes from watching their sacrifice supply someone else’s need, their innocent hearts will be highly motivated to let go. It really works! During the COVID restrictions, it may not be possible or as accessible for your kids to interact and see the benefits first-hand, but perhaps you can watch a video that explains poverty or find another opportunity to teach them about the needs of others and how their extras could put a smile on another child’s face.
6. Reward their giving.
I am not saying this should be the only or even their main motivation, and I have even found that it is sometimes better not to tell a child ahead of time that there will be a reward for benevolent behavior. But, after the deed is done, an experiential reward is definitely in order. An extra hour of computer or gaming time, or a special one-on-one time with them doing something that is totally their choice, etc. Seeing that the giving away of a physical possession is being replaced/rewarded with an experience they enjoy will serve as a wonderful motivator for future minimizing. Stuff will be leaving your house, and you and your child will make a special memory. It is a win/win.
While there are challenges that are specific to those who are minimizing with kids, the process can become a unifying effort that ends up drawing your family closer, not apart, and peace will be the end result.
About the Author: Cheryl Smith is the author of the book Biblical Minimalism the story of her family’s journey from a life of abundance to a more abundant life. She is the author of the blogs Biblical Minimalism where she writes about minimalism from a Biblical perspective and Homespun Devotions where she writes devotionals and conducts “Inner Views.”