There is a growing trend toward raising children in a minimalist way – that is, without accumulating massive amounts of “stuff” – but it is still an uphill climb. When you choose to raise your children in a frugal, non-consumerism sort of way, you are going against a powerful advertising media.
Images of the latest movie and its accompanying toys, video games, and action figures are all over the walls, cups, trays, and containers of fast-food restaurants. Television commercials tempt your children with compelling advertising, making your children think they just have to have the latest cereal, candy, video game, or toy.
And then there are the “other families.” You take your child to Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s house, and the Smiths have every imaginable gadget. Your child gleefully plays with the electronic games and toys, thoroughly enjoys the big plastic kitchen, and watches all kinds of DVDs. You may even feel guilty, thinking you are depriving your child of all this fun.
What can you do to counteract the materialism that still dominates much of our culture?
* Don’t feel guilty. Modern parents are made to feel as if they are depriving their children of “the best” if they don’t sign them up for every lesson, take them to every movie, or buy them every brain-enhancing toy. Let it go. You are not depriving your child; you are enhancing his mental and emotional development by letting the real world around him captivate and interest him. Do you think the Smiths’ kids are really better off because they spend all their free time in front of a television or playing with an electronic gadget?
* Minimize media first. This includes movies and television. After all, it is advertising that manipulates us into thinking we need this and that. If possible, get rid of cable entirely. Watch only DVDs or videos, preferably those that you check out from the library. And speaking of the library…
* Use it! The library is there for a reason. Plan a trip with your kids at least once a month. Stock up on books and other materials, and take advantage of free library programs. Many local libraries host various children’s activities from matinee movies to live music.
* Involve your children in cleaning out and donating to charity. Let them help, but make limits and rules so they don’t end up keeping everything. One strategy is to lay out a tarp or blanket. Whatever your child can fit (in a single layer) on one blanket is what she can keep. Or, set out bins of a reasonable size and tell your child he can keep only what he can fit into the bins. The rest goes to charity.
* When you do go to the Smiths’ house, talk to your children beforehand. Let them know that the Smiths have a different lifestyle than you do. Don’t be critical of them, but help your child “own” your frugal lifestyle by emphasizing that minimalism is your way of life.
* The Smiths are nice, of course, but it’s helpful to look for families with children who have a similar minimalist philosophy. When your children get together, they can enjoy being creative together and won’t come away with “green eyes” of envy.