Having a child was the turning point of my life. I started questioning a lot of things. We all want our children to pursue happiness over worldly possessions but in order to do so they must separate the former from the latter; and that has to happen from the beginning. And, like in everything else, it begins with us. If we are running after worldly possessions and associating happiness with acquisitions of stuff, then that’s what they learn. One of the most exciting aspects of being a parent for me has been the opportunities and willingness to learn and unlearn a lot of things, which may even be completely unrelated to aspects of raising a child.
It helps to be a Minimalist in this consumerist environment when you can look through the superficial things and focus on what is important for your child. For example, fancy birthday parties are not important to me; spending time with him every day, talking to him about every single thing, having the patience to answer every single question are important. Inculcating a habit of reading and encouraging curiosity is important to me, and not the so-called best schools.
It is not difficult to practice Minimalism with kids because Minimalism is an attitude. So you already believe that kids do not need so much stuff to be happy. Here are the 11 things that we do as parents:
- We never glorify owning stuff or shopping. We are never fascinated with bigger houses, bigger cars or fancy stuff – in stores or somebody else’s.
- We hardly ever shop on a whim. Whenever we intend to buy anything, we communicate it to him in advance about the purpose of visiting a mall or stores. And it is communicated that we will not buy anything at any toy store. I have taken my son to toy stores like Hamley’s and Crosswords and not bought a thing. In fact, most such outings have gone very smoothly. That also does not mean that I’m rigid. If I find something truly interesting and useful, I make exceptions. But I keep the rights of making final decision to myself.
- We are careful of what we say about money. For example, it can happen that I might say ‘Oh this is just for 100 bucks!’ What I might mean is that such thing is usually more expensive or I might have compared the thing with something else, but to the child it sounds like Rs 100 is a small amount.
- One day I asked him what does he like playing the most. He said he likes playing with both of us. It actually reiterated the fact that kids need our time more than any toy. We have very few toys. When he was small, we used to play a lot of simple alphabet games like finding objects around the house that started with each letter; or pairing the upper and lower case letters in a paper cup or making paper cup towers, etc. Even now, our games are very simple like jumble words, telling him a big number and asking him to write it, giving him random craft stuff to make whatever he wants, board games like Scrabble, Monopoly and Uno.
- Toys are usually planned in advance. I absolutely detest those cheap plastic toys which start coming apart once you get home. They are clutter, not productive toys. I like buying good quality toys. Lego blocks have been the most expensive toy that we have bought for him, and it has been a good investment. We first invested in Mega Bloks which are bigger-sized blocks. He played with it a lot. He learnt all his alphabets with the help of Mega Bloks when he was about 2. Then we invested in this Lego Creator series set. Again, he played with it extensively. It is only then that we decided to get him the Lego blocks bucket. And we have never regretted.
- We never buy two toys at once. The child must explore and enjoy one toy before getting another one. I also keep removing toys which he does not enjoy any more. I have donated all his soft toys (he never played with those), jigsaw puzzles (only good for a couple of times) and cars (not into cars as of now).
- I am also selective about buying clothes. I buy very few party or fancy ethnic clothes. They are no good. The best investments are the clothes they need to wear every day for playing or at home. I buy them in twos. Like I would buy 2 sets of night suits or thermals or lowers. Not more. And like us, he does not care much about clothes.
- We always look for non-mall options for the weekends (I will write about it in a separate post). I think going to mall is a lazy thing to do (which I have also done in the past). If you really don’t have to buy anything, going to malls is just a tiring and unproductive way to spend your weekend. Honestly, malls are a make-believe world – glossy and sanitized. Real world is not like that. I also dislike the Gaming Zones. We never go there. They look like dungeons to me. Actually, he is never the one who says we should go out. He wants to be home and play with us.
- I have never told him that if any of his friends has something, I will also get it for him, even if it is for 20 rupees. So, this idea never crosses his mind that ‘I also want’. Of course, on rare occasions he says that he would like to have something. I explain that everyone does not have everything. We also don’t have everything that everyone has. We choose what WE want. Moreover, it will be no fun if everyone will have the same toys. It is fun when you can share and go to each others’ houses and play different games. I also point out some of his toys which the others don’t have. So far, it has worked. Occasionally, when I give in, it is only after considerable amount of deliberation and after evaluating that it was not a spur-of-the-moment demand.
- We haven’t done birthday parties yet. He has never told me he wants one, and I personally do not like parties. There are other ways to make a child feel special. Very little kids have their own schedules and then to expect them to be at their best during such events is unrealistic. I like to completely focus on him on his birthday. Birthday parties of little ones are chaotic. Now that he is older, I am open to birthday parties on a smaller scale, and with fewer kids.
- We have always read a lot. Earlier I used to buy books every month but since last 4-5 months, I have not bought even books for him. We still read every single day. I plan to enroll him with a kids’ library but I haven’t found any good one yet.
Actually, there are several small things which contribute to the bigger picture. It is what we say, how we behave that actually reflects on the child as well.
To someone who considers these things necessary, this might look like deprivation but honestly, this comes through our pre-conceived notions. Someone who is raised to not be a consumerist does not have those notions. This is how we want to raise him, but eventually a child is his own person who absorbs from all his surroundings. And that’s ok. I’m sure he will find his own way.