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6 Ways I’ve Convinced My Kids to Live with Less

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Living with less stuff has its benefits.

This was the first year in awhile when I didn’t feel totally overwhelmed with the influx of new stuff after the holidays. I took my own advice and we did a big purge of my daughters’ bedroom and playroom, clearing out toys, stuffed animals, and other stuff they no longer played with.


It feels so good to look at those rooms and not see overwhelming heaps of toys that I’ve decided that this year, I’m going to try to instill a more minimalist attitude in my children, and help them to appreciate living with fewer toys, clothing, and other consumer goods. It’s better for the environment since purchasing and discarding fewer things reduces the demand for raw materials that ultimately end up in a landfill. Even better, a minimalist lifestyle helps kids adopt many beneficial and healthy attitudes, including living within one’s means and not needing to buy things to be happy.


These are some of the first steps I’ve taken.


  1. No more dollar-aisle bribes. It used to be that a day running shopping errands inevitably meant that my kids would beg for (and, with good behavior, receive) a cheap toy from the dollar aisle. It would make them happy for an hour or two, then it would break or I’d find it gathering dust under the bed the next time I’d vacuum. Sure, they’re only a buck or two, but their cost goes far beyond this in the raw materials and energy used to manufacture and transport it.


  1. Regular purges. I aim to spend an hour or two each month sorting through and organizing toys, clothing, and art supplies, weeding out what’s broken, outgrown, and out of favor. These items will be recycled or donated.


  1. Letting them earn some cash. I recently joined a Facebook group of local moms who use the group to buy and sell kids’ stuff. I used it to sell some of my kids’ old toys that were still in good shape, and I’ve given them the money. Although their first instinct was to run to the dollar store with their earnings, I’m taking the opportunity to teach them about saving for bigger things… my eldest has even opened a bank account to save money for flying lessons when she’s old enough!


  1. More activities. I’ve always admired the idea of giving kids experiences rather than gifts, but I’ve also worried that mine, who are used to mounds of presents under the tree, would be disappointed. This year, however, we tested these waters in a big way by giving them tickets to see the live tour of their favorite television show, Wild Kratts. They were thrilled with the gift and did not notice at all that there were only a few other small gifts from Santa. Another family gift was membership to our local state parks, with the promise that this year we’ll do more camping, hiking, and water activities. Kids need to be taught to appreciate the experience and the memory, rather than stuff, and I’m looking forward to this challenge.


  1. Regular trips to the library. When I was growing up, our visits to the library were the highlight of my week. We didn’t have mega bookstores with coffee and toys, so if I wanted to read the latest Nancy Drew, I’d borrow a copy from the library rather than buy it. I’m distressed to realize that my eldest daughter hasn’t inherited my love for the library; she’d much rather buy a book than borrow one. But she’s also a voracious reader, and we’d go broke keeping up with her habit if we bought every book she wanted to read.


  1. Pare down wardrobes. My kids share a room, and a dresser and closet. This means there’s not a lot of room for clothes. But really, each kid has a few favorite things she likes to wear regularly, and those outfits in the bottom of the drawer rarely see the light of day… partly because if the drawer is chock-full, it’s hard to see what’s under the first few layers. I plan to weed through their wardrobes regularly, donating what’s unworn and outgrown, and keep only a few weeks’ worth of outfits, pajamas, and undies. And in the future, I’ll invest in just enough to keep their drawers and closet manageable, and so they’ll have enough outfits to last until I do the laundry.

Help me out: What are some other ways that kids can be taught to live with less? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan
I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same. more
  • Lora V. 3 years ago
    When birthdays roll around, I have my kids pick their favorite non-profit. They get so excited about choosing! Party invitees are asked to donate to the birthday girl's non-profit of choice instead of gifts we don't need. We've done that since they were born, so they don't expect anything different, & feel good about it. I actually think people spend more on a donation than they would on a gift!
  • Debra B. 3 years ago
    Don't just give your kids for everyone! Parents love to be picked up and taken to lunch, dinner, a movie, etc. I give my mom the experience of me picking her up and handing her her favorite coffee, then driving her to the nail salon where we both get pedicures, and back home. She loves gift experiences and time spent together!
  • Betty B. 3 years ago
    you can wear your pants twice before laundering them as loing as they are not soiled cuts down on water usage and garment last longer
  • Donna C. 3 years ago
    I admit to buying something for my kids when going grocery shopping when they were little. If they were good, they got a Little Golden Book (do they even have those still) which was read to them over and over and then they read themselves. Both are advid readers to this day.
  • erica m. 3 years ago
    Finding that with each additional child, we have more laundry to do so I can run more frequently. Accordingly each person needs fewer clothes because they cycle through so fast. Good tip for young growing families.
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