If there was a TV show for the opposite of Hoarders, I’d be on it. Needless to say, I dislike clutter, unorganized spaces, and holding on to unnecessary and unused items for too long. Everyone I knew laughed when they found out I was pregnant because many families have mountains of toys and trinkets to keep the parents sane and the children entertained. While I knew we would accumulate our fair share of “things,” I didn’t want a child to change my values around possessions.
About five years ago, I decided to sell about 60 percent of my belongings and moved to a small apartment in New York City where my bedroom had no closet. After living life in the Big Apple for a short time, I moved back home to my roots in Ohio. Even though I had more space, I loved having fewer things. While I didn’t have a name for it back then, I now know I was slowly living a life of minimalism. In other words, rather than accumulating material items to enhance my life or make me feel better, I asked myself if my life could be better in any way by owning fewer things.
Sure, when I was single, it was easier to be a minimalist. Once I had a child, I saw how easy it could be to ignore minimalism and dive headfirst into a sea full of toys. Thankfully, my husband and I are on the same page when it comes to how much we buy, how we manage the number of toys, and even what we do about birthday and holiday gifts for our son.
If you’re wondering more about how to incorporate minimalism into your life as a parent, here’s how we handle it at our house.
1. We talk to friends and family about gifts for holidays
One of the hardest parts about pumping the brakes on toys and clothes is explaining it to other people when it comes to gifting. It’s one thing to set limits and boundaries for yourself on how much you’ll buy, but it’s much harder to put those same limits on other people.
For example, before my son was born, my mom wanted to buy him an oversized giraffe for no other reason except it would look cute. Every time we’d walk past another oversized giraffe (you’d be surprised at how many stores carry them!), I’d have to tell her that a newborn doesn’t need a stuffed giraffe that size.
We are firm believers in having things that make sense and get used regularly. There are so many adorable toys out there, but if it will just sit dormant for months until my son is ready to use it, it doesn’t make sense to us to buy it now. That being said, you only have so much control over what other people do. And when they choose to buy something anyway, we then decide to either hold on to it until our son is ready, see if there is another toy that we can donate to make room for this new one, or see if we can return or exchange it.
2. We have a 1-in-1 out policy
OK, it may not exactly be a 1:1 ratio, but whenever we buy a new toy, we try to take inventory of what he’s no longer playing with and see if we can donate it or pass it along to a friend. We all know that kids need developmentally-appropriate toys, so you’re bound to buy new toys over time. As you start to update their toy assortment, see if any toys are too young for them to play with now. If so, it’s a great time to find them another home!
Plus, if you have older toddlers, this is a great conversation to have with them about donating, giving to others in need, etc. Let your kids know that they can have that new toy they’ve been asking for, but they’ll need to donate a toy they no longer want to make room for it. I’ve heard from other parents that this conversation usually goes over really well and that their kids are often excited to help and to know their new toy is on its way.
3. We have a loose definition of “toys”
It still amazes me how many fun toys my son can have, and he’ll still choose a toilet paper roll or a pot and a wooden spoon to play with. But hey, I’ll take it!
Kids are curious about their surroundings, especially if they see mom and dad use a particular item regularly. For us, that tends to be kitchen items. I can sit him down with a few pots, lids, and toddler spoons, and he’ll be content for the next 30 minutes. A few of our other favorites are measuring cups, pans, wooden spoons, or spatulas.
4. We rotate the current toy selection
There have been quite a few times where we found a toy we thought we lost, and by our son’s reaction, you would’ve thought it was Christmas morning. From those moments we had a great idea: let’s take some of his current toy selection and stow it away for 6-8 weeks. Once that time is up, swap the toys out so that he has a seemingly fresh set of toys to play with.
Let’s be honest: kids can only play with a few toys at once, yet we keep all of the toys out anyways. See which toys your kid rarely gravitates to and put them away in a closet or the basement for a short period. Once you notice their excitement dwindling on the current toys, do a quick swap out (ideally while they’re in bed so they wake up to the new ones), and I bet they’ll be thrilled all over again.
It bears mentioning that I’m not against buying things for kids. But I do think we have more options at our fingertips than we realize and can save ourselves a lot of money by adopting just one of these minimalist strategies. Of course, I’m also just waiting for the day when my mom shows up with that oversized giraffe in hand—it’s inevitable.