Are you overwhelmed by the number of things you have in your house? Perhaps you want to cut back and lead a minimalist lifestyle? Certified KonMari consultant Dr Aparna Sundar shares how her family keeps on top of clutter…
When I became a parent for the first time, I remember vividly how excited I was with the possibility of buying the most delightful array of things known to man. I couldn’t resist baby fairs and even recall buying a blender specifically meant to purée baby food. Little did I know that I had succumbed to marketing gimmicks much to the innocent ignorance of my newborn baby.
I painfully realised years later after completing my Montessori Assistant certifications that I needn’t have purchased multiple sets of cheap plastic toys to keep my baby “entertained”. What was most important was being a ‘present mum’ and providing a simple and intentional home environment that supported and respected my children’s natural developmental needs where they could freely explore them while keeping them safe.
I started my coaching practice to help other families simplify their homes so they do not feel overwhelmed or pressured to keep up with the latest sales and marketing strategies to provide the best for their children.
My family’s journey into minimalism: when it all started
My husband and I started our journey towards minimalism a few years ago. Our goal was to raise our children with values that would teach them to find their life’s purpose. We are teaching them that they were created to do things for the greater good and avoid attaching our identity and self-worth to belongings.
Minimalism has taught us to be:
- Content with what we already have
- Calm, by removing the stress that comes with owning too many things
- Grateful for relationships with family and friends and generous with our time and money to help others
- Protective and conservative with our planet’s resources and not take them for granted
- Spiritual and hardworking towards pursuing a life of significance
Fortunately, it is not that difficult (as most perceive it to be) to live with minimalism and be intentional with what enters our homes. If you believe that you can do it, it will happen! In fact, I prefer the term ‘intentionalism’ to ‘minimalism’ as the former has a more ‘abundant and positive’ connotation to it compared to the latter.
Here are five areas in our children’s lives where we can practice how to be intentional parents before thinking of purchasing anything:
1. Materials for entertainment
When it comes to entertainment, our family subscribes to the following pointers:
- Choose quality over quantity
- Look at versatility and open-endedness
- Choose timeless genres and avoid ever-changing themes
- Choose second-hand first
- Encourage the creation of their toys and games
- Create designated spaces for belongings
I firmly believe that we as parents have to re-look at our wardrobes first before we attempt to minimise our children’s. In my wardrobe, my clothes follow these five basic rules which I try to follow when purchasing clothes for my kids as well:
- Vintage, second-hand, and/or locally and sustainably manufactured
- Limited to a storage space in one location of the house
- Not follow current trends or fashion styles
- Capsule styles in basic colours and prints (so that a variety of outfits can be mixed and matched)
The above applies to shoes, and accessories like belts, hair clips, and socks.
3. Arts and crafts
Children love to create. And in my home, creating art is a favourite activity. But at the end of the month, we accumulate numerous pieces of art and craft work that may not have the rightful place they deserve. Here are a few tried and tested methods that have worked well for us to minimise clutter because of their creative artistic journey.
- Have a dedicated space on the wall, shelf, or any other location to display their work. This gives kids a choice to decide what goes in their ‘hall of fame’.
- Give each child a document holder (with a pre-decided number of inner plastic sleeves) or a treasure box. If it’s a 3D creation, dedicate a drawer or shelf in their cupboards to store them. Once their art leaves the ‘hall of fame’, it goes through another round of rigorous decision-making – what to keep.
- Upcycle by creating bookmarks, postcards, wrapping paper, or greeting cards to send to family and friends with their artwork.
- Recycle or discard creations once you’ve taken a photograph of them (again, involve your children at this step on whether it is something they’d like photographed. Otherwise, you will end up with hundreds of photos you will most likely never see again).
We encourage gifting experiences over things in our home. However, since gift-giving differs across families, we explain to our children to always accept gifts with grace.
- Choose experiences over physical gifts: Our favourite ‘experience-based’ gifts have been tickets to watch a play or show, amusement park tickets, art lessons or online memberships.
- Curate wish lists: I’ve also sent book wish lists to my parents and in-laws when they want to purchase physical gifts for my children. I love this option as well as it’s a win-win for both parties. ‘Need-based’ gifts, such as clothes and shoes, are also very much appreciated in our home.
- Donate to charities: This year’s birthday “gift” money was donated to a charity my children chose (SPCA, as they are obsessed with dogs). As Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get. But we make a life by what we give”. Instilling a passion to serve in our children should always be a lifetime goal for all of us.
An important point to note is to have buy-in with the grandparents, your extended family, and friends on your gift-buying principles. If they are not convinced, do not lose heart. Be patient. Relationships are far more important than possessions.
Here’s another blog post of mine that might help you shift your perspective around gift-giving.
5. School stuff
I must admit that this category has been the most challenging for us. While we are trying our best to make it simple and keep belongings to a minimum, this category often ends up with clutter. So, we regularly review and do a check of items every three to six months (this is ideal as it coincides with their school’s term break). Again, we follow similar rules as above to be less overwhelmed with things.
- Own one to two of a type of item
- Choose quality over quantity
- Look for second-hand uniforms
Other helpful tips for your minimalism journey
In general, it’s helpful to ask ourselves these questions even before making any intentional purchase:
- Why do we really need this item?
- How long do we plan on enjoying this item?
- Could we enjoy a book or movie on this theme instead of buying a related item?
- When we have finished enjoying it, who could we give it to?
Minimalism does not have to feel overwhelming. Each family’s journey looks different. It does not mean we must not own fancy things. It means we live with intention and focus on our values, relationships, and beliefs. We must raise our children to believe that owning possessions will not lead to contentment. Happiness comes from serving, helping, being generous, and being kind to others.
“I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, be responsible, and be compassionate. It is above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all” – Leo Rosten
We hope these tips will be useful for you. Good luck on your journey towards minimalism!