How I Teach My Kids to Have a Healthy Relationship with Stuff

The more I share my minimalist lifestyle practices, one of the biggest questions I get asked is how I manage my kid’s toys. As parents it’s pretty tough not to feel overwhelmed by the amount of toys our kids have especially when we are the ones who have to pick them up. A quick Google search and you’ll find there is no shortage of ways to manage your kids toys most of which require too much time and energy for me to muster. (Think organizational systems, charts, etc.) Well, I’ve taken a different approach. I don’t do the toy organization systems (well, I mean, I did try for a hot minute), and in fact, I don’t try to limit my kids’s toys at all. Yup. Let’s break down why I am a minimalist with and my children are not.

Parental disclaimers:

I tried the crazy cluttered mom approach…

Let’s preface this all my saying: I have not been the perfect mom. Not now, not ever.

I have thrown my kids toys away in a rampage that accumulated after finally getting so sick of cleaning up after everyone only to lie awake panicking that my kids would grow into life-long hoarders because I threw away stuff without their permission and they would spend the rest of their lives overcompensating.

Why I Am Not Raising My Kids Minimalist

My circumstances just might be different…

Just like I haven’t ever been perfect a this whole parenting thing, I’ll also admit that I may have had more of an opportunity to teach my children minimalism and how to manage stuff more than the average mama.

Not only was I a stay at home mom for a decade, I continued to do homeschooling too. This means I had a lot more time with my kids than some other parents might. That’s why if I share something and you’re thinking, “I don’t have time for that!” You might be right. I will not pretend that we all have the same time in a day, we don’t.

Being an awesome parent looks like…

This goes without saying, that it doesn’t make you a bad parent. If you are showing up for your kids by working to provide, you are doing amazing. If you are showing up for your kids while navigating depression, you are doing amazing.

We tend to look at what other moms and dads are doing and use their lifestyle as a reason to feel like shit about ourselves and the places we are dropping the ball when it comes to parenting. I’m here to give you the quick reminder that it is all utter nonsense.

SO, if you are reading this post, feeling obligated to keep a minimalist home, declutter more, or be better at helping your kids manage their clutter… ask yourself real quickly … Does this actually matter?

You’ve got a lot of stuff going on in your life. Maybe financially providing and spending time with your kids is a top priority. Maybe making sure they are clean and fed is all you are capable of in this chaotic time in life. YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE PERFECT. There I said it.

Stuff and money is my priority. Right now.

Because I let my life and spending habits spiral out of control, it was important to me to teach my kids money management and that stuff isn’t a top priority in life because this is what me breaking the cycle looks like FOR ME. This is what ensuring my kids to better than me looks like in my life. It doesn’t have to look the same for you, my friend.

Age matters

Another thing I hear from moms who have toddlers and babies at home is something like this, “It’s just not possible!!” And that’s exactly why I gave all of those annoying disclaimers. You’re absolutely right. Sometimes, it’s not possible and knowing what you are and aren’t capable of juggling is the best thing you can do for your sanity.

So, I’m going to do my best to share some practical advice that I applied with my kids when they were young, how I talk to them about stuff and decluttering and why I simply allow them to have their own experience when it comes to stuff and clutter now that they are pre-teens. (YIKES)

Ultimately, my hope is that you will take what you can, apply what you want and know that not everyone’s story is going to look the same.

As a practicing minimalist mom, I've struggled with kids toy clutter a ton. Here's how I encourage healthy minimalism with my kids.

Happy medium with clutter

After going through the mind battle of thinking I needed a clutter free home to panicking that I was creating mini hoarders, I have spent years trying to find a happy medium. Somewhere along the way I was finally about to create peace with the fact that I allow my kids to have clutter.

Letting them touch all the stuff

Ever since my kids were little, I have let them touch stuff.

It’s honestly because I read a comment from someone who knew Christina Aguilera and they quote I read basically said that this person thought X-stina was such a good mom because she let her kids touch stuff, hold objects, observe them. Even if they were breakable or whatever. Now, at this time in my life, still in my early 20’s, I was highly influenced by other people, including celebrities, so I was like, “OK, I’ll let my kids touch stuff.” 

Truly, I did like the concept of allowing my kids to explore the world around them without constantly swatting their hands away and saying, “Don’t touch that!”

I always wanted to allow them to have their curiosity as much as I could. This is why when they were young I put safety locks on all the cupboards in our kitchen except one. The Tupperware drawer.

One un-locked cupboard

My daughter, Kaida always tore through everything in this anything goes cupboard. She was already a pro at making a mess everywhere she went and I wanted to create one space in the kitchen that was totally on-limits so she could simply explore.

Did this mean there was always a mess of containers on the floor every night? Yes.

Still, I wanted her to feel free to explore…within limits. And 15 months after she was born, her brother was born. Our older girls were both in school and we had very different experiences with them, which is why I’m focusing on the younger 2. The two I totally raised.

If you’ve missed our whole blended family story, make sure you go back to that podcast episode.

2 under 2 made me want less

So when I had 2 under 2 running around, life got crazy, of course, and this is probably when I started to really love the idea of having less. There is a good chance that I was / am an undiagnosed ADHD – meaning too much stimulation makes me feel bananas.

Having crying, laughing, screaming, running around, TV on, stuff everywhere was just too much. I’m fully convinced that this is why mom’s suffer from being “touched out” at the end of the day. It’s an over-stimulation of everything.

That’s why as soon as my kids both passed the “baby stage,” I couldn’t wait to metaphorically chuck all of their, big, bulky baby toys right off the front porch and directly into the garbage truck. Calm down, I’m pretty sure I just donated them. But the chucking thing sounds like way more fun.

Encouraging cleaning

Another thing I did that I thank my lucky stars over was whenever either of the little ones showed an interest in helping me clean, I let them. This required extra patience because it usually meant they were wiping down my furniture leaving water streaks behind or left window cleaner un-wiped. This is why I had all of those disclaimers at the beginning, because if you are a full time working mom, who cleans the house for 2 hours on Saturday, chances are you aren’t going to want to mess around with letting little bodies mess things up even more. I get it. That sounds awful.

Allowing my kids to make a mess while they cleaned meant more work for me in their early years, but as they grew up, it meant they were already in the habit of helping out around the house! When it came time for them to start doing daily chores, there was never some big shocking day where I broke the news to them that they had to start helping.

These few things, allowing them to explore and allowing them to clean I think helped them have a healthier relationship with stuff because nothing was so forbidden off limits and they learned to like what it felt like to take care of their stuff and their home.

As a practicing minimalist mom, I've struggled with kids toy clutter a ton. Here's how I encourage healthy minimalism with my kids.

Giving it all away

When my kids were in preschool (they were both in at the same time), they were feeling particularly giving. This was also the time that I started giving more in my own life which is probably why they followed suit.

We would buy coffee for the people behind us, I was giving my stuff away left and right, we’d stop at a Boy Scout car wash and leave a $100 tip. (That day my daughter still talks about.) 10 Unique Ways to Give Anonymously.

Because of this, there came a time when my kids wanted to give toys to their friends at school. Whenever they wanted to, I said, “Yes.” Because…after all…who would want to discourage their kids from having a giving, generous heart? They are feeling called to give to another human being and I wanted to encourage them in that.

It even got to a point where the preschool teachers knew this about our family.

I was working to detach from material possessions in my own life and I think allowing my kids to be generous with their stuff allowed them to detach and it helped me out as well.

Giving without “buts”

The hardest part about letting them give more of their stuff away was the fact that I bought a lot of this stuff! Some of it was brand new. Some of it they just got.

There was no shortage of excuses as to why I could want to stop hem from giving these items away, but at the end of the day I had to realize that this was my hang up, not theirs. Could you imagine if I hung onto every item I was ever given because the person who gave it to me insisted that I keep it?

My belief is that we should be giving without rules and letting go without obligation.

Teaching simple living/decluttering

As I started learning more about decluttering in my own life, I became hyper-aware of just how much stuff THEY had. This is a thing we tend to do with everyone in our life, isn’t it? It was so much easier for my to look at all of their toys and go, “YOU HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF!” Instead of just focusing on my own minimalist journey and allowing myself to detach from MY things.

It was probably as we were packing during our downsize from the big house to our smaller one that I sat there with 2 boxes in front of them, one box for keeping, one box for getting rid of.

I explained to them that it’s an act of kindness to let go of things that we aren’t using anymore. That stuff is meant to be used, played with and taken care of and if they weren’t taking full advantage of this toy, we could pass our stuff on to kids or people who would. They got rid of a good portion of their stuff that day at only ages 4 and 5.

Mini declutter sessions

Because that first declutter experience went great, I continued to do mini declutter sessions every year before Christmas and birthdays. 3 Times Per Year to Declutter with Kids.

My basic “script” that I used was, “If you are wanting more gifts and asking for stuff, then you should also make room for it.”

This has been a process that has ebbed and flowed. When we first started, my son could basically chuck his entire toy bin in a donate box and walk away without batting an eye, and my daughter would refuse to let go of anything.

Over the years, they switched. Kaida, my daughter, got better at being honest with herself, “I really don’t use this anymore…” and Madden, my son, would get teary eyed at the idea of even having to let go of anything.

Either way, I have done my best to let them have their emotions.

Sometimes when they’d want to get rid of something, my pre-programming would kick in:

“SERIOUSLY? YOU NEVER USE THAT!”

“OMG THAT ANNOYING TINKER TOY?”

I did my best to keep those thoughts to myself because, they are my thoughts, not theirs. I gave them toys because I wanted to give them toys not because I secretly expected them to sign some deal with me that they would hold onto that stuff forever and ever amen.

Paying them for clutter

In recent years I had a random idea that has kind of worked. I started paying them per garbage bag. “If you fill this garbage bag with toys to donate, I will give you $5.” Rather than being a method of bribery, the reason I did this is that sometimes for me it’s a little easier to part with something when I can sell it and get some money back. Ya know? It makes you feel like it wasn’t a total waste.

Even though they didn’t invest their money into this stuff, I still thought it might be a nice incentive to help them see some more benefit in letting go.

It really didn’t make a HUGE difference, but I still like doing it every now and then since my daughter likes to take advantage of the opportunity. In fact, she likes it so much that she’s started flipping stuff online as her own little side hustle. 10 New Aged Ideas for Kidpreneurs.

@renee.benes

Boss Club is an online course for kids (aaand kind of adults too) that teach business start up! Use my name: RENEE to save 10% ♥️ #kidpreneur #entrepreneurship #homeschoolmom #sidehustle #kidsandmoney

♬ pass the dutchie sped up – vevonix

Letting them be clutter-bugs

Ultimately, I don’t want to have insisted my own way of living so much on my kids that they grow up and overcompensate by over-cluttering. Remember that whole night-time panic I mentioned before.

Is them turning into hoarders a guaranteed result? No?

However, think about it this way…

I know in my mom’s house where there was no junk food ever, I quickly moved out and bought Gushers, Poptars, Ramen noodles and ate so much I made myself sick…but yet I couldn’t stop.

Rather than going cold turkey on things like clutter or junk food, my belief is to teach hands-on methods for better managing these types of things in our lives.

They will be who they will be

Sure, one of my kids might grow up to be a hoarder (probably my son I feel like he’s going to be a crazy-hair, Einstein-esque inventor type that is always making new gadgets…and I love that…and if that’s who he wants to be, I want him to be that too.) The other might continue minimalism because they find it much easier to manage and are happier that way.

There is no way to insist that everyone is happier in a certain way of living. This has worked for me and I think just allowing my children to see and experience life in a minimalist home (minus their bedrooms) is the best way I could demonstrate to them the efficiency of it. 

So, might not be much like what other moms are doing, but it is what works for us.

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As a practicing minimalist mom, I've struggled with kids toy clutter a ton. Here's how I encourage healthy minimalism with my kids.
As a practicing minimalist mom, I've struggled with kids toy clutter a ton. Here's how I encourage healthy minimalism with my kids.

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