Google+ Authentic Parenting: Minimalist Parenting

Monday, January 17, 2011

Minimalist Parenting

Written by Rachel Jonat

When my son was 10 months old I decided to take a cue from the minimalist movement I kept hearing about and donate, sell or recycle half of our possessions. Sounds extreme but I was sick of the clutter and cleaning the clutter and maintaining the clutter. I’d held out hope for a long time that a miracle organizing system or a piece of furniture from IKEA would whip my home in to shape. But I finally realized I didn’t need more containers or pretty baskets, I just needed less of everything.

The process wasn’t easy or quick. After two months of sorting and purging I could see the back wall of my closet and a lot of empty shelves. It felt great. My home was easier to clean and there were no more ‘I’ll deal with that later’ drawers full of random items.

The best benefit to embracing minimalism has been clarity about what we prioritize as a family. At the top of the list is time together and our health. When I donated 80% of my wardrobe I had acute regret about mindless shopping and buying things I ended up never wearing much. Thousands of dollars in goods left our home and these were items we had spent weeks and months of our life working to pay for.

If time together as a family and my health were my top priorities why I had bought, and thus worked for, a lot of stuff we never used? Why had I spent long hours at an office working for things when my real priority was eating well, exercise and more good conversation and laughter with my husband and son?

As you might guess it’s pretty easy now for me to say no to an afternoon of shopping with friends or turn a blind eye to sales. 

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I am fighting a losing battle. That my son will want lots of toys and television (we have one but don’t have cable) and video games as he gets older and we will cave. I’m told that my belief that the best thing I can give my son is my time will only last until he can say, Toys ’R’ Us. Then I’ll be hopping on the bandwagon of plastic toys galore.

Despite the pessimists I remain a believer. My husband and I have reduced our bills and paid off a lot of debt in the last year. We originally believed I would have to go back to work after having my son but with our new minimalist lifestyle we’re managing on just my husband’s salary. I’m getting to spend a lot of time with my son in these sweet early years. I’m grateful. If we can make more time in our life surely we can parent our son to lead an experience, rather than consumer, driven life.

I also have a secret weapon: my older brother. One of the main reasons I remain convinced that we will be able to raise our son in a home that is content with less, is that my brother has already done it. My two nephews and one niece don’t watch television and when Christmas rolls around they are often hard pressed to think of something they want. These children ice skate, swim, read, build snowmen and make home movies as a family. They go for hikes. They’re engaged and attached with their parents, not television or an overstuffed toy box.

My son also reminds me daily that it’s not about the stuff. We do have toys in our home but most don’t hold his attention for long. He prefers following me around our home, watching me as I cook or simple games like peek-a-boo. I hope the love of peek-a-boo turns into a love of laughter and the curiosity in the kitchen turns into a fascination with where our food comes from. If there is one thing I desperately want my son to grow up knowing, it’s that life is not about things, it’s about people.

Rachel Jonat is a minimalist and
AP mama living the car-free life in Vancouver, Canada. After donating
and selling half of her belongings she's found more room and time in
her life for herself and her family. She blogs about minimalist living
with kids at The Minimalist Mom.



  1. Thanks for featuring me today =)
    I appreciate the thoughtful and inspiring posts here. Thanks for doing what you do!

  2. Love this post! Am also perusing over to your blog-- so much of what you're writing rings true to me!!! And it's inspiring me already to go and put into action what I feel and believe so strongly. Thanks, and what a great post- you and your son are adorable.

  3. This sounds like an amazing idea. I spend way too much time worrying about how to organize STUFF, when I clearly just need to let go of it.

  4. Good for you! I was imagining if our house burnt down what would I NEED. Now when I de-clutter I think, would I buy this if I was starting over? If the answer is no, I get rid of it!

    Also I think that your son won't want things. He doesn't need to know what Toys R Us is and even if he does you don't have to take him there!

  5. I think "minimalist" is in the eyes of the beholder. I have been quite struck to evaluate what Americans think of as "simple" and "uncluttered" lives vs. what other people live with (the book Material World: A Global Family Portrait is fascinating, as is punching income numbers into the Global Rich List).

    That said, this is an inspiring read, Rachel... What you say about the sadness you had about donating clothes and how much time you'd worked for them - yikes! I am for the first time wondering if people don't gift and give very much because they don't want to feel this pain. They want to feel they've "earned" their nice things and it was all worth the long hours. If they keep their things, they don't have to make these evaluations.

    Then there are those who work very long hours indeed but can barely provide for their families... often they have the least luxury to "simplify" of us all.

    "I’d held out hope for a long time that a miracle organizing system or a piece of furniture from IKEA would whip my home in to shape. But I finally realized I didn’t need more containers or pretty baskets, I just needed less of everything."

    Oh... how I relate to this. And how I still envy those who have so many "nice" things in their home - or those who own their own home! I really wonder about my envy. Where does it come from and why can't I shake it?

    Here are some pictures of our place if anyone's interested.

    Thank you for this great piece!

  6. I absolutely want to do this!! I think this has been a deep-down dream of mine for a long time. You are inspiring me!!!

  7. Thanks for the comments, folks. If anyone is considering simplifying my advice is just get started. Start giving away and donating things you don't use or really need.
    Kelly: great reminder, it really is in the eye of the beholder. The more extreme minimalists wouldn't consider us minimalists at all. And compared to most of the world we still have so much.
    I hear you on being 'wanty' for things. Staying away from magazines, tv commercials (easy - we don't have cable) and shops helps me with that.
    Your home looks great. Open and clean and very inviting.

  8. Only 2 months?? Go you! I got a divorce a few years ago and had to start over with "stuff" - I can not believe how much junk I have accumulated since then! I wish I had found minimalism then! Now that we're trying to pare down to fit into a travel trailer, I wish I had not accumulated so much stuff. The clothes, however, did come with me and at nearly 40 I have a lifetime of clothing!

    Thank you for inspiring!

  9. I completely relate to your dream of raising a child that is free from materialism. It's easy right now, when he's just over 2 years old. I worry about what I'll do when he's older and wants to have all the toys he sees at friends homes. Your brothers story is inspiring, it's nice to hear of someone that's actually succeeded in raising less materialistic children. Great post!

  10. I realized I should cut myself a little slack. I've not quite been at it for 2 months myself. And those two months included Thanksgiving and Giftmas. I had hopes to go through the largest mountain of stuff this weekend, but with the entire family sick I probably won't get to it.

    Thanks again for the inspiration.

  11. I have been following your blog for awhile now and really enjoy it. I have been living a minimalist way of life for some time now. It is not easy. I have a husband who is making a small step forward and a large step backwards - but it is progress. Do not fret about your child (did not seem that you were) I have 3 sons 24, 22, and 6. My older children were raised in an environment of plenty and then plenty more. I am proud to say they are minimalist without even having to think about it. My youngest son (more to your situation) is a gift of life and the belief that you can be happy and stable and a person contributing to society and not have to be congested with all of the external (stuff). Keep up the good work on all fronts.

  12. About raising your child minimalist, it really can work. My 7.5 year old has to think very hard to say what she would like to get for her birthday. She says she has everything she wants. And yes, she has nice things, dolls and blocks and art supplies but she is somehow resistant to the "I want more" culture.

  13. Totally with you on this- I work part-time (freelance) and though my husband makes far less than I was making even a few years ago, we are fine b/c we spend very little. It's so much fun to make do with less--kind of a game--and the it's true kids don't really even care much for most store-bought toys. Much more fun to play outside, read, paint or play guitar.


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