Minimalism: When Less Is More
When Less Is More
Like most parents, I’ve always desired that my kids would have more than I did. More experiences. More opportunities. More possessions. Although rooted in love, that desire for more of anything has come with a cost—which became abundantly clear recently when we undertook a basement renovation.
A rec room/playroom/library/catch-all, our basement is home to my kids’ toys and books, as well as a media center with an ever-growing number of games, DVDs and Blu-rays. With multiple children in the house, stuff accumulates quickly, and before I knew it, our playroom was outfitted with pretty much the entire boy aisle of a toy store. Initially, this brought me great delight. But I quickly realized there was a trade-off.
As an influx of new items made their way into our home with each passing Christmas and birthday, I noticed my boys seemed more stifled in their ability to play. And it made perfect sense. With so many options available to them, it was only a matter of time before they dumped everything on the ground. At that point, the fun was gone, and the kids would take their leave. Night after night, battles ensued over cleanup time. My stress levels maxed out every time I walked through and saw the state of the room. And sadly, I noticed a spirit of entitlement creep in. Toys were disregarded carelessly, and my children assumed new ones would take their place at an upcoming holiday.
I found myself acutely aware of the downside of too much stuff when we began preparing to install new carpet in the basement. All the room’s contents found themselves boxed up and whisked upstairs to make room for the installers. Seeing all the boxes strewn about the living room and dining room was a wake-up call. Our need clearly went beyond better storage or organization. What we needed was a complete overhaul. At that moment, I made a commitment: The bulk of what had found its way upstairs would not be going back downstairs again after the new carpet was laid.
My suspicion that less is more was confirmed shortly after the carpet installers left. My boys hauled a giant tub of Duplos back down to the playroom while I went through and assessed the toy contents of boxes remaining upstairs. For the better part of a day, my three boys contentedly played together with the only toys available to them.
In the following days, I asked each of my children to name his three favorite toys, noting my own observations about what he gravitated toward. Not surprisingly, the favorites were open-ended toys they could reconstruct into new configurations again and again, such as train tracks and Legos. From there, we began slimming down the collection drastically. Everything with a sound box and batteries left. Some toys were transported to Grandma’s house for special play at her place. But more than three-quarters our toy collection went on to other homes through donation or online sales. Initially, my kids resisted this decision, but over time, all three recognized everyone was happier with less.
You could say the basement toy project launched a whole-house movement toward minimalism. The garage and closets received an overhaul. A later kitchen renovation provided yet another perfect opportunity to slim down unnecessary items. One of the biggest surprises in getting rid of so much stuff was how much richer life felt. And that’s when I realized I finally had a handle on what minimalism is about.
Maybe you, like I once did, believe minimalism, although popular, is some bizarre competition where he with the least stuff wins. In that sense, minimalism isn’t all that great. Thankfully, minimalism isn’t really about self-denial. At its core, minimalism is about aligning your time, space and energy with your core values, ensuring your lifestyle is in sync with your priorities. It means we realize everything comes at a cost, so it’s up to us to make sure we’re preserving what matters most. Because people’s core values differ, their interpretations of minimalism can look different too. Minimalism doesn’t mean that stuff is bad, but it does mean we should take a good hard look at what we have and ask ourselves questions like:
- Does this bring me joy?
- Do I use this with regularity?
- Am I holding on to this item only because one day I might actually use it?
- Does the sight of it cause stress?
For my family, asking these questions yielded some interesting insights. I personally hate doing excess laundry, and my whole family had far too many clothes (fewer clothes = problem solved). But as a family who puts a high value on reading, our having a large collection of books wasn’t a conflict of interest. In fact, it was worth buying extra bookshelves and providing space for future books.
Minimalism is so much more than clearing physical clutter. It’s also about giving breathing space to our budgets and schedules. We live in a culture that views consumerism and busyness like a badge of honor, but what’s to be won as a result? Debt? Exhaustion? In her article “How to Parent like a Minimalist,” Denaye Barahona, PhD, explains what children need more than any new toy or extracurricular activity. “Research shows us that childhood anxiety is a rising epidemic in this generation,” Barhona writes. “A child who grows up with anxiety is significantly more likely to be plagued with mental health challenges throughout their adult years. Do you know what our children need? Rest. Do you know what we need? Rest. Stop making rest a luxury—make rest a priority. The mental and physical health of your family depends on it.”
Lauren Greenlee is an aspiring minimalist who places a high value on reading books, making memories and living a life rich in relationships. She writes and raises her three boys in Olathe.