It only takes about .7 of a second to realize that we live in a cluttered world. We’re bombarded with messaging on all sides, and it’s not just from billboards or signs outside of our homes anymore. It’s constant. Each time we place our thumbprint on that little circle and enter the online world, we’re being pummelled with, not only ads for things we should have so our lives can be infinitely better, but ideas, ways of thinking, and strong opinions coming at us from every side.
There are days I find this hard to navigate, even as an adult. I can’t imagine the force of it on our young children’s minds, and even more so on our teens – given the amount of time many of them spend immersed in online activities.
I was driving with my son, who was very young at the time, and he was just in the phase of putting letters together to make words. C-A-T, cat. H-A-T, hat. You know the drill. He was buckled snugly in the back seat and, for the first time in his little life, the signs and ads and all of the words whizzing passed us as we drove, made sense in his head. “Mom!” he cried from the back seat, “I can’t make the words stop. Turn it off!”
Right. I’d never thought about it just like that before. But now, suddenly, all of the words he could once ignore were coming alive to him and it felt like overload. It felt a bit scary, even, when he realized he couldn’t make it stop. There was no way to go back to the blissful days of ignoring it all.
It stuck with me long past that day. Our world is full of clutter. Every which way our children turn there is hype about trinkets and toys. There are promotions about what will make them feel a certain way. There are concepts and conclusions being hurled at them on repeat at the rate of rapid fire. They hardly have time to decide what they think or feel about a thing before a new one is being launched their way.
It was then I decided our home would be different. Our home would not be a place of clutter, of bombardment, of excess and overstimulation. It’s not how I like to feel and so, I could only presume, it’s not how a small child would like to feel either.
It was oh-so-many moons ago that we adopted a form of minimalism. I know it’s all trendy and hype just now to use the word, but I think it goes so far beyond having fewer things and white walls (though we do love that, too!) . Rather, for us, it represents the idea minimal art first made its stand on. As minimal art made it’s way into the world, it was pushing back against the masses of abstract expressionism and the gaudy nature that can come from decorativeness and instead said – stop it! It pushed art back to the very basics – simplification of form, flat colour, and a very ordinary use of geometric shapes and objects.
We did the same in our home. We said, stop it! Stop telling me that every wall needs to be full, every shelf cluttered, every square inch covered by something some magazine or tv commercial told me I needed to have. Or even worse, things we felt defined us. As though our choice of trinket on the shelf said something about who we were as people. As if our toilet brush was a symbol of our very character. (I’m a stainless steel, while you’re a plastic red)
We began to strip things back and simplify. Choosing only a few of our very favourite pieces of art. Having empty space on shelves and in closets. Having clothes in our closet we would actually wear often. Having food that was delicious and good for us. We minimized the constant need for big choices all around us.
We did the same for our kids. We offered a few toys they loved and the rest got donated away. Turns out, fewer options led to more play, at least for our kids. When they weren’t overwhelmed by choices, when they didn’t have the opportunity to hop from thing to thing to thing the second they got bored, it changed their play.
As our kids grew we did the same for their devices. Yes, we understood they could get new free game apps on their iPod every single day (multiple times a day) but we didn’t like what it was fostering. The quick turnover of games meant the second they were bored with one thing they could find something new and exciting to stimulate them. It seemed dangerous. Especially to a family who values long term commitment.
Setting the tone in our homes is an important part of our role as parents. We certainly can’t control all of the things which smack our kids in the face as they’re walking through the mall. But we do get to determine what the mood is within our walls.
We want our home to feel like a place of calm. A place where our senses can take a breather and rest. We want our things in our home to lead to moments filled with animated conversation – this can’t happen for us if the tv is always on. We want the books and blankets near every place you sit to encourage curling up and getting whisked away into an imaginary land. We want the choices here to reflect our values and to foster the things we encourage in our kids.
We don’t encourage excess, overstimulation, a buffet of choices, hopping from one thing to the next on a whim or entertainment that robs our own imaginative minds.
We want creativity and often the best forms of it come from a bit of boredom. We want commitment to a craft, not simply giving up and moving on when it gets hard. We want to use our minds for critical thinking instead of just soaking up what the world says.
I don’t know if it’s worked exactly how we thought it would and certainly there are moments of chaos that happen in a simplified home. But I also know if we hadn’t done this there would never have been a boy curled up with a book beside me this morning, another strumming a guitar for hours on end, or yet another coming up with some magical culinary delights. (that smell delish!)
It’s also reinforced to our kids, we don’t always get right away or just because. They’ve learned to wait on things and see if they really matter to them before making a purchase. They’ve seen how quickly fads come and go and have been thankful for our minimalist approach at things and the money it’s saved them in the long run.
Minimalism isn’t everything. In fact, it’s not even the thing. What’s important is figuring out the values, the character traits, the activities, the mood and tones that are important to you and finding ways to bring them about instead of falling prey to whims and trends.
If you like this idea, start by making two lists.
- List 3 things you want to happen in your home. (music, reading, creativity, games, cooking, exercise – whatever is important to you)
- List 3 character traits you want to see develop in your kids. (kindness, perseverance, strength, commitment, hospitality – again, whatever is important to you)
Now think for a time on how these two work together and what you can do/change/foster in your home to bring them about. If you want perseverance – endless choices won’t bring it about. If you want creativity – gaming won’t foster that.
If you have any questions or comments about ways you do this in your home – I’d love to hear!