This is a guest post from Carmen Bolanos, who regularly writes on travel and parenting over at NuNomad.com. She is currently nomading in Oaxaca, Mexico, with her three daughters who in her own words, “constantly amaze me with their art, music and enthusiasm for life.”
We are looking ahead, as is one of the first mandates given to us as chiefs, to make sure [that] every decision we make relates to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come, and that is the basis by which we make decisions in council. We consider: Will this be to the benefit of the seventh generation? This is a guideline.
– an Iroquois chief quoted by Jeremy Rifkin in Time Wars
Minimalist and frugal lifestyles are all the rage right now. It’s such a refreshing turn-around from the 80’s up-and-coming yuppy mindset and sorely needed not only by our struggling planet, but also by our souls, which I believe have always yearned for something deeper than the latest BMW.
Personally, I have always been a minimalist type. I’m not a shopper and have been known to hold on to shoes until they’re worn through and my feet are touching the street. Not for any real philosophical reason – it’s just who I am.
What a shock when my husband and I started our family and the arrival of our dear first baby was accompanied by a hurricane of accompanying stuff! Not only the necessities of diapers and t-shirts, but mountains of accessories, gadgets, toys … you name it. Little did we know that having a child in the U.S. would mean a constant barrage of media marketing directly to our children as soon as they were able to sit up.
So, how do we ensure that our values of a minimalist lifestyle and frugality are passed on through our children when mass media and the economic machine would love to have it otherwise? How can we support minimalism and frugality as values to be passed on through generations and not let them die out as the latest trend?
Having been in the process of raising our three daughters for 17 years now, here is a list of strategies that have worked for our family:
- Turn off the media – If I could give only one piece of advice it would be this one. Your best intentions and teachings will be constantly thwarted if your children are bombarded by every marketing ploy known to modern man. Your kids won’t crave the latest gadget, because they might not even realize it exists. You may be amazed at Christmas when your kid asks for, “I don’t know, maybe a book?” Yes – really. It actually happened to us!
- Limit electronics – While electronics don’t necessarily advertise to kids, they do have an impact on their attention spans. In addition, overuse may adversely affect their relationships with other human beings and their ability to enjoy other forms of activity, especially quality physical activity. If you want a child who will value a simple lifestyle, they will need to be able to find joy in simple activities, such as playing outside, playing board games, and engaging in imaginative games with their friends.
- Talk with your loved ones about your values –When you are trying to raise a child in a minimalist lifestyle it can be frustrating to receive the latest electronic or cheap plastic gadget from loved ones each Christmas and birthday. Sit down and discuss your values with your family and friends and let them know that while you appreciate their gestures of generosity, simpler gifts may help maintain consistency. You may want to gently provided specific examples. “You know, Sally really enjoys playing with puzzles and outdoor games – so if you find something like that, she’d love it. Video games really don’t get used that much.”
- Socialize with like-minded families – Our children are just as vulnerable to peer pressure as we were. It’s hard being the only kid who doesn’t have the latest Xbox if everyone you know does. If you make the choice to live a minimalist lifestyle, surround yourself with like-minded families. You will find that your child has more fun playing with other kids who understand their type of play and can engage in it fully. Also, they won’t feel like oddballs. You’re asking them to be a part of a counter-culture. Show them that they’re not alone by supplying them with community!
- Have fun – Frugality isn’t about deprivation. Show your kids why you value this lifestyle by making it as fun as possible. Fill your time with activities that they’ll enjoy. Camping, going to parks, playing hide and seek, creating a puppet show, baking together, traveling … the list of what you can do is only limited by your imagination.
- Show what you can do – Research shows time and again that modeling is the most powerful teacher. Your children will model their behavior after yours. Show your kids how you live out your values by letting them watch you and take part in your activities. They will follow in your footsteps.
- Instill a sense of service – A great mind-shift can happen when we stop thinking about what we don’t have and begin thinking about how we can help others. Consider spending time each week or month in some sort of service work with your kids. They will learn a lot about our society, will gain appreciation for what they have and will feel great about what they’ve done.
- Enjoy a sense of purpose – As human beings, we derive happiness from purposeful activity. This has been one of the root concepts behind Montessori education. We want to be useful and to feel a sense of accomplishment. Let your children experience this by engaging in projects, building, creating, or working through problems.
My suggestions here may seem difficult. I’ll be honest in that they will require more hands-on, active parenting. They’ll also require a willingness to buck a system that will push very hard for compliance. However, the rewards will be great. What you will get in return will be engaged, enthusiastic and creative children, who will amaze you with what they can accomplish – children who are ready to carry on our values to the next generations.
Baker’s Note: After spending the time on the road that we did with Milligan, I can really appreciate the permanent lifestyle that Carmen is leading with her daughters. While Milli is only approaching two, we are hoping to instill similar values in her as she ages!
Any of you parents have other tips on how to raise frugal kids?