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Challenge: Gratitude & Giving

Want grateful kids? Consider owning less.

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“My kids have too much stuff.”

I have spoken to countless parents on the lifestyle of minimalism. I have promoted the truth that there is more joy to be found in owning less than we can ever find pursing more in every way possible for the last ten years.

The complaint above, that our children’s clutter is the problem, almost always gets the ball rolling during any discussion on this topic. And it’s certainly not a complaint entirely unwarranted.

  • The average 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily.
  • 3.1% of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally.
  • In the United States, we spend $371 per child annually on toys. In the UK, the dollar amount is closer to $450.

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So I get it, our kids have stuff. Too much. But as parents, we too often put the blame for this reality on the wrong person. We would do our kids a favor by minimizing their possessions, but we would everyone a favor by getting rid of ours first.

Children today have lots of toys and clothes and video games and crafts. But let’s remember, they aren’t the ones with the steady paychecks and they didn’t organize their last birthday party. You do, and you did.

If there are too many toys in your playroom, you put them there—or, at the very least, you allowed them to stay.

Often times, our kids are simply following our lead. When the average American home contains 300,000 items, how upset should we really get that our child owns 238 toys? And when 33% of us can’t fit both cars in our double-garages, how unreasonable is it to assume our child will fill their art and craft drawer to overflowing?

In a society that encourages consumerism at every turn, what else should we expect? Our children are living the life we model for them. Our houses are too full of stuff and these are the spaces that our children are learning to define as normal.

I sometimes wonder what the three most common words are in American homes. Is it “I love you?” Or, is it…

“It’s on sale!”

“I want that!”

“Watch this ad.”

Or “Let’s go shopping!”

Our children are watching us closely. Whether we like it or not, they are soaking up values from us as parents about how to live, how to work, how to achieve significance, how to spend money, and what to pursue with the one life we have to live. And if we, as parents, are constantly desiring and accumulating things we don’t need, why would we expect anything else from our kids?

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We live in a society that breeds discontent by defining the American Dream as owning bigger homes, nicer cars, and fuller closets. Advertisers foster this sense of dissatisfaction by promising greater happiness with their products. And too often, we foolishly fall into their trap without realizing it.

But our hearts long for higher attributes. We desire contentment, generosity, and gratitude to flourish in our souls. We want our lives to be described by those words–and we seek to pass on those values into the hearts of our children. But it is difficult to practice gratitude for the things we have if we are constantly desiring the things we don’t.

If our closets are stuffed full to the brim, our kids will do the same with their toybox. If we’re constantly clicking to ship on Amazon, they’ll be constantly looking for new things to buy online too. And if we’re in Target filling our carts full of stuff, they’ll be quick to throw a tantrum wanting to throw their own items in the cart.

Want to do yourself and your child a favor? Own less stuff. Declutter your home. This change in your home and lifestyle will benefit them (and you) both now and in the future.

Intentionally owning less is a lifestyle trend growing in every area of the country, among every age group because of the benefit it provides to those who choose to own less and the practices that begin to emerge because of it.

Those who minimize their possessions find more money, time, and energy for things that matter most. It is a life with less stress, more calm, more freedom, and less burden. Minimalism frees people to pursue their passion, however they choose to define it. Equally important, it models a lifestyle for our children that will set them up for success in life.

Our kids need to learn the value of boundaries. If we don’t give them a sense of how much is too much, they’ll just keep wanting more and more. If we let them grow up without considering the downsides of overaccumulation, we could be dooming them to repeat the errors that are so common in our world today.

On the other hand, when we model and guide our children to establish healthy boundaries in regards to the things they own, we open them up to a life of gratitude and generosity. When we begin the practice early of donating our unused tools and toys to those in need, it becomes a natural way to live for them. When we teach our children that our money and time can be worth more than the relentless pursuit of material possessions, we prepare them for a lifetime of giving themselves to others.

Do you want to spare your kids the financial and emotional stress that comes from overspending and having too much stuff and living a life entirely focused on themselves? Model that life for them now.

But keep in mind, this modeling doesn’t begin by removing all their clutter from your home. It begins by removing yours.

Joshua Becker is the Founder and Editor of Becoming Minimalist, a website that reaches more than 1 million readers each month inspiring people to live more by owning less. He is a national bestselling author and his new book The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life is available now.

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