Since I started the Finding Freedom journey, I haven’t written any posts about teaching our kid’s about finance. It’s now week 14 of the FF journey. That’s a long time to go without talking about some of the strategies we’ve been employing to give our kid’s the skills they need to live their own version of freedom.
This week, we’re going to take a hard look at how we’ve been working to optimize our kids lives, by structuring their environment in a way that teaches them a ton about our family values and approach to spending, without ever saying a thing.
Don’t you love the idea of teaching moments where nothing needs to be said (or lectured!). Me too!
Why Less Is Absolutely More
There’s an unmistakable parenting trend towards giving our kids more. More experiences, more memories, more opportunities, more stuff. More of everything. And despite all my frugal tendencies, I fall victim to this mentality more often than I’d like to admit.
While it seems to be a cornerstone of human nature for us parents to want more for our children than we had, generally creating steady improvement generation after generation, this desire to provide more is creating an endless array of problems for our kids.
Specifically, setting them up for a lifetime of entitlement, dissatisfaction, and zero ability to manage their own money or needs. Just to name a few.
There’s a great book written by Barry Schwartz called The Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less. The book highlights the negative impacts on our adult society resulting from an overall explosion of consumer choices over the past decades. From analysis paralysis, to a fear of making the wrong choice, too much choice leads to indecision and often buyers remorse.
I feel this way every time I walk into a Winners, or any other discount type store. The vast expanse of endless items, all bursting off their racks because they’ve been completely overstuffed. Frankly – if it wasn’t a great place to buy my kids underwear, I’d never go there again.
But this feeling of overwhelm is also just as applicable for our kids. If not more so. While we might rationalize that because they love big eyed stuffies that 20 are better than 1 or 2 (grandparents – yes grandparents – I am also talking to you here!), we couldn’t be further from the truth.
When it’s 1 or 2, they will likely remain your child’s favourite toy, treasured and played with for hours. When it’s 20, that’s simply way too much choice and their “collection” is much more likely to find their home on a shelf or in a bin collecting dust.
Sure – they might line them up on occasion, but they won’t be able to decide which one to play with, and will more often than not revert to a different toy altogether.
Now apply that same sense of overwhelm to the entirety of your child’s room. How much stuff is really in there? Do you know – do they even know? Is it a sea of stuff that needs to be waded through? Are you buying endless “storage solutions” in an effort to create the appearance of order?
Author of Simplicity Parenting, Kim Payne, argues that all that stuff actually creates an environment of chaos around our kids, making them feel overwhelmed and lacking in structure, rather than loved and cared for.
And when you break it down – doesn’t that make sense?
How do you feel when your house is bursting at the seams? I’ve talked a lot in the past about the benefits of clearing clutter, and reducing our commitments in contributing to our overall mental well being. Doing so gives us the space to actually feel contentment with what we have, reduces overwhelm and stress, and affords the clarity to make strong financial and life decisions.
The exact same effect is true with our children, except that for them, it’s magnified.
A jam packed room, along with a jam packed schedule, is a recipe for an overstimulated child.
And constantly meeting their every need and whim is just as detrimental. Although we instinctively want to provide for all of our children’s needs (and many of their wants), by indulging our own desires to “be a good parent”, by doing so, we actually end up detracting from their opportunity for growth and contentment.
There is incredible value to not getting all of their want’s met immediately. Yearning for things, learning to save, and delaying gratification are essential life skills if we want our kids to experience contentment.
There is ALSO value to not immediately having every single need met, and experiencing natural consequences. If your child forgets to pack their lunch, do you really need to drive it to their school? Will they starve to death by missing a single meal? Perhaps it will be a more memorable lesson that they will take note of themselves, rather than you having to remind them a million and one times.
If your child insists that the don’t want to wear a jacket, do you really need to give them yours when they realize they are quite cold? I mean, you’re not going to endanger your child in -40 below weather, but keeping things reasonable, there is value in discomfort.
As pointed out in an excellent book, Gratitude & Kindness, written by child psychologists, Doctor’s Carla Fry and Lisa Ferrari, without ever encountering any degree of discomfort, how can we expect our children to develop resilience? And if every need is always met immediately, how can they learn to differentiate between their wants and needs?
So while it’s incredibly helpful to talk to our children about the concepts of needs vs. wants, delaying gratification, or making sound spending decisions – it’s even more valuable to build those foundational skills by intentionally building an environment in our homes that reflects those values.
By creating an environment that speaks our values for us, we simultaneously create a space where our children can feel a sense of security which allows them to venture confidently into area’s of discomfort and vulnerability, discovering their own grit and resilience. All while knowing they have a safe space and calm environment they can return to when needed.
Minimizing will also allow space in their lives. Space in which they can then have the clarity of mind to actively engage when we do have conversations about money management, gratitude, or myriad other parenting topics. Conversations which build upon the environmental foundation that we’ve mindfully laid.
We all know that our kids pay much closer attention to our actions than our words, so we need to be cautious as to how we convey our thoughts about money not just when it comes to our own spending decisions, but also how we spend and reward them.
Even the most frugal parents can often justify excessive spending when it comes to their children. I’m certainly not immune from it. In fact – there are many times when I’ve caught myself using my kids as an excuse simply to go out shopping. Or hunting on Craigslist for something they “need”, just so I can get the satisfaction of a good deal.
But if we espouse values of delaying gratification, limiting excessive purchases, and saving money – and then fill their rooms with endless toys, clothes and knick knacks that are far from necessities, what message are we really sending?
So Where To Start?
If you take a look around your child’s room, or at their weekly agenda, and find that things have gotten out of control, don’t despair. There’s a lot you can do to quickly create a calm environment for your child to thrive.
First off – go through everything in their room when they aren’t there. It may seem like a good idea to get them on board, but trust me, do this part without them present. Pack up anything that isn’t one of their favourites. If they have multiples of any toy, leave only 1 or 2. Pick out their favourite books, and pack up the rest.
Do this multiple times if need be, until your child’s room has a sense of calm. Fill the storage bins and put them out of sight.
Seriously, just wait. See how your child reacts. If they ask about their toys, just tell them that you’ve packed some up for a bit so that they can have more room to play with their favourite toys. Then see if they EVER ask about them again.
Odds are, after the initial questions, they will not only lose interest in the excess, they will thrive in the new environment of simplicity. Once you’re satisfied that there’s nothing stowed away that truly is a favourite belonging, sell it online, donate it, or have a garage sale and get that stuff out of the house.
I remember doing this to our oldest’s room many years ago, and when he came home he looked around in surprise, then thanked me for cleaning his room so nicely. Seriously – he thanked me. Over the following weeks he commented multiple times that he loved how organized his room felt, and how much easier it was for him to keep it clean and tidy.
I was taken aback to put it mildly. But the experience has solidified my intention to regularly sweep my kids rooms, and make sure they remain a place of calm. A place where they can breathe, feel relaxed, and sleep soundly.
Once you’ve tackled their room and/or play area’s – do the exact same thing to their schedule. Pick their favourite activities, and shed the rest. Build in downtime for your kids, and for your family as a whole. Build in evenings and weekend mornings where there is nothing to do and nowhere to be. Do it intentionally and mindfully. There will be an adjustment period – but I guarantee that everyone in the family will benefit from it.
We’ve been working on this concept for several years, and when I look back on the gains we’ve made over that period, my motivation to continue to invest in this concept of less is always renewed.
The Bottom Line
Those intentional down times afford the opportunity for a board game to break out, to spontaneously watch a family movie together, cook dinner as a family, make cookies, read a book together, or simply play trucks, lego’s or Nerf wars.
Those are the opportunities of creativity, space, and simplicity in which children thrive. In which the demands of our over-scheduled society melt away. Where there is no urgency.
The lessons our kids will learn from an intentionally built environment of less, and a simplified schedule are immense. The benefits experienced as a family are immeasurable. And the foundation of values, contentment and life skills we will build for our children, all without saying a word……….priceless.