Being present at all times with my children is an elusive goal. There are times when I am 100 percent in the moment with my kids, but there are other times when I have difficulty switching my focus from a work project to playing with PlayDoh with my girls. There’s too much going on in our house, too many events scheduled, and too much time wasted on things that aren’t actually that important to us. That's why I recently decided to try minimalist parenting for a week, and I'm never going back.
As defined by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest's book Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less, minimalist parenting parenting style. What really grabbed my attention was the way the authors describe minimalist parenting as an approach that allows families to be aware of their personal values and priorities and “identify the activities, stuff, information, and people that truly merit space in your life.” I especially liked the idea of actively editing out all the distractions in our busy lives to make room for the things that really mattered to us. I was ready to jump in and start sifting through the noise.
Day 1: Decluttering
Reducing the clutter in our house is a constant battle. I’m familiar with the KonMari method, which says you should throw away anything that doesn't give you joy, and honestly, most of my things do, so I have trouble parting with them. But I do not like clutter one bit, so when I'm overwhelmed by all the things we have, I just start putting things in bags to either toss or give away. Toys, clothes, shoes, baby items, stuffed animals — when I get in my decluttering mode, none of these are safe from being thrown out.
Minimalist parenting means knowing yourself and your parenting values. Clutter can really trigger my anxiety, which leads to losing my patience and snapping at my girls if they don’t clean up, and I realized that while I value raising children who are self-sufficient and clean up their own things, I value a decluttered and harmonious household more.
Since my anxiety tends to build throughout the week as more and more items crowd our play room and kitchen areas, I decided to be proactive and declutter these places. So I cleaned up the countertops and packed toy shelves, and I let my family know to keep these areas clear.
Day 2: Spending Wisely
My little girls love Mini Melissa shoes. Love them! I made the mistake of taking them with me to Nordstrom Rack to purchase running shoes for my daughter, and of course my little one immediately found a pair of Mini Melissas and slid her feet into a pair. As I tried to get my older daughter to focus on picking out a pair of Sauconys, she pulled another pair of red Mini Melissas from the rack and asked me to please buy these instead.
For a moment, I did consider buying the shoes. But then I asked myself if purchasing them would decrease my long-term stress and increase my long-term joy, and the answer was no.
One of the primary tenets of minimalist parenting (and minimalism in general) is frugality. Still, for a moment, I did consider buying the shoes. After all, they were half-price, and the girls have been asking for them for months. But then I asked myself if purchasing them would decrease my long-term stress and increase my long-term joy, and the answer was no. Yes, walking out in those shoes would have made my daughters really happy. But they did not need them. My oldest daughter needed running shoes, and there was no way she could wear the Mini Melissas at school. So I said no and bought the Sauconys.
I took my daughter aside, gave her a hug, and explained that we came to buy shoes that she needed for school, so she could run on the playground without hurting her toes. It was tough, but I knew it was the right choice.
Day 3: Streamlining Recreation
If I had it my way, my 4-year-old would be in several activities and classes that force her to get out of her comfort zone and find new interests, such as art, music, and sports. But that wouldn't be fair to her, or to me. I'd never want to force her to do something that she didn't want to do (plus I'd be the one who would have to deal with her crying and whining on the drive to the class). My girl knows what she likes, and she won’t budge unless something piques her interest.
While my daughter's resistance to trying new activities has always been a source of frustration to me, one of the main principles of minimalist parenting is tuning into your child's interests and needs. So instead of enrolling her in activities I wanted her to do, I sat down and asked her what she wanted to do this summer. Soccer? No. Baseball? No. Hip-hop? No. Instead, she picked three activities that she wanted to try out: tap dance, gymnastics and ballet. Since it’s summer and each class fit into her schedule, I agreed to all three.
Days 4 & 5: Prioritizing Self-Care
Minimalist Parenting provides a lot of tips on how to practice self-care, and I was 100 percent into this. My husband and I made sure to make time to go to the gym a few nights this week, because working out helps destress us after a day at the office. The kids enjoy the daycare at the gym, so not only does working out give us the time we need to focus on ourselves, but it also allows the girls to interact with other kids. Both of us were also able to go out without the girls to attend my cousin’s birthday celebration, which was so much fun.
Sometimes, I’ll cancel plans or rush through a visit with friends because I feel guilty that I’m not spending my free time with the girls. But not this week.
Sometimes, I’ll cancel plans or rush through a visit with friends because I feel guilty that I’m not spending my free time with the girls. But not this week. I went out with my sister-in-law and tried not to worry about spending too much time away from my kids. I just enjoyed my time with my sister-in-law and felt incredibly relaxed and reinvigorated when I reunited with my girls that afternoon.
Days 5 & 6: Managing Time
As a working mom, I often feel as though I have to take advantage of any time I get to spend with my girls. I’ll schedule play dates after work and on the weekends to ensure my daughters get time to interact with their friends, and sometimes I'll try to carve out time to see my own friends as well. While I love these afternoons, they can be exhausting; sometimes, I just need to go home and relax. But it is difficult to say no to get-togethers when you have two extroverted daughters who thrive on interacting with their friends.
The most important part of minimalist parenting is learning how to say no.
Per the book's advice, this week I made sure to re-evaluate my use of time and prioritize how I doled out those precious free hours to myself. Since we had a play date scheduled for Friday, I didn’t plan any other outings or plan any other activities, so we had the space to set our own schedule. It was hard for me to not make plans the way I normally would, because I worried I might offend my friends, but I did it.
For the most part, our afternoons were open. Because there was no added pressure of having to be somewhere, we baked cupcakes, had a dance party, played with the neighborhood cat, went to a concert in the park, and flew a kite. I also put away my phone and did not check emails or texts once while I was at home, so I could totally focus on my girls and be in the moment with them.
The most important part of minimalist parenting is learning how to say no, and that went a long way for me. There are so many times when I say yes to things or focus on activities that don’t warrant my time, mostly because I feel impolite if I turn invitations down. But saying no is so crucial to my mental health and my family's well-being.
I absolutely loved minimalist parenting. While there will always be everyday stressors that I’ll have to learn to deal with, like chores, work, and a messy house, this parenting style has taught me how to focus on what’s important in the moment, and I'm so grateful for that.