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How to Teach and Model Minimalism with your Family

headshot of Dara Zycherman in natural background.

Dara Zycherman is the owner of Less Equals More, a lifestyle consultancy that helps people create organized, minimalist spaces in their homes and offices with a focus on sustainability and mindfulness. She is a TEDx speaker, and has presented on these topics at the Austin Public Library, Capital One Cafe, Jewish Community Center, WeWork, and Impact Hub. To further her desire to educate and inspire, she launched the Words for Wednesday podcast and publishes a blog. Additionally, she started the Meaningful Minimalism Meetup group in Austin, TX to build community around living more simply.

Imagining the Future of “Stuff” 

Take a moment to visualize the spaces you share with your family and your teen’s room. What kind of “stuff” makes you think of your teen? 

Now, let’s fast forward a bit. Imagine that your teen is a young adult who no longer lives at home. I know it’s tough to think about when your kids seem to grow up too fast as it is, but this brief exercise can be revealing.

That room your child used to occupy is dormant while the artifacts of their youth are scattered about your home. Maybe you don’t notice these objects. Or perhaps the last time they visited, you were reluctant when they started filling a bag of items to remove or trash. Or maybe you feel a bit like a storage unit and hope they pack up their items soon so you can use their former room for another purpose.

If you take the time now to teach your children and teens about the value of their possessions, organization, and minimalism, you can avoid these painful experiences in the future.

Teaching Teens About Minimalism 

Children and teens develop their habits around valuing (or not valuing) stuff as they grow up. As with many personality traits, they may seem like a spitting image of you or polar opposites. Either way, you have an opportunity to teach them how to view and interact with material items.

Many of my clients talk about things that they’ve just always had, and that’s why they keep them. Or they feel guilty for getting rid of items their parents  (or other relatives) either bought them or passed down. They’ve often adopted gift-giving mores from their parents as well. Their organizing habits have also evolved over time but they now feel stuck. Many even struggle with basic personal finance management, having missed out on clear guidance from their parents.

Now’s the time to help teens navigate questions of value and support them in understanding the importance of organization. Here are some tips and language to begin the conversation around minimalism:

  • Things are just things; it’s the immaterial that has the truest value.
  • Items like clothing can help you develop your identity and display your creativity. But it’s also important to develop your personality from the inside.
  • Saving is valuable! Spending money can be fun and, in some cases, necessary. However, saving can fund a wide range of goals and experiences you have for your future.
  • You never have to keep items from other family members just because you’d feel guilty about donating them.  
  • Keeping your things organized is a way of showing respect for the items themselves. If you are going to choose to have something, you can show your gratitude this way.
  • Organizing items will help you stay on top of school work and make it easier to find things when you need them. This habit offers life skills that will improve your work on the job and when you live independently in the future.
  • Managing money is crucial. The basic principle of saving a little bit each month can have a big effect by the end of the year. (Depending on their age, add in a lesson about compounding interest!)
  • You don’t need to buy birthday presents for family or friends. And for the holidays, we’re going to spend time together and create traditions that are less stressful and less dependent on material items. (Check out my TEDx talk about The Darker Side of Gift Giving for more information on this topic!)
  • Organizing tools are available to you, including organizers to manage your time (ex. calendars and planners), and we can explore them together!

Minimalism by Example

These conversations can have a lasting impact. But words are just words and actions must be taken for change to happen. It’s key that your children and teens see you lead by example. One way to model minimalism is to initiate quarterly home organizing time as a family. Everyone will clear out unneeded items. Set up donation bags, bins for recycling, trash bags, a box for items that need repair, and items to give to others you know. Teens should work in both their rooms and common spaces. Regularly scheduled organization time will help teens build new habits. Plus, by doing this regularly, it won’t seem like such an ominous task. Furthermore, you’ll get your organizing done too!

Let’s go back to the image of your teen’s vacant bedroom…

Most young adults, kids, and parents struggle with how to handle all the leftover “stuff” post-moveout. Sometimes this is by default because the family has enough room to keep their stuff and kids tend to move to more temporary and smaller spaces, sometimes leaving items behind for decades. It’s my hope that your family can get ahead of this challenge by thinking ahead together now. As you help teen address their stuff each year, they will be moving forward and building positive values and habits around organization that will enrich their lives now and in the future.

I know this can be a lot to address, especially if you struggle with organization, emotional attachment to your stuff, or have a lot of stuff yourself. You are not alone in this challenge. The easiest way to start is one step at a time. As a first step, I recommend signing up for my monthly newsletter to receive my FREE e-book- How to Simplify: the Less Equals More Introductory Guide. Here, I outline a plan of action and provide resources you’ll need along the way. You CAN get ahead now.

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