After a move to the suburbs, a reckoning
By Jennifer Ghymn
Before my daughter came along, my husband and I were city folk living in tiny, 500-square-feet apartments. We only had room for the basics, and if something was purchased, then something else had to go. Having less clutter allowed us to make the most of what we had, and we lived in the present, spending time on priorities like traveling, meeting friends and taking walks. Cleaning up only took 15 minutes. We were happy living with less.
Today, we live in a 2,500-square-foot home in the suburbs.
We moved for a job, but we bought the house because we wanted to raise a family. Somehow, we interpreted having a child as needing to acquire more stuff, needing more space to fill with stuff, and buying enough stuff to accommodate what we perceived would be our child’s needs.
What I’ve come to understand is that an extra bouncy seat, an electric swing and a surplus of swaddle blankets just weren’t necessary for survival in my child’s first year of life. Going overboard was a coping mechanism for my insecurities as a new parent. Having the stuff meant being prepared for the crying or uncertainty that often comes with babies. Occupying her immediate needs with an object or motorized distraction helped settle my nerves when I felt like my own parenting reservoir was not enough.
But now, my living room is a landscape of stuffed animals and board books. I’m not proud. The chaotic clutter stresses me out.
So as her fourth birthday approaches, I take pause in evaluating this surplus of plastic, paper and battery-operated toys that fills our home. I know what it feels like to live with less. And I want that for her. She can learn from my mistakes.
Even as I approach this project, I know it will be easier to tempt or—ahem—bribe my daughter with a Hatchimal or tutu. (I didn’t realize that her first advertising campaign was me trying to sell her on the benefits of strawberry-flavored Mickey Mouse toothpaste. “Of course you want to brush with Mickey! He gets your teeth nice and clean.”) But I won’t. I’m betting on her maturing behavior to follow my lead.
She is now at an age where we can talk about behaviors instead of redirecting emotions. “Before we can play outside, we must put away our things.” For the most part she listens and tidies up. I will cheerfully help and show her how proud I am of our small but satisfying accomplishment. Sometimes enthusiasm and a positive attitude are enough motivation to reward behavior. However, when push comes to shove, I find that a song and dance routine turns chore into fun.
We are going to go through the exercise of purging the excess together. We can experience as a family the joy of giving away toys, clothes or books to those who may need it. For kids—for my daughter—having less will mean using creativity and imagination to explore, play and be resourceful. I want to teach her that the world is full of endless possibilities.
And I want her to know that minimalism is more than just a donation of used possessions. It’s prioritizing what’s essential in life, like time together to just laugh and be and to make room for new discoveries together.
Parenting has evolved from just managing the physical needs of a baby and toddler to raising a child into a proper human being. The only thing I want to collect with her is memories.
Jennifer Ghymn is a writer, digital marketer and intentional tourist living in Reading, Pa. Learn more at theinterculture.com.