How to Tame Materialism with Your Kids


Tia has been using the Declutter Calendar and wants to know how to relate a simple living lifestyle to children.

She feels bad telling her 8 year old daughter, "No, you have enough stuff."

Choosing how you spend

I find children understand better about simple living than adults do sometimes. Adults want to have it all, but children understand there are trade-offs.

Letting them think that you can’t afford things or that they have too much stuff, gives kids a lack mindset. All they see is what they want. And want it even more.

You want to teach them that you choose to spend money in a better way.

You can tell them instead of buying stuff, you are saving money for a vacation or so you can spend more time with them or for a family outing. Most kids would rather have your time anyway. And actually spend that time with the kids.

"I see you want this computer game, but actually I was saving up money to get us swim passes to the local pool. This computer game would be 5 months of swimming."


Ask what they like about what they were looking at and see if you can meet their want in a different way – trading with a friend, creating something at home, renting, or going to Goodwill. They might have alternative ideas as well.

You can also allow kids to do extra work to make money to buy things themselves. You will be amazed at how many times they decide it isn’t worth it when you aren’t handing it to them. If kids complain that all their friends have something, encourage them to play with it at their friend’s house. Let them know other families spend money different ways and this is why you spend the way you do.

Encourage individuality

I also have talked about brand names with the kids since they were little. Talking incredulously that people would buy $200 jeans and $300 purses when there are so many other things and experiences we can buy. Now that they are in high school, neither are interested in the "in" designer clothes. We also talk about being themselves instead of copying other people. (Which meant 2 years of mismatched socks for my daughter as she expressed her individuality.)

1 in, 1 out rule

Make it automatic when they get something new to get rid of something similar. And encourage them to think about kids that might not have as much as they do, that will appreciate what they let go.

Limit TV watching

Keep an eye on TV watching as well. When my kids were younger they rarely watched TV. We had an old TV with an antenna that showed 3 fuzzy channels. So we had videos instead. They never watched Nickelodeon or the Disney channel so they weren’t exposed to many commercials urging them to buy. Even now, if they watch TV it is recorded and they fast forward through the commercials. Half the time they can’t even think of what they want for Christmas or their birthdays.

When you do run across advertising ask your kids what the ads are trying to sell them and remind them that they are too smart to fall for it.

Don’t always take them shopping with you where they can ooo and ahh over things.  And make sure you don’t buy things when they whine. Just look at them, raise your eyebrows and say,

                                           "Do you really think that is going to work?"

Keep saying it until they give up.

Teach about the environment

Many kids are also interested in the environmental aspects of minimal living. Show them how we live our life affects the environment and even people around the world. Get them involved in household buying decisions so you can share how you make decisions based on values.

Talk abundance

Remind them how blessed they are to have a warm place to live, good food, or point out beautiful things in nature when you see them. Keep it casual, not preachy. Keep looking for things that you are thankful for. Give kids their own gratitude journals to fill out as a family weekly.

Encourage them to savor what they have and take care of things well, countering a throw-away society. Volunteer with them at places for people that have little.

Show them the joy of creating things instead of buying them: decorations, gifts, clothes. What other ideas do you have for taming materialism with kids?

Simple living is not about not having, it’s about choosing what you have and what you do. The more you teach your kids how to make those decisions based on values instead of feelings of want, the better they will be in the future.

Photo credits: Ninjapoodles, Aaron Escobar, Peasap

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