While it feels like changing your lifestyle might only make a tiny impact, every little bit does count. As with any revolution, you don’t need everyone to make the change happen — you just need enough people.
Step 1: Understand and embrace the concept of living with enough. Start by adjusting the way you regard your belongings so that you think in terms of need versus want. Donate, recycle, and sell the things you can do without. “Most of us are drowning in stuff — hence the proliferation of magazines and books on decluttering,” says Leslie Garrett, mom of three and author of The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World. “I’m a pack rat, so I know it’s not always easy,” Garrett continues, “but thinking before you bring something home is a huge step in the right direction.”
Step 2: Teach your child to embrace the concept of enough. The most organic way to communicate your values to your child is to model those behaviors and attitudes yourself. But there will be plenty of times when you’ll need to — and should — explain your lifestyle choices. It can be difficult to get your child to understand why her friends’ families have or do things that hers doesn’t. “A huge moment came in my oldest child’s life when I pointed out to her that the kids in TV commercials were being paid to act like they were having fun,” Garrett says. “She was outraged! Kids are smart, and they hate to feel duped.” Teaching your child to be a wise consumer is key. It gives her power and self-confidence.
Explain that the way you live is a choice that you all make in order to protect your family and the planet. Talking about big ideas with your child from a young age can empower him. Ask the deeper questions: Is it more important to spend time together or to spend time playing a video game? How can you tell if something you’re thinking of buying is made to last?
Of course, you’ll hit plenty of bumps in the child-rearing road. “It’s natural for young children to want things they see in stores or on TV. They have poor impulse control,” says Dr. Harvey Karp, a nationally renowned child development specialist and author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block. “But you can teach them delayed gratification, which will give them a foundation for recognizing what’s of true value in their lives.”
Karp continues, “Even a 2-year-old can learn that there will be thousands of things she’ll want but won’t get — but that it doesn’t matter as long as she gets the ultimate consolation prize: the loving, respectful attention of her family.” (Find more about delayed gratification here.)
Karp recommends sharing memories with your child about a time you wanted something that you couldn’t have and how it turned out for the better. You might read stories and articles together about people in other parts of the world who live happily with much less. If you’re put on the spot when your child begs for something at a store, remind her of other things she “had to have” that she no longer uses.
Step 3: Put theory into practice. These simple actions set your family on the path toward enough is enough:
- Enact a one-for-one rule. For every item you bring home, you must donate or sell one that you already own.
- Give experiences — like a trip to the museum — instead of material goods — as gifts and rewards. (Find specific ideas here.)
- Talk with your child about what she sees in commercials and on TV. Explain that the point of a commercial is to make her desire an item whether she needs it or not.
- Clean a closet. Start small with the weeding-out process, and keep it manageable. Perhaps tackle one cabinet or shelf each weekend.
- Choose a few family mantras together to keep yourselves on the course like, “The less luggage you have to carry, the easier it is to enjoy the journey,” or “Less is more.”
- Put faith in your decisions. Whether out of guilt, exhaustion, or a sense that their kids deserve “more” than they had in their own childhoods, many parents give in to buying stuff they don’t need. What kids really need, says Garrett, is reassurance that they are not the sum of their possessions. They need to live a rich life that’s focused on what truly matters.
Unsure where to toss your stuff? We all know where the bottles and cans go. Here’s how to recycle other items as you pare down to just enough.