Minimalist Parenting: A Guide to Reducing Excess & Beating Overwhelm

Abigail Blank - The Upside Blog |

by | Updated: January 5th, 2018 | Read time: 4 minutes

In the past decade or so of child rearing, we’ve heard a lot about “helicopter parenting,” which refers to parents who hover over their child’s every move in an effort to prevent illness, injury or emotional distress. Society eventually pegged these overprotective parents as the source of the “everyone gets a trophy” era of parenting, claiming they inhibit the growth of their children, leaving them wholly unprepared for adulthood.

Basically, Generation X has been blamed for creating a bunch of whiners out of their millennial children. Now, this demonization may be a tad bit extreme. Leaving arguments about millennials aside, every older generation in the history of humanity has called the younger generation a bunch of lazy, good-for-nothing loafers, and it’s typically entirely baseless.

That being said, the backlash against helicopter parenting has also spurred extreme alternatives, including the unschooling movement and free-range parenting, which are completely unconventional and involve little to no structure. There is an in between, though; it’s how many of us grew up and what many parents are making a conscious effort to return to in this eternal social experiment of child rearing. Since we like to attach a name to everything these days, this happy medium is now being called minimalist parenting.

Mother Having Tea Party with Daughter in Blanket Fort |

In the book Minimalist Parenting by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest, the authors explain, “We’re in the midst of a parenting culture that feeds on excesses. More expert advice, more gear, more fear about competition and safety, and more choices. The result is overwhelmed, tired and confused parents and over-parented kids.”

The following parenting tips will help you beat the overwhelm and adopt some minimalist principles.

1. Cut one activity

According to minimalism experts Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, at its foundation, the minimalist lifestyle movement is, “a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important – so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” Every parent out there just collectively let out a sigh of relief at the thought of parenting being even slightly less stressful.

The fastest and easiest way to start? Drop one commitment for each child. Fear not, little Jamie won’t suffer detriment by eliminating one activity from her packed weekly schedule of art, soccer, karate, hang gliding and bonsai sculpting. Having more time and energy to dedicate to the most-loved activities may even help kids perform better with increased focus.

2. Organize a clothing swap

Reduce, reuse, recycle — it’s been a part of our social language for decades. It’s not just about putting your water bottles in the recycling bin, though. In this age of fast or throwaway fashion, we’ve gotten used to buying inexpensive, poor-quality clothing with the intention of wearing it a couple times and tossing it. This sets up a constant cycle of binging and purging our wardrobe.

Though it takes some time to adjust mentally, invest in high-quality clothing that can be handed down to your younger kids. Coats, shirts, jeans and formal clothes are all great items to be passed around. Set up a clothing swap with other parents; make it a social gathering, and let the kids try on clothes and pick out what they like. You’ll be surprised at how much fun they will have. You’ll save money, time and space in their closet (not to mention the landfills).

3. Photograph less, participate more

We’re not telling you to stop texting and reading social media — even though that might be a good idea — but it is important to be in the moment. As much as you want to snap a picture of the adorable thing your three year old is doing at the playground, resist the temptation to live life through the lens of your phone camera, and participate in the fun! Sure, pictures are fun to look at as the years go by, but wonderful memories are the basis for a lifetime of fulfillment and will help strengthen the bond between you and your child.

4. Embrace tradition

The desire to keep up with the Joneses, as they say, is a big motivator for mindless spending and overconsumption. When you look around at your child’s room and take inventory of what they have, what you thought they needed, and what they actually use, you’re likely to get hit with a heavy dose of reality. There’s too much stuff — it’s everywhere! Then, you spend your days either yelling at the kids to pick it up, running in circles picking it up for them or buying more things disguised as storage to try to contain the chaos.

Really, the only way to tackle this problem is to stop bringing things in while simultaneously taking stuff out. Seems simple, right? It’s not. We have become a culture that assigns a lot of emotions to material objects. It’s a deeply ingrained habit and a difficult thing to escape, but it can be done. This is where the priceless value of traditions come in.

Instead of expensive birthday parties with traveling video game trucks and designer cupcakes, harken back to the days of yore with an at-home party of pin-the-lightsaber-on-Darth-Vader and a homemade cake you let the kids decorate the night before.

Make it a point to hold on to the same holiday decorations and reuse them each year, along with the memories and conversation starters each one carries with it. Even consider expanding your hand-me-downs beyond clothes to items such as dishes, sports equipment and household items from family members and close friends.