After 10 months of living with (a lot) less, this is what my kids and I have realized:
1. Makes me come up with ways of sharing without fighting
In order for them to satisfy their needs, they have to come up with ways of sharing without fighting. Wether it is charging their phones at odd times, trading a house chore for one they find more pleasant or negotiating who plays his/her music and for how long, they are learning to share spaces, resources and family time in ways that strengthen our family and their relational skills… although it is not always easy to be there while they are "learning"
2. Having less means having more time and money to do interesting things
Spending less in things gives us more chances of signing them up for great after-school activities, traveling, going to the theater… A plus has also been that having less things sets the mood for reading, listening to music, drawing… using the home as a haven to relax, create and rest from the outside world.
3. Having less means wanting less, too.
I came up with this one. They don't realize it, and I am not going to tell them, but having less toys, clothing and things in general, makes them be less anxious to own the next cool item. They are just not in a consumerist wavelenght anymore, nor looking to own the latest trends.
4. What I want or need is more obvious when I don't own too much stuff
Since we only own what we really need and use, when we are short of something, we notice right away. When this happens, we see if we can use something else to cover that need, borrow it if it is a temporary need or buy it second hand. If none of those options are available, we look for non-plastic, well-designed options (including sustainable production) and favor products made by people earning decent wages.
5. I have to tidy up less.
Obvious. The less stuff you own, the less stuff you need to put back in its place.
6. I see that things have multiple functions.
A milk carton can be made into a wallet, for example or the shoe tray we use for our winter shoes can be used to hold some potted plants indoor while it is still cold outside.
I can see my youngest daughter come up with the most creative and practical uses for a paper tube. This is wonderful because she now understands that most of the things she needs for school or to play are available to her if she only uses her creativity to make them be what she wants them to be.
7. Things can be fixed or given a different use when they no longer serve their primary function.
Things break and we must use our intelligence and wit to make them be useful again, either restoring them to their previous function, or giving them a new one. During these months, we have mended socks, patched pants (and even boots), taken shoes to the cobbler… The lavender of a broken sachet is now infused in alcohol and we use it to perfume our car, lemon peels have been added to vinegar to make it smell better as a home cleaning product. Any plastic bottle has de ability to become a unicorn-flower-fake camera in the hands of a child that is used to creating from imagination and not from instruction booklets.
8. Things have value and the more I use them, the more value they have
When you own only what you really use, those objets become important in your life. If to that, you add the fact that we try to own functional, well-designed, beautiful objects, it is almost impossible not to become somewhat in love with them. That, in turn, leads to us taking care of them and trying to make them last as long as possible.
9. Four pairs of shoes are enough even in Chicago
And, as my daughter says, and even 2 pairs are enough! Why do kids need more that 4 pairs? One pair of sneakers, one pair of winter boots, one pair of "nice" shoes and maybe, a pair of sandals in the summer or a pair of comfy boots in the winter. Really, do kids need more than that?
10. I have to make do with what I have and use my imagination and ingenuity to make it be what I want
Returning to point 6. We are becoming really good at using what we already own to make what we need. Use a kitchen cloth to carry food, use an old box to display a science fair project, use a pan to toast bread when our toaster couldn't be fixed, use an infinity scarf to insulate milk jars while it is turning into yogurt...
11. I am learning how to manage my own money.
Money is not something we use to get everything we need, but only to buy those things we cannot make ourselves or borrow. We spend it freely in things we have decided to spend money on. We are not servants to money, we use it to make our lives and communities better. In accordance, our children are aware of the value of money and spend it to enjoy time with their friends or to buy things they really want and that my husband and I consider are outside of our responsibilities as "providers." An example would be a pair of expensive sneakers, for which we would only pay half, or the difference between a new smartphone and a second-hand one. I wish that they would also spent some of their money in helping others but they are not there, yet.
12. I'm used to it and it is my new normal.
When I asked my kids about how having less had impacted them, I had different answers. My middle daughter feels life is the same as ever (!), my eldest son is ok with it but hates when living with less makes us look cheap (like when the passenger door of our 2008 Volvo has to be opened from the inside) and our youngest daughter is more that happy to be able to experiment with the stuff we have at home and see what she can come up with or when she helps me fix things or plays in the bathtub with a silicone kitchen sieve I never used but didn't know what to do with it:)
Extra bonus: What my husband thinks about living with less!
1. Less stress because you don't have to keep up with the Joneses.
I guess living 4400 miles away from your own Joneses also helps ;) But it is true, when you go Minimalist, you leave behind some "values" that were too heavy to carry and start living by your own standards. And that is liberating and life changing.
2. Everything is simpler
Less stuff, less things to have to take care of, less maintenance… more time to go running, biking...
3. When we buy things we think of quality, durability and design before price or quantity.
I always try to make do, borrow or buy second-hand, but sometimes my husband really insists on buying new (maybe the Joneses are closer than we think… or I am thriftier than he can tolerate!) functionality, design (favoring cradle to cradle designed products), the quality and type of materials, place of production and reputation of the company are our main concerns.