Inside: Minimalism has amazing benefits for moms, but if we aren’t careful, our desire for control over the stuff in our homes can negatively affect our relationships.
It was a purple airplane with orange wings – big, ugly, and cheap-looking. Such a simple thing, but it taught me such a profound lesson about another potential downside to minimalism, one I had never really thought about before.
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The Rejected Gift
The doorbell rang. When I opened the door and looked down, I found our small five-year old friend standing there, arms outstretched with his generous gift. I cringed inwardly: yet another toy that didn’t fit our carefully curated toy collection.
I accepted it begrudgingly, knowing exactly where it was going after the door closed: the trash. That’s how bad it was – in my mind, it wasn’t even donation or yard sale worthy. I definitely didn’t want it in my house.
What I didn’t anticipate was this very same friend coming over to play later that day.
Can you guess the sad end to this story? Yes, he found the plane just where I had left it: the trash.
I will never forget his crestfallen face. He retrieved it, turning it over and over in his hands. “What? This is…in the trash?” he asked in confusion, his precious gift deemed worthless.
Extremely overwhelmed by a recent influx of clutter, I replied bluntly, without giving his feelings a second thought. “Yep, Peter*. I’m decluttering. You can feel free to take it home with you, but if it stays at our house, it will likely end up in the yard sale or the trash. We have enough toys, but thanks so much for thinking of us.”
I really said that….to a five-year-old. I’m not proud of it.
Related: The Downside to Minimalism, Part One
My token thanks was an afterthought, really. It came a split second after it occurred to me that my words just might have hurt him.
But what I cared about far more than his feelings was my own sanity. I wanted to be in control of the stuff in my house, and I wanted it badly enough that I didn’t take even a second to care about a little boy’s feelings.
And so I stumbled on this other downside: how we approach minimalism can be a little selfish at times.
How We Approach Minimalism Matters
Now before you flip out and tell me all the benefits and how I don’t understand minimalism at all, please – in all politeness – save your breath (or your typing).
I live the benefits.
Allie Casazza took the words right out of my mouth: “Minimalism saved my motherhood.” Minimalism allows me to spend time with my kids, homeschool, blog. I know the benefits, and I’m thankful for them every day.
To be very clear, I love minimalism. I promote it. I believe in it.
But just because there are so many wonderful benefits does not mean that the way we personally interpret and approach minimalism cannot be detrimental to ourselves or to others.
I realize that getting healthy in any way does require a certain period of self-focus. Learning to set boundaries, live a healthy lifestyle, and take control of your decisions takes extraordinary effort. While you find balance, thinking about anyone else other than yourself and your family is extremely difficult.
But I’ve realized that minimalism, like anything else, can be taken to an extreme.
I cared so much about guarding my house against clutter that I forgot to care about the ones who love our family so well. I forgot to care about what anyone else in my family wants either.
Minimalism with Kids
The trouble with minimalism and growing families is the clutter never stops. Most kids are by nature little collectors. Even if it’s not expensive toys, it’s rocks along the road. It’s twigs and leaves and ship after ship they’ve built with LEGOs. Keeping up with it is not as easy as minimalists make it sound, especially when you homeschool and kids are in the house all day every day.
Having kids puts you in an ongoing uphill battle against clutter. Decluttering is constant and never done, kind of the like the laundry and the dishes that also come with little kids.
Now, did any minimalist author tell me to snub “clutter” gifts, discarding them like trash? No.
That was all me, my own selfish response, and I own it as such.
You see, in my zealous pursuit of minimalism over the past few years, I’ve extremely neglected this little thing other generations knew so well: gratitude.
The Trouble with Gifts
When grandparents or friends gave us gifts that I considered clutter, I was just plain unthankful. Some days, it bordered on resentful.
Didn’t they know how hard I worked to declutter our home and now they’re giving me more to deal with?!
I didn’t stop to think that some people express love through gift giving (and some people receive love through gifts as well), and some of those people cannot afford to give the experiences promoted by so many minimalists today.
Museum passes, gift cards to the movies, trips…those things cost money, beyond what many of our loved ones can afford. So they pick out the $10 toy from Target, and they wrap it lovingly. They excitedly offer their carefully selected gifts. They eagerly anticipate the look of joy on the receiver’s face.
The same is true of little kids who love to give gifts. They have little to no money to spend, so they craft away or choose one of their own toys to give. They pour their hearts into those crafts. They sacrifice their toys for love of the recipient.
Those little crafts drive me crazy, I admit. I hate knick knacks, and sentimental gifts are especially difficult for me to declutter. I feel so guilty throwing away those popsicle stick picture frames my kids make for Mother’s Day.
But after the purple airplane, I vowed to make a choice: the choice to receive all gifts with love, knowing I will figure out what to do with them eventually. One more small bin in my closet to house those tokens of love is not the end of the world, especially if it allows me to receive those little trinkets with a genuine smile on my face.
Because those offerings aren’t really about me at all. A lot of gifts, whether they should be or not, are about the giver.
So what’s my answer to this downside? To keep every gift forever and to never say anything about my preferences to anyone? No.
I will continue to make helpful Amazon wish lists for Christmas and birthdays for relatives. I will share more frequently about my experience with minimalism, so family and friends understand the effects of clutter on my soul and how freeing decluttering has been for me as a mom.
When I share openly, I tend to get more questions about the kinds of gifts we would like to receive. It helps, and I’m thankful for the chance to share what we truly need and want.
After the purple airplane, however, I am committed to graciously receiving all gifts, even though I know that some of them may be enjoyed for only a few short days. Then with quiet thanks for how much we enjoyed them, those toys will make their way to another family with kids who need them and will enjoy them more.
You want to know the unexpected thing about that airplane? My kids love it.
They play with it daily. Sometimes the toys you least expect to be a hit get fought over the most.
What I know is that a purple airplane pulled me out of my bubble. I wiped the fog away from my glasses and can see a little more clearly, and it’s a good thing.
It reminded me yet again that minimalism is a privilege. It showed me the power that my words and actions have on the smallest of people. It reminded me to keep this simple balance in everything, but especially in minimalism.
And it taught me all over again a lesson my mother taught me a long time ago, when I was small: to receive every gift given with grace and with kindness and with gratitude.
I want to remember not to minimize others as I pursue minimalism.
The war on clutter can pause just a minute to love a small boy and his airplane.
*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.