Simple living has many benefits for children, including awareness of Nature, more time and attention from their parents, less stress, and time to play.
By Kassandra Brown
“I choose to live simply so that others may simply live.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
Many of us feel that our lives are more complex, fragmented, and busy than we would like. We may feel a desire for more connection with our children, our friends, our neighbors, ourselves, and Nature. But, like Alice in Wonderland, we’ve learned that “We must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” This often translates to working harder and longer, scheduling more meetings and activities, and sleeping less. Stress, overeating, divorce, fighting, and anxiety become our reality. We may wonder what we’ve done wrong and vow to try harder and run faster. Exhausted yet?
What If There Is Another Way?
Simple living is another way. From Buddhist monks to back-to- the-land hippies, simple living has had fans and converts since the beginning of humanity. But it’s not just for people on the fringe of society. Simple living can apply to you in exactly the life you are living right now.
You start where you are, adopt a couple of ideas, and suddenly you start seeing new possibilities in your life that you’ve never seen before. It’s exciting, fun, and life-changing. You can do it alone and it’s great to do it with friends and family.
What Is Simple Living?
One way of thinking about simple living is as a voluntary choice to consume less, thereby freeing you to do more of what you want to do with your time, money, and life energy. By consuming less, you are gentler on the environment, asking for less stuff to be made, needing less space to store it in, and adding less waste to landfills and the oceans.
You become more self-sufficient. You free yourself to get off, or at least slow down on, the treadmill of working to earn money in order to buy things. Simple living principles ask each of us to consider what we truly need and to find ways other than purchasing something from someone else to meet those needs.
Simple living says that you don’t need as much money or things as is common in the Western so-called developed world. It also says that with six billion people on the planet, each of us would do well to consider what will happen if everyone consumes at the rate that you and I do. Is that sustainable? For how long?
Simple living creates more space in your life to ask the questions that are important to you. It also helps you have more time and energy to listen within yourself for the answers.
Is Simple Living Good for Kids?
The benefit of having parents who are more present, relaxed, and happy cannot be overstated. Most parents I work with say they are more likely to yell, punish then regret it, or in other ways lose it with their children when they feel the pressure to do more, be somewhere else, or go faster. When parents prioritize living simply, they are less likely to be anxious, stressed, and overextended. The increased sense of well-being this produces is of wonderful benefit to children.
More connection with Nature helps increase kids’ sense of belonging and safety in the world. When entertainment is playing in sand, dirt, and water, children learn that it’s okay to get dirty. This is invaluable and helps create a sense of trust in their own bodies and in the earth that supports them. Running around in the woods, looking at bugs, and getting wet in a rain storm are all great things for kids to experience. Kids benefit from the reduction in stress and the greater connection to the natural world that simple living often allows.
The world is a tangible place. Kids are body-based and need to experience through their five senses. It helps them know they have a place and that they belong. When life occurs through watching a screen, it is a vicarious experience and it is easy to believe that life is happening to other people but that you’re not a fully participatory member. That’s a hard thing to overcome later in life.
Kids need to learn that it’s okay to try and fail. Life does not come with a save/reboot feature. We make mistakes, learn from them, and learn how to recover. “I’m sorry” is not good enough. Nature, gardening, climbing trees, playing with, and working with others gives us nearly endless chances to both do well and mess up, then apply what we learn and try again.
Living more simply often allows children more time in one place, closer connection to the natural world, and less distraction from television, Internet, and other vicarious experiences. This helps them know that their lives are places they belong and that matter. Preparing, tending, and harvesting a garden are some simple ways to help kids have a sense of self and a sense of place.
Let’s look at a few more ways to simplify life, save money, and have fun.
Kids like to play, be seen, explore their world, learn their place in it, and feel powerful, safe, and confident. The transition from screen time entertainment to real world entertainment can be a hard one. Life is messier, harder, and more prone to error when you’re in your body rather than moving pixels on a screen. Here are some easy starting points:
- Make a swing with rope, a board, and a tree.
- Build a sandbox. You can make a great gathering place for all the local kids with half a pick-up truck full of sand in a handy place – sandbox optional.
- Sledding, ice skating, and building snowmen are classic winter activities that require access to a park, pond, or hill but little in the way of material possessions.
- Go for a Nature walk. Take a look at what’s around you. What animals, plants, and insects live near you? You could take one walk a week and commit to learning about one new plant, animal, and insect on each walk. Before long, you’ll be an expert on your local flora and fauna, will have had time learning to connect with your child and work together, and may even have found you enjoy one another.
- Write your own story. Come home from a Nature walk or other activity and sit with your children to write about what you just did. You can illustrate it too. This helps children learn that their stories are worth telling and also helps with reading, handwriting, and spelling skills.
- Build puzzles, knit, and paint pictures. If the outdoor aspect of simple living seems daunting, don’t despair. There are many ways to stay indoors and simplify too. Handwork like sewing, jewelry making, and origami appeal to many people – both children and adults.
- Refrigerator box forts. Big boxes can be painted and played in. You may need to show your kids how it’s done, as their imaginations may not immediately see the fort or castle in the box. Instead of getting frustrated, help them see that this cardboard box is more flexible and therefore better than the plastic doll house they just saw on television.
- Limit television. Setting limits on how much time kids spend in front of the television or computer can help your efforts at simplicity go much better.
We are used to consuming entertainment rather than creating our own. Want to shift that? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Wrestle with affection. Push, pull, and grab without hitting, kicking, or biting. The purpose is to connect and be embodied together, not to win.
- Song circle. Sit together and take turns. Each person can lead a song, ask someone else to lead a song, or pass on their turn. Invite friends from school, people from work, and your neighbors to come over and sing at a regular time each week or month. All ability levels welcome.
- Read out loud. Pick a book to share and then take turns reading. Pass it around the room and give everyone, children and adults, a chance to read. There are many books which appeal to young readers as well as adults, or you might pick a couple of kids’ books and then let the kids go read or play elsewhere while the adults read something that appeals to them.
- Feelings story share: Have two containers (a bag, hat, or bowl). One has words of people like teacher, mother, father, daughter, etc. and one has words of feelings like happy, sad, lonely, angry, etc. Each person picks one word from each bowl and then tells a story about a time that person felt that way. This is fun and entertaining, teaches rhetoric, helps with performance anxiety and also teaches the very important skill of empathy.
- Feelings story share 2: Simplify the game by just using feelings words, pulling one, and telling a story about a time you felt that way.
- Play classic games like Charades and Pictionary, just to name a couple. They help us laugh together and learn how to reconnect. Making connection a clearer part of what you are doing together often makes the games more fun.
Food is more than just calories and flavors. It matters what you eat, where it comes from, and how it’s prepared. When you simplify food it tends to be better for you, for the planet, for your local economy and farmers, for your soul, and for your family. What are you waiting for? Grow what you can. Start where you are. If you’ve never grown anything, start small. Here are a few more ideas:
- Prepare whole foods. Food that comes out of a garden often has dirt, bugs, roots, and stems in places we’re not used to seeing in the grocery store. Learning to cook whole, fresh foods is another great simple living tool.
- Consciously source food. Notice where food comes from and start eating your values. You might look for local, whole foods in as close to their natural state as possible, and grown with care for the earth and the people growing them.
- Grow your own. Start a garden in your backyard. Plant in pots and containers on a porch or patio in the city. You get to connect with your neighbors and the weather in ways that the grocery store does not support.
- Urban gardening. Turn vacant and abandoned lots into gardens. You might even get together and start an urban CSA. You’ll grow more than vegetables; you’ll grow relationships and stronger communities.
- Support your local farmers. Visit your local farmers market and roadside stands. While you shop, ask the farmers how they grow their food, whether they enjoy what they do, and if there is some way you can help.
- Supermarket? Question the assumption that you are dependent on the supermarket for your food. What can you do for yourself and with your neighbors?
- Buy things that will rot. When you shop the supermarket, only buy things from the outer periphery, which is usually produce and refrigerated foods. Avoiding the middle of the store will avoid all the processed foods, and will be easier on your waistline, the planet, and your wallet.
Travel is a big part of each person’s carbon footprint and a contributor to global warming. Cars are expensive to buy and to care for. They ask our governments to build and maintain roads and highways that are also expensive. Traveling less and by more sustainable means are great ways to simplify your life. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Bike and walk instead of driving. Not only do you save money on gas but you get the benefits of exercise and slowing down. When you commit to commuting by bike, you just can’t set your life at as fast a pace as when you are driving everywhere. Try it. You might like it.
- Take the train instead of the airplane. You’ll appreciate where you are and have time to transition from one place to another. Additionally, train travel has a much lower carbon footprint than air travel.
- Work from home. In entirety or a few days a week, it all adds up to make a difference.
- Ask hard questions. Do you really want to go to your mother’s for Christmas? Do you really need to go far away for vacation? Ask yourself what needs you are hoping the travel will meet and then ask if there is a lower cost strategy for meeting those needs.
Noticing is a huge part of change. When we become aware of our actual experience and of the experience we’d like to be having, we become empowered to stop doing things we don’t want and to start creating the life we want to live. Remember, it’s your life…and your children’s. No one else’s. What makes you happy? Simple living starts right now, right where you are. What simple thing can you do right now to create more connection with your family, yourself, and your world?
Kassandra Brown has embraced simple living by moving to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in rural Missouri where she works from her 200-square-foot home as an online coach at parentcoaching.org. This article was published in Natural Child Magazine.