The path to obtaining a tenure track position in France is no different from that in other parts of the world. It is a path strewn with career uncertainty and so many obstacles that the granting of tenure is now commonly referred to as the Holy Grail.
One year into my Ph.D., I began to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew. Don’t get me wrong – I loved research, I still do; but I became aware of the invisible wheels behind academia.
Those familiar with academia know that the dominant culture is driven by cut-throat competition:
– Working “almost for free” is not a rare occurrence.
– You publish or perish (though you can publish and perish).
– You work, until you drop, or go crazy, or both.
I could have walked this path were it not for the uncertainty. I would have been willing to go crazy if I knew that something was to be had at the end of it all. I could have gone to the ends of the world because, in academia, you follow the positions wherever they might lead.
Now at 25, it’s pretty cool to discover new places and live for your work, and it’s not too bad to eat noodles everyday. Problem is, I was closer to 35 when I defended my thesis and had kids so things were a bit more complicated.
My partner was also unsatisfied with his job and with never getting to see our son. We both wanted to decide where we’d live and the environment in which we’d raise our kids.
We wanted to have more control of how we spent our time. We wanted more flexible schedules. As Henry James put it, it was “time to start living the life we’d imagined”.
On one fine sunny day, we took the plunge and left it all behind. We became entrepreneurs. We probably should have been scared to death but never had we felt so liberated.
As it so often happens when you make “crazy decisions”, family and friends’ reactions ranged from confusion to concern: “However would we make it?” But we did. And we owe it all to minimalist living.
Discovering minimalist living was one of our greatest life lessons: What began as an attempt to face an uncertain financial future soon turned into a habit. Half of what we owned we didn’t need. Half of what we craved we could do without. That was a great starting point.
Minimalist living gave us more financial freedom and more time. It made us more creative. It spurred our imagination. Exploring minimalism with our kids seemed the only natural thing to do.
Practicing minimalism with kids
There isn’t much information about minimalist living with kids. Many people believe that minimalism and children do not go together.
There’s a common misconception that you can’t be a minimalist if you have kids. You can. There are a multitude of benefits to experimenting with minimalism with kids. And there is plenty of research to back this up. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and the University of Illinois have proven that scarcity, rather than abundance, spurs creativity. A previous study came to the same conclusions: too many toys stifle children’s creativity.
Minimalism is not synonymous with frugality.
- It’s about clearing the clutter and spending on what matters.
- It’s about being more and doing more with less.
- It’s about perfecting the balancing act between spending on what matters and eliminating the unnecessary.
- It’s about enjoying simple pleasures.
- It’s about finding and creating alternatives.
Lessons we’ve learned about applying minimalism with kids
1. Minimalism is not fanaticism. Becoming an absolute minimalist with kids is not impossible but it’s difficult. If you’re in a rural zone like we are, it’s a little limiting (and that’s an understatement) not to have access to a car. Although we’re taken by minimalist living, we don’t believe that it’s necessary to take on a do or die approach. I still have trouble purging my bookshelves.
2. Start small. The fact that the more toys kids have the less they play with them and the more toys they want is a mind-boggling paradox. It can be difficult for them to give their toys away.
My advice is to take it slow and let them participate in the purging. It may be helpful to begin with one thing at a time – toys, clothes, books… asking the kids to pick their favourites and donate the rest seems to work pretty well for us.
3. Be the change. Don’t preach water and drink wine. If you want to be an example to your kids, start with decluttering your own life. Give away stuff you don’t need. Buy less stuff. Let them learn about minimalism from your actions.
4. Explain. Minimalism is not just about doing more with less, it’s a way of life. Explain the benefits to your kids. Talk to them about where their stuff goes. Tell them why minimalism is important to you and help them see why it should matter to them too.
5. Prepare for setbacks. Adopting a minimalist approach is no guarantee that the rest of the family will too. While it’s great, it should be a personal choice. You can’t force your partner or your kids to go minimalist if they don’t want to, especially if your objective is to raise independent kids.
Temptations abound. Setbacks can also come from other members of the family and especially grandparents. Give them non-toy gift ideas (gift cards to the zoo, expositions… tickets to the movies). Know when to be more assertive and when to let go.
6. Find innovative ways to replace stuff. My son is a huge fan of LEGO and he’s made the most amazing things. He’s also a huge Harry Potter fan. Put the two together and you understand why he had his heart set on the Lego Hogwarts Castle.
We were pleasantly surprised when he accepted our proposal to make a cardboard castle. No, it was nothing like the Hogwarts Castle, but we had a swell time making it. And he stopped asking for the Lego Castle.
7. Speak with your family and friends. It’s important to talk to your family members: you ways may not be their ways. We’ve been lucky as we’ve managed to convince some family members to pool resources and buy fewer but better birthday and Christmas gifts. Leaving some toys at the grandparents has also proved helpful.
8. It’ never really over. Be prepared. You will need to wash, rinse and repeat.
4 practical tips to practice minimalism with kids
Many people believe that minimalist living with kids is a next to impossible task. But the truth is that it is possible to practice minimalism with kids by changing your perception of what your family and your kids really need to thrive.
Here are four easy things that you can start doing today to adopt a minimalist lifestyle with your kids.
1) Reducing toys is an easy way to practice minimalism with kids
A group of researchers created a toy-free day care center in Germany to determine the impact of toys on kids’ behavior. The kids were left with only basic necessities such as blankets and furniture for three months.
When the researchers evaluated the children after the 3-month period, they found that the absence of toys sparked creativity. The kids who had participated in the study were also more self-confident and had better critical-thinking skills.
While it is unnecessary to take all your kids’ toys away, reducing the number of toys can help them develop important skills such as problem solving and sharpen their imagination. Several studies have shown that scarcity sparks creativity, meaning that the less toys your child is accustomed to, the higher the chances that they will look for other ways to occupy their time.
Adopting a toy-rule is an easy way to get started if you want to practice minimalism with your kids. You can decide how many toys they can have at any given time – many parents practice the 20-toy rule but you can choose less – and then keep their other toys aways and rotate them at a later date.
There are many other great ideas to help you tame your child’s toys.
2) Encourage your kids to declutter
If your kids are anything like mine, they draw approximately 10 pictures per day, then want to keep them all. Talk to your kids about clutter and then decide together on the number of pictures that they can keep. An easy strategy is to get one folder for each child to keep their pictures, then tell them that the folder needs to be able to close – if it can’t, they need to choose the pictures to get rid off.
Getting your kids a drawing book instead of paper is also a simple strategy that can help you practice minimalism at home.
3) Don’t keep everything!
We all want to keep our kids’ stuff for memory’s sake, but it’s unreasonable to keep too much stuff. Pick what you think they will value most as they grow older and be willing to let go of the rest.
4) Creating a minimalist wardrobe can help you apply minimalism in your family
Most kids have their “favorite clothes”, and you only discover their other clothes when they’ve become too small for them to wear! Having too many clothes is overwhelming for your child, and it is costly and overwhelming for you as well.
A minimalist wardrobe make it easier for your child to get dressed, reduces clutter and the time spend tidying up, and it saves you money!
Here are a few tips to help:
- Buy fewer but better quality items that will last longer
- Decide on how many clothes your child really needs and buy only those. Our family has often used a 4-clothes rule as a guideline (4 shorts, 4 short-sleeved t-shirts, 4 long-sleeved t-shirts etc.) with slight variations. Decide what rules fit your family best then try to stick to them.
- Don’t buy clothes you want your child to wear (we’re all guilty of this!) – buy them clothes they will actually wear.
5) Favor experiences over gifts
Researchers at Cornell University have found that people tend to remember experiences more fondly than they remember gifts. They remember moments spent together more than they remember material possessions. Experiences are remembered longer, and they also take up less space in your home! Every year, our teenage son gets a coupon book and he enjoys claiming his non-toy present that he can use thoughout the year.
The great thing about coupons is that you can adapt them to your kid’s personality to ensure that they get the perfect birthday or Christmas gift. Here is a free coupon book you can download for free.
Final thoughts about practicing minimalism with kids
Practising minimalism is possible even with the youngest kids, but they learn best when they see your family’s minimalist lifestyle. Adopting minimalism with kids therefore starts by embracing real minimalism yourself. The books below will help if you are looking for a fuller life and less stress:
Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism
Fumio Sasaki’s Hello, Habits: A Minimalist’s Guide to a Better Life
References and further reading