1. You never, ever take your child grocery shopping. Supermarkets are the archenemy of the minimalist parent. Have you ever tried explaining to your toddler why they don’t need to buy the cereal with their favorite cartoon character on the box? The other brand is exactly the same, but half the price! It doesn’t end well. Order online or shop when someone else is watching the kids.
2. Clichés survive for a reason. Remember holidays when you were little? Every year, as you opened your Christmas gift, great aunt somebody could be relied upon to say: “Mark my words, the cardboard box will get more use than the thing inside it!” Well, it’s true! I’m not suggesting you wrap an empty box for your child this year, but do keep the wrapping. It makes great craft material for robot building, den making, or rocket adventuring.
3. How wise grandparents are. They had to parent before the iPad. Or Netflix. They were parents before babies came with $500 strollers and monitors more sophisticated than NASA technology. They know how to bathe a baby in the kitchen sink and then park them in the garden under a nice tree for a mobile. Turn to them for wisdom.
4. Kids develop at their own speeds. Sure, every parent panics when their child comes home at the bottom of the class. But that app promising to turn them into a math genius? It’s not the answer. Your own encouragement and support will make infinitely more of a difference. Plus (hooray), they are cost-free.
5. Boredom has its benefits. Boredom is the beginning of imagination. It’s where ingenuity is sparked. Stick them in the garden. Let them get bored. And then watch kids learn to think for themselves.
6. Thriftiness has rewards. So your kid thinks they are going to die if they don’t have the latest pair of sneakers? I sympathize. Peer pressure is the pits. But so is turning into an adult who thinks that the route to happiness lies in shopping.
None of us can guarantee that our children will grow into adults who forever have enough money to satisfy all their material desires. But if you teach them that wanting those things is different from needing them, the chances of their future being a happy one are certainly higher.
7. Zoos are evil. As are almost all attractions like museums and theme parks that make you walk through the shop before you can leave. Your child will have a meltdown. You’ll just have to take a deep breath and live with this. Sorry.
8. Most purchases are panic purchases. When you decide to stop buying those “I can’t live without it” objects, you learn pretty quickly that, actually, you can. Really, 99 percent of the time, you will have completely forgotten the object of your desire within a couple of days.
9. The power of lists. When your child wants something, you don’t always have to give them a straight no. Tell them to add it to their birthday or holiday list. When you read through it with them, closer to the big day, you’ll be amazed how many of them are covered by the number eight rule above.
10. That it’s OK to say no. Yeah, your child will hate you. You’ll be the worst parent, even person, in the entire universe. But lengthy personal research suggests it’s unlikely that will be the case for more than three hours. And then everyone can get on with life with a healthier sense of who calls the shots.
11. Recycling rocks. You see an empty yogurt pot and a spent toilet roll tube. They see a rocket, a bug, a swimming pool, a telescope, or a tower.
12. Some things are occasionally worth spending money on. Trust me. I’ve gone through six strollers that all came free or very cheap. Unsurprisingly, they all broke within a year, I have finally climbed down from my high horse to admit that, we should have bought just one good quality model from the start.
13. When you do buy, buy unisex. Whether it’s clothes or a first bike, if you’re going to splash the cash, make sure you buy it in a nice, cheerful, unisex colour. That way, it can be handed down to siblings.
14. There’s no such thing as “girl” stuff. It wasn’t until we had our second child, that I became aware that building blocks had genders. And it’s not just the blocks. These days, almost every toy under the sun can be bought in a pink box, exclusively for girls. Don’t be fooled! It turns out that girls can play with building blocks and coloring books that aren’t pink! Shocking, I know.
15. Hand-me-downs are more than handy. They're the best. Think of them as clothes that older friends, cousins, and siblings have presoftened into a super comfy state. And while kids continue to grow with such unreasonable speed, lots of hand-me-downs will only have been worn a few times. Make the most of them, and then pass them on to be loved by someone new when your kids have outgrown them.
16. Time is more precious than money. When the children’s charity UNICEF published a report on child well-being, it found one key correlation. What made children across the globe happy, their research found, wasn’t the latest technology or fashion. It was spending time with people they love, like friends, family, and even pets. It was being outdoors and doing fun activities.
So don’t listen to me, listen to the experts.
Hattie Garlick is an author and journalist who set herself a year-long challenge to cut back on kiddy consumerism and examine which of the millions of products marketed to modern families really make our lives happier and easier. Very few, as it turned out.