Less is More: What Children DON’T Need to be Happy

Is having too much stuff making our kids crazy?

Why does more mean better? Bigger paycheck, bigger house, bigger cars, more playrooms…why do we forsake what really matters for temporary things that sift like sand?

It’s time to reject the idea that more of everything will finally be what brings us happiness. The things that really matter are family, love, home, service, and kindness.

I wonder what we are doing to our children by offering them endless amazing choices, all the time, everywhere, in everything. And no, I’m not talking about important things like choices regarding their bodies or their feelings. I’m talking about endless and often all-too-hard to choose-from choices about stuff.

Yes, stuff.

Take, for instance our closets and dressers. Today’s wardrobe of most children is overflowing. While children 200 years ago often had one Sunday outfit and one or two everyday outfits, children today have so many outfits they could go weeks without a repeat. Why is that? Is it convenience on our end or our desire to ensure our children have endless clothing opportunities at their fingertips at any given time? This trend isn’t even limited to the really rich. 

Is having too many choices making our kids crazy?

Or, look at the toys children have. There.are.just.so.many.  What parent doesn’t fret and stress over the huge cleaning commitment required because of our children’s excess toys, few, if any, are actually needed? Boxes, containers, and baskets exist to “organize” said toys. Many even rotate them out from the attic and back into the toy options on a regular basis. And, while we applaud the organization and rotation, we must wonder—are they all necessary? What happened to the simple days where toys were cherished because they were limited in number? I’m afraid…no, pretty sure…that the number of toys the average child has basically teaches them that there’s nothing really so special that it’s not replaceable in an instant with one of the hundreds of other toys that stand ready to fill the void.

Related: Study Says Today’s Kids Overscheduled, With Little Or No Down-time

And let’s look at the schedule of the modern child while we’re at it. I don’t think I am that old yet, but even when I was a kid there seemed to be fewer activities and sports for your typical three-year-old. Ballet, music, sports, the infernal playgroup, it never ends. You could spend more time driving around to activities than you actually spend together, in your own house.

By the time these kids are six they are ready to retire from sports and mom has put thousands of miles on her van as well as sacrificed her very identity to chauffeur kids here and there to activities supposedly necessary for optimal development. And for what? College scholarships for athletes? Concert Pianists? No, of course I’m not advocating ending extracurricular activities for children, but I do believe there is merit to pulling back on the scheduling of something for every day, every season. You know how *we* feel tired shuffling to and fro? Imagine how our kiddos feel too!

And, sadly, we’ve even managed to overdo books. Yes, today’s modern child doesn’t just have dozens of books. Instead, she has hundreds and hundreds. So many so that there isn’t even the opportunity to have a favorite book or two with their worn pages and fold-downs for the favorite part. We love books, say we can never have too many books and yet—if we’re honest, can’t we? Being inundated with everything, even the best of things, is too much.

is having too much making our kids crazy? books

There are still libraries, but do we use them? How many of us have all those books in our house rather than in a communal place where they can be shared? Rather, they stack the corners and cubbies of our homes. And yes, we love having them for the example of always having a book nearby–but we miss going to the library and luxuriously browsing to our heart’s content too.

Related: Study: Gender Bias Still a Problem in Children’s Books

And media? Need we even talk about the overwhelming constant media influx that our children get from every side?

It having too many choices making our kids crazy?

I have come to believe the negative effects of this excess of choice is felt by both parents and children.

Children, who are by their very nature thrilled with the simple things in life, are inundated with too many choices.

Their rooms are overflowing, their schedules crammed, their media exposure close to constant, even their choices for clothing each morning are enough to make you want to scream and cry, even if you aren’t four years old.

The result?

We get children that are stressed, overwhelmed, moody, and crazy.

We get parents that are stressed, overwhelmed, moody, and crazy.

Put it all together and you what you get is explosive.

Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, an educator, and family counselor, says that the symptoms he sees in children in affluent America and Europe are akin to those seen in children experiencing post traumatic stress after times of war.

His solution?

Less.

Less of everything.

Less on the schedule, less in the closet, less on the TV, and less in the junk food department. And we’re not just saying this to follow the latest minimalistic trend (though there is so much good to be gleaned!).

We’re saying this because of the results. The results of fewer things on the schedule and in the closet and on the television and even on our bookshelves yields incredible results.

Happier children and parents.

Sanity.

I know we love stuff.

I love nice things. I feel sad when I can’t give my children what they want. I feel sad when I have to say no.

But the sting is disappearing. Because what I love more is that losing some of the excess is taking away a lot of the stress and anxiety we have been feeling too. Getting rid of more choices and more obligations has actually given us so much.

Nothing causes me and my family more stress than excess.

We work so hard to have the things and experiences that we want in life, only to find that the more we have the crazier it all seems.

It is time to reject the idea that more of everything will finally be what brings us happiness. More fills the void, we don’t have to think about the things that are really bothering us, the things that we really need to do. We spend our lives in distraction from what really matters. But we end up going a little crazy. That is the price we pay. I’m tired of paying that price, and we’re focusing on what really matters.

The things that really matter are family, love, home, service, and kindness. An abundance of these things won’t make you crazy. They also come free of charge. In fact, if we’re really honest, they’re the natural cravings our bodies and brains have because they’re so full of amazing.

But having too much of the other stuff sure can cloud out the things that matter.

Less really is more. Less stuff means more time, more sanity, more time to do things besides clean and shop.

We can choose a different path, one in which we aren’t constantly tripping over something someone left out.

Join me. I know it’s a bit scary at first, but I promise, it really has such payoff for the family!

Photo credits: mdanys / Foter.com / CC BYitram242 / Foter.com / CC BYjenny downing / Foter.com / CC BY


6 thoughts on “Less is More: What Children DON’T Need to be Happy”

  1. Children become overwhelmed, stressed out, and exhibit signs of PPD when they are physically abused as a form of “child-rearing”. Every single major child advocacy organization warns against the harm of hitting, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.

    What children NEED is parents to learn respect for their bodies.
    What children NEED is legislation that protects them from assault, like everyone else.
    What the NEED is more compassion and guidance and less retribution and abuse.
    THAT is what children need, not less iPhones and toys. This is absurd. Write about something that matters.

    1. Nikki, what an odd comment.
      Speaking for myself, when my life is calm and simple, I am a better parent. Rushing from one thing to another, tripping over toys, and having my children beg for things makes me stressed. When I am stressed, I yell more. I don’t hit but I imagine the next step for some mothers would be to lose control and start spanking. Following the author’s advice and being a more peaceful family is very much the SAME THING as what you are advocating for! As someone who claims to care about the welfare of children, how are you not able to make this connection?

  2. Nikki, I agree with you that physical abuse has terrible consequences for children, AND our culture of excess is also harming children. Just because there may be things that are more harmful doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about the negative repercussions of the excess we have in Western culture. The book Simplicity Parenting is one of my favorite parenting books and the author goes into much more details about the negative effects of excess and how simplifying life can help both kids and parents be less stressed and more balanced.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I do love what Simplicity Parenting teaches. I think there is a lot of wisdom. We can be cursed with too much, especially if the excess is a substitute for love-

  4. Great post. I’ve just finished reading a book about how children’s brains get so overwhelmed by these “in your face” games that they revert back to the flight or fight syndrome. When they have to get off, they become volatile. They have SO much screen time that they can’t cope with the regular slow-paced world and become bored and depressed easily. It’s almost like an addiction.

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