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Bad Parent: The Minimalist. Is my anti-materialism hurting my child? By Nan Mooney for Babble.com.

Is my kid toy-deprived?

By Nan Mooney |

Last week I took Leo, my eight-month-old son, on a play date and we decided to give his friend Cameron’s Exersaucer a trial run. Watching that huge smile as he pedaled his feet and banged on the plastic piano keys, I felt a not unfamiliar pang of guilt.

Leo doesn’t have an Exersaucer. Or a Jumperoo. He doesn’t have portable spoons and snack jars or a Peapod tent for napping on the road. He doesn’t even have a nursery. He sleeps in a crib an arm’s length from my bed and his changing table consists of a hand towel spread across the foot of that same bed.

Partly by choice and partly by necessity, I’m raising my son in a very minimalist style. I’m a single mother, temporarily residing in an apartment in my parents’ basement. We don’t have much space or money, so he doesn’t have much stuff. I’m also a firm believer in doing all I can to fight the “you are what you own” messages that flood our kids the second they walk out the front door.

In part I’m proud to invest him with non-materialistic values. But at times I feel guilty too. I’m not entirely convinced that never having a slate of developmental toys, a library full of books or a fancy birthday party won’t actually hurt him in some way. What if in my efforts to pare down, I neglect to provide Leo with some crucial item that really would make him a happier, more successful, more well-rounded kid?

When I browse through the Pottery Barn Kids catalogue or spot a Bugaboo on the street, I feel pretty confident. Leo will turn out just fine without those things. But the border between want and need isn’t always so clear. Earlier this summer, Leo and I took a trip to the East Coast and stayed for a couple of weeks with friends, intellectuals who share my minimalist parenting philosophy. Toys hadn’t consumed their apartment, but it did contain stack upon teetering stack of children’s books in four languages.

“We don’t spend on clothes or toys,” my friend explained. “But we do buy books. We’re language people, and we feel like that’s a critical part of education.”

Again the wash of guilt. I’m a language person too. Will reading Leo the same ten board books we inherited from a friend somehow stymie him intellectually? My friends’ two-year-old daughter is indeed breathtakingly precocious, bilingual and already working on language number three. I came home from that trip twenty dollars poorer for having invested in a pair of French children’s books that so far Leo’s only tried to eat.

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About Nan Mooney

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Nan Mooney

Nan Mooney's third book, (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Middle Class, comes out in May. She lives in Seattle with her son Leo and lots of rain.

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56 thoughts on “Bad Parent: The Minimalist. Is my anti-materialism hurting my child? By Nan Mooney for Babble.com.

  1. moneymoneymoney says:

    I’m not sure why this is in the “Bad Parent” section. There probably won’t be a lengthy discussion of this essay, I can’t imagine people having negative reactions to this essay. I, myself, tend to buy a lot of stuff for my daughter. But as I’ve learned, the best toys are the ones that you share with the child, and not those that provide a distraction from parental interaction. I’ve stopped with all the Fisher Price madness, now I just go for the art and craft supplies, and some imagination toys to stimulate her development. I buy her any book that she shows interest in. I will end up getting her one of those cars so she can drive up and down the driveway. They’re neat and cool, what kid wouldn’t want that? I think it’s more important to teach value. Using their “I wants” to teach general money lessons, even at a young age, will get you farther than a minimalist approach.

  2. Knitty says:

    I don’t think you have anything to worry about. My parents have bought my 17-month-old daughter just about every toy on the market, but her favorite possessions are a measuring cup, a paper bag, and a little box.The whole “you are what you own” mindset is largely to blame for the dire circumstances this nation is in right now; I applaud your rejection of it. On the other hand, I have to agree with your friends about books. I’ve bought all of my daughter’s books used (I pay about 50 cents per book) and she loves them. She loves being read to, loves paging through them herself, loves carrying them around with her, loves taking naps with them (we’ve even caught her having babbling conversation with them.) I’ve probably spent no more than $20 on her “library,” and every single penny was well-spent. I wince when I see parents blowing huge amounts of cash on little kids; it seems like such a bad idea to instill the idea that life is about getting THINGS and STUFF. The odds that our children are going to be as well-off as their parents are pretty slim, and IMHO the best thing we can do for them is teach them that stuff isn’t what makes you happy. So, in short: go you. :)

  3. esther says:

    I don’t think that a child needs a lot of toys to be happy and intellectually stimulated. I live in a truly tiny apartment, and the living room doubles as my 20-month-old son’s playroom so, by necessity, we have to keep the toys to a minimum. Homemade playdough is his favorite right now, and very inexpensive to make. He also loves to color with his crayons, and “make music” with my pots and pans. And he LOVES his books. However, when I do buy him toys I tend to spend a lot of money because it is important to me to buy organic and European or American made whenever possible. My family is not well off by any means, we live strictly on a budget, but I honestly think that there is too much cheap disposable crap for sale in this country. I would much rather spend my money on a few high quality toys that will last many years of play, than pay the same amount of money on a lot of sweatshop produced garbage that falls apart quickly and ends up in a landfill. When I make a purchase for my family it is only after careful thought and deliberation, so we don’t own very much, only what we really need.

  4. rg says:

    I understand what you are saying but there are also many cheap or free ways of providing stimulation for your child as well. You didn’t mention going to the library, using Freecycle (to both receive AND give away things), accumulating vouchers or buying memberships to lessen the cost of cultural outings, doing swaps with friends… There are many ways of minimising consumerism and keeping the cycle going without costing the earth, and without worrying about depriving your child (and I’m not suggesting that you are!)

  5. anne05 says:

    Yeah, RG said what I was going to say. Don’t buy things. Take your kid to the library (yes, 10 board books will prove developmentally too simple at some point). Find a toy library or toy exchange (we have one in town, you can check out 3 toys for two weeks). You don’t have to BUY things to intellectually and socially stimulate your child, but you do need to get out and DO things.

  6. NoHo Mom says:

    I second (third) the books – my daughter literally devoured books, and I kept buying more until she stopped gumming them. Now we take advantage of the library, and do book swaps with friends. But she’s already quoting certain books and naming them out loud at 14 and a half months – I think it’s related.Another wonderful developmental stimulus is music – and there are TONS of kids’ CDs and tapes out there available at either the library or probably second hand music stores. Singing to and with your kids helps a lot too. Between music and books, both of which are available in huge quantities used, you should be fine.

  7. AnnaWhoIsNotAMom says:

    When I was small, my parents weren’t well-off at all — the car even caught fire one Thanksgiving on the way to my grandmother’s house. My mother recently apologized to me for it — apparently, she’s always felt guilty that she couldn’t dress me up in nice baby clothes. (Finances did a 180 for the better when I was 10.)What I remember is that my parents were happy, and I was happy; I remember light on hard wood floors, and being able to love all of my stuffed animals, and not feeling guilty because there were too many for me to pay equal attention to; nobody yelled when my (non-expensive) clothes got dusty or torn. Nobody told me to stay away from heavy, expensive, breakable things; nobody told me to get off the furniture. I made cookies with my mom, and everything was cheap plastic, so it was light enough for me to hold. I felt like I was part of the family, not a dressed-up doll.I had a few toys — a really addictive Fisher Price plastic cash register, for example — and loved the heck out of a bouncing seat that hung from a doorjamb in the basement. I remember the rhythm and peace of having time to myself, and not being marched off to lessons and practices every day. The only things I wished I’d had more of were books. I read nonstop, and when I grew up and found out that I’d missed the entirety of the Oz sequels, it put me in a funk. And when I realized I’d missed Diana Wynne Jones entirely, I was flabbergasted. Sites like swaptree.com or paperbackswap.com are perfect, both for cheapness and environmental soundness.Having “stuff” is definitely not important — but being encouraged to pursue what’s important to oneself is. I’m grateful for the local drama club my parents enrolled me in, all the books they bought when they didn’t have to. Even very, very young, I could always tell when my parents were stressed or unhappy, and I’m grateful that mine were mostly happy then. (Divorce, later.) Every night, my dad would read stories, most of which he could recite from memory. We planted tomatoes in the backyard. We went for walks at the Audubon Society. It’s the rituals that make happiness, the quiet patterns. It’s not what you own, it’s what you dream, and hope, and DO.

  8. BBBGMOM says:

    To echo everyone else – BOOKS. My children got their first library cards before they could read. Every other week we trek to the library and get books for all of us. Austerity is fine, but intentionally limiting books or other stimulation is not. We have a membership to the science museum, which means we go there a lot. We also go to the free zoo. I absolutely agree with your ideal in not cluttering your life with material goods, but I would encourage you to enrich your life with well chosen joys.

  9. been there says:

    You’re doing just fine! It sounds like you are providing your child with everything he needs. Everything else is icing on the cake – the “gray area” I like to call it. I had everything that you supposedly need with my first child and I learned very quickly that it’s mostly crap that you’re naively duped into buying. With my second, I did exactly what you’re doing and it made life so much easier. Don’t let the guilt monster trick you into thinking you’re not doing enough, because no matter what you do it will still raise its ugly head. I had to stop comparing myself and my children to other people because we are not them. We are a unique family with unique dynamics, as is yours and everyone else’s, so it makes no sense to try to be them. Go with your gut – that will always tell you what you need. And yes, a handful of books IS ENOUGH stimulation. Even if you have to read the same story over and over again, it still counts. You don’t need to have your own library to raise a smart kid. Plenty of experts will tell you that. You’re on the right track!

  10. in general agreement says:

    There is also a netflix-like service for toys…I forget the website address but you could google it. It might be a good way to try out some things before actually investing in something he’s not going to ultimately like.I second BBBGMOM’s sentiment on well-chosen joys. As an involved, aware parent, you’re going to pick up on his interests as he grows. My nephews hated to color; my son is addicted to his crayons. It’s all about paying attention, and you’re right that at your son’s age, they don’t need much beyond very simple objects.

  11. gpgirl says:

    I’m not sure why this is bad parenting. To be perfectly honest, a lot of these toys (like the exersaucer) are really meant for the parents to have some time to themselves. I admit that is why I bought one – I actually had 15 minutes so I could do something!The library is a great idea, but at that age, my son would chew on every book he had, so I would feel funny getting these from the library and returning them in such a state.

  12. Lyrehca says:

    Try yard sales, too. We have dozens of books for our 19 month old, and most were either gifts or bought for pennies at yard sales. And I third Craigslist–my husband is an addict and has gotten great stuff for next to nothing for our son.

  13. new mom says:

    I didn’t grow up with much at all, and I have to say I completely see why this is in the “Bad Parent” section. I’m all for minimalism, and not having a lot of plastic crap, but it sounds like you’re justifying not getting those basics needed to help your child develop. Are some blocks really that difficult? Get some good used wooden ones, and maybe you’ll raise an architect. Or a little toy piano? Or, for god’s sake, some BOOKS? I’m not saying you need to buy everything out there, but “all you need is love” is an awfully self-righteous way to dismiss depriving your child of fun and necessary stimulation.

  14. oliversmom says:

    Freecycle is the best. I have given away more than received, but I love passing on perfectly good toys and clothing. The library is a source of both fun and learning for our family. I have been taking my son to story time there since he was 2 months old. And the library offers social interaction for both parents and the child, a great thing for the winter months. My son has toys, some cheap and plastic and some high-quality, and probably too much, but I try to keep a minimal amount out for him to play with and then rotate the stock on a regular basis. At 2, every time we switch things up, its like a new toy again.

  15. More Anon says:

    We are also pretty minimalist in our approach. We have enough $ but a tiny house so it gets a “filled up” feeling pretty fast, and more importantly, I don’t think a lot of plastic crap is good for kids. Our boys are nearly 20 months now and still eating their books, but OTOH they LOVE their books and want you to read to them every chance you get. They take their books to bed with them instead of a toy. If things get quiet, I look around and see them both sitting “reading” a book (or catalogs, they love pretty shiny catalogs and those are free!). I don’t give them used books since I don’t want to introduce germs, but I do try to pick up the books on sale. Once they stop ripping them to shreds we can go the library route.Oh, and I got them a nice little toy piano, which they love to bang on. That’s the sort of thing you could pick up on Craig’s List or similar. The best gift is your time and attention. Sounds like Leo is getting plenty of that. :)

  16. brooklynmom says:

    I agree that in hindsight, those Fisher Price plastic things that make awful sounds are totally unnecessary. However, I do have a hard time saying no to my son, who seems to have a collector’s personality. His first obsession was balls, and we ended up getting him every ball under the sun. He still plays with them daily, so I don’t regret it. Nor do I regret all the stuffed animals, kitchen and food toys – and cash register we bought him. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I was utterly deprived of toys as a child, and all my parents ever let me have were books, but I feel that if he’s showing an interest in a particular subject or if those stuffed animals give him comfort and help him learn, and I have the ability to provide them, then I will do my best. Sure, books are great, but there are other parts of one’s brain, other than the language part, that need to be exercised and developed too. My son has lots of books, and not to pigeon-hole him, but I can tell that he will be a very physical and visually creative child, just like his father. So I’m not going to force him to sit and learn 4 languages when he clearly would prefer to be at the playground swinging on monkey bars or riding his scooter around town.

  17. Roper says:

    Perhaps the title of the section should be Bad Parent? (With a question mark) since that’s usually what the essays are asking: does doing X, Y, or Z make me a bad parent?

  18. snorkmaiden says:

    As a future librarian (11 classes down, 3 to go!), I’ve got to jump on the bandwagon here and say take him to the public library. Minimalism is all fine and good, but books are too important (and 10 is not enough).

  19. Denkpaard says:

    We just went Christmas shopping for our 2-year-old daughter and decided to limit ourselves to three gifts: a game, a tricycle, and a doll. We know she has too much stuff. The Gotta Go potty doll I wanted to buy her costs $60 and I could not justify paying that much for a doll. We didn’t get it. For the next baby, due in February, we will buy almost nothing.

  20. ck says:

    Everything in moderation, except the craptastic toys – those you can do without – but you’ll need some building toys and a few more books, but even those should be chosen wisely. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing and it’s easy to be a minimalist with an 8 month old baby. What baby isn’t? The real question is how you corporate “stuff” into your life as your son grows. I think you’re on the right track but minimalism for the sake of minimalism is just as silly as consumerism for the sake of consumerism.

  21. secondhandmom says:

    I congratulate you on your minimalist approach, whether it’s by choice or necessity or combo. And your little guy is so young…I have a feeling before long you’ll start accumulating more than you ever intended. There are a lot of great, inexpensive ways to find quality toys and books out there — you’ll see.My son has plenty of toys, but not nearly as many as some of his little buddies. So I do know what you mean about the guilt; I go through that all the time, especially when we go to play at someone’s house and my son just stands in the middle of the room with a glazed where-do-I-start look on his face, or when I have a conversation with a friend who’s spending hundreds on Christmas toys while I’m planning on wrapping up a bunch of jigsaw puzzles and board games. But you know what? More often than not, my 3yo enjoys using his imagination to make toys out of Tupperware and paper towel rolls, he spends countless hours putting puzzles together or playing with Mr. Potato Head, and he loves “playing” the piano and dancing around the house with his stuffed animals. So why would we fill our home with piles of toys that just collect dust? (We do have a zillion books, though, new and used — and we practically live at the library. You can never have too many books, in my opinion, and you can never spend too much time reading.)My point: as your child gets older, you’ll discover what he likes and you’ll stick to a few toys that make him happy and help him develop his own personality.I think you’re column brings up a bigger, more important issue than toys. We’re going to see a major shift in the way Americans view “stuff” in coming months and years. There’s already more critical evaluation of quality of life versus quantity of possessions. I’ve noticed in my own circle of friends, how hip and trendy yard sale and consignment shopping or flea market furniture is becoming. And I love it!

  22. GrammaJean says:

    I could SO relate to these concerns–and I’m delighted to give you some real-life feedback. I was guilt-ridden throughout my child-raising years, wishing I could do more than yard-sale toys, Salvation Army clothing, and library books. However, my wonderful kids are now well-adjusted adults who tell me without reservation that they are grateful that they know how to appreciate what they have, and they tell me to “get over it already!” They actually feel that other children missed out on the joys of creating their own amusements because we couldn’t just go out and buy them–so keep listening to your own inner voice and watching your child grow and learn in his own way.

  23. Judith1972 says:

    Definitely feel you! I worry about it all the time. We are the type of family to have “stuff”. We tend to enjoy taking a drive or going to park together. Thankfully, one of the ladies at work saved everything from her babies (now 9 and 12 yrs. old). So he has some really cool older toys. Heck – I even took the toys that had missing men or a missing car because I know at some point, he and his dad will probably build a Frankenstein toy of some kind. I worry – I worry, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my 13 mos of parenting (what a lifetime), is that worry goes with the title and as long as my kid finds joy in his latest favorite toy (a freaking lime of all things) and happily toddles around the house, we’re good.

  24. MotherofThree says:

    I’ll start by saying that I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong — babies don’t need all the cheap plastic junk that advertisers swear they must!have!or!else! But, because so few people have offered a critical view of this approach, I’ll post mine:I grew up poor, and my parents bought my siblings and I very few things: almost no toys, a few thrift store clothes, Payless shoes that we wore until they fell apart. Not having all the shiny plastic toys didn’t bother me (we all loved books and lived blocks from a huge library), but as we got older, it was painful to be the only kids in school who didn’t have designer clothes, expensive sneakers, name-brand bags, etc. Granted, this was in California during the 80s when it seemed like everyone was rich (we had friends in high school with clothing allowances of $100 a week, seriously,) and it probably wouldn’t be so awful now. My sister (hi Knitty!) seems to have emerged relatively unscathed, but my bother and I have spent a large part of our adulthood acquiring the stuff we couldn’t have when we were growing up. We both struggle with a near addiction to buying things we don’t really want or need, and we both feel like we’re still making up for everything we missed out on. I have a closet filled with clothes and shoes, but there’s still a part of me that remains unsatisfied. My first thought upon walking into a roomful of people is, how am I dressed in comparison to them? How do my children’s outfits stack up? I know how silly that is, but still, it’s always there.Not-having and wanting can be just as poisonous as conspicuous consumption. Be careful that you don’t deny him too much if you can possibly afford a few “extras.” You don’t want him growing up feeling like he’s the only kid not invited to the party.

  25. ChiLaura says:

    This will sound far harsher than it is meant to be, but I have to say that I’m leaning towards “bad parent” here. And no, I don’t actually think that you are a bad parent, BUT I do think that you’re taking this a little too far. True, all that we NEED might be love, but what about encouraging your child’s interests just because it’s fun? Granted, your kid is a bit young, but it sounds like even in the future you want to keep his possessions to a bare minimum. And for what? Just for the principle of the thing? That’s how this piece comes across.Not only have my 2 y/o son’s (mostly hand-me-down, with a couple gifts) Thomas the Tank Engines provided me with hours of no-child-underfoot cleaning, but they simply DELIGHT him. What’s wrong with actually letting some of these objects become a beloved part of our children’s lives? ‘Things’ aren’t bad, just as wealth isn’t bad. What we do with ‘things’, and our attitude towards them are what matter. I think that one can impart an appreciation of toys (or vacations, or outings, or cottages on a lake, or whatever else one may have) to children along with the toys without having one’s child turn into a soulless monster. Again, I don’t actually think that the author is a bad parent; I simply wonder if the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction from materialism. Hey, people, it’s like sex: Free love gets a little wild and crazy, but who really wants to be a Puritan either?

  26. nicole28 says:

    This summer I read my daughter _Little House in the Big Woods_ — I had remembered the Christmas scenes as being very exciting and I was amused to realize that for Christmas Laura gets “only” mittens, a stick of peppermint candy, and a rag doll, and she is perfectly happy. Granted, we can’t all live in a log cabin, but still….this child who grew up in a pretty austere log cabin has written books that have been more famous and more enduring than work done by children who grew up in “richer” environments. Like many people have said here, the trick is just to engage with your child and there are PLENTY of ways to skin that cat both by taking advantage of your community (in my city our libraries and family resource center have many many free resources, storytimes, playgroups, and singalongs) and building community (toy and book swaps, playdates, etc….and genuine non-competitive friendships among grownups keep us all sustained and help us remember what really makes us happy – I feel much happier after having a cup of tea with a good friend than I have ever felt after just BUYING something). PS As my daughter has entered kindergarten, it seems like a big part of teaching literacy these days is also having kids make up and act out their own stories – and all you need for that is paper, crayons, and imagination.

  27. sd says:

    OK people. Yes, books are important. No arguement there. But her son is eight months old. He’s probably good with the 10 books for now. Repetition is a good thing with young kids. Most kids love reading the same book over and over again. No, it is not hard to get new books inexpensively, and I’m sure she will. But really, an infant doesn’t need a massive library.

  28. Bunny 2 says:

    Chiming in with the folks who are saying they didn’t have much and turned out fine: my parents weren’t so much minimalists as not-really-paying-attention-to-the-kids types, and so I found ways to stretch my limited art supplies, books, stuffed animals, blocks, and dolls into hours of imaginative adventures. My friends who had fifty Barbies would chuck them into boxes naked and disheveled and couldn’t tell them apart, but I loved my five Barbies to death, designed them clothes out of discarded cut-up socks, and spent hours with my sister spinning wild tales of the adventures they were having. Sure, sometimes I resented not getting one particular thing that caught my eye, but I appreciated what I had so much more than the indulged kids I knew. And grew up with an eye for a bargain, and an appreciation for quality over quantity.My only request of my parents would have been that they had paid more attention to my particular loves and hobbies, and spent more time with me, period. So – as long as you’re willing to follow his passions and spend time with him (and, books! books books books! but library books are more than adequate, once he’s grown out of munching on them), minimal is awesome. And it sounds like you are, so, kudos to you!

  29. Alice says:

    Most third world orphanages have few or no toys at all for the babies and children. They find other ways to learn about thier world such as rocking back and forth, playing with their fingers, playing with their spit. You see babies need stimulation for their brains to develop. Dont spend a mint but buy a few simple toys that make noise, have bright colors, feel soft or play music. Cause and effect toys are great. I bought a lot of ours at second stores and Goodwill. My kids loved blocks, Duplos, little cars, musical things of any kind, plush lovie toys. Not being stimulated is not the same as saving money. YOu can provide toys for a child without spoiling them. I remember reading about one little girl adopted from Vietnam who lived with her grandmother until she was 10 years old. She said she never had any toys so she played with rocks, mud, sticks. Very sad.

  30. hand says:

    Somehow I can’t imagine being in this position.Is it just me, or is having kids a transition to a new economy? Upon bringing the first baby home, we went from people who tried to acquire things (or at least had no aversion to acquisition) to people who actively tried to prevent things from coming into our house.It is a never ending battle.Between grandparents and well-wishing friends and neighbors, our closets were stuffed with adorable clothes and cute toys from day one. Every visit, holiday, and birthday brings additions to the pile. We tried at first to prevent the grandparents from going overboard, but we couldn’t. One literally said to me, “It brings me pleasure [and I'm sure it does] to buy things for them. Whatever you want to do with it once it’s in your house is your decision.” LOTS of trips to Goodwill. LOTS of “free” ads on the local parenting network. It’s not that the grandparents have so much money they don’t know what to do with it. Many of the gifts come from yard sales or the dollar store. Consumerism is just so powerful.Most of my friends are in the same boat. We would love to give some of these wonderful clothes and toys to each others’ kids, but nobody wants/needs them.

  31. Bunny 2 says:

    Kids in orphanages aren’t suffering from lack of toys – they’re suffering from lack of love and attention (and, of course, being just stuck in a crib with nothing to explore besides their own bodies). Comparing this “bad parent” to that is ludicrous.And the little girl with nothing to play with but rocks, mud, and sticks had the whole of the outdoors to play with. Probably much more educational and stimulating than all the shiny plastic kids are loaded up with (and loads better than TV!).

  32. fenn says:

    I’m with you, Bunny 2. I often think of Catherine Hardwicke’s story of the Christmas her poor father brought home just a truck bed full of soil as a present for herself and her siblings. They played with that pile of dirt for months, digging tunnels and building structures. And Catherine went on to be a successful set builder and then director. The trouble with consumerism is that it’s self-perpetuating; the more you have the more you ‘need’.Books are wonderful and were surely a cherished part of my own childhood, but I’m surprised nobody has mentioned that a story can be just as special when it isn’t illustrated and committed to paper. Tales that grow and change with input from parent and child and reflect recent experiences and curiosities are invigorating for all.

  33. beeker says:

    Good grief! Is bad parent always smug and annoying? First – babies chew on books. It’s part of how they interact with objects. In case this mother didn’t know, you’re also supposed to read books TO him. Sheesh! Second – a child who isn’t in a francophone environment is unlikely to enjoy that French book over an English one. This seems like common sense to me. Out of all the books she chose to buy, why buy the snooty French one? Third – get a library card and borrow a few books from your book loving friends. None of this is rocket science. It seems like this author was more interested in mocking her friends, than expressing any real insights. I have sympathy for a mother on a very limited income. I’ve known many. I’m sure she will give her boy everything she can and everything he needs. And I know there are children whose parents cannot afford food, much less toys. But this is probably an exaggeration. This mother lives with her parents. Are you telling me they never bought their grandchild a single toy? Surely she has friends, right?! I cant believe NO ONE gave her a teddy bear (or something similar)when the child was born. The child has NO toys? Not a single one?Are her parents so strapped that they cannot afford a Christmas gift for their grandchild? If that’s the case, this family has some serious problems and this mother should be worrying less about the impact of her minimalist lifestyle and more about their next meal. A child who is old enough to know it is Christmas, should have a gift waiting for him. So this year, Santa can probably skip her boy without much fuss. If she can’t afford one next year, she should swallow her pride and contact a charity that gives toys for Christmas.If one’s minimalism conflicts with the simple notion that children should have toys, then it is too extreme. Once again, Bad Parent is all about exaggerating instead good writing or insight.

  34. adequate parent says:

    As others here have already said (some kindly and some less so), seeing that he has “enough” really shouldn’t be that much of a stretch. Beyond that, what could possibly be better than your love and time and thoughtful consideration? To be successful doesn’t mean he has to speak three languages or be a star athlete. Really. If he grows up into a deeply decent human being who knows who he is and what he’s here for, won’t you be thrilled? Keep that on your radar and don’t stand in his way too much. He’s on a path that goes beyond you and what you do or don’t do. Trust in it.

  35. restonmom says:

    Freecycle is the greatest thing ever, especially if you live in a city or suburbs where other people consume a lot. We have received many brand-new toys for my almost-3-year-old daughter, including an awesome child-size metal shopping cart that she plays with a ton. Books are most important, followed by age-appropriate manipulation toys: ring stacker, shape sorter, blocks, and so forth. All of these are available for free or very inexpensively on freecycle or at yard sales (we prefer our community yard sale and preschool sale, since there’s a wide selection and it’s just one Saturday morning committed to searching out clothes and toys). Large boxes are easily transformed into kitchens, boats, cars, playhouses, etc., though we do love our play tent we bought for $3 at a yard sale (especially nice because it folds). Really, see what your kid lights up at when you take him to other kids’ houses and seek it out for free. And the tiny plastic kitchen I bought for $10 on Craigslist has brought about two years worth of enjoyment to her and countless playmates.

  36. restonmom says:

    One more recommendation: subscribe to Wondertime magazine. Ask someone to get it for you for the holidays if money’s too tight to spare $10. Despite being owned by Disney, it’s the best non-materialistic parenting publication out there. Lots of great ideas and most of them are free or don’t cost much.

  37. easy being Jean says:

    Many town dumps here on the East Coast have free shops, and the majority of stuff in those free shops is barely-used kid’s toys and books. The shops are not in the dumps or gross or anything — they’re just thrift stores in which you don’t have to pay. I happen to have money to buy the necessities for my baby, but I prefer not to pay for something like an exersaucer, which will only be used for a couple of months, and drop it off for someone else when I’m finished. They are also a fantastic place to get books — for kids and adults. I hang onto books forever, but many people don’t want to re-read them and prefer to make room for more books. I’ve gotten entire bound libraries of classics at our local free shop. But I digress.Like many other commenters here, I grew up in a poor family and had few possessions. My parents, however, were very good about getting me books (at used book stores, thrift stores, and yard sales) and taking me to the library every week. They also made a point of focusing on activities — camping, biking, beach trips, hikes, etc. I think that spending time together and getting your kid to take an interest in the world is more important than sticking him or her in a chair or in front of the tv or a video game. That said, there’s nothing particularly saintly about denying oneself possessions or material comforts. Of course one shouldn’t clutter one’s house with things one can’t afford, but there’s nothing wrong with being comfortable and making others comfortable as well.

  38. Books says:

    For books, look into your public library. They are free (apart from the tax on your real estate if you own any) in most of the US and are stocked with everything you can imagine. From children’s books to DVDs and CDs full of music. We have several library cards in our young family and we routinely run them at the max level of 99 items (the field in their computers only has two digits). The book experiences our kids got this way would have cost us several years salaries when we would have bought the books ourselves. We do a weekly evening children’s storytime in the Library where we exchange books afterwards and this is well worth the time.

  39. NobleExperiements says:

    If it helps, I also raised my daughter (now 18) in minimal circumstances. Both by design and by situation, she did not have all the cool new toys or foreign-language tutors. I did, however, read to her a lot. When she was four, I felt pressured into a big Christmas haul of toys (long story, completion in the family) and have regretted it ever since. It just felt wrong, somehow, to get her more toys than she could appreciate.She’s now not only a well-adjusted young woman living on her own, but she’s non-materialistic in a good way; she knows there’s more to life than buying stuff. Like me, she’s more inclined to spend her money on experiences rather than items, and she’s into reuse/recycle in a big way (and has loved thrift-store shopping since she was old enough to know what it was; she says it’s like treasure hunting).All that is meant to say that it’s hard to know how our kids will turn out, but being on the less-materialistic side will install life lessons that your child would miss out on otherwise. I think of the “do we really need to buy that?” discussions as valuable teaching moments. My daughter knew that we often couldn’t afford all the stuff her friends had, but that even if we could, it might not be the right thing for us or for her. Good lesson to learn young.

  40. SEG says:

    The kid is too young to know if he’s getting as many toys as his neighbors or not. Save the money now for all the stuff he’ll ask for when he gets older and starts doing comparisons.

  41. rory says:

    “I’m all for minimalism, and not having a lot of plastic crap, but it sounds like you’re justifying not getting those basics needed to help your child develop. Are some blocks really that difficult? Get some good used wooden ones, and maybe you’ll raise an architect. Or a little toy piano? Or, for god’s sake, some BOOKS? I’m not saying you need to buy everything out there, but “all you need is love” is an awfully self-righteous way to dismiss depriving your child of fun and necessary stimulation.”I agree. You write well and sound intelligent…are you doing anything to improve your financial situation so you can live independently from your parents? Going to school, trying to advance at work? People should not have children they cannot afford.

  42. anony54321 says:

    hi there,this is too easy an accomplishment when your child is still of an age to suck his toes. i was going to trick my child into thinking that whole wheat crackers were cookies, was my goal. it worked until the first time we went to someone’s house and he was offered a real cookie. of course kids dont need tons of stuff and my kid has less than plenty. more than plenty too, tho. and virtually everything we own is used, and therefore does not contribute to the waste stream. you will lighten up as he gets older and more vocal with his wants. which is totally fine, and nothing to disparage yourself for. i was a virtual commie till i had my son. then the bourgeousie in me took over. i stuff it and fight it but it is there.

  43. kyoungers says:

    Here’s the deal: Lots of parents can’t afford the best toys/clothes/vacations/whatever. The difference is how your child perceives *you* feel about it. If your guilt manifests itself in criticism of the child’s wants (personal experience!), then the child will feel guilty in turn, and s/he *will* remember that as an adult and will definitely resent you. But if you can convey sympathy for and understanding of the child’s wants, even if you can’t meet those wants, that will make all the difference. Trust me.

  44. Joy Filled Girl says:

    “Will reading Leo the same ten board books we inherited from a friend somehow stymie him intellectually?”It’s called a library. Try it out sometime.

  45. kpks says:

    My son is nearly 7 years old now. I have always chosen judicious toys/books for him. Ergo, he still plays with the wooden blocks I got him when he was 18 months old. He used to stack them up then. He builds obstacle courses for his hot wheel car ( a recent birthday gift) now. The added advantage is, I haven’t had to buy hundreds of track sets for his hot wheel car. I also pass on his baby books/clothes/cloth diapers to friends, cousins and someday soon my sister for their kids.I bought him a lego set when he was 2, after an idiot of a nurse poked him 5 times to draw blood. He still plays with it nearly everyday :) Both the school and local library provide him with adequate books to read.Such habits are ingrained. My ex-neighbours, brother’s son uses my rocking horse!!!!

  46. chm says:

    Nan you are harming your child IF you are truely upset with your choice. Babies need relaxed and confidient parents far more than toys. Cause if Mommy ain’t happy– ain’t nobody happy! So be happy! sounds to me like you are doing just fine– enjoy! PS those exersaucers are great for only two months. It goes from being the very best thing ever to being hated and despised very fast.

  47. dallasmom2two says:

    Hi my kids have toys I think but not as many as most kids around them. BUT most of what I buy are arts and crafts supplies and books, some occasional high quality toy and things like building kits. Your son at 8 months is a little young for some of this but when he gets to be about 2 and you look past the crappy noisy ugly fisher price type junk you can find some very cool inventive toys that are open ended for play. My sons at 7 and 5 get science kits and magnifying glasses…things that they use in the backyard to dig for worms and look for rocks….we have very little cartoon character mechandise type stuff…However I am finding that my 5 year old is into star wars bc he gets this from the kdis at school and so he spent his allowance money (he gets 2 dollars a week) on this type of thing. I think you have to balance it. My 7 year old is already a science geek and could care less about a lot of mainstream stuff but my 5 year old does and this year he asks for video games and things that I am not a fan of. I don’t want to completely isolate him socially and so within reason I will get a few things that work for my values. There are some things we spend money on in the house…BOOKS! lots of them and both my kids were and are early readers. We do use the library a lot too. I have a book addiction and i have no problems buying/borrowing them for kids who will read. I also spend a lot on music lessons for both kids….I have recently bought a high quality $400 violin for my 7 year old’s violin lessons…I could have made do with a cheaper one but to me if you give a child a beautiful high quality real instrument to play they will want to play it and sound good vs the cheapy one. what I cannot stand is the rampant materialism and I want I want culture that is so much a part of american life. Tv is heavily restricted in our house (more than the average american family I’ll bet) and that is where a lot of the I want culture comes from. This struggle to not be more minimalistic is tough…I am not as strict about it as you are but you have to do what works for you and keeps you happy. at 8 months it is easy to achieve I think but harder as the child grows up so I guess you need to be flexible!

  48. JustAskBaby says:

    Hi Mommy & Leo!The pressure our highly commercial world puts on parents and infants to have the latest things is huge, and very hard to resist. Your desire to bring up Leo in a more minimalist way may well be the very best thing to aid his development. Here are a couple of links that you may find helpful: one is a blog post on appropriate toys, and the second a link to an Ebook on a similar subject, both written by the eminent Professor David Elkind.http://www.justaskbaby.com/blogs/professor-elkind/too-many-toyshttp://www.justaskbaby.com/ebooks

  49. Another mom says:

    The solution for no books is easy in most places – go to the library and borrow some every few weeks, and you’ll never run out.

  50. mchaos says:

    I don’t think children need millions of toys or super trendy anything. However, I am a huge reader and love the kids books so much I intend to have lots. I usually buy them used though, either from local used book stores, library sales, or amazon marketplace. I can’t be trusted with library books, I never take them back and they end up costing me a lot in fines. I think given your lack of space and current circumstances you’re doing exactly what you should be. I also think your friends are thinking more of your finances when they send you ads for used toys, than that you are depriving your kid. Honestly, my earliest memory is when I was 3 and I don’t remember any toys at all from that era. Hard to feel deprived of toys when you really prefer time with your parents and generally that’s what little kids like.

  51. Stephanie Fehler says:

    In my family, we have a lot of people and not so much space. People give us things all the time (seven children!) – and we have developped a good “theology of things” i think. We want room for people in our house – not just our own people, but room to have people over, friends over at the last minute, neighbours over for coffee… “things” take room away from other things you can do with your space. the best “toys” my children have are each other. I could get rid of every toy we have in the house (including the lego!) and honestly, i don’t think one of my children would complain. Books,yes they would :) and the Wii definitely :) LOL! But children would always rather play with a person rather than an object, and i want them to realize that beauty…

  52. Patrono says:

    When I was a child, relatives and my parents’ friends kept giving me toys. I was very happy every time I got something but the novelty wore off in days. I then wondered why none of those things couldn’t make me happy. I felt guilty, ungrateful and wondered what was wrong with me.
    I vividly remember one of my friends whose parents were very well off. They bought her EVERYTHING. She was the first one to have a computer. And yet, she was perpetually bored. Rather than play with her toys, she wanted to go to my place because my parents talked to eachother.

    Now offcourse the little thing is going to get jelaus of the things that other children have. And his mother can tell him exactly how he can get all the things he wants. He can do well in school and get a job that pays a lot.

  53. method says:

    great article

  54. m says:

    Hate to break it to you, but unless you are neglecting the kid, intelligence is mostly hereditary. My dad and I have the same IQ, and he was raised in a third world country eating dirt. Kids don’t need things like changing tables and books can be gotten at the library for FREE, as can mommy-and-me classes.

  55. firsttimemom says:

    Thank you for your article. I’m currently 7 months pregnant and struggling to help my parents and others understand that like you “partly by choice and partly necessity” I want to raise my child to value the things we have, stretch his imagination, and “get by” without all the terribly expensive and in my opinion usually unneccesary toys (especially electronics for a toddler). I plan to surround my kid with as many boxes and sheets as he needs to build forts in my living room. He may not have electric cars, but I don’t think his happiness nor his intelligence will be hindered and I hope that he grows up to value relationships and imagination more than anything money can buy.

  56. Mummy C says:

    You can spend as much or as little as you want on your on baby, but at the end of the day it’s the interactions you have with your child that teach him or her communication skills, and allowing them to explore (with supervision) their surroundings and objects whether they be ultra expensive electronic gadgets or a simple wooden spoon. They need to explore using all of their senses to develop independence, spatial awareness, and generally learn how things work. There is loads of free learning environments; the beach with waves, sand, shells and, the parks with grass, twigs, crunchy leaves, and birds, and of course your local library has unlimited books to read there and at home. Join in on the baby nursery rhyme sessions held weekly to help baby socialise too. As long as you spend time with baby to help him or her learn about different textures, sights, sounds and tastes, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with resisting materialistic must-buy must-have baby goods.

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