This journey to a simpler lifestyle and minimizing our material possessions required a lot of sacrifice from our kids. They had to part with many of their toys that would not fit in our new small space. I had my concerns, but as it turned out, it was easier than I thought. There was a lot of mental preparation and a lot of conversations leading up to our departure. The kids were asked to fill a 5 gallon bin (each) with their favorite things. But in the end, it wasn’t necessary to bring out the bins because they already had planned, in their minds, what they were bringing. The boys brought all their Legos, matchbox cars, super hero figures and a few of their favorite stuffed toys. The girls brought Barbies with some accessories, Polly Pockets, baby dolls and more stuffed animals.
The 3 story dollhouse, giant wooden castle, drum set, garage full of riding toys, train table etc… had to be given up. I have to admit I was fearful that in a few months the kids would be crying for their stuff.
What I have found instead, is that the kids have become unbelievably creative with what they have. They take ordinary items from around the camper and integrate them into their play. They did this in the house as well but not to this extent. From egg carton “space pods” to Sadie putting the lid of the popcorn maker over her head as Darth Vader. These kids’ imaginations are flourishing.
I couldn’t find the handle to my spatula until I discovered it had become a “Native American hunting knife”. An old box was turned into an auto repair shop and an upside down step stool was used as a parking garage.
On another occasion I joined the fun with these collapsible DIY dollhouses and had a blast. I bought some felt for flooring and colored tape and ribbons for decorating. The kids played with the houses for a few weeks and when we moved on to our next location we put the boxes in the recycle bin. We kept some of the felt to reuse another time.
In addition to all this creative recreation, we keep very busy outside of our home on wheels. Most days are spent at parks, libraries, and local attractions. There are very few home days to sit and play with toys. Having less is plenty. When we do have a home day, much of it is used for “official” school time, although I am getting convinced that all of this imaginary play is good for something and will prove its value over time.
My 10 year old plays slightly less than the others since she has totally discovered her love of reading this year and is devouring books every day. Watching her read so much for pleasure is a joy and I don’t believe this zest for literature would have developed under different circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong… it still feels like we are exploding with toys for this little space and with all four kids’ birthdays and holidays past it has already grown too much. It is time again to trade some out for donation.
Screen time here is very limited too. We have no cable and internet access is dependent on where we are staying. We do watch a lot of DVDs in the evenings or when we need to chill. The kids share two Kindles, but they have limited access to them. We just got our 10 year old an iTouch to take pictures and email loved ones as well. I’m not anti-technology, but do believe it should be extremely monitored and used purposefully.
We gave the boys pocket knives for Christmas this year. That’s something I would have never thought of doing a year ago. Yes, they both cut their fingers opening boxes Christmas morning, but since then have enjoyed them without incident. They have learned to use them carefully and responsibly. They spend so much time outdoors that carving sticks and branches has become a natural activity.
Some people feel that kids should be preparing for adulthood as soon as possible. That they should be building their ability to handle the daily stress of life, social pressures, and receiving optimal exposure to technology. Yes, these are all aspects that will foster maturation, but we believe that play is just as important. We are happy to be in a position that does not require a deadline on benchmarks or comparison by standardized testing.
For us, this alternative is working now. We are letting our kids be kids. They are learning a lot through exploration and natural discovery. They do not have the most or best of material things, but we are providing experiences for them to see things first hand.
I guess we will find out in about 15 years when we have either intelligent, artistic, expressive, happy young adults or we get to see them on an episode of Hoarders, My parents took away my toys. Either way we are consciously doing our best to stay in tune to the needs of our children and will change and grow with them along the way.