Minimalist parenting: The frugal choice

The woman on the radio sounded panicked.

She lived in Los Angeles, and because of her neighborhood (weird homeless guy on the corner; busy streets all around) she didn't trust her kids to play outside. So she spent her time driving them to activities where they would get… physical activity. It sounded a little awful, and it sounded expensive.

I had been interviewed for this piece (my interview wasn't used), so I was really paying attention. The other story is about a family in Portland, who, like me, live without a car. The reporter said, “there's a bus stop at the bottom of the street, and the elementary school is just a few blocks away. The children ride their bikes back and forth, and they don't schedule many after-school activities that would require getting in the car.”

This woman sounded very relaxed and nonchalant. She didn't say anything about money, but it's easy to extrapolate and to figure out from the contrast with the LA mom: the cost of just joining the after-school activities, not to mention the expense of driving compared to biking, and the cost of convenience food to which many highly-scheduled parents resort.

It's Minimalist Parenting. And It's Cheaper.

When I heard this piece I immediately thought of Asha Dornfest and Christine Koh, bloggers who have just released a new book called Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Family Life More by Doing Less. Their belief is that overscheduling creates stress and anxiety, instead of relieving it. From their book blurb: “They show how to tune into your family's unique values and priorities and confidently identify the activities, stuff, information, and people that truly merit space in your life.”

I see this most in activities. Thanks to my own choice to bike instead of drive, and my husband's military deployment, the stress of keeping three boys in extracurricular activities overwhelms me. So, I usually pick just one or two things per year for each kid; my oldest has a monthly Saturday “apprenticeship” with an organization called Trackers, and I put my middle child in one sport or week-long day camp a year. My youngest just goes along for the ride (for now, he's only five).

Contrast this with some of my friends whose jobs mean they have to juggle activities and summer camps and school, signing kids up for enough activities so they can pick them up at 4:30 or 5 each school day and holiday camps for those days off school where parents have to work. Or those who believe that children need the enrichment brought by a sport, a musical instrument, and an interest club like scouting or Pokemon, and spend four or five days a week shuttling the child to practices and meetings and lessons. It's not just crazy; it's expensive, and can cost a few hundred dollars a month for each child.

Is It Old News? Maybe Not For Lots of Parents

I emailed Asha to ask her, did she think about the personal finance aspect of Minimalist Parenting? Yes! she said. “In the book, we have an entire chapter devoted to money,” she wrote. “Our general idea is that money, like time, is scarce and valuable and should only be spent on the stuff that MATTERS. In other words, if you use it or love it (or ‘it' will enrich your life in other ways), it has value. The rest doesn't earn its place in your schedule or your budget.”

I think we all know this, but often we are so caught up in the idea of things that we don't take time to figure out which is the priority; we just dive in, figuring, if one enrichment activity is good, more must be better. If one sport was wonderful for us when we were children, wouldn't one sport per season be even better for our children?

In the day-to-day, says Asha, we have to look at our expenses carefully and think about them beforehand, instead of later, when you've already signed the application and sent in a deposit. You should ask, she said, “is this thing/activity/expense earning a place in my life? In the end, Minimalist Parenting is about prioritizing the objects, activities, and experiences that matter to your family and then making room for those things in practical ways.”

Experiences Make Us Happy, Not Stuff

Remember the research about experiences making us happy, not stuff? Minimalist parenting is so much like the “simple” approach to life; the fewer things we buy, the better, and even the experiences need to be picked and chosen among. I'm constantly debating the desirability of stuff (even the But which experiences?

How do we pick the experiences that matter? And can't experiences be, well, free? It's the minimalist, and the financially-savvy, way. Spending a little time one day making a list of the things you most want to keep doing and the things you would be relieved to let go is a good way to reflect, say Asha and Christine as part of their “Mincamp” parenting email program. When I did this I realized that I was going to have to forgo one project I'd wanted to participate in — being a group leader for an alternative scouting organization some friends were starting — in favor of working in the garden with my kids. We were making a secret blueberry garden, a project that would allow them to have a place to play and dream this summer and summers to come. It was mostly free (I had a few blueberry bushes to buy, but mostly I was transplanting bulbs and planting seeds and moving rocks around) and I could wait to participate in the scouting organization when it was up and running in my neighborhood — without rushing all the way across town for organizational pow-wows.

Asha congratulated me. “Minimalist Parenting often has a positive impact on the budget. When you open up your schedule by canceling an after-school lesson, you regain time and money! That said, we don't think that spending money is itself the problem. Spending on stuff that doesn't matter is the problem.”

What doesn't matter for me? Uniforms for t-ball when my kids aren't very good at it; scouting guides and credoes when I'd rather explore the nearby natural areas with my kids and my friend and neighbor, the botanist; guitar lessons when the finger placement is too difficult and frustrating for even my oldest right now. (Those would be hundreds of dollars a season, for the record.) What does matter? Film and developing for my old-fashioned camera to take pictures of my kids out there on walks near home. (About $50 a month.)

What doesn't matter to you? How can you use the ideas of minimalist parenting to save money and sanity?

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Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago

Great post, Sarah. I feel that I am definitely a minimalist parent as far as material possessions go. And I am about to enter into the years with my children when we will have to start picking activities. My kids are 3 and 1….but some of my oldest daughter’s friends are already in soccer, dance, and gymnastics! There’s certainly nothing wrong with it, but I am already nervous about the whole thing. I want them to learn new skills and make new friends but I am terrified of ending up carting them around all evening after work, eating fast food,… Read more »

Debi
Debi
7 years ago

3 year olds are involved in 3 organized activiteis? That sounds crazy to me. You’re smart to question it before you get your daughter involved. You’re right to focus on family time and values. My children are adults now but activities when they were growing up were limited to one at a time and we put a big emphasas on eating together at home as a family for dinner most nights. I’ll have to ask them, but I don’t think they felt deprived at the time. It will be interesting to hear their perspective.

Mike Holman
Mike Holman
7 years ago
Reply to  Debi

Not all activities are equal in terms of commitment and time. A lot of activities will have one session per week and no other time is required.

Other things like music lessons require practice, so it’s not just the lesson you are signing up for.

And of course, higher level sports for older kids will often have multiple sessions per week and a defined season.

My point is that the “limiting to one/two activity per week” rule can mean a lot of different things.

Vanessa
Vanessa
7 years ago

L.A. mom sounds like she’s doing the best she can given her circumstances, which is all any of us can do.

LeRainDrop
LeRainDrop
7 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

I agree. Since Sarah seems to be saying LA mom was the example of the non-minimalist, I’m assuming that the kids are scheduled for a lot of activities, though I didn’t necessarily see evidence of that in this blog post. All I saw was that LA mother wanted her kids to be able to have some activity, but due to safety concerns, that had to be done away from their home rather than at their home. I’m not sure why Sarah makes the leap of “driving to activites” (as opposed to “biking” or “walking”) equals “overscheduled” — perhaps she just… Read more »

Ellen K.
Ellen K.
7 years ago
Reply to  LeRainDrop

Safety concerns are often overblown, but as a SAHM in an urban neighborhood, I can’t dismiss them as Sarah seems to do. Avoiding the weird homeless guy on the corner is a legitimate point, not an excuse. If we didn’t have a tall privacy fence (with multiple locks) in the backyard, plus a dog who barks every time someone walks through the alley, I wouldn’t be as comfortable with my preschoolers playing back there by themselves. I’ve called 911 many times to report people standing in the alley and looking a little too long at houses, jumping fences to cut… Read more »

Aryn
Aryn
7 years ago
Reply to  LeRainDrop

In the original story, the LA mom says she is overscheduled. Often late for one activity or another. It was on NPR.

LeRainDrop
LeRainDrop
7 years ago
Reply to  Aryn

Fair enough, but then Sarah should have included this relevant information in her piece to provide clarity. As written, the post implies driving kids to get to activities (even when faced with safety risks immediately surrounding the home) = overscheduled, non-minimalist, negative, etc.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
7 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

Amen.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

I agree — families should do what works for them. We know so very little about other people’s lives that I think we need to be cautious about using their actions to justify our own.

Somsiah
Somsiah
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I’m with you Elizabeth, well said.

Sam
Sam
7 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

While I mostly bemoan the idea that kids can’t play outside b/c its not safe (the statistics tell us otherwise, its a lot safer now than we were growing up). I don’t really think its fair to compare an LA mom, living in car community, and a Portland mom, living in a very bike friendly area, the circumstances are just way to different in my mind.

Anne
Anne
7 years ago
Reply to  Sam

This is exactly where I wanted to weigh in. I have lived in Portland and it is a lovely walking friendly city.

However, most of my life has been in suburbs of Southern California and very little of it is walker friendly, especially sending your kids out the front door to get to an activity.

I get my knickers in a twist when people feel superior about their non use of cars. All things are not equal in that area.

My Financial Independence Journey
My Financial Independence Journey
7 years ago

I don’t really believe in minimalism. But so long as your kids are doing well in school and developing social skills then I suppose almost any parenting style is fine.

Paul
Paul
7 years ago

I would say that my wife and I are minimalist parents to some degree. We have not consciously tried to be minimalist, but we are. I think it started shortly after our son started kindergarten. His school had a good reputation, but we found that he was definitely going backward academically. When we moved and I changed jobs half way through that year, we started to home school our son. You can go overboard spending on curricula for homeschooling, but eventually we ended up with a group whose values agree with ours. Then what about all the school activities our… Read more »

Simple Economist
Simple Economist
7 years ago

Thanks for posting about this. My wife and I just had a new baby and we are just beginning to navigate the wonderful world of children’s activities.

We lived a relatively minimalistic lifestyle before kids so we are trying to adapt to a new standard now they we have one. It has been an interesting journey.

I’m still trying to figure out how to bike with an infant? What age is it ok to take her for rides (in months)? Best options?

Mike Holman
Mike Holman
7 years ago

Whatever you do – don’t do what my neighbour did and bike with her infant in a baby carrier sling with no helmet. 🙂 The baby should be in a carrier either behind the seat or on the handle bars. You should look into those options and see what their recommended minimum ages are. The biggest problem is the helmet – I don’t know if they make helmets small enough for little babies. Again, maybe shop around see what is available. If I had to make a recommendation, I’d say wait until 12 months. Maybe earlier if the baby is… Read more »

Carol
Carol
7 years ago

We loved the iBert seat for our daughter. It fits on top of the handlebars so the child is in front. The child should be able to sit up (product recommends 12-48 months). Maybe younger babies can ride in the pull behind types?

MamaMia
MamaMia
7 years ago

There isn’t much formal research on which bike arrangement is safest for young children. But anecdotal evidence and limited data seem to show that bike trailers with reflective strips and flags are the safest. These trailers are not recommended for children under 1 year. I’ve know parents who’ve put their younger babies in their car seats to get around the recommendation, but I would not. Young babies’ necks are just too weak to withstand the bumpy ride in a bike. We wait until our kids are old enough to sit upright and wear a helmet before putting them in the… Read more »

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
7 years ago

I would be very hesitant to take an infant on a bike and would read up on the safety of it and talk to your child’s doctor. Your child’s fontanelles don’t disappear until around 24 months I think, so if there is an accident, your baby’s brain is not completely encased by his or her skull. The APP and most states increased the age to switch to a front-facing car seat until the child was 24 months based on the fact that if there was even a minor accident, the injuries an infant suffered could be huge. In fact, by… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
7 years ago
Reply to  phoenix1920

People are so unbelievably careless about head injuries that I shudder. When you get a serious head injury the person you are dies. And you may or may not want to be the person who survives. I saw a woman on a bike with her two very young children in a towing carrier. She was talking on her cell phone while making an illegal left turn! A head injury in a young child can be absolutely devastating. Letting kids stand up in the grocery cart, riding bikes and skate boards, etc. without helmets and the like scare me. Are the… Read more »

Juliana
Juliana
7 years ago

Are you a stay-at-home parent? I’m guessing by the fact that you are criticizing the fact that your friends have to schedule their kids in activities until 4:30 or 5:00 when they can pick them up “due to their jobs”. Are you trying to make the claim that having a job is frivolous and means you’re not a “minimalist parent”? I just find it offensive that you seem to be on a high horse about it and criticizing those who work outside the home and sign our kids up for activities and childcare to fill the time that we can’t… Read more »

LeRainDrop
LeRainDrop
7 years ago
Reply to  Juliana

Re-read that paragraph again. She actually called it “crazy,” so, yeah, I’d say taking offense is reasonable. Yet another self-congratulatory article by Sarah Gilbert. I find the content of it very interesting, but am getting tired of the self-praising tone of her pieces — it’s just off-putting.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
7 years ago
Reply to  LeRainDrop

If a person cannot justify his or her own choices without trashing another person’s … maybe it’s time to re-examine.

Matt
Matt
7 years ago
Reply to  Juliana

Sadly it seems nearly impossible to strike the perfect balance. Work full time: Too much money, never enough time. A couple of hundred bucks for children activities is a drop in the bucket. Wait? I have kids? I never see them and when I do I’m too tired to enjoy it! Stay home full time: Seemingly enough time, but often not enough money. Career takes a giant detour and your wages may never catch up. How do you pay for $400,000 of kids’ college tuition unless someone is bringing in well over six figures? Somebody should have explained this to… Read more »

sarah gilbert
sarah gilbert
7 years ago
Reply to  Juliana

When I said “crazy” I did not mean “crazy-weird-insane” but “crazy-busy.” I love my friends dearly and am not judging them and I certainly apologize if anyone feels judged by that word; I know this is a situation where they/you are doing what works for their situation and responsibilities. I’m a work-from-home mom, and I am lucky that my flexible work schedule allows me to pick kids up after school. My craziness happens after my kids go to bed, when I stay up too late to get things done. We all have craziness; I just prefer the craziness that doesn’t… Read more »

imelda
imelda
7 years ago
Reply to  sarah gilbert

“I certainly apologize if anyone feels judged by that word”

Why can’t people learn to apologize right?

Sarah, who the hell *wouldn’t* feel judged by having their choices called “crazy”?

Julian Hearn
Julian Hearn
7 years ago

I totally agree with the quote “experience make us happy, not stuff”.

However, without certain stuff it is happy to enjoy experiences, for example without food, shelter, clothing, etc.

According research by Princeton a household income of $75,000 is max amount that you need to be happy: http://wws.princeton.edu/news/Income_Happiness/Happiness_Money_Summary.pdf

Barb
Barb
7 years ago

Well, first of all, LA mom was drivingher kids because there was NOW WHERE NEAR BY for them to play. NOwhere does it suggest her kids were overscheduled or anything else. Just tht she drove them somewhere else because there was no area to play where she was. How do we know she simply didnt drive tem to a safe play ground and sit and watch them play??? Personally, I beleive that enrichment is god for chldren, and how much activity is involved depends on the child. Many enrichment programs are reasonable. And again, all the judgement about working parents… Read more »

sarah gilbert
sarah gilbert
7 years ago
Reply to  Barb

I’m sorry that you felt judged, Barb; I only meant that it is a challenge of organization.

Mom of five
Mom of five
7 years ago

I don’t know. I think the best parents nurture their kids’ innate talents and desires and how that happens takes a variety of shapes and sizes. For some kids that’s going to mean taking a lot of nature walks with mom. For other kids, it means going from Lacrosse practice right to the debate club. I think we parents need to be careful that by taking a minimalist parenting approach that we’re not deliberately thrusting mediocrity upon a child who would otherwise excel (or maybe simply thrive) in an area like music, sports, or theatre. A lot of self esteem… Read more »

Ange
Ange
7 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

I totally agree with this. My 12 year-old son LOVES sports. As soon as one season ends, he’s begging to sign up for the next thing. My 18 year-old daughter, on the other hand, wants to come home and read a book. Parents need to try to support their KIDS’ interests and not make sweeping generalizations about what kind of parent they are going to be.

Sara
Sara
7 years ago

A few thoughts here. First, how does this tie into your values in regards to community? If my child plays little league, he gets to know other children in his town and build relationships. Same thing if he wants to take gymnastics or robotics camp or play an instrument. By keeping your child out of activities altogether, you’re basically sending a message to them that interacting with the larger community isn’t important. This doesn’t mean that you have to schedule them in every activity out there, but I think taking part in activities is important for children. I never did… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
7 years ago
Reply to  Sara

I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but I can speak for my own kids. Once we found the organized activities in which they excelled, their self confidence soared.

Beth
Beth
7 years ago
Reply to  Sara

To add to your excellent points: Keeping your kids involved in activities is also great for the high school years. By participating in structured activities (sports, theater, band, newspaper, scouting, and even jobs/volunteer jobs), you are helping them develop as human beings. (It also looks good when applying to colleges.)

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  Sara

All good points! One thing I would add is that some activities teach import skills. I grew up around water, so it was important to my parents that my siblings and I could swim reasonably well. (Swimming lessons also taught us lifesaving and safe boating skills as well.) Many of my friends have kids in swimming lessons so they car pool.

Sara
Sara
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Totally agree with you here. One of my first cousins drowned in a swimming pool, so I made sure to sign my oldest son up for swimming lessons. We’ve done them for a few years and he’s not quite there yet (has a fear of being in over his head) but has made a lot of progress.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
7 years ago
Reply to  Sara

Sara, you might want to ask an objective observer if you might be accidentally passing some of your anxiety on to your son. I think most kids are willing to get in over their heads a lot faster than that. And don’t assume that having your son learn to swim will drown-proof him, either. Everyone should learn the basic drown-proofing technique as part of their swimming lessons.

Angela
Angela
7 years ago

The article sounded somewhat reasonable until the second-to-last paragraph about what doesn’t matter. I think it’s funny that the author spends money on a *thing* such as film and developing for her own camera, rather than pay for experiences such as t-ball or guitar lessons with the justification that the kids aren’t skilled enough in those things. OF COURSE THEY AREN’T! It’s because you aren’t giving them time to learn. Nobody excels at anything right away. I played T-Ball when I was a kid and I also took music lessons and was in a Camp Fire group. Do you want… Read more »

sarah gilbert
sarah gilbert
7 years ago
Reply to  Angela

Sorry, Angela; I didn’t want to go into lengthy detail on the t-ball thing and short-cutted. We live in an area in which Little League is pretty competitive for the older kids — they have to try out — and it was so frustrating for my oldest that it wasn’t fun. If I was really in love with baseball, I would spend hours teaching him how to throw and hit and field the ball, but I’m not. I love track and cross country and mountain biking and can spend hours teaching him good running skills and biking skills, it’s the… Read more »

Mike Holman
Mike Holman
7 years ago

I’m a non-minimalist parent. While I do a lot of “free” activities with my kids like going to the park and skating etc, I love them to do scheduled activities as well like sports. Hockey, soccer etc. I’m a big fitness nut and I want my kids to be active so they don’t get overweight like so many other kids. Obviously you shouldn’t spend money if you don’t have it, but if you have the money, are willing to support the kids in their activities and the kids are up for it – I see nothing wrong with doing a… Read more »

Mike Holman
Mike Holman
7 years ago
Reply to  Mike Holman

I can’t believe how many comments I’m leaving on this stupid article. 🙂 Anyhoo – one other factor is the parents. Some parents have more free time for whatever reason, are more active and can do a lot of great activities with their kids, so maybe organized activities are not as necessary. Other parents might not have as much time (long work hours, long commute, own interests etc) or might not be as physically active and might be better off signing their kid up for more activities like sports or arts or any areas where the parent maybe can’t participate.

Phoebe@allyouneedisenough
7 years ago

This is a very interesting topic and one that I feel rather torn about. Looking back on my adolescense, I think that my parents could have saved lots of money by not allowing me to play sports. After all, I’m not a professional athlete now. But I did learn valuable life skilss, and being in sports kept me out of trouble. On the other hand, my sister is a gifted athlete. She was not particularly interested in academics, and my parents never tried to fit her into a mold. They paid thousands of dollars to support her in many different… Read more »

Juli
Juli
7 years ago

My boys are only 2 and 4, so we haven’t really had them do any real group activities yet, outside of church stuff. I think once they start school, we will institute a “one activitity at a time” policy. That way they can figure out what the like, without being overwhelmed, and if they don’t like it they can do something different next time. I see too many parents running all over the place taking their kids to a different activity every day of the week.

Ellen K.
Ellen K.
7 years ago

Note to GRS editors: Avoid publishing a preachy parenting article on the Monday after Daylight Savings weekend, when parents are more sleep deprived than usual.

Meredith
Meredith
7 years ago
Reply to  Ellen K.

That made me literally laugh out loud Ellen K! I work full time and have smallish kids (8 and 4) who are in extended day type programs that offer different activities until 5:30pm when I can pick them up. I am thankful for these programs because it has exposed my kids to all sorts of different things from art, engineering (with legos!), Spanish, and Yoga. My biggest hole was physical activities for them. My parents never pushed us to do any sports and my brother and I were very obese as kids so I want my kids to try different… Read more »

C
C
7 years ago

Just curious, will this impact them when they apply for college at all? Given that, to a large extent, there is a lot of competition for getting into good colleges..

Beth
Beth
7 years ago
Reply to  C

I was thinking about this, too. While you don’t need to go to the extreme of planning activities for 23 out of every 24 hours, you also don’t want your kid’s after school activities to be “doing homework, then watching TV, then going to bed.”

Jane
Jane
7 years ago
Reply to  Beth

“you also don’t want your kid’s after school activities to be “doing homework, then watching TV, then going to bed.” Why not? I remember my childhood being very much like this most of the time. And anecdotally, I now have a Ph.D. and went to a top tier university. Of course, I read lots and lots in between watching all that television 🙂 I think those who have said you need to gauge the needs and desires of the individual child are right. I craved down time in the afternoons. Overscheduling would have made me miserable. But then again, parents… Read more »

Michelle
Michelle
7 years ago
Reply to  C

Yes! This definitely has a HUGE impact on applying for college. Today, colleges are not looking for well rounded students that participate in a variety of activities, but rather that have achieved excellence in one area. Having that something special can lead to both getting into a better school and to getting BIG money to pay for it. As a parent of young kids, it would be prudent to have your kids sample a large variety of activities – and I agree that one at a time is a smart way to do that! By the time a child gets… Read more »

Jane
Jane
7 years ago
Reply to  Michelle

I guess I just don’t think it is my responsibility to get my kids into college or to get them scholarships, nor do I think about all the ways they can maximize their chances. Such things honestly never cross my mind. Even as a teenager, it struck me as crass that I should volunteer to pad my college application. I did do charitable things and even spent a summer in South America volunteering, but the reason had nothing to do with perceived success. Honestly, this type of parental thinking bothers me and contributes to some disturbing trends I saw among… Read more »

Anne
Anne
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Jane, I not only totally agree with you I can’t figure out how the above poster got lucky enough that all of her kids are interested in dance. Are they really? Or is she only offering them dance?

What are you chances that “all” your children share the exact same passion?

Michelle
Michelle
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Hi Jane, Apparently you didn’t realize that my post was in reply to someone who had SPECIFICALLY ASKED how minimalistic parenting could impact college. My advice was intended to let “C” know that minimalistic parenting (i.e. one activity at a time) is actually a great fit for what colleges are looking for. My advice was both sound and accurate for those parents who ARE looking at college for their kids. I get that “never crossed your mind”. However, I feel sad if you have a child who is very academically oriented because you have abdicated the role of looking out… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
7 years ago
Reply to  Michelle

There are so many institutions of higher education that there is a school or a dozen schools that are “right” for anyone, and honestly, the ability to afford tuition is often the biggest issue. And as a former adjunct professor of English Composition, I can say that at least half of my students didn’t belong in college, either right at that point in their life, or ever. “Excelling” in a particular sport or activity on this type of schedule often leads to two things: burnout, and injuries. The majority of people will never excel in a particular sport, and that… Read more »

Jen
Jen
7 years ago
Reply to  C

Colleges aren’t looking at the elementary school activities. They don’t even look at your middle school activities. I’m pretty much easy on this whole concept — in that if it makes your life better on the whole (having kids scheduled in different after school activities until you can pick them up from work, for instance) then do it. If it makes you and them crazy and unable to have a regular meal or see the whole family at once, then don’t do it. BUT, I have seen lots of kids who were “overscheduled” (as opposed to appropriately scheduled for the… Read more »

Sam
Sam
7 years ago

I’ve got friends and family who have rules on the number of structured activities, i.e. one sport at a time plus one other activity like scouts or 4h. And then I’ve got friends who kids are on the travel soccer team and they’ve told me and other friends that they can’t ever commit to non soccer adult events b/c of their kids commitments which seems a little crazy to me, but it seems to work for their families. I also understand that there is a bit of peer pressure in that most parents are doing structured play and events so… Read more »

The Norwegian Girl
The Norwegian Girl
7 years ago

My parents never pushed us to do this and that, and I have to say, my childhood was a very peaceful experience. We had a big yard, so we played outside, we lend books at the library for free, I played with the cat, helped out my mom in the kitchen. After being at school all day, I loved getting home and not having to do anything in particular except some homework. I was free to do whatever.

Tina
Tina
7 years ago

My husband and I do more frugal parenting than we used to. Partly because we had to but mostly because we want to eventually retire somewhere warm once our kids are grown. When the kids were young, we put them in everything from ballet to karati to football. Of course, All fizzed out after one season so the money was a complete waste of time. I learned after a few years, that this was not happening anymore. Our kids are teenagers now so organized sports are not important to them. However, the one place we are willing to help is… Read more »

Sam
Sam
7 years ago
Reply to  Tina

My best friend has a rule for her girls, one sport and one other activity which seems to work for them. Her oldest committed early on to a particular sport and has stuck with it for years. Her youngest wanted to try ever sport there was, which as you point out, could be expensive from sport to sport, but since they realized she wasn’t going to commit they (1) bought used equipment and (2) didn’t buy every piece of equipment for that sport. After trying 5 or 6 sports she eventually settled on a sport that she is crazy about… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago

There are days I wonder how my parents managed to raise us without the help of blogs, books and labels like “Tiger Mom” or “minimalist parenting”. 😉

I think the take away from this post is what we’ve been hearing all along: spend your time and money on things that bring you value (as much as possible, at least).

Laura
Laura
7 years ago

The responses to this article are great. I agree that the LA mom deserves kudos for making sure her kids have physical activity despite their unsafe neighborhood. Although our neighborhood was mostly safe, no kids played outside so I couldn’t just let DS play on the street like I did as a kid. For us, the frugal solution was a longer day charter school plus some after-school activities plus playdates, along with outings with parents such as the museum. As he got older, we limited extracurricular activities to one at any given time (since he had the longer school day);… Read more »

sweatpea
sweatpea
7 years ago

I have kids aged 9 and 7. I have had them try out lots of different activities since they were each 4 yrs old. We have found a few that they really enjoy and seem to excel at. Since we have the money and work flexibility to support these activities, I don’t see anything wrong with it. On the contrary, as the kids have become stronger at their chosen sports and other activities, they have gained confidence and are developing very good personal skills such as work ethic, time management (i.e. getting homework done before hockey), team play, overcoming obstacles,… Read more »

MamaMia
MamaMia
7 years ago

My husband and I do a lot of activities with our kids, but we keep them simple, fun, relatively unstructured, non-coercive and non-competitive.

There is mounting evidence that over-scheduling activities is bad for kids. Ditto competition, and parenting or teaching based on punishments and rewards. (It undermines intrinsic motivation, long-term.)

Following our children’s lead, rather than trying to impose our wishes on them, has been the best thing that’s ever had to us as parents. (Which doesn’t mean permissive parenting…we still have boundaries!)

MamaMia
MamaMia
7 years ago

Sarah, your secret blueberry garden project sounds like so much fun!

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
7 years ago

The article seems backwards to me as to two regards. First, from my perspective, the drive for extracurricular activities is driven by dual-working parents who need to find good activities in which to enroll their children so the children’s schedules match the parents’ working hours. The reason my children are enrolled in a separate arts-after-school program has little to do with an “I-must-provide-tons-of-extra-curricular-activities” mindset. Instead, as a work-away-from-home parent, I NEED to find a place for my children so that their schedules meet my work demands. I love that we have so many choices and can make those hours both… Read more »

Dona Collins
Dona Collins
7 years ago

One of my best friends is a martial arts instructor and one of her biggest issues is parents over-scheduling children. They will often have a child get dropped off from one activity, only to rush to change after class to go to the next activity. The kids eventually get tired and grumpy and it comes out in their attitudes. Most of these kids don’t even want to do all of the sports or things they’re signed up for. They’re tired, and their parents don’t understand the difference between keeping a child busy and out of trouble and taking away a… Read more »

stellamarina
stellamarina
7 years ago

The main activity my kids, and now my grand kids, sign up for is swimming lessons. This is over several summers until they do the highest level which is swimmer rescue. Being a good swimmer is a must here in Hawaii. Other sports like soccer, are just if they are interested in it and want to.

Nick @ ayoungpro.com
Nick @ ayoungpro.com
7 years ago

My sister has 4 children and each of them is signed up for some sort of activity 5 nights a week. Talk about adding a lot of unneeded stress to your life! Far better just to let kids be kids and use their imagination to entertain them.

Matt Becker
Matt Becker
7 years ago

This a great post! So on point. I really think the heart of this post is making sure that your decisions on how you spend your time and money are made consciously based on the things that truly matter to you. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day tasks that our lives often end up getting filled with things that we didn’t purposefully seek out. Consciously listing values and priorities, making commitments based on that list, and culling out the extras is an extremely worthwhile activity for all people, parents and non-parents alike. What often… Read more »

krantcents
krantcents
7 years ago

Every child is different! My children were involved in activities and we spent a lot of time with them. We read, played ball, cooked, etc. They saw firsthand how we handled things and they are now successful adults.

Abigail's Mom
Abigail's Mom
7 years ago

Find out what your children enjoy, by letting them try out different things, and then support them in those activities (if you have the means to do so). If you don’t have the means to do so, look for discounted activities. Some kids can take a lot, you’ll be amazed. I went to a private school before I moved to Canada and I was involved in so many sports activites, including music and studying French. Looking back, I never felt any pressure from the outside to excel at these activities but I also know that I am a highly energetic… Read more »

Mom
Mom
7 years ago

Minimalist parenting? Um…you mean normal parenting the way it has always been done without the hyper-consuming self-indulgent method now popular? I hope this is the beginning of a trend – I can definitely afford that!!

WWII Kid
WWII Kid
7 years ago

I’m not a parent, so this does not pertain to me (altho spoiled children are one of my Top Ten irritants). I have always wondered, tho, has anyone ever done a follow up on children who grow up in those extreme frugal families? You know, the ones you’ve read about that never buy their kids anything new, never give them the usual presents, have home-made birthday parties, get their bikes out of other people’s curb throw outs, home haircuts, etc. etc. I’m curious to find out if these kids turn into mega-consumers once they’re out from under Mom and Dad?

PawPrint53
PawPrint53
7 years ago
Reply to  WWII Kid

When my oldest child was in first grade, I decided to eliminate sugar from his diet. I packed him healthy lunches. One day I got a call from his teacher who said he was stealing cookies out of other kids’ lunches. Yes, we did have a talk about taking things that weren’t his, but I also started relaxing the no sugar rule and included something yummy (and more healthy than Twinkies) in his lunch. So, extrapolating to extreme frugal parents, I think at some point the kids might rebel. Probably not all kids, but certainly some.

Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce
7 years ago

Absolutely true. And it sets the precedent for coming generations, as well! Great post.

Michael
Michael
7 years ago

MAYBE L.A. Mom is probably doing the best she can, and probably didn’t choose to live in that neighborhood … or it declined over time and she can’t afford to get out. There are MILLIONS of parents like that across the U.S. that have very valid reasons for not letting their children out into the neighborhood. Consider yourself fortunate and blessed if you live in Portland version described in this article.

Sarah
Sarah
7 years ago

One thing not highlighted (though implied) in this article is the joy of spending time with our children. I have a toddler daughter and work full-time, and look forward to coming home after work and spending time with her, and I look forward to spending time with her and my husband on the weekends. Part of the reason I’m interested in raising her with a version of this idea of “minimalist parenting,” is because she’s one of my two favorite people in the world, and I want to be with her. If my daughter is anything like me, she may… Read more »

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