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Minimalist mom vows to spend nothing on her kid in 2013

Jan. 25, 2013 at 7:46 AM ET

How does a London mom with a $600 stroller, complete with cappuccino holder, come to swear off spending a penny on her 2-year old son in 2013?

It started with some bad news. Five days before Christmas, Hattie Garlick found out that she’d lost her job at a national newspaper. It was also the eve of her son Johnny’s birthday.

Hattie Garlick, who has taken a no-spending vow for 2013, plays with her 2-year-old son Johnny in a cardboard box.
Nancy Honey
The best things in life are free: Hattie Garlick, who has taken a vow not to spend money on her child in 2013, plays with her 2-year-old son in every child's favorite toy, a cardboard box.

“It was the perfect storm of influences,” Garlick said. Between losing her job, and her son turning two and being overwhelmed by holiday toy ads, she got fed up with the onslaught of kiddie marketing. 

So she vowed to make a drastic change, spending nothing on her son in 2013. In her strike against kid consumerism, Garlick joins other parents across the globe who are part of a minimalist parenting trend.

Garlick wrote about her motivation to start a spending freeze in her first  "Free Our Kids" blog entry on January 7:

“So that’s how we came to look at our bank account, our routines, the inside of our fridge, wardrobes, toy box…and realize that we were being taken for a ride that had started on the day we discovered I was pregnant.”

Garlick’s zero spending rules  for her son in 2013 are straightforward — and certainly may appear draconian to a lot of parents.

No more buying “specific kid food,” like those individual “snack bars” and “tiny plastic cheeses” to stash in the diaper bag. Her toddler will eat normal adult food — and like it.

No more money on toys or kiddie clothes. For the next twelve months, Garlick and her husband, Tom, a carpenter and musician, will rely on hand-me-downs for their son.

No more spending on kiddie classes or toddler entertainment. They’ll make their own activities and fun with neighbors. And, what she says will be hardest for her: no more disposable diapers this year.  

Garlick hopes her family will evaluate everything they were buying until now, and determine how much of all this child-related stuff is actually needed in their lives.

She will spend money on medicine for her son, as needed. ("I'm not an idiot.") And she freely admits, “If it turns out my son needs me to spend money on something to be happy or healthy, then I’ll happily come clean and admit it on the blog!”

While Garlick’s approach may seem extreme, many other parents are re-evaluating kiddie consumerism and starting to embrace the less-is-more philosophy.

“People think they need to have all this stuff — special plates and little chairs for their kids — and it will make their life easier,” says Asha Dornfest, one of the co-authors of Minimalist Parenting  and founder of Parent Hacks, a blog that promises to help folks “simplify life, save money, and have fun.”

But the reality of all that kiddie paraphernalia? Your kitchen cabinets are overrun with sippy cups, Dornfest says, and your playroom is so chock-a-block with junk, your kids can’t find anything amid all the clutter.

London mom Hattie Garlick is not spending a penny on her child in 2013.
Courtesy: Hattie Garlick
London mom Hattie Garlick is not spending a penny on her child in 2013.

The Minimalist Parenting authors are sympathetic to Garlick and recognize how overwhelming the kiddie-marketing machine can feel, but they advise people to de-clutter their children’s lives in smaller steps. For instance, set aside 20 minutes and tackle one shelf in your kid’s closet or one toy box in the basement.

“You have to shift your perspective,” says Christine Koh, Minimalist Parenting co-author, and co-founder of the online community Mission List,  “When you’re looking at children’s gear, think of yourself as a curator, rather than a consumer.”

Koh and Dornfest found having more toys, and games, and stuffed animals doesn’t help children's development or improve parents' daily lives. At a certain point, fewer objects in your home actually lead to greater engagement, creativity and stimulation.

“When you buy something for your child,” says Koh, “ask yourself: am I getting this because it’s beautiful? Because we need it? Because my kid has a real emotional attachment to it?”

Rachel Jonat, who blogs at The Minimalist Mom, gave birth to her second son, Wilfred, this week, and is determined as ever to stick to her relatively newfound minimalist lifestyle.

The Canadian mom says she originally started her blog because she was tired of feeling so disorganized— never having enough storage for all of her family’s stuff. Plus, she and her husband had $80,000 in student loans and credit card debt, and realized something had to give. And after ten months at home on maternity leave with her first son Henry, she realized that her family only uses “a fraction of [their] possessions 90 percent of the time.”

The Janes family, from left in back row: Shawn, Melody, Faith. From left in front row: Hunter, Connor
Courtesy of Faith Janes
The Janes family, clockwise from back left: Shawn, Melody, Faith, Connor, Hunter.

 “We’re not radical minimalists,” Jonat explains. “We still buy clothing and housewares. We just buy and own a lot less than we once did.”

Faith Janes started the Minimalist at Home blog and lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, ages 13 and 10, and a 5-year old daughter. Her advice for parents who want to live with less clutter: start the moment you get pregnant or bring your baby home from the hospital.

Kids aren’t born with the expectation of rooms full of toys, she explains.  And there are very few things that children really need in terms of gear and toys. But as your children get older, it becomes harder to relearn new habits about how much it takes to be happy.  

Video: Katy Wolk-Stanley thought she could go a month without buying anything new. Five years later, she’s continuing her “non-consumer” lifestyle, based on borrowing and buying used. NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren reports, and Stanley talks about how her frugality has affected her life.


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