Three Tips for Raising Minimalist Children In a Maximalist World

Do you know about these L.O.L. Surprise Dolls? They are tiny bodies with gigantic heads that come inside of little plastic balls. Also inside the balls are tiny choking hazards shaped like clothes and accessories. They also make baby versions of each doll, as well as pets. They have names like Glitter Queen, Merbaby, Curious Q.T., and The Notorious B.A.E. Just kidding, I made that last one up, although that name is probably on the list for next season.

And why are are they L.O.L. Surprise Dolls? Well, the “L.O.L.” part stands for “Lil Outrageous Littles.” Huh. Ok, it’s a play on the popular Internet slang phrase, that kind of works for this toy. But — the “Surprise” part? My sister asked which L.O.L. Surprise Dolls we were still missing, so she could specifically buy those for my daughter’s birthday. Unfortunately, however, you can’t choose which ones you buy. The balls are a form of “blind bag” packaging, meaning that if you’re looking for a specific doll, you just need to buy a new ball until you get the one you’re looking for. And of course, after that your kid will want another one, so you need to keep buying them. Surprise!

Apparently there are L.O.L. Surprise Doll trading groups on Facebook, but I haven’t checked these out and my six-year-old doesn’t seem interested in trading for specific dolls anyway. That doesn’t stop her from wanting more though. And that’s the rub — the point seems to be to keep you buying more little plastic pods, blindly, because of the thrill of the surprise itself, not to serve some ultimate goal of actually collecting the entire set. My husband pointed out that our kid seems to enjoy the unboxing process itself more than actually playing with the doll and her accessories. Considering that she likes to put the doll and her crap back inside the ball and then open it all up again, he may be on to something.

Just as children enjoy novelty, so do adults. We are so vulnerable to shiny new things because our brains are wired that way. This is probably a good trait for human evolution and social development as a whole, but not so much for navigating a fully stocked Target store when all you need is cotton balls and milk.

I’m not some kind of hardcore Minimalist, but I like a lot of what this trend has to offer: less clutter, both physical and mental; simplicity in one’s belongings and routines; fewer possessions means less time and money spent on storage and maintenance, etc. And as I strive to live a better life by living with less, I hope to instill these values in my kids as well. Now, how to do this in a world that’s selling our children tiny hits of dopamine in opaque plastic pods?

Tip #1:  Find Ways to Feed the Need for Novelty Without Buying Anything

Inspired by her love of the L.O.L. dolls, my kid now plays this game where she re-packages the balls with random trinkets from her playroom, or takes an old Amazon delivery box and stuffs it full of toys for me to open. She’ll put it next to me while I’m working on the computer, yell SPECIAL DELIVERY!! then run behind the couch, waiting for me to open it and feign delight at the ruler, glitter slime and three colored pencils I’ll find inside. It’s not the most fun game, at least not for me — but I’ll welcome the interruption over buying a $13 blind bag any day.

Tip #2:  Promote Creation Over Consumption

Another substitute for the high that comes with a shiny new purchase is the feeling of accomplishment that comes from making something with your own two hands. I’m grateful for my older daughter, who is especially artistic and crafty, for her influence over the little one in this department. We keep their playroom well stocked with paper and a wide variety of drawing and coloring implements. As an extra bonus, try to get your kids to re-purpose stuff you have around the house so you don’t need to buy special art supplies.

Tip #3:  Just Say No, And Endure the Inevitable Tantrum

Yeah, sorry, I know this isn’t really a tip. But sometimes you just need to say no. With my kids, this tends to apply more in the case of sugary treats than plastic ones. Last summer, we had a habit of going to the park on the weekends, and immediately getting ice cream at this one really good local place afterward. When I realized I was training my kids to expect the ice cream every time we went to the park, I stopped. There were tears and whining the first time, but after that it got a lot easier. After all, treats aren’t treats any more when they become routine.

I’ll leave you with a bonus tip:  take a look at your spending and consumption habits, and ask yourself if you’re setting the example you want your kids to see. I have tubes of barely touched lipstick rolling around this house, and I plan to purge those soon. While I’m at it, I know it’s time to unsubscribe from all those email lists I’m on that deluge me with flash sales on the daily.

Do you or your kids have an “L.O.L. doll habit” you’re trying to break? Leave a comment to let me know!

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