Minimalism and the teenager

How is it possible to live a minimalist lifestyle with a teenager in the house?

The teenage brain is all over the place. During adolescence, the brain goes through such significant changes that it’s no wonder that we, the bemused parents, remark on characteristic teenage features including:

  • Untidy bedroom
  • Inability to plan
  • Impetuosity
  • Selfies
  • Being grown up and little – both at the same time

Katie Forster’s article in The Guardian will ring true for many mid-life parents like me.

So, how does it work when mum is a minimalist and there’s at least one teenager in the family? This is where the duality of the teenage brain can be at its most interesting.

In our case, our mid-teen adolescent will have a ‘Konmari’-inspired closet (with a colour-coded sequence of perfectly arranged clothes on hangers). There will also be piles of clothes abandoned beneath on the wardrobe floor.

Likewise, the study space we allocate to said teenager will typically be strewn with papers, books, pens, flash cards and empty mugs. Yet, when a jolly good declutter does happen, we can whisk away several bags of rubbish (or items that no longer add value) without a moment’s glance.

At this stage, I’d say our success will come in instilling values that drive behaviours in the longer term. For example, we can do good work in proposing (gently) an ‘Essentialist’ approach to minimalism. Want a beautiful handbag? That’s great! Maybe you can save for it and buy the loveliest one you can afford (and only that one).

I guess the key to success is to model attitudes and behaviours that may ring true as the teenager becomes increasingly independent, particularly when it comes to finances. I’d rather do this in a gentle way, however, than create a situation where ‘messy’ becomes the response to ‘minimalist’ in a knee-jerk reaction to reject the parental way of life. We know a devoted meat-eater who rejected his own mother’s vegetarianism to become an enthusiastic carnivore.

There are good arguments in favour of messiness. Check out Tim Harford’s book, messy. If you think that creativity comes from disorganisation, confusion and impetuosity, this may be for you.

I would argue, however, that minimalism isn’t about control, inflexibility or fear. Rather, it’s about removing the ‘clutter’ from our lives to be freer and – if we wish – more spontaneous. I see it as enabling us to enter the realm of the unplanned and unknown freely and without the burden of stuff. What would you wish for your teenage child?

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