16 Ways to Help Children Want Less

As parents we naturally want to give our children the best, what’s more, we want them to have… more! But as studies have repeatedly shown, money doesn’t bring happiness, and neither does the accumulation of things. In fact, having too much stuff can cause more stress than it’s worth.
16 Ways to Help Children Want Less and Be Content
There’s also the environmental impact to consider. Our need for more creates enormous amounts of waste and pollution, and chews through our natural resources. Since the 1950s, civilisation has consumed more resources than all of humanity before us. But try explaining that to a seven-year-old with her eye on a Frozen figurine!

There are however ways you can encourage your children to step off the hamster wheel of hyper-consumption. Here are some ideas to get you started (we’d love to hear your ideas as well);

16 Ways to Help Children Want Less

1. Talk to them about the items they desire and discuss whether they will truly make them happy. After a purchase or a gift, talk about whether reality lived up to expectation and why or why not.

2. Take the shine of cheap goods by talking to your children about the true cost of things, such as the water used to grow/extract the raw materials or the petrol used to transport the goods to the shops.

3. Have a one-in, one-out policy: for every new toy bought, one must be passed on to charity.

4. Encourage your kids to think about where their things end up at the end of their lifecycle (e.g. landfill).

5. Teach them to choose quality by talking about poor quality toys that have broken quickly in the past (free toys with food-deals are a great example!)

6. Suggest they refuse free promotional goods at fairs or shows.

7. Guide them towards choosing experiences over possessions. This study has shown that memories do, in fact, have a higher value than material goods.

8. Rotate toys, clothes and other possessions to keep their interest.

9. Remind them that people are not defined by what they have, but who they are.

10. Try to avoid commercial television as much as possible. Studies have found that low life-satisfaction led to higher materialism in children who frequently watched television. Put a DVD on instead.

11. As you can’t avoid advertising all together, be sure to talk to your kids about how advertising works. Here are some tips.

12. Stay away from the shops, and when you do take the kids shopping tell them if it isn’t on the list, it ain’t coming home. Here are some further tips for ignoring the ‘I wants.’

13. Teach children to stop and think before they buy something. This could mean waiting until the next day or walking around for half an hour before committing to a purchase.

14. Explain the difference between fashion and style.

15. Show them that fewer possessions means less tidying up!

16. Introduce other ways of acquiring the things they want, such as bartering, swapping and borrowing.

Their Whole New World
The good news is our children are less likely to be as attached to possessions as we are. As explained in this fantastic TED talk, their generation will be predisposed to sharing. For them, it’s not about the thing, it’s about the experience the thing gives them – in other words, they don’t want the DVD; they want to watch the movie. They don’t want the toy; they want the experience of playing with it. As parents, we can most definitely help shape this future.

How will you help your children transition to a life with less stuff?

Check out the other posts in the Easy Green series of simple suggestions for reducing your family’s impact on the environment and saving cash at the same time;

Easy Green: Simple frugal living



  1. Join a toy library!! A great to sample toys for a period of time, rotating through them and not adding to landfill or lack of storage in the home.

    1. I had never heard of one of these! What a great idea. I think that would be a great idea for my household where toys have a tendency of piling up and never getting used again!

      Thanks for sharing you idea:)

  2. Turn off the TV. Our grand kids only see PBS and shows on Netflix. This means no commercials. This means they do not ask for the latest fad because they do not eave know about it. I was thinking today what it was like for me as a kid. We had quality things and passed them down to the next sister. We were lucky to have a set of unit blocks, roller skates , a bike and a big back yard. What else did we need except that coveted Barbie that we saved our money for and Grandma made the clothes.

    1. I think that’s a really good point, Meg, about saving for what you really desire. My son has an ongoing Santa list and it gets revised pretty often, ie when something better comes along. He is able to compare two or more things that he “really really” wants and decide which will bring him better bang for his (or Santa’s) buck.

    1. Mun Rosewarne says:

      Thanks for your reflections and advice, as it all resonates with me.
      My children are four and nine, and they love to make useful things, especially with wool.
      As they spend hours engaged with the wool, or fabric or bits of paper, there is a sense that they a learning about how much love and effort it really takes to transform some raw material into something beautiful, and worth having. Through this process, they imbibe what quality means. I try to surround them with home made, well considered and bio-degradable toys, objects of interest, and information (educational) rich things. They don’t watch television, but I do let them watch YouTube and let them play screen based games. My youngest still wants a plastic toy with her fast food meal, but we avoid that problem by avoiding those places. I hope that my children will arrive at those values, that you have spoken so clearlt about, by themselves.

      1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment; that’s a great point about making something from scratch. You can forgive its imperfections and really appreciate all the work that has gone into it. I still remember the felt giraffe I made in grade 2!

  3. Love this post Jo. I want a printable for this! A great reminder not to buy wasteful products for our kids and to keep our money in our pockets at the same time!

  4. These are great ideas. I don’t know if they would work on younger kids though. My daughter will be 4 next week and I don’t think she would understand a lot of those. Do you have any ideas for little kids?

    1. It can work on younger kids – my daughter turned 4 last year Alicia and she gave up receiving birthday presents last year to be able to put gifts in the shoeboxes. We’ve been able to teach our 3 girls that there are sooooo many children both here in Australia and around the world that are less fortunate than us. 4 year olds just need more guidance on it.

    2. Hi Alicia, thanks for joining the conversation. My kids are two and four, so this concept of helping them want less is something I work really hard at – and can be hard work! I want my kids to have established values around possessions before they hit school with all its temptation and peer pressure. Not letting them watch commercial TV is the big one. My other major tactic is delaying gratification. I might say “sure, if you really want that, we’ll go home and talk about how we can make it happen”. This usually stops a tantrum in its tracks from Mr 4, who either forgets about the whole thing or doesn’t. If he doesn’t, we will seek an alternative from a second-hand shop or website, the library etc. Another tip I have for little kids is to stay away from pop culture – for a while. When there’s a new movie out, for example, the toy shops and fast-food venues jump on it and feed the excitement by offering toys, branded foods etc. Hold out on seeing the movie until all the fuss has died down and they are less likely to bug you for all the merchandise.
      Finally, with all his four years of experience, my son can understand the pain of broken and inferior toys. If he wants something really cheap and nasty, I can usually rationalise with him that it won’t last and he’s better off holding out for something of better quality.
      As for Miss 2, well, sometimes you just have to let the tantrums happen, stay calm and then consistently explain that they can’t have everything they see. As I learned with my son, explaining that things cost money and we only have a set amount of money that needs to be spent on food etc, eventually makes things a lot easier. It also lays the groundwork for explaining that we live in a world with limited resources.
      One last point: my kids know that “maybe” doesn’t mean “no”, it means “maybe”. If they genuinely want something and it’s not hugely wasteful, we will work out a way for them to have it, just not in a “grab it off the shelf the minute we see it” way.
      Hope some of this is helpful, thanks again.

  5. Most of my kids favourite toys are second hand from op shops and markets. This year for Christmas a friend and I are planning a craft morning and picnic lunch instead of buying gifts for each others kids. Will do something similar in February as 3 of the 4 kids have a birthday in Feb. We also borrow books and dvds from the library.

    1. Sounds great, Lisa! We are attempting a radical Christmas too – Santa is bringing us tickets to a music festival instead of presents.

  6. 18months ago my girls talk on the challenge of giving one of their birthday gifts up to put in a shoebox for Samaritans Purse Operation Christmas Child. This grew to putting together 117 boxes last September! They gave up receiving birthday and christmas gifts, and instead asked for money, which they used to purchase items to put in the shoeboxes. They funded the majority of it themselves. They’re doing it again. We’ve also established a giving box – if we choose not to spend money on a particular thing – whether it’s entertainment, food or goods, we put that money or an IOU in the box. At the end of the month, we add up what we’ve given up and give that amount to one of our preferred charities. Plus when we give the girls pocket money, we encourage them to give some of that to something like the shoeboxes or something similar too.

    1. Wow, that’s a beautiful story Kristen – it’s one thing to want less, another to give more! Thanks so much for sharing.

  7. Love this Jo! We are definitely minimalists when it comes to toys… and I see this reflected in our kids… however, I’ve noticed our 4 year old start to ‘crave’ new things more when we are out at the shops. I think she’s been so used to op shop toys/books where I hardly ever say no!! ha! But we have a good policy where we ‘talk to Daddy’ before we buy anything… so if we see something she likes at the shops we take a picture with it or write down the name and we decide to show Daddy that evening. Often she’ll forget about the item altogether, if she does remember we get to speak to Daddy and decide together whether it’s worth buying and when. ie. birthday, special treat, straight away etc 🙂
    Some great tips here! Thanks so much for sharing – overload of toys is one of my pet hates… we are definitely a one in… a few out… style family too!

    1. Love that tactic, Bek! We do something similar only we use Santa instead of Daddy… Actually, at times when we have been a bit broke while travelling etc, my husband and I would discuss every purchase – even the small stuff. It definitely makes you buy less and, more importantly, realise you need less. Thanks for sharing x

  8. Something that works for my boys aged 3 and 4 is to tell them that I don’t have enough money to buy them that toy now. I also reward them If they be really good and not ask for anything through the whole shopping trip with 1 Matchbox car each. They only get them if they are good and they are both cheap and well made so last really well and are their most played with toys. I think that me telling them I don’t have enough money to buy the expensive toys has been teaching them that they can;t just have everything they want. I tell them that Mummy and Daddy have to work very hard to get our money and for us to have more money daddy would have to work more and they would see Daddy less, which the really don’t want. We both work on a dairy farm and we take the boys out on the farm so they can see the hard work that we do, I think this helps them too.
    Nicola 🙂

    1. definitely a great way to help your kids learn about what brings true joy (ie time with mum and dad) and what is more fleeting. Thanks for sharing x

  9. When we moved around australia with my husbands work we would have only what we could take in a trailer and car so we joined the local toy library and got to know a few mothers in the area and would swap half way through the week toys as well . My children got to experience and play with many toys and not the clutter and possibly some we couldn’t afford as well.

    1. Swapping with other families is a great idea and gives the kids an opportunity to “try before they buy”!

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  11. Many of these don’t do much for young children.
    Today’s schools seem to have forgotten, but the Age of Reason doesn’t kick in until about 7 or so.
    What really reduces children’s desire for more more more is *being* the change you wish to see .

    You can “Guide them towards choosing experiences over possessions” but that’s just a nice way of saying you’re going to spend more time standing around sweetly trying to persuade a 5yo that she’d rather have a nice picnic with her family than another My Little Pony.

    Or – you can plan your life around experiences vs things.
    You can get rid of the tv set and get down on the floor and play with your kids.
    The My Little Pony craze doesn’t come from a toy store – it comes from *television*.
    It’s a tv show created to sell junk to little kids.

    Don’t offer the choice of a thing or an experience.
    Offer the choice between two or three experiences – that *don’t* require high spending – and focus on the time shared.

    Truthfully, I think it’s due in large part to the fact that MOMS get bored.
    Who thinks a great way to spend the day is to get up, get the kids up, and patiently involve them in every step of the day?
    Helping make breakfast, waiting patiently while they wipe the table with a sponge, having a chair by the sink so they can rinse the dishes you’re putting in the dishwasher, picking out clothes, getting dressed, washing up, brushing teeth, get down on the floor and play with the kids, helping gather laundry, pour in the soap for mommy, throw clothes you hand them into the dryer, ‘sort’ the socks while you fold, fold towels and washcloths, watch as they put their own clothes away, trying not to wince when the folded pile hits the floor and is gathered up haphazardly and stuffed into (possibly) the wrong drawers, go outside and toss a ball back and forth, walk to the park, or around the block, or splash in puddles or play with the hose… make lunch, pour food into the pan before parent puts it on the stove, carry plates to the table for lunch (non-breakable plates advised) eat together, let child hand wash the spoons , clean the kitchen – let child ‘sweep’ with a small broom ….

    On and on until bedtime.
    Every day.
    Every single day , all week…
    You wind up with happy, competent kids who can cook a simple meal and who do their share of the routine household chores well and without (too much) griping.

    You wind up with children who enjoy the time you spend with them because it’s about experiences and routine (which is *wonderfully* important to children) and being included and being a real part of what’s going on around them and feeling like a valued part of the household.

    But for parents?
    Incredibly boring.
    It’s why women in the 50’s started reading about greeting their husbands at the door dressed in saran wrap,lol! (that book never mentioned, but I hope the kids were next door at the time!)

    We want more, we want excitement, we want variety and careers and fun in *our* lives.
    And if as adults we have a hard time saying no to the bigger house, that cute set of craft supplies, eating out two or three times a week, etc etc?

    No matter what we *tell* our kids, they’re still going to do what children have always done.
    Reflect our own behavior right back at us.

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  13. We have three boys and have always been pretty minimalists. They want for nothing but we do not really buy them things other than birthdays/Christmas and then it is never overboard. The oldest two, teenagers, are pretty good about what they want, not much. The youngest 7yr old, a whole different story. He wants EVERYTHING. We talk and talk and talk about being happy with what he has, the difference between wants/needs, and the importance of waiting for things and I say “no” more than “yes”, it is truly exhausting with him because it is never ending! I am praying, that while he is a different kid and will probably always be a bit of a spender that it will sink in to him to be more conservative and less materialistic.

  14. I do believe that the best way kids learn is by what they see their parents do. While all of these are great ideas for children, they are great ideas for parents or any adult that is connected to children to model for them! Clean out your own ‘toys’ and always remember that even the best intentions seem to go out the drain when there is a “good deal” on some item in a store, but in reality, your life was just fine without that ‘deal’ coming home with you! Just saying!

  15. Marie Douglas says:

    My parents always practiced the rule of “if you get a toy you have to give away a toy.” As our world moves forward into more eco-friendly practices I think it is important to show kids where toys (especially cheap plastic ones) will go once they are broken/thrown out. Toys that are meaningful are better anyways!

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