Clutter: Teaching Kids About Limits

Over the weekend my six-year old son expressed a need to buy more toys. He got frustrated when I told him no. It opened the door to an interesting conversation as I explained to him that he already has a lot of toys, and I really didn't see a need for him to have more. That set off a pouty face intertwined with some serious looks of consternation.


Every parent has faced these conversations. It feels like we have them multiple times a month in our house. They aren’t easy – you want your kids to be happy, and sometimes, it feels like the thing they want is a key to make them happy in that moment of time.


But the reality is quite the opposite of that. Look around your house. Your kids probably have many toys they no longer play with. We certainly see that in our house.


The momentary relief from whining is only in passing – a new shiny object of desire is always just around the corner.


Part of our role as parents is to teach our kids about limits – and in this case, it’s the limits that go along with new shiny objects.


First and foremost – we can’t buy happiness by acquiring more toys. The reality is once the shine wears off, the toys many times sit idle, collecting dust. So not only are we out some cash, we now also have some new object taking up space in our house.


Second, the key to our happiness is finding balance in what we do, and seeking to build quality relationships with our family and friends. That doesn’t mean we are always going to sit around the campfire and sing Kumbaya – but it does mean we are our authentic self with others. Reality check here, life is rarely a series of Kumbaya moments strung together in rapid fire succession.


What did I do in this instance to talk about limits?

  • I offered up the fact that money is not an unlimited resource, so we need to think about how we want to spend it and be intentional.
  • I offered up the fact that he could buy the toy, but we then need to figure out some things that he would sell. I explained to him that he has many toys in the house that he is not playing with, and if he wants to get some new toys, he really should evaluate whether he needs to keep his old toys.

Teaching kids about limits is important when it comes to money. The pundits talk about a feeling of “entitlement” – and while there is something to some of those thoughts, the reality is we need to turn the conversation around. We need to talk about the why behind things and seek to understand what the real drivers are behind wants and needs.


As we start talking about the real drivers, we soon start to figure out that our challenge is more about driving a holistic approach to living beyond the accumulation of new things that we are constantly bombarded with in advertising.


As parents we have a real opportunity to help our kids build a solid foundation with lessons about wants and needs – and understanding limits. This foundation is grounded in teaching good habits around money management and expense management. And to do that – we can help prepare them for all the curveballs that life will throw at them over the years. A firm foundation on personal finances – and understanding that you don’t always need that new shiny toy will pay dividends for many decades to come.

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