Do I Force This Lifestyle on My Kids?

An interesting thing happened last week. Perhaps a milestone in notoriety for this site, or merely a part of its evolution. I’m still deciding which.

CTV, one of Canada’s national broadcasters, airs “The Social,” one of those midday panel chat shows. It’s not the biggest outlet to cover 5K1C (this month we’ve been featured on the front page of MSN.com, Good Housekeeping and in the Daily Mail), but it is the first TV show to feature us without trying to contact me beforehand.

Screenshot 2017-03-01 10.11.45

The Social’s hosts debate the merits of the 5K1C lifestyle.

So it appears we’re literally talk show fodder now.

The Social’s panelists spent several minutes or so debating the merits of the 5K1C lifestyle (segment begins 8 mins in). The Social’s lone male host adopted a contrarian angle. Key to his argument was that I was, “forcing” a minimalist/condo lifestyle on my kids. He wondered what they thought of it, if they were cool with it, and so forth.

I’ve heard this argument before. Usually I get a smattering of negativity in the comments section of any online article and someone invariably accuses me of forcing my kids into this life. But this was the first time someone in the media had attempted to advance it.

The best part about these comments are how they reveal the person’s own societal programming and inherent bias. In their view, there’s clearly a lifestyle that’s OK to force on our kids, and one that’s not.

My kids are young, and like most kids their age, they can’t see the long game. If I were to let them choose anything for dinner, they’d eat chocolate cake six days a the week until they came down with scurvy. This is why I “force” them to eat vegetables. I also force my kids to say “please” and “thank you” on those occasions when it doesn’t come naturally to them. I force them to tidy up around the house or do chores to earn certain privileges. I force them to take on challenges, accept responsibility, stand up for themselves, and a host of other things that probably feel tough or uncomfortable to them at the time, but will ideally contribute to their wellbeing one day in the distant future.

Alas, every parent forces a way of life on their kids, unless their house is Lord of the Flies and the kids are calling all the shots. The fact that the way of life I’m forcing on my kids is seen as unnatural by some (the TV host included) is only a function of our North American narrative that has us believing that a single family house, two cars and a yard is what kids need. Step off this continent and it’s that same North American “bigger is better” narrative that’s seen as unnatural and forced.

  Missing one of my daughters but the rest of us are here for #womensmarch.   A post shared by Adrian Crook (@adriancrook) on

Our kids don’t need a 2700 square foot house any more than they need the red Power Ranger. What our kids need from us the most is our time, attention, love and care. The fact remains that I have vastly more time and energy to spend on my kids than if I had to pay for a big house and a car, or waste time commuting. The typical American working family works January through April just to pay for their cars, but is anyone talking about how those parents have forced that irrational lifestyle onto their kids? (Besides me, of course.)

Living a more sustainable, minimalist, urban lifestyle is something I force on my kids because I know in the long run, the skills and awareness they acquire now will make them better people. The progressive viewpoints and culturally diverse world view they gain from growing up in an urban context will make them more empathetic. The awareness of how few material things they need to be happy will (hopefully) keep them off the hedonic treadmill of mindless consumption. And thinking twice about environmental impact of operating cars and huge houses might lead them to make better choices when they eventually move out on their own.

As hard as it may be for them sometimes, it’s just as hard for me. There are rare days where I’m acutely aware of how much easier it would be to drive instead of walking or busing, for instance. But the independence, confidence and additional safety the kids gain from being able to navigate the city on their own is invaluable (and mostly unappreciated by car-dependent families). It’s also a more sustainable transportation method than driving, so an important daily choice to model for my kids. That’s just one such decision I’ve made for my family that, while unpopular at times, results in my kids being more confident, healthier versions of themselves.

On our way back from the suburbs via bus, Seabus, and Skytrain. Hope y’all had a wonderful Christmas! A post shared by Adrian Crook (@adriancrook) on

I acknowledge all this work my family is doing today might not be something my kids appreciate until they’re older, perhaps not until they’re adults. But just because they don’t thank me for every minute of it now, isn’t a reason not to do it. I’d have to be pretty short-sighted to seek daily validation of my parenting choices from my kids.

As parents with young kids watching and modeling our every move, we make important choices every day. Hopefully, those choices are intentional and informed by our values, rather than letting our bias and societal programming take the wheel because we believe that’s the right way.

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Adrian Crook is a father of five living in beautiful downtown Vancouver, Canada. When he's not mobbed by his brood, he runs a successful videogame design consulting business.
  • Davis Austerberry

    Love it, great read! My mother grew up 3 kids + 2 parents + 1 grandma in a small condo and speaks very fondly of it. Albeit was not by choice being poor immigrants.

  • Kelly

    Adrian, thanks for this! You are spot on. What’s incredible to me is the collective cultural amnesia we seem to have, given that one generation ago both of my baby boomer parents grew up in very small, modest midwestern homes, sharing a room with anywhere from 3-5 siblings at once, and they were considered typical families :) To say nothing of other cultures across the globe who share every array of structures / houses / huts / flats / adobes with their large families and even extended relatives, grandparents, etc. I think our “need” for more and more space is just making us more and more lonely. I’m so glad you pinpointed the quality of your relationship with your kids as the thing they truly need the most from you – it’s a message we need to hear more of. I have close friends who live in a 2 bedroom condo with their 4 kids, all under age 8, and they might be the happiest and sweetest kids I’ve ever met. Really appreciate the blog, keep it up!

    • Thanks for the kind words! You’re spot on. Not sure why all of this closeness has fallen out of favour in our generation, but it’s not for any good reason.

    • kmc

      Right? There are all kinds of articles now about multigenerational households on the rise (in the US), and my cohort being the “sandwich” generation, taking care of kids and parents at the same time. But we’re having kids later and our parents are living longer, so yeah, we “sandwichers” are in our 30s this time, as opposed to our 20s or even teens like it has been throughout history. Doesn’t anybody remember back past the 90s? According to US Census data, 2001 was the year in which the average family household had 2.18 members over the age of 18, the lowest since 1940 at least (the year the data I found goes back to). Right now we’re at 2.25, comparable to the 60s, and when you get to 1950 and before, it’s quite a bit higher. I know that doesn’t directly reflect living space per person, but houses have only gotten bigger in general. Also according to Census data, the percentage of “crowded” and “severely crowded” homes–defined as, respectively, 1.01 residents per room and 1.5 residents per room (note: not bedroom. room.)–dropped drastically since 1940 (again, the earliest data I found), with the percentages at, respectively, 20.2% and 9.0% in 1940 and 5.7% and 2.7% in 2000.

      I always try to go back to the data when something sounds wrong, because I know I only get an impossibly tiny view of things, but I do wonder how so many people who lived through it themselves seem to think that the way we live now is how we’ve always done things.

  • Greer

    It’s interesting how the host didn’t think about how his negative stance on urbanism and minimalism reveals ingrained biased about race and socio-economic stereotypes. There are big families that have lived in city apartments for years, perhaps not by choice, because they couldn’t afford a car. Or to live in the suburbs in a big house with a yard. Are the parents of those families criticized for forcing that lifestyle on their children? Or is it perceived as okay because they can’t afford anything else? I could keep going, you were right on to challenge the host on his position- especially since he clearly hadn’t thought it through. Great post, enjoy the blog!

    • Thanks a ton for saying so. You’re bang on re the biases. We definitely have an idea of how kids should be raised, and that idea isn’t always rooted in data or evidence as much as it is societal programming.

  • Andrew

    Adrian, this is a great post. I live in the Greater Vancouver area and I think more people need to seriously consider what you are doing. I too am a single dad although I only have 2 children. When I was married we had a giant 3,000 square foot place. Now I live in a smallish 1000 square foot upstairs of house. We each have a bedroom but I’m considering going smaller. Seeing what you are doing is an inspiration.

    Since I have been renting I completely agree with you that all that maters to kids is time. Give them your time to play. Give them your time to teach. Give them your time to listen to their problems. They really are simple, just like adults. They also have no idea what you are teaching them now. They will wake up when they are 25 and thank you for it.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Awesome to hear from you on this, Andrew. Thanks for taking the time to write. Sounds like you’re living the way you’d prefer already, but of course I always support smaller (and cheaper or better located, if possible). You’re right about kids: right now they’re more likely to want more and bigger, but hopefully eventually they’ll understand why I did this. They aren’t always super grateful these days, but that’s just how kids are… :)

      • Andrew

        Somehow I don’t think that kids have gratitude journals. :)

        For me I’ve done the rough math on going to 2 bdrm basement place and I’d save between $3600-$4200 annually, including the utility savings (most basements include utilities). The majority of basements in my area are actually quite nice.

        I struggle with the just another kind of consumerism presented by minimalism. For example, do I really need to only have one really fancy chair? Does everything have to fold away. For you, I argue that yes it does. For me, maybe not.

        To make the above plan work I would combine the beds again into a bunk for one room for my daughter. I’d let my son have the second room with my queen bed so I don’t have to sell it. Then I’d buy a used Murphy bed on craigslist for me to sleep in the common area.

        • I don’t buy into the consumer – or aesthetic – version of minimalism too much either. I call what I do “functional minimalism” because it’s designed to be usable without being too precious. I don’t want to suddenly be fraught with worry that my kids are going to wreck that nice chair, for instance, so I have a crappy Craigslist sofa. And no, not everything needs to fold away. I covet one of those expanding dining room tables, but really what would I do with the saved space when it’s in console table mode anyway? Not necessary.

          And $4200 annually, if that’s after tax income, is nothing to sneeze at. Most people would be thrilled to get a $5-6K/year raise, which is effectively what you’d be giving yourself. When I was looking for a place a few years ago, I definitely had that “murphy bed for me in the common room” backup plan, in case I wasn’t able to find a three bedroom. It may still be the case one day that I do that, if we wind up back in the rental market again and can’t get a similar place to this. It’s not the end of the world, because when the kids go to bed I do like to retire to my room and watch a show or play videogames. :)

  • Sarah

    I just found your blog, read a ton of posts, and enjoyed them all. My husband and I live in a small condo in Chicago, and we’re hoping to raise kids here in our very walkable neighborhood. Our families and friends are a little horrified by this, and assume that we will leave the city and buy a house in the burbs when we have a child. Some have expressed that they don’t think public transit or public schools (uh, what) are any place for kids, which seems biased and narrow minded to me.

    Kids do not need to be sheltered from the world, and families of all kinds have always lived in cities and small spaces. They have not always lived in enormous homes and spent a significant portion of their days in cars.

    Thanks for all of your inspiring posts!

    • Public transit and public schools aren’t for kids! Too funny. I’m not sure when we morphed into a society that believed doing everything for your kids (i.e. driving them everywhere) was better than teaching them to be independent. Maybe it’s more gratifying to a parent than the scary process of setting them free as much as possible. It’s probably filled with less judgment, that’s for sure.

      The kids are so independent already, I can’t imagine how different my life will be to that of my peers in even just a few years. They’ll still be shuttling kids around or trying to get them into driving a car prematurely, whereas my kids will have been taking the bus and subway for over a decade.

      Stick with what you know is the right path. The freedom they get from being car free in a walkable, dense neighbourhood will far exceed the judgment you get from suburbanites. :)

  • Hi Adrian! First time I’ve found you and I freaking love you! We owned the big house in Australia, the Aussie dream, with the pool and the massive garden and the 4 bedrooms, 3 living rooms, triple garage and massive bills. We HATED it. We were bored and the kids never used the pool. These days we just own backpacks. 4 years on the road. We’ve been hanging about in Romania a lot, in a tiny 100 year old cottage, in between we’ve been travelling the world. We’ve never been happier, the kids are blissed out and the close proximity makes our family TIGHT. Good on’ya mate and your family looks adorable and happyxx

    • Argh! You’re living the dream. I would totally be doing what you’re doing, if my kids weren’t half time with their mom. Such an amazing life you’re giving them. Huge high fives!

      • Amber

        I live in a 3 bedroom 1600sq ft condo in Chicago suburbs. We actually have all 3 of my kids in one room (theirs is the most efficient room) my husband and I in another, and the last room is my office. I’d like my condo but I’d like a house now. My building was built in the 70’s and you can hear your neighbors stomping around. I have bad relations with neighbors cuz they think it’s a retirement community and don’t like hearing my kids, otherwise it’s a nice place.

        One thing im grateful for is we live in a nice little area next too the woods and I can send the kids outside with their neighbor friends without having to go with them. If I lived in downtown Chicago I probably wouldn’t do that. It’s also nice in the winter when they’re cooped up and driving me crazy, I can send them out in snow pants to play and I can stay inside hah.

        We would also love to travel and move around without committing to a home, but the kids are my husband’s from a previous marriage and we don’t have the luxury to do anything but vacation also.

        I need to learn to simplify and organize. That’s my biggest trouble. I lose my head cuz I feel like it’s so cluttered.

        • I hear you re organizing. It’s a constant challenge. We just shipped a huge amount of stuff out, donated it to Value Village and freed up a lot of room in our living room storage unit. Now the girls are thrilled they each have another cubby to store stuff.

          Thanks for writing!

  • Anita Mishra

    No it’s not forcing if you teach them something that is rational. Although, one of the best ways to be a minimalist is to not have kids. Best way to be a minimalist and be eco friendly is not have kids and be a vegan (whole plant based foods and products).

  • I grew up in a condo because, well, that’s how most people grow up in Europe and, to be honest, I don’t know what else to say because your way of living seems way better than most people in the world any way :)

    • I often say that in interviews – that this is only “odd” or “abnormal” in North America. For the rest of the world, it’s just how things are (and how they should be, in my opinion!).

      Thanks for chiming in. :)

    • ReallyNotFeelinIt

      It’s different in North America because we give our children almost no freedom. A Spanish child will walk to school or take the bus by himself or with siblings quite young. A North American 13-year-old will not be given the freedom in the middle of the city to visit a friend three blocks away or play in the nearest park. This lifestyle is great when kids have the freedom to roam–terrible when they are imprisoned like hamsters in a cage unless they are taken for a walk like a pet dog. In many areas of N America, you face having your children removed for having these freedoms.

      • kmc

        That’s a really good point. You’re absolutely right about the freedom we’re “allowed” to give our kids, and it’s really bad. I live in Texas, where the hot weather and car-centric sprawling cities are enough of a deterrent to kid freedom as it is. We have alarming statistics on bicycle/pedestrian injuries and deaths, as well as terrible sidewalk and bike path systems and no shade. Couple that with the large neighborhood tracts, where there’s one road in and out, and inside it’s just multiple square miles of houses packed in, unbroken by parks or “free” space. Everybody has to carve out their own little safe space for their families by having a backyard–I don’t know why they don’t at least improve everybody’s lives by trying out a tract model in which each block is only a handful of houses wide on each side with a single shared backyard area in the center. Man, I would eat that up. And honestly, I think a lot of people would in a lot of living situations. I have a number of coworkers–single people, married with a ton of kids, you name it–who talk often about how much they’d enjoy living in a co-op environment, just to relieve the isolation and the hugely inefficient burden each household bears. It’s like we lust for better and better technology to make tasks easier so that we have time to make our personal lives less efficient. I think we’re driving ourselves crazy.

  • Cindy Langley

    Ugh….can’t watch the video. The error message says, “Sorry this video is not available in your region.” Is it because I live in the US? Do you have another way to watch? Thanks!

    • Aww that’s too bad. Yes, it’s probably a Canada-only thing. We get the same in reverse all the time (US only videos).

  • Cody @ Dollar Habits

    I just stumbled across your site today and absolutely love it, Adrian. I just subscribed and look forward to reading more. I love your philosophy on parenting as well. – Cody

  • Lisa

    Don’t we all force our lifestyle on our kids? By nature. And your lifestyle seems great, so why not? We’ve lived an expat life in 5 countries for all of my kids life. (We forced it on them :-)) and have recided in anything between 4200 sqf with 5 baths – to 800 sqf with one bath. The latter is now. With two teens – boy and girl – who share a small room. We live in central Berlin. Right in the middle. And we’ve never been happier. The minimalist bug bit us a few years back in the middle of our 8th move. Why did we have so much stuff? So we downsized our things and then our home. No regrets. We now spend money on travels and experiences instead of extra living space. And our kids always say how much they love the way we live. Maybe I should mention that we are European and that 800 sqf isn’t considered tiny over here :-) – but two teens sharing a room successfully, is more unusual…

  • ReallyNotFeelinIt

    It’s far cheaper to keep our cars than to move to a more expensive area and take public transportation. Even the public transportation alone is more expensive than our cars. Here our toddler can pop out back to play whenever it suits him. They live surrounded by nature, next to a wildlife preserve. The older kids can visit friends without anyone calling CPS. And we pay for our 3400 finished sqft what we would pay for a quarter of that in a bad part of the city, and I have an office where I can work an be at home. It’s quiet–and kids in noisy environments have much worse outcomes. Conversely, the kids can play the piano and sing at the top of their lungs without disturbing the neighbors. Grandparents can visit for 3 months at a stretch because we have a guest room. (The kids of each gender share a room, like yours.)

    But the brutal fact is that you can’t reasonably afford a better place for your kids in Vancouver as a single dad. You’re making the most of it and doing a very good job. You’re also taking advantage of the unique opportunities of your environment. All this is great. Your fabrication of a more lofty meaning for your choices is just that, though, and it’s silly.

  • hkim2016

    Is it possible to have a fulfilling minimalist life style with kids in non urban more rural settings?

    • I don’t see why not. Just comes down to what you want out of your surroundings. Might be harder to be without things like a car, however. Also, much of the “sharing economy” that exists in dense urban centres wouldn’t be available further out, so that might necessitate owning more things that you don’t use very often. But I’m sure a version of minimalism can still be had further out, it just might be minimalist relative to others in the area – but perhaps not AS minimalist as it could be.

      • kmc

        You know, I’d love to hear some perspectives on moving this direction when other family members are in the household. In our case, my mom is a member of our household, but when we moved to our current house, we kept our previous little one and now she lives there, very near us but not with us. We’ve talked about shrinking our living space and renting or something, but even if we put the kids together, that still means three bedrooms. Also, my husband is fairly private, so I don’t think he or my mom would be happy if they couldn’t each carve out a little space just for them and if our rooms weren’t kind of isolated from each other. I’ve thought and thought about how to accommodate it all, but I haven’t come up with anything. We’ve thought about buying or renting a smaller house downtown, where more stuff is walkable, but they’re so incredibly more expensive compared to where we are that costs would only go up. To own would be $230/sq ft vs $100/sq ft and renting a 2-bedroom and a studio cost more than our current two mortgages. So, unless we figure out some tips to make the grown-ups comfortable, I’m not sure how we’d make it work. Do you know anybody in a similar situation?

  • kmc

    Yeah, of course you’re forcing it on them. Every kid’s lifestyle is forced on them. My four siblings grew up on a farm, and ask them if they felt like it was forced on them. They hated every bit of it, but was it wrong? What a ridiculous argument.
    Besides, it’s a very twisted point-of-view if you think about it. What about families who can only afford a small living space, and can’t even afford the mitigating factors that you’re able to provide? If families living in poverty are miserable, that makes us comfortable because we can pity them, but if they were to make the best of it and write blogs about finding joy in their lifestyles (chosen or otherwise) and the unexpected benefits they reap, the response would be scathing. Because, in the US at least, happiness is a sign that you need to be taken down a notch.

  • Mindy L.

    Hi, I just wanted to give you some feedback as someone who reads your blog but who never plans to have kids and doesn’t find parenting subject matter to be interesting. Honestly I have a hard time remembering the name of blogs and although I love reading articles online, I rarely go back to the same blogs twice. I find articles that interest me, and then I read them, and then never remember the website or blogger’s name. What’s funny is you are one of the few bloggers I check in with regularly and found to be memorable with valuable shares since Day 1. One would assume I am not your target audience in the least, yet your situation is interesting to me, and I appreciate your insight. I especially liked the nugget you shared about how living in the city is an investment in opportunity – that was a gem! This concept of “forcing” a certain lifestyle on children is pretty invalid. Using that guy’s logic nobody should force anything lifestyle-related on children – so is he willing to apply his point to parallel situations like forcing religion on kids or forcing kids to grow up in towns with zero cultural diversity? Should everyone stop forcing their kids to go to church? What about forcing kids to grow up houses where the parents smoke cigarettes? What about forcing kids to grow up in houses with mold growing in the attic? This concept of “forcing” a lifestyle is too grey for how he is presenting it on this talk show. Really he is just parent-shaming and I don’t think he has thought his theories through. My boyfriend grew up in a typical lower middle class cookie cutter home with a nice yard in Lynn Valley and his parents covered every surface with clutter and trinkets and dysfunctional housewares that collected dust. All he wanted when he grew up was a clutter-free, functional minimalist home and now he has one. He and his brother both grew up craving a minimalist lifestyle, so one could argue that their parents FORCED a cluttered lifestyle on them. It’s a silly discussion. But congratulations on killing it and stirring up interest and shedding light on subjects like this.

    • Wow, Mindy! I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. I think you’re bang on. His thoughts are really just an expression of his bias, nothing more. Unfortunately, a lot of our laws are also based on bias, and increasingly they are creeping into how we parent. See the Free Range Kids movement and how that’s collided with CPS in the states as a good example of how cultural bias an be weaponized to shame and de-legitimize parents. The danger comes in when authorities are asked to make decisions on the legitimacy of parent’s decisions based only on their own cultural bias. Anyway… I’m skirting around a whole subject I’ve been giving a lot of thought to lately, but thanks for your vote of support. Take care!