The minimal family

In the previous post, I pointed out the connection between decentralization and minimalism.  This applies well to families.

By using simple signaling, simple rules and shared goals, you can massively simplify the organizational details of family life, freeing time for actual family life.  Here’s how we do it.

  • Divide financial responsibilities.  Agree in advance which spouse is responsible for which bills (including savings).  Set up separate bank accounts, and then just work independently.  Unless someone runs out of money (meaning the original agreement was flawed), then there is no need to argue or even talk about money.  It just takes care of itself.
  • “I spent more than 50 dollars today.”  Unexpected expenses do come up.  Agree on a daily trigger amount, above which each spouse must tell the other of an unusually high-cost day. This limits communication and/or conflict to things that matter.
  • Use shared e-calendars. Never verbally plan an event. Use Gmail, iCloud or similar shared calendars. Make one spouse the manager of the family schedule, and leave the other on a personal schedule. The family manager checks the spouse’s calendar, and if free, sends an invite to a new event. The non-managing spouse accepts, and then his/her phone or computer rings when it’s time to go. Pointless planning discussions vanish.
  • Teach your kids to do as many things as possible.  I’m not talking about chores, but just about knowing how to do things, so the kids can step in in a pinch.  I’m shocked at how many kids can’t wash clothes, cook a meal, walk or ride a bike to a friend’s house, change a flat bike tire, babysit a sibling, and so on.  The more they know, the more they can handle, and the less things will bottleneck on a frantic parent.
  • Everyone should have a phone.  Think of your family as a colony of ants.  Just as ants maintain an organized trail by signaling to each other by smell, humans now signal each other by phone.  Without a phone, there is no efficient signaling.  I used to think this was a huge waste of money, because smartphones are insanely expensive.  But then I realized that prepaid dumb phones are totally cheap.  You can buy your elementary-school kid a year of Tracfone minutes in advance, and it works out to under $10 a month — and you get the phone for free.  This may make it easier for some parents to get comfortable letting kids manage themselves.

That’s how we do it.  Well, OK, 80% of this is how we actually do it, while 20% (namely cellphones for all and learning to change a bike tire) is how I wish we did it.  But you get the idea.

This idea of decentralization, encapsulation and signaling is referred to in engineering as modularity.  It is the reason that object-oriented software is so much simpler than non-OO software.

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