Ever read a good book and find yourself a bit sad to finish the last page? I had that the other day when I finished Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. It was just one of those books that reaffirmed what I already know deep inside but need to be reminded of from time to time. I know that I’ll be revisiting the themes regularly over the next few years, so as I dropped the book off at my library, I walked right on over to our neighbourhood bookstore and bought a copy for myself. Some books are just that good.
The premise of Simplicity Parenting is this: we can enrich the lives of our children by simplifying our own lives. Chapter by chapter, Payne explores the typical modern life and how we can simplify it so that our children aren’t overwhelmed:
- Chapter 3: Environment: We need to make our homes less cluttered so that we aren’t all drowning in stuff.
- Chapter 4: Rhythm: Through rhythms and routines, we can bring predictability to our children’s lives and some sanity to our own.
- Chapter 5: Schedules: We need to make sure that we don’t over-schedule our families, that we leave time to just be.
- Chapter 6: Filtering out the Adult World: This might mean that we hold adult conversations after children have gone to bed, or keep the radio off for parts of the day so that our children aren’t inundated with information that they aren’t mature enough to handle.
Each of those four chapters held so much insight; I enjoyed reading them and then imagining how we could apply the principles to our own home. Now, truth be told, the first two chapters bored me a bit as they mostly described the benefits of simplifying. As I plodded through them, I considered just returning the book to the library rather than finishing it. Thankfully my obsessive tendencies make it very hard for me to stop in the middle of a book. I’m glad that I pressed on because I thoroughly enjoyed the book once I got to the practical chapters.
Take the chapter on our home environment, as an example. Payne spends a lot of time talking about the value of toys and which kinds of toys promote imaginative play (and as a trained Waldorf teacher, he has the same ideas about play that I generally d0). Payne believes that when a child has too many toys, she cannot treasure any of them and is often overwhelmed by them. For example, a child with one doll might bond with it: taking the beloved doll on extravagant adventures, sharing picnics in the park, and cuddling with it at night time. But when that child has 20 dolls, none of them can become truly treasured and the child may often have a difficult time choosing one to play with. The choice becomes overwhelming and frustrating rather than deeply satisfying.
When I shared this insight with my husband, he immediately brought up an example that had also crossed my mind: Lightening McQueen. When The Princess first watched the movie Cars, she loved it. I think it was probably one of her first full-length movies and she watched it a gazillion times (I was pregnant at that time and I readily welcomed the chance to rest while we watched the characters race around the screen). We bought The Princess a Lightening McQueen car and one or two others. She loved those cars. She brought them to the park to race, had them act out parts from the movie, made them join her for regular tea parties, and even photographed them around the house early one morning before I woke up.
The Cars toys were fun and inexpensive and my husband certainly loved racing them around the house with her. We bought more here and there, adding to her collection. Suddenly we had a whole basket full, with four Lightning McQueens, three Tow Mators, and a whole bunch of tractor cows – I think we have almost every character in the first movie and some from the second movie as well. We even have the Lightning McQueen version with bugs in his teeth (grill?). And then The Princess lost interest. I think that the first Lightning McQueen that we bought her is still her favourite to play with – when she ever bothers to drag the heavy basket out of the closet.
It happens so easily. She likes Cars – we buy them all. She likes dolls – she ends up with 25. She likes Thomas the Train – there’s a set sitting in a dusty box somewhere. All this is just clutter that makes her room difficult to keep clean and overwhelming for her because half the time she can’t even find a clean spot on the floor to sit on.
In his book, Payne suggests that we get rid of half the toys, and then get rid of half of the ones that are left (and then possibly even half of those). The goal is to declutter the room so that it becomes a peaceful place.
Payne even recommends taking out all the books except for five or six favourites. This really surprised me because I value books so highly. He argues that kids enjoy reading the same ones over and over and the rest are visual clutter. I decided to give it a go – we pulled out a box of books to donate to a local food bank/used book store, then put half of her books on the bookshelf in my office so that they’d be accessible but not in sight. I’m pleased that with a lot of sorting, I’ve managed to cut down the pile in her room to just her favourite seventy-five stories. (Yeah. This part might be a work-in-progress.)
I’ve been working away on the other rooms too, trying to use the same decluttering principles in the rest of the house. The less we have, the less I have to put away on a daily basis. This has become my mantra over the last couple weeks. In a way, the timing of the book was perfect for me as I was still in decluttering mode after our yard sale. It’s a long, slow process to get rid of stuff, but I’ve been plugging along steadily.
I’m looking forward to working through the next three chapters over the summer as I move on to a new book. I’m thinking of Spirit-Led Parenting, but I’m open to suggestions. What books are on your list of favorites?