Simplicity Parenting

Disclaimer: This is my first attempt at a book review since… uh, college?  It’s a little long.  I’m really curious to hear other moms’ (and dads’!) thoughts about this book and about simplifying your child’s life.  Even if you’re not a parent, you probably have thoughts about good toys, TV shows, and the super kids of the 21st century.  I’d love feedback as I embark on this mommy thing!


It’s raining again.  Lena is sleeping in the next room; Elliott’s at a reception on base.  I’m sitting cross-legged in bed, a cup of coffee on the windowsill and my journal open beside me. 

There’s also a book with me: Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.  I read a review of this book a few months ago on a friend of a friend’s wonderful blog and immediately ordered it for myself on Amazon.  I think it’s my favorite secular book so far on parenting… and from the mom of a 6-month-old that’s a killer recommendation!  Hah.

[S]implification is not just about taking things away.  It is about making room, creating space in your life, your intentions, and your heart.  (p.34)
Payne recommends simplifying your child’s life in four ways:
  • Environment
  • Rhythm
  • Schedules
  • Filtering out the adult world

    To begin simplifying your child’s environment, Payne recommends you first tackle their toys.  He suggests you get rid of any toy that is:
    • broken
    • developmentally inappropriate
    • conceptually “fixed” (ie. products based on TV shows or movies)
    • easily breakable
    • very high-stimulation
    • annoying or offensive
    • claims to give your child a developmental edge
    • something you were pressured to buy
    • inspires corrosive play
    • a multiple
    Honestly if I were to use those criteria to go through Lena’s [very few] toys that we brought with us to Texas, I would probably throw out several of them.  A rattle that lights up?  Clear plastic balls from a yard sale? But then imagine if Lena was three years old and had lived through three Christmases and three birthdays!  I can see how toys get out of hand.
    At the end of the chapter on environment, Payne gives us this vision of a decluttered room.  May this be something to work towards for Lena’s whole life instead of something to create out of chaos later down the road:
    Imagine your child’s room
    • uncluttered and restful to the senses
    • with soft light and colors and a sense of order and space
    • with room to move and play, draw and build
    • without toys that are broken, forgotten, heaped in  piles
    • with a few of her most beloved toys in sight and the rest in one or two baskets on the floor, covered with a cloth.
    • watching your child create new worlds and new ways to play with her toys, instead of requiring new toys to play with
    • opening your child’s bureau or closet and seeing space around a few clothes that fit her and the current season
    • your child’s own real tools and their happy sense of purpose as she works and plays at cooking, cleaning, and gardening
    • your child being able to live deeply and repeatedly in the “now” of a story and her play, rather than always eying what’s next
    Payne goes on to recommend simplifying through rhythm, ie. setting a predictable pattern to your days, even if it seems “boring.”  He maintains that children like routine, and it’s 21st century parents that feel the pressure to make life be one high point after another until both parents and children collapse with exhaustion.  In the same vein Payne recommends simplifying schedules: avoiding the pressure of cello lessons on top of ballet on top of soccer on top of basketball on top of swim team.  Here’s a one-sentence summary:
    The verbal expression of simplifying is, “No, thanks.” (p. 167)
    After I greedily acquired for free all Lena’s baby things I needed (and much more) through a neighborhood mom’s group, I know how hard it is to just say, “No, thanks.”  When it’s offered, when it’s available, and when it’s for your child (and therefore also for your self-image), it’s so much easier to just let your guard down and acquire.
    My favorite chapter of all, though, was about filtering out the adult world.  Elliott and I already struggle with this for Lena when it comes to technology.  Should we let her be near computers, or see us on our cell phones, or sit in front of a TV screen?  We’ve tried to be fairly cautious, and at the very least a TV is not a babysitter in our house.  But let’s be honest… we have iPhones.  Laptop computers.  YouTube.  Blogs.  Lena is going to be around Steve Jobs’ inventions nonstop unless we set some serious boundaries. 
    Some serious boundaries with ourselves, I mean.  And boundaries often start with awareness. 
    TV runs on commercials, the siren song of “stuff.”  An altar of commercialism, it is your home’s most efficient conduit of clutter.  And TV can easily suck up any free, unstructured time you’ve gained by simplifying schedules.  Between 1965 and 1995 Americans gained an average of 6 hours a week in leisure time; we then devoted all but a few minutes of it to watching TV. (p. 168)
    My parents never had cable in our home and movies were something we watched together as a family only on Friday nights.  Elliott’s parents didn’t have cable either, kept their TV in the basement, and only allowed movies on special occasions.  Our parents are excellent examples to us.  But this is also a new age.  Everyone is plugged into technology these days, and I worry that if we really do crack down on the use of technology then Lena might be “behind.”
    Well.  Don’t worry.  This quote changed that for me:
    In Failure to Connect, psychologist Jane Healy notes that kids who don’t start using computers until adolescence gain competency within months equal to that of children who’ve used them since they were toddlers. (p. 178)
    Lastly, Payne addresses discipline, another topic that stops me cold.  Of course I envision everyone—fellow passengers on international plane flights, her Sunday school teacher, my dad—fawning over my perfect child, awed by how well behaved she is.  But discipline takes so much work, so much love, to get right. 
    To help us get started, Payne had a very simple piece of advice:
    Why did Laura and Mary do what Pa said?  The short answer is this: Pa didn’t say too much. (p. 185)
    This is, of course, from Little House on the Prairie, and [besides casting all your cares on Jesus, which Payne does not address] is a good place for me to start in the art of discipline. 
    Keep it simple.  When I do speak, mean it.  And love that little girl!

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    7 Responses to Simplicity Parenting

    1. Jonathan September 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

      i think one day i shall read this book

    2. lucyanngreen6 September 30, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

      Gee, it looks like lots of helpful advice. I like your musings and conclusions, too. And I really like that little baby. :-)

    3. megarber October 1, 2011 at 3:08 am #

      She is REALLY sitting up! The book and the review look terrific. Sigh–What I want for Christmas? A professional de-clutterer. Sorry, kids, it’s too late to make your life peaceful!

    4. tara October 1, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

      hi. i’m the friend of the friend, whoever that might be. nice to “meet you.” and i see from your last post that you know seth and tracy. perhaps they are the friends. in any case, hope to meet you and your stress-free, well-disciplined baby some day in cambridge.

    5. ahill October 1, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

      What a great find! I love the days the kids really need a bath before dinner – all that dirt must mean grand adventures of freedom and imagination. B knows how to navigate the iPad during long doc visits – but at home he still grabs a PILE of books to fill his quiet moments – balance is possible. Off to see if our library has the book :).

    6. Jess October 2, 2011 at 1:55 am #

      Great book review! I might have to look it up and read it myself before it’s too late :) Now a practical question on the peaceful environment: How can you keep your kids rooms uncluttered after a birthday where people generously give gifts that do not fit the criteria set by Payne? Wouldn’t in be rude to give those gifts away too soon? How can you keep that balance?

    7. beccagarber October 2, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

      Jess, Payne does answer your question in part in the book. He would say to store toys from certain people (like grandparents, friends) and bring them out when they visit OR store them in your “toy library” and cycle them in while cycling others out. It’s not a perfect answer, of course, and you might have to wait for the newness to wear off before you steal them away!

      Tara, good to hear from you! The friends I was referring to are Josh and Becca G; we helped them move out of your house a few years ago in Cambridge, and then we ended up following them to DC and joining their community group there before moving to Italy. I hope we can soon bring our baby (stress-free and well-disciplined or not…) to Cambridge; we miss it!

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