In today’s world we’re tricked to believe that our parenting skills are dependent on the number of gadgets, books, toys and vanities that we buy, the parenting classes that we enrol to, and the catalogue like perfection of the nurseries that we design. We’re pressured to think that we should devote more of our time, more of our attention and especially more of ourselves to the little ones: our days should be all about hovering over them just to help their development from very early on. I admit, many times I tend to be a victim of these – real or believed – expectations myself. So I’m definitely the kind of person who needs a reminder once in a while that the secret of parenting doesn’t really lie there.
One of the reasons I love travelling and going around with a baby is that it simplifies things. It makes me more easy-going; it makes me concentrate on what is truly important. Sometimes the realisation that I can fit in one single suitcase everything what we need for caring and raising a child is truly refreshing. And looking sometimes in the same direction with him instead of AT him is also beneficial for all of us: all of a sudden we (including our baby) feel much more balanced again.
Exactly because of my proneness to overparent, I feel lucky that I came across Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting book relatively early on. This book has deeply affected the way I think about parenting and about providing for our child. If I could (and maybe I should) have only one parenting book on our bookshelf, then probably this should be it. Or maybe rather on the bedside table acting also as a kind of constant reminder: we don’t need to be on the road to simplify our life.
The message of the book, written by a Waldorf educator, is very simple: LESS IS MUCH MUCH MORE. So if you’d like to become a better parent, simply simplify. DECLUTTER. Declutter your home. Declutter the playroom. Declutter the sensory and information overload. Declutter your and your child’s schedule. Nowadays, our children – and in fact, even us – face too many trinkets, too many choices, too much information. This overwhelm leads to too much stress, that children simply can’t cope with, and can even result in their ‘soul fever’, disconnection and behavioural problems. By backing off a little, you can regain time and reconnect within the family, also providing your most precious ones with a more secure, calmer and happier childhood.
So what are the most important takeaways from this parenting philosophy which have resonated with me? In my next two blog posts I’m going to share them with you, along with our own initiations, little successes and even failures.
Simplify your environment. Including the children’s room and playspace.
Payne’s starting point for simplification is our own environment, which I couldn’t agree with more. I believe that our home is a mirror of our lives, but if not else, it surely has at least a profound effect on how we feel and how we act. I like clean lines and transparent spaces, harmonious and soothing colours, simple but beautiful objects. An organized environment simply makes me feel better. If there’s even a little chaos here at home, I can’t think straightly anymore and I become emotionally overwhelmed as well. And even though, we tend to pile up unnecessary things ourselves sometimes (just like you’d find our kitchen now if you dropped by!), every half a year or so we go for a big decluttering. It’s like a wellness weekend for our souls!
After LittleMK had been born, baby gadgets and toys slowly started taking over all the place. And while true enough, the nursery is quite tiny and doesn’t really provide the space needed for a growing baby, I still couldn’t justify all the things scattered around in our flat in a half-baked manner. So what we did again was to reclaim space. And while we can’t restrict all the child-connected activities to our son’s room, we identified what each area was for and we’ve tried to stick to that. We’ve made, for example, a play area in the middle of our living room (the only place where we have a bit larger space to provide free movement for LittleMK), but we’ve set it up in a way that it wouldn’t totally turn upside down the whole room. We’re careful not to turn our living room into a playroom, but rather have it as a family room where LittleMK also plays. Maybe it’s a trifle, but I’ve also chosen the playmat in a way that it’d aesthetically fit in, and harsh colours wouldn’t dazzle us.
Declutter toys and books.
So a child craves in his physical environment consistency and predictability even more than us. Everything needs to have its place. But with too many toys and books around, it’s just impossible to keep an order. So here comes Payne’s second advice: chuck at least half of them out. The broken ones, the flashy or annoying ones, the multiples. And when you’re finished with it, put away another half of them.
Our generosity can lead us astray in many ways. When we see how delighted our little one is with his big huggy bear, for instance, we think we can multiply his joy by getting him two more similar items. Or when we see him constantly bored in the middle of his toy pile, we think surprising him with a new one can be a great solution to end his agony. But the reality is that overwhelming him with toys and books just makes things worse: he will be less attached to his current things, he doesn’t learn to value them, and providing him with too many options can even end in his frustration and inability to play alone.
I already noticed this with LittleMK, too. When our playmat is dotted with too many knickknacks, he’s constantly distracted, and not capable to get immersed in anything. And then he needs my constant entertainment. So we only take out few toys in the morning, and we put them back to their place already together before hitting Neverland. In his room we use an easily accessible shelf to store his favourite toys, and we try to use bins and baskets to reduce visual clutter altogether. Some of his toys are even put away and, building on the idea in the book, we rotate them now and then depending on his current interest and engagement. And while he has much more books than toys (because blame me, but piling up books is my weakness I can’t tackle!), we try not to expose him to too many at once either. My father-in-law made a nice small floor shelf for him, where we can display five to ten books, that he enjoys for the time being, and we keep it in the living room for him to reach if he feels like “reading”.
Read the second part of my thoughts on simplicity parenting here.
In the near future I’ll write more about our toy choices, since it’s something I’ve really changed my mindset about since reading the book. Meanwhile why don’t you tell me what do you think about these ideas? Do you feel sometimes that your little one has way too many toys? How do you try to simplify your family environment? Any tips or suggestions?
Also, if you’re similarly interested in parenting books, check my list of suggestions which ones I find worthy to read and which ones I would rather avoid. What are your recommendations?
And the usual parenting post disclaimer: We are first time parents. So most of the time we have no idea what we are doing. We read and learn, follow our instinct and try to do our best. Which is not necessarily THE best, or maybe even good enough. There are different children, different families and different circumstances. Everyone should do their way, as it suits them and make them happy. So I only talk about our experience in my parenting posts, and all things stated are my personal opinion only. And even when I sound sure about myself and our decisions, it doesn’t mean I think other ways, even the opposite ones can’t work for others and be their best ways, and I don’t think they are brilliant parents. I don’t like when people believe in absolute ways, especially when it’s about parenting. It’s not like maths, there is no universal truth and instant rules of raising children. Parenting is an art, the art of love. And that’s the beauty of it.