10.06.2010

Simplicity Parenting

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."
                     --Leonardo Da Vinci

A few months ago I took a trip to the beach with some good friends of mine.  It was a lovely trip, but halfway through while my friends were walking along the beach, I looked around at everyone when some thoughts came forcibly to me.  Why on earth does everyone have so much stuff with them? I wondered.  It was a busy day, and I looked around at all the groups of people.  There were chairs, tents, coolers, plastic beach toys, bags and bags, and towels galore.  I was not excluded from this.  We had brought a large cooler that we had to lug tediously into our spot, beach towels, an umbrella that kept flying away, and I had a large bag packed with extra clothes, my wallet, and books and magazines.

The other thing I noticed was that no one really seemed to be interacting with each other much-- besides with those in their own little group, there was little conversation or interaction with those around them.  People seemed too absorbed with their "stuff" to be able to extend themselves.  I suddenly saw all of this stuff as a barrier between me and the natural world and people around me, and it made me feel sick.

I started imagining what the absolute necessities were for me on a day trip to the beach.  My list was a very short one compared to what I brought (a small sack lunch, sunscreen, towel, credit card, and maybe a book or magazine).  I wondered what that trip would have been like if everyone had packed just the absolute necessities with them.  I imagined that everyone would have been moving around more--enjoying the sand and water, exploring, laying down and resting, and visiting more with those around them.

I went home mulling these thoughts over, when days later I happened upon this book in the library:

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids

The tag line "Using the Extrodinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids" seemed like a miracle to me-- It was an answer to a question that I hadn't even given voice to yet.  I had already been thinking about the "things" around me, but I had also been struggling with some of my children's behaviors.  I felt intuitively that something needed to change in our house, but didn't know what.  This book fused the two thoughts together, and through implementing some of the suggestions given, it has transformed our family life.

It is rare that I so fully embrace a parenting book.  I've read several parenting books that I've enjoyed, and have usually taken a few of the ideas from it, and made some changes, but I took this book to heart.  I loved the way it was organized, I loved that the author never uses a tone of arrogance, but instead gives helpful and simple suggestions that can dramatically change your home, and shares a vision of what your home and childhood could be.

Here are four changes that I took from the book that I feel have made the biggest difference in our home (and in me):

  1. Simplifying meal time.  This was one of the easiest changes I made.  Payne gives several suggestions in this section, but one of them is to assign each night of the week a category-- whatever works for you.  I now have a binder, with dividers for all of our categories, and I add recipes that we enjoy in the binder (it has plastic coverings for each of the recipes).  It is much easier for me to think "what kind of soup am I going to make tonight or what kind of breakfast-for-dinner am I going to make tonight?" than "what am I going to make for dinner tonight?"  It has been easier for me to plan, to keep things organized in my binder and to cook meals that everyone enjoys by adopting this idea.
  2. Simplifying our toy box.  I love that Payne doesn't really list what are "good toys" or "bad toys" but instead talks about the different stages of development and how kids play.  After reading this section I went through all the toys in our house while my boys were sleeping, and got rid of three garbage bags full of toys.  I have a small stash in our garage now that I'll bring in if they ask for it, or for special times, but in our home now the only toys we have are puzzles, blocks, Legos, musical instruments, art and craft supplies, homemade playdough, books, stuffed animals, wooden trains, and dress-ups.  We have some balls and bikes and other outside toys that we keep in the garage.  Thats it.  I have been the most surprised by this change.  I expected the boys to wake up from their naps and ask where all their toys went, or to ask about certain ones.  That was a few months ago, and they have never once asked about any of the toys I got rid of.  Instead the boys seemed excited to play with the toys that were easily accessible to them.  I noticed an immediate change in behavior after getting rid of most of our toys.  My boys, instead of fighting and crying over toys, now for the most part play together.  I realize now that the toys I keep in our home are toys that encourage working and playing together.  I feel like I peeled away layers from my kids, and am suddenly seeing them for who they are.  I have been amazed and delighted by what is underneath.
  3. Eliminating screen time (TV, movies, and computer).  This was the change that I was most afraid to make.  We had already gotten rid of our cable, but still had Netflix instant streaming.  Even though I didn't let them watch shows all the time, I still relied on it sometimes when I needed the kids to stay busy while I worked on something else.  At first after reading this book, I only reduced screen time.  I let the kids know that they could only watch one show a day.  Then I noticed that on many days the kids weren't even asking to watch shows, so I decided that they could watch one show, but only on Fridays and Saturdays.  This is where we are at now, but they still rarely ask (even on the days that I would allow it) to watch anything.  I don't actually think screen time is in and of itself bad, but instead I think about it like "what could they be doing instead?"  Usually there is a better way that I feel they could be spending their time.  
  4. Beginning our meal time.  Probably my favorite change I've made is a simple suggestion that Payne makes to begin your meal with a moment of silence, and then to go around and one by one tell what your favorite thing from the day was.  We now do this after our prayer, and it has transformed our meal time.  Before we would usually ask "how was your day?"  Which sometimes lead to some complaining, or conversations that were not including the kids.  This was an easy way to change the tone of our meal, and an easy way to bring the kids into the discussion.  After making this change I also realized that I needed to do this for myself.  Each night now I sit in my kids room and read scriptures or talks while the kids fall asleep, and then think about my day.  I have a small notebook that my friend Kat sent me, and I write down all my favorite things from the day.  I love sitting in the dark room listening to the slow breathing of my kids.  I leave the room always feeling peace, gratitude and happiness.  On the cover of the book that I capture all my favorite things there is a quote from Theodore Roethke that says "Deep in their roots all flowers keep the light."  I love it.  I love all the beautiful moments written in there that probably would have been forgotten had I not taken a small moment for myself and written them down.  There have been so many times while reading through my little book that I have reflected on how it really is the simple things that bring us the most happiness.

I loved this book so much.  I ended up buying a copy because it was one that I was sure that I would want to read over and over, and to share with as many people as I could.  It is a message that I think so many people and parents could greatly benefit from.

If you are feeling the need for simplicity-- for the "ultimate sophistication" as Da Vinci would say, then read this book.  It may just be the answer you didn't know you were looking for.