Friday, June 18, 2010


I just finished reading Kim John Payne's Simplicity Parenting. It's one of the best parenting books I've read (the other being Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting, which I truly credit with saving me when I was drowning with infant twins and a very unhappy four-year-old). Simplicity Parenting is not about tweaking or responding to or trying to modify individual behaviors from your child, but rather, it's about modifying your child's environment and days to reduce the low-level stress that exacerbates natural quirks into outright behavior issues.

The four areas Payne focuses on for simplifying a child's world are:
  1. Environment (reducing the number of toys, books, clothes, drastically, to reduce choices and visual clutter).
  2. Rhythm (establishing rhythms and inserting predictability in a child's day).
  3. Schedules (reducing the amount of time spent in scheduled activities to allow for lots of free time for unstructured play).
  4. Media (reducing or eliminating exposure to media and adult conversations in order to preserve childhood, and not cause children stress about things going on in the world that they have no control over).

A lot of what Payne recommends makes common sense--for example, a lot of visual clutter causes me anxiety, so why wouldn't the same be true for kids? And, whenever we do a major clean-up (and clean-out) of toys, they all seem to settle down and play in the new open area; rediscovering toys they forgot existed because they were just part of the "pile." I also have to admit, I love any child care advice that runs counter to prevailing notions--like choice. Every magazine or book you pick up on parenting says give your toddlers and small children lots of choices so they feel in control. Payne says, giving them too many choices makes them feel overwhelmed.

However, what Payne makes sound so easy (pile up all your kids toys, then take away half, then half again), like an afternoon project, could take weeks or months (how do you even find all of your kids' toys?). I did do (another) major clean-out of the boys' room, filled up a box for Goodwill, took some big toys that they don't really play with but that I don't want to part with (my old doll house, the wooden barn) down to the basement, filled up three boxes of books for the library book sale. But still, there's a long way to go, and it will be the work of more than one afternoon. So, I'm going to take simplifying area by area, room by room, moment by moment over the next few months.

I'll be back Monday with my first Simplification project: The Mudroom. I'd love it if you joined me. Please chime in in the Comments and link to any posts you have about simplifying (whether Kim John Payne style or not).


  1. I haven't read this book, but it's high on my list. I'd love to join you in implementing it. Honestly, it sounds like a lot of things I'm already doing (I just recently did a total revamp of the toys), but I know I can do better in all those areas. I'll see if we have it at the library and I'll bring it along on our vacation next week. I can't wait to see your before and afters--I'm a sucker for before and afters!

    As far as Unconditional Parenting--did it ever make you feel like a crappy mother? I read half of it last year, when I had an infant and a toddler, and while I liked what he had to say, the whole time I was reading it I felt like it was impossible for me to live up to. I also felt like he gave a lot of high ideals but didn't give me a lot of concrete, practical applications for implimenting them. Maybe I'll go back and finish it now. I really, really wanted to love it, but I just felt so frustrated reading it.

    If I may, I'd love to recommend Heaven on Earth by Sharifa Oppenheimer. It is my FAVORITE parenting book ever. It's chock full of practical applications (maybe this is just something I need!) and it's all about rhythm, gentle parenting, etc--very Waldorfy. Have you read it?

  2. Jaimie--Yea! Glad you'll be playing along.

    When I read Unconditional Parenting I already was a crappy mother...I had zero (possibly negative) patience for my older child because I was so worn out by his two infant brothers. I think I really needed something to remind me to love him right through all of the behaviors...and to remind me that it wasn't him that was the problem, it was my response to him. It was certainly not an overnight cure, but I think it established the foundation for climbing out of the deep, deep hole that I had dug. (And believe me, I don't live up to the ideals, but it's nice to have them).

    I will check out Heaven on Earth--I generally prefer concrete ideas to theoretical too.

  3. I honestly believe that just doing those four things makes childhood, and child rearing flow so much smoother. Whenever we drop off from even one of the four, chaos begins to ensue. Great post Andrea.

  4. Interested to see what happens...
    We went on a spring desert trip, which was so cold we stayed indoors most of the 3 days. Since we had planned on a lot of outdoor time, we brought very little toys (legos and art supplies, that's it).
    The kids were so creative and happy and I never once wished we had brought more toys.
    You are a good mother Andrea, I know you have precious free time and I'm impressed with all you do for your family.

  5. Love love love this review. Thank you! I was just telling Ken yesterday how I don't want to over schedule the children. I just requested this book from inter-library loan.

  6. hey, i'll play along too! never can simplify enough it seems ;) more crap is always coming in, lol! i peeked at that book and thought it was great - need to check it out again. thanks for the reminder andrea! maybe we should start a support group in CM? (like LLL) i bet lots of moms could benefit :)

  7. Woodsprite Mama--GREAT idea! We could have get-rid-of junk parties (like Tupperware parties, only instead of buying crap, you help each other release attachment to the unnecessary).


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