I’m reading Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne right now and alternately enjoying and feeling strangely anxious about dramatically reducing the number of books and toys my children have daily access to.
It’s funny, but the reactions he describes from children who are overwhelmed by their environments—lashing out in anger, tantrums, a short fuse, reactions disproportionate to the reality of the situation—are all things that I, the mom, have been doing. Because the children and I are together for every waking hour (and most sleeping hours, too) our moods really play off of one another, so I know my reactions aren’t happening in a vacuum and it’s possible my kids are overwhelmed and that’s causing me to feel overwhelmed (and/or vice versa). Pondering this helped me notice that, while I’ve cut fairly deep with decluttering my own stuff, I’ve been hesitant to cut so deeply into the kids’ stuff. After all, we choose good toys and it’s good to have lots of books around, right? Reading Payne’s book, I’m starting to question this assumption.
Today I went into my daughter’s room and, with the kids in there with me, removed half of the books on her bookshelf. If I follow Payne’s recommendation to the letter, I’ll halve it and then halve it again, but I’m not quite ready to look ahead that far (getting rid of books provokes a lot of anxiety in me, even if I’ve just put them in boxes in the basement), so this is where I am now.
What was interesting was that the kids actually seemed excited about the change. This shouldn’t have been a surprise because this is exactly what Payne said in his book would happen. But I realize I didn’t fully believe him until I saw it myself. When there are fewer items to choose from, kids can really see what their options are and notice things that escaped their attention before.
I read an interview with Payne on The Mother Company (“What Too Many Toys Can Do”) in which he says this about the effects fewer toys have on sibling relationships:
Fewer toys reduces conflict among siblings. With feedback through our blog and countless workshops, we’ve noticed kids get along better when there is less. It’s not a huge mystery. Fewer toys invokes scarcity. Scarcity fosters more cooperation. It activates the limbic system in the brain which encourages cooperation. With fewer toys, a toy is rare and is precious. Limiting toys allows for increased depth of play that allows children to process their day. I see it as a cup where they carry all of their experiences from the day. it allows them to empty their cup for the day and be ready for the next.
I have to admit, I’m skeptical about this one, too (and not just because I think “evoke” might be a better word than “invoke” in this context). I mean, the way I’ve chosen to avoid arguments between my children is to have a Noah’s Ark of toys: two stuffed cats, two stuffed dogs, two sets of blocks, two matching games. They still argue, though. One wants a cat and a dog and the other wants the same cat and dog. So, it’s possible that Payne might be right. (He probably is, darn him.) Time will tell, I guess, as the children react to my gradual whittling away of the their toys. And just in time for Christmas, too. I hope they react as joyfully as the Whos down in Whoville.
What do you think? Does fewer toys = sibling harmony, or is Payne totally off his rocker about this one?