Simplicity Parenting: The Book Review

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids
Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Lisa M. Ross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book for both the practical suggestions (backed by both formal research and informal observation) and for its tone.

Since I began reading this book, I’ve made some concrete changes in our home environment, including reducing the number of toys and books my children have easy access to (I put many into a “library” in our basement until I can work up the courage to donate/sell/throw away), reducing the number of scheduled activities I have for my children, and implementing some basic daily routines, most notably the “flute-practice-after-breakfast” routine.

There have been some small but noticeable changes in the way my children go about their days in the weeks since I’ve made these changes. We’ve had fewer arguments about flute practice, and my daughter (age 6.5) has been practicing more regularly and with more joy. She’s even begun initiating flute practice on her own without my even prompting her!

My children, especially my 2yo son, are playing imaginatively with everyday objects more than they were before, making an empty toy bin into a car for the stuffed toys and things like that.

And my daughter has lightened up about the order in which we use the colored plastic cups and flatware. She used to scream at me and my husband if we forgot and gave her a blue cup before the green cup. The order was green, light blue, dark blue, yellow, orange, pink, pink, and woe betide the parent who tried to go out of order. There were no discussions about the cups, and we made no changes directly related to the cups, she just stopped getting angry with us about them. Which has been quite a relief.

Of course, my son has also decided that the toy room is much too neat, so he goes in and up-ends three or four toy bins at a time into the middle of the room. That’s not so cool, but at least it doesn’t take long to pick everything up.

I was already in the habit of simplifying our home, but this book really helped give me the confidence to cut deeper, and to remove toys and books without my children’s input about which we kept and which we got rid of. The books were a real change for me, though. I knew the kids (and I) were somewhat overwhelmed by the number of books on their shelves, but I felt like I just couldn’t get rid of any of them. Books are unequivocally good, right? But once I halved the number of books, they’ve been much more engaged with the ones they have left. And they don’t even seem to notice that any are missing.

One area that I’m going to try to work on a little bit more is verbal clutter. From the book:

“In our era of spin and counterspin, when words are parsed and split, where news stands beside opinion and embraces blogs, meaning is often drowned out. Just as it’s hard to cherish a toy lost in the middle of a mountain of play things, when we say less, our words mean more.”

Although I fear that if I really take that to heart, I might blog a lot less.

The tone of the book was the real refreshing piece, though. Payne clearly delights in childhood and the whimsy of children. His anecdotes and suggestions are peppered with images of children interacting with each other and with adults and the funny and adorable things they do and say. I felt a sense of peace and well-being reading such a sunny view of childhood. Not that Payne isn’t realistic about the struggles of parenting and children’s sometimes not-so-desirable actions, he just doesn’t focus on them. He treats children as human beings to be loved and guided rather than creatures to be trained and manipulated, and “misbehavior” as a sign that something in the child’s environment might do with some changing.

Payne talks about how one of the biggest differences between parenting now and parenting a generation ago is how much data about our children we have available and how many “experts” we have to consult to make sure we’re doing this really big job right. But in this, too, he offers reassurance.

“For all of the measures we now have at our fingertips, by and large children defy them by being both more ‘normal’ and more extraordinary than any scientific measure, or means of quantifying them.”

This rings true to me, and it promotes the freedom we as parents have to love our kids and to let go of worrying that we’re not giving them an “ideal” childhood, whatever that might be.

The only thing that I thought was a little lacking was that Payne is very much focused on two-working-parent homes. As a stay-at-home mom who homeschools, I would have kind of liked a little bit of information directed towards me or that at least reflected my demographic. However, I know I’m in a pretty tiny minority, so I don’t hold it against the author for not including me and my friends. His suggestions are significant and applicable even to those of us who do not see our specific situations in his case studies.

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6 Replies to “Simplicity Parenting: The Book Review”

  1. I tried to like this book because it keeps coming up as a suggestion for me on Amazon. Every page load. It’s haunting me.

    I’m one of those people who notices when things keep popping up because it’s usually something I’m avoiding. I read the beginning on my kindle & had a visceral dislike for the tone. It made me queasy. So, I deleted it and tried to ignore the ghost.

    Then, my friend gave me a copy for Xmas and I regifted it (resistance much?) Did I mention I tripped over a clutter pile on my way out the door to regift the book? I even twisted my ankle. And what did I find in my email when I returned home, but a kindle notification that a family member sent it to me late for Xmas because Amazon suggested to them that I would like it!

    I can’t quit you, Simplicity Parenting!

    Dear Universe, I shall now read this d*mn book not because you said so, but because CJ liked it. So there.


    1. I think I mentioned, I don’t think it directly addresses the way “people like us” do things. But I’m definitely finding his suggestions to be helpful for my family. And I think his use of language is, shall I say, imprecise? (Invoke when he should say evoke, proceed when he should say precede.) Which turns me off. Nobody’s perfect, not even people who are trying to improve us. Skip ahead over the first part and skim as necessary. The suggestions really are helpful. And I really love what he says about television. Even though I think reading it turned my anxiety up a few more notches. No worries, though. I put the kids in front of a Wild Kratts DVD and had a glass of wine and felt much better.

      But if it really doesn’t work for you, skip the book and go straight for the DVD and the wine. If you were closer, I’d pour you a glass myself and we could hang out and chat while the kids sat inert in front of the tube.


  2. Glad you liked it. I feel like I need to start back at square one here. THings got completely out of hand around the holidays, and now I know i must pay for that. My house is so cluttered/messy right now that I am running around in circles almost crying because I don’t know where to start and I am completely overwhelmed!! And it’s not new Christmas stuff, because we actually got very little this year, it’s just…I don’t know. Somehow the house has exploded! Of course I have the supplies and donations for two charity projects in the house right now too, which is hard to get a handle on. How does one store a dozen yards of polar fleece? Ugh…


    1. It’s so irritating when our homes succumb to entropy. I often have the feeling that I’m bailing out a row boat at just about the same rate as the water coming in. I won’t sink, but I have little chance of actually being able to stop up the hole and no chance at all of being able to take the oars and start towards my destination.

      With as optimistic as I felt about the book yesterday, today I’m realizing that there’s an incredible amount of inertia working against any changes I try to make in my home (case in point: my husband helping my daughter find a hamster website the day I’ve recommitted to reducing our family’s screen time). It’s not just making a change, it’s dragging three other people (and two cats and all of our possessions) along with me.

      And sorry to say, I have no hints on how to store polar fleece. It may well be impossible.


      1. I guess that will be the motivation to use it all, make a million hats for homeless veterans and be done with it!

        Screen time is a challenge. Do you cut educational stuff, or just entertainment? Where is the line between the two? What if I kill my son’s love for astronomy by saying no Celestia except between 3-4? I don’t know. I DO know that in my house, the video games really have to be limited, because if I don’t do so, all of my son’s play starts to center around gaming. Like, he’ll play with action figures but he’ll be talking to himself, “Choose a character. Choose a level…”

        What is frustrating to me is even when my husband is all on board, he and I work VERY differently. He works in the normal way. probably, and I work (or don’t work?) in the ADHD way. And when he approaches me with things, asking me to prioritize or even just asking me how I want something, I just feel way overwhelmed–too many decisions to be made at once!

        This new year I am really going to try hard to get things done though! And I know that simplifying is the first step!


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