Written by Nicole Blume
Long before we had children, when we imagined our future home life, did we ever envision the sheer amount of stuff everywhere? The endless clothes rushing out of packed closets every time we opened the door like a fearsome tsunami, the obnoxious plethora of small, hard plastic toys that inevitably end up getting stepped on in the middle of the night, the “we had to have it” sports equipment, musical instruments, art supplies, and other mounds of “enrichment” paraphernalia that have taken over our homes faster that an ant army attacking a melted ice cream cone?
I certainly didn’t. A self-admitted bit of a pack rat (I think many creative types tend to be), I nonetheless imagined clean, brightly lit living spaces adorned by just a few tasteful pieces of furniture next to a simple wicker basket or two of small, high-quality wooden toys, which of course my dutiful child would respectfully tidy up at the end of her playtime while Daddy and I served a healthy, home-cooked meal, blessed by the soft glow of candlelight and a peaceful mealtime prayer. We’d all spend lovely afternoons taking leisurely strolls around the neighborhood and perhaps even do a bit of yoga together before bed, and of course no one would ever need to look at a screen, because we were all too engrossed in the warm glow of each other’s familial company. Such was my vague ideal as a 20-something Waldorf teacher in training who knew parenting would surely be on the horizon one day.
Flash forward a half decade. My mornings, like that of so many fellow parents in the trenches, are spent hollering at my husband about where our toddler’s left shoe could possibly have ended up (under the couch, next to a half-eaten dried out apple core), while the insistent chime of my cell phone pings every five minutes as new work emails come flooding in, and we desperately try to cram “just one more itty bitty bite!” of butter toast into our daughter’s mouth (to be finished in the car…) before racing out the door while our other infant daughter wails inconsolably because her diaper needs to be changed ASAP but we’re out of wipes and neither of us can remember whose responsibility it was to order more.
The afternoon pick up time is arguably even more hectic, and holidays are mostly an exercise in maintaining one’s sanity as package after package after package arrives from our well-intentioned family members from afar. Our toddler squeals in delight as she unwraps her 15th electronic toy that blares the most skull splitting beeping and buzzing sounds while we smile outwardly for the camera yet inwardly groan at the looming battle ahead to “moderate” such excess. “Code-a pillar” will end up played with for approximately 2.75 days (alongside BabyiPad, EinsteinMobile, SingingStuffies, etc.) before my husband swears he’s going to “accidentally” run the darn thing over with his car when our kid isn’t looking. I convince him to forgo this toy-homicide and instead stash it away in the spare room closet until the next time my father-in-law comes to visit. He agrees to this dubious plan, and we think we’ve scored a win. Then our toddler finds it three days later under a pile of dirty laundry, and the whole cycle begins again.
Does this sound like your life too? If you’re anything like me and my family, this portrait of domestic life might feel a tad familiar. As a middle-class American family living in arguably the wealthiest nation in the world, we are plagued by too much stuff, too much pressure to be on call 24/7, and too many activities crammed into our everyday lives. On an instinctual level I know this particular kind of modern lifestyle is not healthy, but it feels hard to know where to start to right the ship when things have been this out of balance for so long.
Luckily, I’m not alone. Recently, a small group of interested WSB Community Members (current and former parents, teachers, alumni, etc.), decided enough was enough. Together, we chose to critically examine our hectic, busy lives and collaboratively read a parenting advice book together for our new Waldorf Education book club. The book is titled, “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Clamer, Happier, and more Secure Kids,” by Kim John Payne. So far we’re a third of the way through and I can already see positive changes afoot.
“Imagine your life… with a sense of ease as you begin to limit distractions and say no to too much, too fast, too soon,” says Payne on his Simplicity Parenting website. “Today’s busier, faster, supersized society is waging an undeclared war . . . on childhood. As the pace of life accelerates to hyperspeed – with too much stuff, too many choices, and too little time – children feel the pressure. They can become anxious, have trouble with friends and school, or even be diagnosed with behavioral problems.”
As a Waldorf teacher, this is certainly a trend I’ve noticed throughout the years. Many children are coming to school demonstrating noticeable signs of anxiety and overwhelm. They are lovely, wonderful children whom I love and care for deeply, but it’s clear to me that they are finding today’s modern life confusing and over-stimulating. They have trouble sleeping, or they worry excessively about relatively small, inconsequential things, or they pick fights with their friends because they don’t know how to healthfully say “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now, and I need support” in any other way.
Thankfully, that’s where implementing a Simplicity Parenting approach can help. The author is not claiming that his methods are a “cure” for any medical situation or diagnosed disability, but he does show how slowing down, minimizing excess material goods, and protecting children from the nightly news and other adult sources of information can help children feel safer, more comfortable, and more at ease in the world.
“Simplicity Parenting [can] help you reclaim for your children – for your whole family – the space and freedom we all need,” says Payne on his website. “This simplifying path allows kids’ individuality to shine and their attention flourish. It builds a safe, warm and secure family base camp from which a child can launch out into the world with resiliency. The Simplicity Parenting approach is based on over thirty years’ experience successfully supporting busy families. It helps you in making small doable changes, worry less – and enjoy more. For those who want to balance their children’s lives down but don’t know where to start, Simplicity Parenting offers both inspiration and a blueprint for change.”
The Simplicity Parenting blueprint identifies four pillars of excess:
- Too much stuff
- Too many choices
- Too much information
- Too much speed
The solution, Payne advocates, is to critically examine these “too much” pillars in our own lives and consciously work toward making positive changes in each of these areas, including simplifying the environment and the amount of stuff our children own and have access to, balancing our family rhythms and scheduled activities, and filtering out the amount of adult information our children receive from conversations and screen time. His book contains a wealth of practical advice for precisely how to implement these changes, from emptying the playroom when children aren’t present to establishing themed dinner nights that strengthen weekly rhythms.
As for me, I’m pleased to report that round one of culling excess toys is complete…though perhaps shifting a pile of books from the bedroom to the playroom doesn’t exactly count. My husband and I also agreed on a secret code word to use to remind each other when we’re talking about adult things in front of our children, and we recently declined an invite from a family friend to an over the top Easter Egg hunt at an outdoor food truck pod doubtlessly packed with people and noise in lieu of a super simple playdate in our own backyard with just one friend. Progress?
We’re not done with the book yet, so I’m giving myself grace as we work through each chapter. I’m looking forward, however, to simplifying our lives and reclaiming some peace among the chaos. If you’re interested in joining us, our next meeting will be this Thursday, April 15th at 7pm via ZOOM. Please email our book club organizer, Rebecca McGuire (email@example.com), for the link – all who are interested in simplifying are welcome to join!