I will never forget the day, almost six years ago, that I finished reading and absorbing the pages of Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting. I was energized with the possibility that decluttering, rethinking and simplifying could mean that I could gift myself precious time to do the adult things I needed to do, like cook a meal or pay bills, while my then one-year-old child simply played. To be honest I was doubtful that it would really work, but the possibility that it could fueled an energetic purge of two garbage bags of toys. Other play things were moved, more open space created and imaginative landscapes made easily accessible. “Okay,” I thought “let’s see.” And it was that very day that I cooked my first dinner without a frenzy of trying to entertain or distract my child, and generally make myself exhausted and crazy. It really was that simple. I had too many play things and not enough simple play space. I didn’t have the belief or knowledge that my child was capable of self-directed play that needed no intervention or comment. The major shift in just these two things meant an instantaneous freedom I didn’t think was possible.
I am repeating this toddler phase again with my oldest daughter, now 7 years old, and my youngest, just 1. We have held fast over the years to our limiting of toys and play things. When new toys come we discuss with our older daughter what toys we should pass on and we donate them. On her own she is often letting go of things she doesn’t play with any longer to make her room feel “more tidy.” It is amazing to see how she lives with this certainty that it feels good to have her things orderly and lovingly displayed.
In reading Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I have expanded our purge to include things that do not bring us joy. As Mary Kondo writes, it really does have impact to hold an object and see what it feels like. Is it precious? Is it simply nostalgia that has kept this with us, or is it true precious joy that comes with this object? When there isn’t joy, it is so easy to pass the object on, even if it’s beautiful or expensive or gifted from a previous relative. It’s easy to imagine another getting joy from that object by our letting it go, and also to know that we are making space for new joy to come into our lives.
This feeling of spaciousness has become so central to our core and rhythm, and our toddler finds comfort in the morning ritual of sweeping, the tidying of toys and the songs that we sing as we put toys back in their place. Most of all, I have realized there is a great peace for me in having fewer things where they all are honored for their place of joy in our home. It feels like such a gift to pass on to our children the deep and certain knowing that our purpose or want is not in having “more,” but rather in honoring the joy of what we already have and treating it sacredly.
Carolyn Gereau is a wife and homeschooling mother to her two children and lives in San Anselmo, CA. She has taken Lifeways classes and is also a graduate student in Somatic Psychology.