Saturday, October 1, 2011

Too much stuff

The first area Payne talks about in Simplicity Parenting is the child's environment. This is often the easiest area to make changes in - it is certainly the one I was most eager to tackle. In  fact, I had already begun to do this before reading this book.

There are many arguments that can be made against having too many toys, not least among them that children will gain a sense of entitlement.  Some may argue that it is ecologically irresponsible. Some say it's a waste of money. These are all valid arguments, but Payne is only interested in speaking about how it affects the child.  He does mention the entitlement issue, but his main concern goes beyond that.  Basically, he believes that when children are surrounded by too many toys, books, clothes, etc., that it is overstimulating.  "Too much stuff," he says, "deprives kids of leisure and the ability to explore their worlds deeply."  If a child is surrounded by 150 toys (as the average American child is at any given time), he will likely play with one toy for a few minutes, then move on to the next, and the next, and the next, never getting full enjoyment out of any one of them.  He may even feel so overwhelmed, he doesn't really play with any of them.  Also, when a child has so many toys, he often undervalues all of them, perhaps thinking, "I have so many of these that none of them are special - I must need something else."

He also talks about how young children are such tactile beings that they want to touch, feel, throw, and sort everything.  "Imagine the sensory overload when every closet, drawer, and surface is filled with stuff."

He says this about the nature of children's play:

No special toys or quantity of toys is necessary to develop a child's imagination.  Children use and grow their imaginations quite naturally.  They need only time to do so.

  He believes that reducing the number of toys a child has leads to increased attention span and capacity for deep, imaginative play.

In addition, he talks about the types of toys that may foster or hinder imagination.  When getting rid of toys he suggests the first to go are the "exploding disasters." (I love that term!) These are the loud, obnoxious toys that all parents seem to hate. They may "whir, talk, gyrate, or detonate."  He suggests keeping a mix of both active toys (for digging, building, construction, etc.) and receptive toys like dolls and stuffed animals, as well as some art supplies.

He also talks about drastically reducing your child's books.  At first, I was taken aback by this, until I realized he was only suggesting nutting most of them in storage and rotating them out, so that there were only a dozen or so out at a time.  This way, your child can read and re-read each book several times over the course of, say, a month.  He suggests doing the same with toys, having fewer out than stored.  I think it is a good idea.

So, what did this mean for me?  Over the past month, I have gotten rid of over half of my sons' toys.  They have not yet missed a single one!  In fact, I mentioned something to Aiden (my 5 year old) about how now we can find things better, since I gave some of the toys away, and he said, but that makes me sad because I miss my toys when you give them away." I said, "Oh really? Which toys do you miss?"  "What did you give away?" he responded.  He could not think of a single toy that he missed.  I gave away most of the battery-operated toys, all the cheap plastic pieces of crap, some cars, some stuffed animals.  I put most of the extensive Beanie Baby collection from Granny in a bin in the closet.  I put most of the probably 200 books in the closet, leaving about 40 out on the bookshelf.  I bought some little baskets at Salvation Army (8 for $7) to help with organization.  We know where all the toys are now. It looks and feels great!  It's not as simplified as Payne would have it, but it is much better than it was before. Now if I could only get my own space simplified . . .

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