When I used to work as an Elementary School Counselor, parents frequently requested, “Help my child learn to be organized!” Organization is a skill that can be taught to some degree and I was happy to help . . . but I would often gently encourage those parents to look openly into their everyday lives, as children live and learn by example. I would ask them to think about this question:
Is the way that you are currently living modeling the skills and values that you want your child to learn?
Frequently, the answer was no. Parents who shared concerns about their child’s messy desk and bedroom confessed to stacks of junk mail on the kitchen counter. Parents who worried about their child’s tendency to complete assignments at the very last minute admitted that they too, often procrastinate.
So what is a parent to do? How can we teach our children a skill like organization, when we (for whatever reason), struggle with it in our own daily lives?
According to Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids , the answer lies in simplification. Simplification, or choosing to live with less in the era of wanting more, is a movement that is rapidly sweeping the nation. In his book, he describes four realms of living that must be simplified:
1. Environment: De-clutter, organize, and eliminate excess. A home with “too much stuff” is overwhelming.
2. Rhythm: Introduce a predictable, rhythmic flow into your daily life.
3. Schedules: Consider your family’s schedule. Is it chaotic and overfilled with extracurricular activities? Does it allow for time to simply Be?
4. Unplugging: Reduce or eliminate your child’s exposure to television, technology, adult problems, and the media.
Through his research, Mr. Payne has discovered that when parents take initiative to simplify these 4 realms of living, their children are happier, less anxious, and display increased focus and compliance. Parents will enjoy a home that is more organized, calm, and experience an increased connection with their children.
Taking this very logical information to heart, I examined my own home environment. The quantity of toys was not in excess, nor was it aesthetically displeasing. Todd and I agreed that the family book shelf was overabundant and likely overwhelming for the boys, as they often experienced difficulty choosing books to read at story-time. I immediately dumped the shelf and sorted the books into categories (nature, Halloween, dogs, etc.) and placed all but 10 books into milk crates for easy storage. The 10 books I left out were placed into a wicker basket on the floor. Owen immediately went to the basket and began looking at books – something he hadn’t done on his own in months! Todd carried the unneeded bookshelf and extra crates of books into the basement and suddenly our home seemed more spacious and open! I was hooked on simplification and needed to find another project.
I opened our art supply cabinet and much to my delight (and embarrassment), found one! Huge plastic boxes overflowed with crayons, markers, and colored pencils. Paints, googly eyes, cotton balls, pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks and MORE! MORE! MORE! were tossed haphazardly and spewing forth in a disorganized, chaotic manner. Seriously Melissa, I thought to myself, how many bottles of glue do 2 small children really need? Something needed to be done, so practicing a simple premise from Simplicity Parenting, I grabbed a trash bag . . .
When finished, I was left with a much smaller pile of craft supplies. Mr. Payne recommends halving your piles twice (or more, if needed!), so once again, I found more items to discard or donate. I organized what was left into brightly colored photo boxes from The Christmas Tree Shop ($2.50/box).
I donated our excess markers, coloring books, crayons, scissors, glue and colored pencils to a local elementary school (the bag weighed 15 lbs!). For now, everyday craft supplies are stored in a clear, plastic shoe box for Colin and Owen’s easy access. I do have plans to purchase this in the future, as it will store all they need and I love the way it looks. I particularly like our new crayon set by Melissa & Doug. With only 24 crayons, it is neat and organized, and I can’t help but notice that Colin and Owen seem to enjoy coloring much more. Prior to simplification, they were overwhelmed by choices and constantly struggled for control over the box off 200+ crayons.
I also reduced the amount of clothes that they owned. Because we (and by we, I mean Todd!) washes laundry 1x/week, there is no need for each boy to have 20 shirts to choose from! With less options about what to wear, we’ve experienced decreased power struggles over choosing clothes and getting dressed in the morning. Prior to simplifying, Colin would often dump his drawers to look for a favorite shirt. Now because the dresser drawers are neater with room to spare, he can find what he wants quickly, and without making a mess!
Choosing to simplify our home environment has given me back the control and permission to say “no” to a consumerist lifestyle. When it comes to clean-up time, Colin and Owen cooperate and no longer throw tantrums (ex. It’s toooooooo hard to clean all this up!). I choose what is “invited” into my home and decide what gets to stay. No longer do I feel stressed by the mess of excess and everyone is enjoying a more organized life. I am eager to introduce simplification into the other realms of our life for 2013.