The toys are gone

The toys are gone - our family's path toward a more simple life.  | Clean.

Several weeks ago we rearranged our house. We changed up the location of our bedrooms to carve out a separate space for each of the kids.

And figuring out where to put all of our belongings in this new arrangement, I was a bit winded by how much stuff we own.

For all of our simplicity aspirations, it's hard to keep the chaos at bay.

Our stuff may be far from the American norm in the type and quantity of our things, but we still have too much stuff. Way too much.

Because a shelf or bin or pile of wooden toys is still a shelf or bin or pile of toys. And six mama-made Waldorf dolls still adds up to six dolls – more than one pair of arms can hold.

And it's not just my kids. The same goes for my craft supplies, pyrex stash, and fabric. We're drowning in excess over here. I suspect we're not alone.

So as we pre-cleaned the kids' bedroom before our big rearrange I commented how much stuff they had. Specifically how much stuff they had on the floor.

So many treasures. So much "potential". So. Much. Stuff.

Their new rooms were smaller than their shared room. Much smaller. Tiny even.

And so I asked: how do you feel when you look at the clutter in your bedroom?

Do you want all this stuff in your new room?

The toys are gone - our family's path toward a more simple life.  | Clean.

And as it turned out they didn't like the chaos any more than I did. They were overwhelmed by their belongings. They were ready for a change, too.

Because no matter how clean they made their rooms, with too many things it quickly degrades into chaos again. It's nature. Chaos rules.

My solution? Have less stuff.

They agreed.

They were ready to fill a bye-bye box or two. But I took things up a notch. Without pressure I suggested this solution:

What if we boxed up the things we're ready to donate, but also boxed up the things we're ready to live without for a while to store for a season?

If we miss something special we know where to find it.

If we don't we can donate the lot when we're ready.

The toys are gone - our family's path toward a more simple life.  | Clean.

They agreed with enthusiasm.

Because there was no risk. They decided what to keep, what let go of permanently and what to let go of on a trial basis. It was perfect.

I brought a few bags and boxes upstairs and we set to work – together. I encouraged them along but never pushed, pressured, or scolded.

This was their room, their stuff, their call. We had fun and spent a couple of hours being ruthless with the clutter. There was lots of joking, goofing, and mama-wearing-costumes sort of nonsense. The mood was light.

We had four zones: trash, recycling, thrift-store donations, and "hold". ("Hold" was the most popular for Lupine because it allowed her to let go of things with a safety net that it would still be there if she wanted it again.) We filled bag after bag after bag.


And then their room was empty.

Beds, dressers, and – well, mostly just the beds and dressers remained.


The toys were gone.

Yes, even most of the toys I made them.

Art on the walls they stopped loving years ago was gone.

Yes, even art I thought was sweet.

Extra clothes were gone.

Yes, even a few old favorites that I would have queitly kept if I were in charge.

It turns out it was a letting go excercise for us all.

The toys are gone - our family's path toward a more simple life.  | Clean.

The chaos was gone.

And they couldn't have been more delighted.

They each kept a few favorite things. One mama made doll, one small stuffed animal, and one RC car each. A small shared basket of Legos. Sage kept three additional stuffed animals and one action figure;  Lupine kept some of her dress-up clothes and a handful of plastic animals.

That's it.

The sum-total of their toys, aside from board games and homeschooling and craft supplies (though within a few days those and also our books had been pared down as well).


No clutter, no junk, almost no toys.

We were liberated from our belongings.


And yes, I'm in the midst of the same process with my own things.


But what happened next was the most fascinating of all.

There was less grumping and drama in our house. Less frustration. Less anxiety.

More laughter. More harmony. More ease.

We found peace in the open space we created.


What do they play with? What they always played with.

Nature. Their imaginations. Each other.

They craft and create, they explore and draw, they read and invent, they cook and they bake.

Because toys have never been where it's at. They've been fun, but not the center of who they are or how they spend their days.

The toys are gone - our family's path toward a more simple life.  | Clean.

Six weeks later I asked them what they missed.

Of all those bags we sent out to the barn, what were they wanting back? Did they miss the dolls and doll clothes? The toy guns and swords and bows? The costumes and play silks? The action figures and matchbox cars? The dollhouse and fancy carved figurines?

No, actually. They didn't.

They liked it better this way.

Lupine misses nothing. Sage is contemplating bringing one Nerf gun back into his life. But he hasn't gone out to the barn to get it yet.


Do we still have a long way to go? Of course.

Drop by any random day and you're sure to be met by a remarkable amount of chaos.

But we're making progress.

And we're not just making progress in the physical reality of our home. We're making progress in our mindset.

Last week my mom was visiting and brought along a "learning toys" catalogue. Lupine poured over the glossy pages and called me in from the other room. "Mama, there is something in here that I really, really want…"

She paused.

"Actually, I'm not sure that I want it. It might just be more stuff laying around."

She showed it to me just the same and then finished with, "It is cool, but I don't actually want it after all."


We are transformed.



Inspired? Here are some tips to making your holiday celebration more meaningful without drowning in more things you don't need.

And you might also enjoy this post from a few years back.


Simplicity Parenting Book Club, Chapter One


Are you ready for our book club? The plan, my friends, is this: each week I will give a quick review of the current chapter, interjected or summarized with a bit of my own editorial thoughts.

Then I will turn off my computer and walk away for most or all of the day.

You read, you comment, you say your piece and ask your questions. Talk about your impression of the chapter and discuss with one another the meaning it had for you. Check back every so often. Maybe once a day or a few times a day (depending on your computer habits) and see what is happening in the comments. Chime in to the questions others pose or to the convertsation.

I will participate too, but this is your venue and I don't want to be the sole and dominant voice in this community we are creating here. Does it make sense? Great. Then let's get on with it!


Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne

Chapter One: Why Simplify?

Mr. Payne begins the book with is revelation that many children – leading "normal" western lives – are suffering similar disorders as children living in refugee camps in war-ravaged countries. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, though not commonly identified as such, is prevalent in our society as are other physical, emotional, and mental disorders because of the lifestyle choices we are making for our families. Payne discovered that through simplification – not medication – children experience a marked improvement in their mental and emotional health and move towards wholeness.

Payne encourages our starting point to be simply reconnecting with the visions and dreams we had for our families before our children were born. What did we imagine? That is to be our starting point. To begin to realign our family with the playful, relaxed, joyful vision that we can still recall from our daydreams before children arrived. He asks, "What do you need to move forward, in a way that reclaims your hopes and dreams for your family?" "The dreams," he says "are still very much alive…"

Payne makes the wise observation that children are "overloaded by more than just the physical things bulging out of their closets." Simplification ins for the environment, the family rhythm, the schedule and the intrusion of the adult worries and information. For some of us the stuff will be the easy part. He also also makes the distinction between what is important and what is doable as you determine your starting point towards simplicity.

Payne explores the chemicals at work in the brain and how simplicity gives the brain peace and creates a more fully functional and whole person again. He explains this as a powerful contributor to ADHD and several other (now common) disorders. He shares that by simplification alone (not medication or other intervention) caused a statistically significant number of children in one study (68%)to move from clinically dysfunctional to clinically functional. That is profound. Just by controlling the amount of activities, things, information, and screen-time in a child's life many found their way gracefully to a functional reality.

Payne also says, "…simplification is not just about taking things away. It is about making room, creating space in your life, your intentions, and your heart. With less physical and mental clutter your attention expands and your awareness deepens."


Much of what Payne discussed is not at first glance relevant to my life. Quite simply, we don't live like the average western family. We don't have mountains of toys or piles of books littering our floors or packing our playroom. Our toys are limited, well organized (on the good days anyway), quality playthings. Our schedule is relaxed and we spend far more time "being" than we spend "doing". Heck, we don't even go to school. We are quirky, yes, but we don't have ADHD or ODD or any other alphabet soup of modern childhood disorders. Indeed, we are pretty darn happy with where we stand in relation to what we dreamt our life would look like – we are living our truth on so many levels.

And yet… there is still the amazing amount of stuff I feel buried under. Clothes. Projects. Egg cartons. Coffee mugs. Yes, even toys. Bikes for god's sake. (We are four people. Will someone tell me why we have so darn many bikes?!)

The other day I had the revelation that I brought all of this stuff into my own life. I bought it or accepted it as a gift and I dragged it home and shoved it into my already full world. I own it, literally and figuratively. Time to pony up and clean the shit out. (Pardon me. I'm feeling fired up. And when I'm fired up I sometimes swear. There. Now you know.) I have a deep and concerning feeling of there being just too much – on every level – even for the calm and simple existence we have created here has got to go. I'm ready to move on.

What about you?

Based on the conversations happening on our Facebook page I suspect that many of you are running with the idea of less stuff. I know I am. But as we fill the boxes with unwanted things, what is inspiring you? Why are you here reading this book with us all? What are you seeking to gain? Or… what worries do you have? What feels too big to tackle in this moment? What changes to you imagine may be coming into your family because of the changes you make, inspired by your reading? 

Comment away. I look forward to reading your words.