Parenting with abundance and simplicity

Published by Lori Pickert on May 23, 2013 at 12:33 PM

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Parenting with abundance vs. scarcity.

A few people had questions for me about how abundance fits in with simplicity and even minimalism, thinking those concepts might be oppositional. Actually, they work together. Let me explain how.

Abundance requires simplicity — because in order to have abundance in one area, you must reduce something else. You can either use your toy budget to buy a roomful of random toys or you can decide to focus on investing in only two or three open-ended toys: say, wooden blocks, a wooden dollhouse, LEGO.

If you have a lot of random toys, children might fight because they all want to play with the plastic dinosaur at once; then when they tire of that, they suddenly all want to play with the nerf gun. They can’t play *together* with one plastic dinosaur. However, if you have a basket full of plastic dinosaurs, they can all play together. They can take them to the sandbox or get out the clay and make a dinosaur world. They can collaborate and cooperate and build something complex.

If you have a couple dozen wooden blocks, not only can children not play together (there just aren’t enough to share), but even one child is limited in the complexity of anything he can build — there aren’t enough blocks for complexity. He can build a small, simple structure and that’s it. He quickly reaches the limits of what he can build and he can go no further. A large variety of materials or experiences can make it seem like we’ve given our children more, but really we’ve given them less.

If you have fewer random toys and a LOT of wooden blocks, suddenly you can build something big and complex. Multiple children can work together, and there are enough materials for everyone. There are enough materials to go beyond simple ideas and simple constructions.

But this abundance requires simplifying — you can’t offer an abundance of everything. You have to choose what matters most and invest there. To offer abundance, you must thoughtfully simplify.

PBH requires focus. In order to support your child’s deep interest and help him stay with an idea longer, you have to forgo some random, unrelated activities. They might be perfectly fun activities, like a homeschool field trip to the petting zoo. But you might instead take him to the planetarium so he can stay with his interest on space. They might be perfectly fun crafts, attached to the current season or holiday. But you choose instead to help him stay focused on making planets out of recycled materials. You are forgoing variety, novelty, and width to focus instead on depth, on mastery, on becoming an expert in something he really cares about. You’re letting go of some things that are mildly fun and interesting for everyone to focus on something that your specific, unique child finds deeply engaging. You are helping him move beyond the surface of learning and dig deeper, learn more, and build new skills.

If you want your child to be able to work deeply and meaningfully, you might pare down your extracurricular activities. Another family might be doing swim lessons, tae kwon do, soccer, and ballet, while your child is goes to one art class a week at the local museum. You are making a choice for simplicity (more white space, more project time) that is simultaneously a choice for abundance (a deeper exploration of art, more time for his specific deep interest).

The main point of abundance vs. scarcity is that if you limit materials, opportunities, or experiences too much, you are ensuring that your child can only be a passive consumer. You haven’t given him enough time and support to become an active creator.

“Abundance” doesn’t mean an enormous pile of materials or a huge number of activities or a never-leaves-the-basement obsession with a particular interest. Abundance means thoughtfully paring away the less important so you can invest more time, energy, and money in what you really care about.

What is the point of simplifying your life, if it’s not so you can do more of what matters?


Comment by mamacrow on May 23, 2013 at 03:59 PM

Thoughtfully simplify! Ooooo yes!

'What is the point of simplifying your life, if it’s not so you can do more of what matters?'

Yes! This!

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 23, 2013 at 04:16 PM

thank you! :)

Comment by erintfg on May 23, 2013 at 04:46 PM

These posts have really been hitting home for me! Just last night we cleaned my sons' bedroom-- they have the whole attic of our fairly large house, and the floor was literally COVERED from wall to wall with STUFF.

I think eight bags of trash and three for the Goodwill left that room. And I was finally able to convince them that it was okay to get rid of the Lincoln Logs if no one is going to play with them-- because it leaves more room for the Legos and the toy cars and the art supplies, which they DO play with, constantly. They also "donated" their (pretty small) supply of wooden blocks to their little sister (age 4), who I found in her room this morning building a house for her bear to live in, in her imaginary world of "Kinapata."

I'm feeling the need to purge now myself . . . :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 23, 2013 at 08:26 PM

wonderful! :)

Comment by Leah on May 23, 2013 at 08:01 PM

This makes me feel so much better about my refusal to buy random toys for my twins. When we get them as gifts or hand-me-downs they always cause fights as there will only be one plastic cell phone and one maracca that gayily shouts at you not only in English but Spannish as well so mama gets a multilingual headache. And buying matching ones will not stop the fighting so the toy fairy spirits them away in the dead of night.

Strangley enough there is much less fighting with wooden train tracks, blocks, megablocks, animal figurines, superheroes and lots of cars. It's old school but it works.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 23, 2013 at 08:28 PM

those open-ended toys are the best!

Comment by KC Pagano on May 24, 2013 at 12:37 AM

I agree whole heartedly! We did this too when we moved to france. I only brought with us what would fit into two small moving boxes. So now that's all the toys the girls have. And you know they are perfectly happy without the other beautiful toys we have. We spend most of our days outside anyway so these toys are really just for rainy days. Or becoming a ballerina or story telling. More on that soon though!

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 24, 2013 at 06:12 AM

choosing toys based on their usefulness for projects (dramatic play, telling stories, building models) is a good way to go! :)

Comment by emeraldlane on May 24, 2013 at 05:38 AM

Now I feel better about all the Legos we buy :)
I agree wholeheartedly with your points. I have had to be strong when asked many, many times for random toys from the kids, but I stick to my principles and they get Legos.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 24, 2013 at 06:14 AM


i know, nancy. i’m a total LEGO enabler! (enabling myself as well, of course. ;o)

we’ve received random toy gifts over the years — relatives, birthdays — but they just made their way to a bin and then to goodwill. i actually think kids build the habit of playing together and they start migrating naturally to whatever’s available that they can ALL use. <3

Comment by kirstenf on May 24, 2013 at 08:23 AM

Thanks Lori. This is useful to me today. I know it's not your central point, but your point about the importance of depth and mastery is a useful reminder to me. My son is quite single minded about what he's interested in - quite to the point of obsession! - and we support him in that, getting him books that provide more info and taking him on trips that link to his theme. But I do sometimes worry that I should be broadening out his interests and giving him a more diverse range of experiences. We do, of course, introduce other ideas to him, but he's just not interested, so we don't push it. Your piece has reminded me that that's ok, and that we should follow his lead, as usual. Thank you!

Comment by Johanna on May 24, 2013 at 09:05 AM

I definitely needed to read this. We are preparing for an overseas move and deciding what to take is tricky. Focusing on only the open-ended toys and thoughtfully including things that will help them play and work together is a great starting point.

Comment by Michelle on May 25, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Thank you for keeping all of this in the front of my mind this week! And for giving me something I can easily forward to my husband. ;)

I loved the conversation with the school you were helping. Such a shift in thinking for a lot of people. My girls were fighting this week over legos, and instead of letting it devolve into a sharing lecture or waiting for the same fight the next day, I heard in my head, "make the block area bigger; get more trucks." I asked if it would help if we had another base plate or two. They thought for a moment, then the little one shouted, "yes, a blue one!" So the still had to figure out to share THAT day, but we worked out the problem together and there's a new base plate on its way to solve future problems.

Also, I suggested they help me go through their toys this summer, to clear out some of the randomness we've been gifted. I told them anything they part with, we can put their name on it to sell at Nana's garage sale this fall, and whatever money they make will go toward more legos. They are completely on board with it. Yay for simplicity AND abundance!

Comment by Tracy Lomax on March 29, 2014 at 04:34 PM

Thank you so much, Lori, for clarifying this point. I feel I've done a pretty good job of simplifying our toys. Yet my kids are still fighting over the groups of toys that they love: legos, train tracks, marble runs. I think I just need to get more of those items!

The other issue I've had to deal with is my guilt over feeling a need to get toys to help with my older child's difficulty with social interaction. He has mild autism. In the past I tended to buy toys that I thought would help him expand his interests. But the reality is that I think I need to continue to follow his lead and get into his world and help him expand what HE in interested in - i.e. making "electrical poles" with legos and connecting them with string, creating crane trucks by taping a metal crab cracker tool to a car. I think I've had to get over my fear of him over-obsessing in just one area of interest, and let go of my personal belief that he should have experience in lots of different things that other children are interested in. Even though the things that he has been so motivated by have seemed so unusual to me, they are probably the real gateways to innovation and creativity that need to by encouraged, supported and expanded. And by supporting his interests, social interaction will be fostered.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 29, 2014 at 06:01 PM

his interests sound great and i feel like a lot of kids would be interested in what he’s doing with LEGO and machines! :)

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