Photo by Cengizhan Konu on Unsplash

1 is better than 3 is better than 20

I’ve been thinking for a long time that there is just too much stuff in our house. I spend so much time shuffling the stuff, rearranging the stuff, lifting the stuff off the floor and stuffing it back into someone’s overstuffed cubbie.

So. Much. Stuff.

In what I thought was a wholly unrelated move, this week I finally read Cal Newport’s Deep Work.

And then this research dropped into my inbox: An overabundance of toys may stifle toddler creativity. It’s a tiny study, but the results back up that anti-stuff urge I’ve been feeling. Give a kid 16 toys, he plays with about half, for a minute each. Give him 4, he plays with 3, for longer and in different ways.

It’s that link to more creative play that makes the connection to the book Deep Work. With less things to concentrate on–fewer distractions–we are more able to focus for longer on the work that’s at the core of our goals, Professor Newport suggests–but that takes practice. We need to place ourselves in environments where our options (in adult cases, usually our Internet) are limited, and then push through the resulting discomfort until we learn again what it is to sink into the flow state we need.

In other words, with too many distractions around–too much stuff–we humans lose or don’t develop our ability to concentrate.

We had a ton of toys in our house when my kids were little. The place was practically a preschool. Now, I see that I didn’t want to buy toys, I wanted to buy time. I thought they would play with the toys and give me a few minutes to gather my thoughts.

Turns out I had it exactly wrong. Once we have enough of the necessities, we all — grown people and small people alike — can do more for longer when we are surrounded by less.

I believe each of us is responsible for our own happiness.

I believe happier parents are better parents, and better people.

I believe family should be a source of joy and refuge, not another stressor in a busy life.

I believe we can be happy even when things aren’t great.

This former New York Times reporter is taking on the rug rat race — join me! I’d love to send you Ten Mantras for Happier Parents, an excerpt from my forthcoming book, How to Be a Happier Parent, available for pre-order on Amazon and Indiebound. Not everybody actually WANTS to be happier — but if you do, click here.