3 ways simplifying might save your sanity

Kari-347picmoThe following is a post from contributor Kari Patterson of Sacred Mundane.

I have this fantasy of fleeing into the far-off woods and living off-grid. In my (unrealistic) fantasy we live off the land with no iPhones, no trips to Costco, no internet, nothing.

Whenever this dream crops up my husband shakes his head and patiently waits for it to pass. It always does. We love our life in this crazy world, even if at times it feels dizzying.

Between leading a church, traveling to speak, writing a book, keeping a blog, managing a (full) house, and homeschooling, there are days when my goal of “simple” seems to laugh in my face.

Nothing about life, really, is simple.

But that’s why, in this busy, hectic world, simplifying isn’t just a fun idea, it’s vital.

It’s necessary for our sanity. The ways in which we simplify will vary for us all, but we all must make simplification choices if we’re going to keep our homes without losing our minds.

Here are 3 simple ways we have simplified, and why they’ve made a world of difference for this dizzy mama.

Simplified Space

Our physical environment can be a subtle form of stress. In the phenomenal book Simplicity Parenting, Payne suggests starting by reducing kids’ toys by 75 percent! This summer we did this — a massive overhaul of our children’s belongings, saving only the most helpful toys.

The resulting toys were organized in bins. I can feel the difference when I walk in the room and see order in a tidy, simplified space.

We did the same with homeschooling supplies. It was ridiculous how much time my kids spent looking for a pencil! Every time we couldn’t find something it was like a mini shot of stress. Add all those up and we had a good dose of daily frustration!

I pared their desks down to the essentials — pencils, erasers, scissors, tape, one glue-stick. The rest of the craft supplies were stashed separately, in another space.

Sure, our space still gets messy (it is right now because my kids are playing while I’m writing!), but the clean-up is so much simpler and Mommy is so much happier.

Simplified Schedule

Payne talks about the importance of establishing regular rhythm.

There are repeated “notes,” if you will, that provide security and stability for our children.

Thursday is laundry day. Homeschool lessons are from 1-3pm, always. Wednesday is family night. Our bedtime routine stays the same.

My son, who has Asperger’s, has an intense need for predictability. Although am comfortable with a free-flowing, go-with-whatever sort of routine, he is not. At all.

So for us, simplifying our schedule simply meant building in key points of predictability whenever possible. As I developed my Steady Days Schedule I built in “no budge” boundaries, things we’ll do as consistently as humanly possible. This was a big step for me, who saw “flexibility” as one of my strengths.

In our formal homeschool lessons (1-3pm) we now follow a very predictable progression.

Timeline song, circle-time (relating to one another and praying), scripture memorization presentations, math, grammar, writing, reading. It’s nothing fancy but it’s always the same and our kids are thriving on the rhythm of this time.


Payne also emphasizes the need for large chunks of unstructured time for children to be free, create, imagine, get bored, and play.

He asserts that over-scheduling children adds incredible stress, planting seeds of addiction as we program our children to bounce from activity to activity, relying on constant outer stimulation.

He pleads with parents to create lengthy daily pauses for our children, giving them the gift of long, uninterrupted time for imaginative play.

Our kids have from 8:30am-12pm free every day except Tuesday. They thrive on this extended free time, and so does Mommy!

To my surprise, our simplified (yet “stricter”) schedule, helped me much more than I’d anticipated. Knowing that on Mondays I clean, on Wednesdays I write, and on Thursdays I do laundry and cook ahead helped me relax more about items undone.

There’s a “box” of time, if you will, for everything. Sure, unplanned stuff still happens. A lot. But these known notes of predictability have reduced our daily stress-load significantly.

Simplified Snacks

I’m actually referring to all meals here, but snacks started with an s. (I can’t help it.) My main area of stress on a daily basis surrounded food. Dietary restrictions plus uber-picky eaters plus a mama who doesn’t necessarily love spending all day in the kitchen were a recipe for disaster.

So we greatly simplified our menu, and the kids love it.


Now we do the same meals every week, themed on a country (Mexican Monday, Italian Tuesday, etc.).

Breakfast is always the same, lunch almost the same, and dinner rotates between 7 meals.

Yes, we will switch out as the seasons change (variety is important for a healthy diet) but our culture is so variety-addicted that a simple meal schedule (the norm in other countries) seems outrageous to us.

When it’s snack-time, there are two choices. This has also greatly simplified grocery shopping and budgeting. And the kids quit complaining! Can you see me doing the happy dance?

There are still days I fantasize about living off-grid in the mountains. But these three simple steps have helped me maintain my sanity down here in the grid and grind of daily life.

Thanks for reading.

What simplification steps have most helped save your sanity?

About Kari Patterson

Kari Patterson and her family live out in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. As a 2nd-generation homeschooler she espouses the same philosophy her own mom did in the 80s: Cultivate a love for learning and one's education will never end. She bakes bread, brews kombucha, speaks at conferences & writes at Sacred Mundane. Her new book Sacred Mundane is available now.


  1. Awesome ideas for simplifying! I especially like the menu idea. I think I’m going to borrow that one.

  2. I love this post, Kari. We followed so many of the same principles when the kids were younger (especially the meal plan, which was a life saver!). And thanks so much for mentioning Steady Days!!
    Jamie’s latest post: 3 ways simplifying might save your sanity

  3. This is SO good! I’ve been writing a series all month about simplifying and I agree with every point here. I love what you said about routine. Kids thrive on having a routine. It doesn’t have to be rigid or super strict, but it’s just like you said, a BOX of time for everything in a rhythm. So good. Thanks for sharing.
    Alicia @ Investing Love’s latest post: SIMPLE NATURE STUDY

  4. I love these strategies! They are so accessible…so truly simple to incorporate w/o becoming overwhelmed. I’m printing this post…yes indeed, on paper…and keeping it close as we transition. We’ve seen great growth over this past year with simplifying, and your recommendations can lead us that much closer to our goals of a simpler, stress-free, vibrant, Jesus-centered rhythm. Thanks Kari (and Jamie too)! May your day be Spirit-rich!
    Jen’s latest post: Together We’re An Ocean

  5. Thank you, Kari. We are in the midst of moving right now, and this is perfect as I look at downsizing toys and books and stuff and…for my boys, and myself. 🙂

  6. Good, sensible and ultimately achievable advice. Your menu planning reminded me of the residents of Krakatoa (we just finished reading The Twenty-One Balloons).
    April Bumgardner’s latest post: Changing

  7. Carine Crooks says:

    Kari, I love taking a break and reading your posts. With children the same age as yours I love your take on the mundanes of life. You are a blessing to so many and a thank God for giving you the ability to communicate to us all through your life struggles and praises! Keep up the good work, dear friend!

  8. I love these ideas- after burning out on activities last school year- we are trying to do LESS
    priest’s wife @byzcathwife’s latest post: a silly song…

  9. Having fewer toys has really helped my sanity (and the kids!). I’ve been struggling with food lately (we too have food allergies and I don’t exactly enjoy cooking) and I like the idea of majorly simplifying the menu.
    Steph’s latest post: Dear Kids, We’re in this Together

  10. Loving these simple thoughts. “Our culture is so variety-addicted that a simple meal schedule seems outrageous to us: this was my favorite quote. And thanks for the reminder that kids won’t die if you give them “free time” and LESS toys!!

  11. Thank you for this great post! I always feel so guilty when I read the schedule of some other homeschoolers whose days seem to be filled with amazing activities…art clubs, horse riding, gymnastics, swimming, chess club, sewing club, book club….My kids (and me) need a much simpler routine. So thank you for the well timed reminder that simple is ok.

  12. I’m curious to know if you’ll tell us your snack choices?? Snacks are a place where I struggle and maybe simplifying would help us a great deal. All of these ideas are great, thanks. I’ve had that book on my to-read list for quite a while now!

  13. Love these ideas! The older my kiddos get (and the more homeschool we need to do!) the more I rely on rhythms, but totally agree with the encouragement to leave plenty of time for unstructured play. It’s amazing how it gets their creative juices flowing!
    Anna @ Feminine Adventures’s latest post: Use Responsive Sayings to Enhance Your Homeschool

  14. Great ideas. We travel a lot and with Slow Travel it naturally flows into reduced possessions to drag around but they sure do build up fast! Just curious at the bio identifying as an unschooler but then the daily list of required learning. The two don’t match (neither one more correct than the other — just wondering).
    Kate’s latest post: Road trip to Oman

  15. Great ideas! Living off grid is not as simple as it sounds….coming from someone that did it before for several years. I sometimes miss it though!
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: Trading Secrets by Melody Carlson

  16. Will you please share your snack and menu items? 🙂
    Angela’s latest post: In the coming weeks…

  17. Oh my word! God totally led me to this post today, and I am so grateful that he did! I took a much needed “fall break” from our home school this week, and my plan was to spend time tweaking a routine that wasn’t working well AT ALL. I kept thinking that I needed to simplify, but really had no idea what that would looks like, until I read this post! This was like a breath of fresh air! Thank you so much!
    Patty’s latest post: Change

  18. I did take some of your advice on Thursday and Friday and no longer felt like quitting school on the end of Friday! Thank you!
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: Menu Plan

  19. Thank you! I’ve been purging a lot of material possessions lately, but still feeling like our lives were cluttered. I copied your idea for a weekly meal plan last week after I read your blog. My son and I brainstormed ideas for meals (thinking through the daily activities of the week). Then I typed the basics in a grid in Microsoft Word, which I printed and posted on the fridge. Wow! We’re all so much happier! We’re eating healthier and eating together more too. And it makes grocery shopping easier… Thanks SO much, Kari 🙂

  20. I am recommending Simplicity Parenting, as well as some other books, to a MOPS group of young mamas tomorrow. I wish I would have read it before having my first, but I implement a bit more each year, more rhythm, fewer toys, a little less TV, etc. and it’s so good for all of us. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Great article! The links aren’t working though.

  22. both the toy purging process and simpler menu planning links give error messages. 🙁

    • I get error messages too when I try to access the outside links of Kari’s. 🙁

    • I was wondering if I was the only one having trouble. Even within Kari’s blog I’m getting the 404 error code on all the links within her own posts. Weird.

  23. Sheramy Turcotte says:

    Hi, I would love to read more about how you decluttered your toys by 75% but the link you provided is not working. Hoping it gets fixed so I can read about your process, we need to do this badly!

  24. Thanks for this post! It was exactly what I needed to get through home school and toy burnout! I’m going to put to practice!

  25. Thank you for this little nudge in the right direction! I’ve been feeling the pull to do this for a while & I think your encouragement was just what I needed. 🙂
    Beth’s latest post: 10 Books to Read (from CC Founder Leigh Bortins!)

  26. Oh, I needed this today! The past couple weeks have been pure craziness, and I know I needed to simplify again, but I am too tired to even think about it. Sort of like when you have to keep moving, because if you sit you won’t get back up again- that is me! This was a great reminder of a place to start.
    Sarah’s latest post: Stocking your car for kid emergencies

  27. Great tips! I second the restricted menu tip — living overseas and observing people eating the same meal 2-3 times a day, 7 days a week taught me less is better! We rotate between 3 different evening meals, switching out the veggie sides for variety.
    Julie’s latest post: Top 5 Favorites from my 5-year-old

  28. Lindy Boss says:

    I love all the ideas for simplifying! I’m wondering what your timeline song is and curious what 2 choices you give for snacks?? Simplifying meals and snacks would save me so much time and mental energy. Thanks 🙂

  29. Mimi Pollack says:

    Now I want to know what the choices are for snacks!


  30. Lauri muse says:

    What are the meals? The snacks?
    And how do u fit all those subjects into 2 hours? What does that block look like? For me I say when toddler naps we also do reading and maybe a math lesson and some games . But I have to do phonics with 6 year old and his math and devotional in morning. I’d like to know how u fit so much into 2 hours .. love the ideas!!

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