Intentionally Pursuing Less to Have More: Try Essentialism

Do you ever feel a relentless pressure to do, and have, it all? Do you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of decluttering and simplifying your life? Not sure where to start – or how to keep going? 

If you intend to streamline your life by letting go of the things you no longer need, use or want, feeling overwhelmed and nervous are natural.  To combat these “progress inhibitors”, you may want to consider the way of the Essentialist.

Based on ideas from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, as well as personal experiences drawn from my work as a professional organizer and life coach, the philosophy of “less, but better” can help us gain clarity, control and joy in our lives.

According to McKeown, Essentialism is a “systematic discipline for exploring what is absolutely essential, eliminating everything else, and executing a clear plan towards success.” 

By focusing on Essentialism, we actively choose to live by design, rather than by default, in order to reclaim control over our decisions and, ultimately, our life.

Sounds great, but how do we start, stay committed, and manage the emotional and practical challenges that inevitably arise during the process?

To be a successful Essentialist, realistic goals must be set, emotional decisions must be made, and courage must be applied. 

Envision a full closet bursting at the seams with clothes, shoes, accessories and more (feel free to substitute a closet with any other cluttered space!). McKeown suggests using a disciplined 3-step approach to tackle the simplification of the closet.

Step 1: Explore and evaluate – start with your end goal in mind.  How do I want to feel when I open my closet? What items need to be easily accessible? How do I deal with items I no longer need, want or use? How much time and effort should/can I put into this process? What will my biggest challenge be? 

Step 2: Eliminate – actively sort items into keep, donate, undecided and action piles. For the undecided pile, pick up each item and ask, “Would I buy this item at full price if I didn’t already have it?” “Does this item bring me joy (thanks Marie Kondo!)? and “Is this item representative of me at this time in my life?” The action pile may include repairs, returns and/or exchanges. 

Step 3: Execute – systematize your actions to stay organized. Maybe you choose a one item in, one item out policy, a monthly purge or seasonal edit – do what works for you. Keeping a reusable bag close by for unwanted items is helpful, and make sure you know where and when to donate items. Removing obstacles (i.e.: not enough time, competing interests, feeling overwhelmed) and celebrating small wins (i.e.: “I donated two bags to a shelter this month”) are keys to staying motivated and committed to the Essentialist process.

To successfully navigate this process, one needs to have focus, commitment and stamina.  Knowing what activities and efforts are needed and recognizing possible roadblocks are keys to intentionally pursuing less to have more.

Sometimes we start out strong but later become stuck in indecision that often sounds like this: “I may need this in the future”, “This item cost a lot”, “My grandmother gave this to me”, and “My kids might want this when they are adults”. What to do then? One way is to try the 90 percent rule. When making decisions, think about the single most important criterion for that decision (i.e. wear ability) and give the item (i.e. a scarf) a score between 0 – 100. Pick up your scarf, consider its wear ability, and score it out of 100. If it scores above 90, keep it, if it’s below 90, time to let it go.  

“It’s like dislodging a boulder at the top of a hill – all it takes is a small shove and then momentum naturally builds”, says McKeown.

Although our lives aren’t static like the clothes in our closet, we can use the same Essentialist approach and 90% Rule when exploring & evaluating options, eliminating the unnecessary, and executing a plan when making  life decisions. An essentialist approach can help us achieve more clarity and satisfaction, with less stress and clutter, so that we can live our lives to our highest potential. Remember, less, but better.

Looking for more essentialism in your life? Let’s chat!