Essentialism for the High-Maintenance Soul

essentialism header

It’s 8:22 in the a.m. and my mind has already spun a thousand webs. I’m not what one calls a “linear thinker.” I often struggle to prioritize, to land on that which is most essential for my life, right now.

Inhabiting a world of possibilities each and every day may sound dreamy and optimistic. But it can also kill you. I look at what’s right in front of me and instead of seeing one thing, I see twenty. I drive myself bananas with my wondering, wandering ways.

This spring and summer I have somehow managed to land in the place of thinking in a focused and sustained way about my truest priorities, to nail down the bare bones and commit only to the fundamentals. That may sound selfish but I think of it as life-saving.

I’ve been simmering in this place for months now, feeling a sense of urgency about the whole thing. I blame it on the age of my kids and this season of life that’s literally right around the corner.

It’s a time of transition for the Vischer family.

In a matter of weeks, the oldest starts high school, the second one starts middle school, and the baby begins second grade. Two of my three kids will make significant transitions. As their mom, it feels significant for me too. It also feels like it’s moving too fast.

Four years from right now, I might very well have an overflowing shopping cart of college dorm furnishings from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Four years seems like a long time when you have actual babies in the house and your days are a never-ending rhythm of diaper changes, spit-up cloths, and board books. But I’m far enough into motherhood to know that it picks up speed at an alarming pace.

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Today she’s in braces and cheerleading shoes. I’ll blink. And tomorrow we’ll be planning a graduation party.

Today he’s waiting for a growth spurt, hoping he’s not the shortest kid in the 6th grade. I’ll blink. And tomorrow he’ll be stealing his dad’s shaving cream.

These thoughts can sure enough get a sentimental mama thinking about how to make the most of the next four years, how to pare down life so that I stop spinning in good but misplaced directions. Earlier this summer I made some decisions all by myself. And then I told my husband and one friend.

Because they know me and my propensity to spend my short-supply energy in a hundred different directions, they were surprised by my minimizing ways. My husband, for whom “essentialism” comes naturally, was thrilled. He probably thought, “It’s about time.” But he has too much grace to tell me that.

And then I got some books that only strengthened my resolve. I’ve explored some possibilities that will take some domestic duties off my plate, willing to pay actual cash in exchange for time and energy to love the people and possibilities that matter most. I’m pondering what it means to have less so that we can all actually have more. Less clutter, less maintenance, less busywork, less stress, less time spent managing our stuff and our commitments.

If everything is important, nothing is important. This is true whether we’re talking about our commitments or our possessions. But it’s not always simple to figure out what’s most important, so I’ve needed time and a bit of help.

I don’t know how these desires and decisions will play out in real life. Everything sounds rosy in theory. I only know that we make decisions and tie them on stakes ahead of time. Otherwise people and opportunities will come calling and I’ll feel inspired and / or guilty. I’ll say “yes” when what I’m supposed to say is “no” or at the very least, “not at this time.”

Everyone doesn’t have to be as choosey as me. We’re all wired differently and I’m learning to accept my limitations instead of despising them. I have dear friends who thrive on people and contributing and committee-ing and tasking. They help make the world go round in such vital ways.

But I’m not one of them.

I’m a wife and a mom and a writer. But I try to do so much more and then wonder why I’m spent, dizzy, and unfocused.

mothers day loot

Depending on the day, marriage and motherhood require more physical and emotional energy than I naturally have on tap.

I have one child who needs extra encouragement and supervision with academics. So I read books on the learning disabilities this one lives with, feeling ill-equipped to handle these issues yet also knowing that if I don’t help and advocate, no one will.

Mothering takes time, discipline, and a whole lot of emotion.

I have a marriage that’s more of a priority than it’s ever been and also harder to prioritize than ever before. I see why people raise their kids and then divorce after thirty years. The relationship gets lost in the mayhem and we don’t want that. So we fight for the priority of our marriage.

Marriage takes time, discipline, and a whole lot of emotion.

I write for a local organization. I write here on the blog. I sometimes write and speak in other places. I dream of writing books because there are a few of them waiting around in my head. But love for one’s craft doesn’t mean the work is all blue skies and rainbows.

Writing takes time, discipline, and a whole lot of emotion.

Our life is ordinary but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. There are counseling appointments and orthodontist visits, sleepovers and basketball games, church involvement and our small group, extended family gatherings and carved-out moments with my dearest people.

There is also the unforeseen. The friend who gets cancer. The family who needs meals. The child who gets sick and misses two weeks of school.

I don’t want my life to ever become so crowded that it can’t stop for those in need.

Life, no matter how ordinary, takes time, discipline, and a whole lot of emotion.

This fall, Thursday and Friday nights will increasingly mean high school football games instead of quiet evenings at home as a family. And because one football game = a social marathon for Marian the Relational Introvert, I have to eliminate other things so that I’m not mean to the people I live with / in a coma.

Having a high-maintenance soul has forced me to learn my own kind of math and let me tell you, its heavy on subtraction.

But if I don’t tend to my soul, I can’t tend well to the souls of others.


As I consider this new season, on chipping away at the non-essentials so that I’m left with the essentials, I long to make space for the necessary tasking and tending but also for the hoping and the dream-chasing. No one can do this for me.

In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown reminds us of this:

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will. 

Already there have been some “no’s” that have hurt a little. There may be people who don’t understand, who judge because if they can do it, why can’t I? It’s okay. While affirmation is nice, it’s not a requirement. I’m learning to let go of the obsession to make them see it from my perspective.

I choose to prioritize the relationships and opportunities within my own home. Every day I make the choice. Every day I confess that I don’t exactly know what choosing them even looks like. I only know that too often, I haven’t chosen well, giving the best of myself to other people and pursuits.

I don’t expect to get it right every time. This is more trial and error than formulaic. I’m thankful for grace and I’m thankful for Jesus, the One who guides each of us so personally and lovingly throughout the changing seasons and priorities.

The One who provides in our absence when we say “no,” lovingly reminding us that we don’t keep the world spinning on its axis.

The One who helps us accept our unique personalities and our unique people.

The One who provides us with longings and then provides the hope to see them fulfilled.


How about you? In a world of pressure and possibilities, how do you pare down your own life to the essentials?

A few terrific reads that are helping me along the way

essentialism books

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Geoff McKeown

I highly recommend this one. It’s well-written, highly readable, and jam-packed with wisdom. While I don’t agree with all of his statements {such as “If it’s not a clear yes, then it’s a clear no”}, this book is incredibly helpful. I plan to keep it as a reference source for when I need to reboot with a common sense pep talk.

the life-changing magic of tidying up: the japanese art of decluttering and organizing by Marie Kondo

I only heard about this one a few weeks ago. I know! Where have I been? I’m leery of methods and formulas because I don’t believe there’s one-size-fits-all anything. But “KonMari” is more than a method; it’s an altogether different way of thinking about what we keep {and don’t keep.} I haven’t finished it but I can already tell you that it’s a game-changer. Again, I won’t abide by everything she says and some of her points translate better for a Japanese audience. Still, I think it’s incredibly valuable in changing the way we think about our possessions and our homes.

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily P. Freeman

You’ll hear more about this book when it releases later in the summer. For now, let me just say that I have savored it. Every now and then you come across a book that begs to sit on your bedside table as a faithful companion, a book that’s a gift for your soul. Though the parts all relate to the whole, I can see myself re-reading specific chapters in the future when I need perspective on a certain issue.

Instead of feeling like I need to do more, this book invites me to embrace smallness and carry all of my anxious thoughts and unmet desires into the presence of Christ. If you’re overwhelmed with the pace of this world, the weight of expectation, and the burden of comparison, might I recommend this one? It releases in August but right now it has a pre-order price of just $7.85!. {That’s half off!} Run, don’t walk, to amazon and treat yourself to this one.

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy this short series I wrote last fall: Grace in the New Rhythms

new rhythms title pic

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  1. says

    As a person who needs time to recharge, who hates saying NO to others, who needs to re-prioritize the important things, and who has one young, low-maintenance child at home who already has his own schedule, it seems, this resonates with me so much. I love this. I’m pre-ordering Simply Tuesday right now. I picked up the Tidying Up book in the bookstore, even carried it around with me, but put it back and now I’m regretting that decision. Essentialism is one I haven’t heard of yet, but it will be going in my Amazon cart, too. Who doesn’t need a pep talk every now and then?!

    Thanks for your words, friend. So needed on this Friday morning.

    • Marian says

      Hi friend! So nice to see you here. You’ll love every single one of these books. {I know because we have twin brains.} Thanks for your sweet words here. : )

  2. Therese Pigeon says

    Beautifully stated. I get it! Having a bright and bold public personality causes me much grief in my own life. I love lively meaningful conversations and also being the life of the party, sometimes. Most often these interactions cost me dearly. It requires a day or two of absolute quiet and rest afterwards. I think if myself as a social introvert. Is there such a thing? Probably some smart person already coined it. Like when I thought inventing an umbrella stroller with telescoping handles was a great idea ( being that I am a tall parent) only to find it on page 17 of the Right Start catalogue.
    I am in a time of waiting, as I watch my third child leave home for college and the baby just became an official teenager. I am floating along this lazy summer river, gathering a store of peace for the activity to come within the month. I am praying I am not in that calm spot in the middle of the hurricane. Have you SEEN The Perfect Storm??
    I will be praying for you this autumn as you head into the school and work days ahead. You are smart And funny and intuitive and I think well equipped to not just manage, but to embrace and enjoy this season!
    Oh, word to the wise…Kondo at one point suggests being concerned for how your socks are feeling and that they need rest in a calm and nurturing environment. Have you gotten to that part? I don’t know about you, but 4 kids, a husband and two dogs are way ahead in line before the needs of hosiery.

    • Marian says

      Thanks for those encouraging words, Therese, and for sharing your own journey. And making me laugh about the stroller and the personification of SOCKS. I got to that part of the book yesterday and died laughing at the thought of taking on the feelings of my hosiery. {Like I already don’t take on enough unnecessary feelings!}

  3. Deborah Rhodes says

    I wish I could convey to you how much I appreciate your words. Thank you. Maybe one of these years our paths will cross enough for us to have a cup of coffee and a great conversation.

    • Marian says

      Deborah, I’m so glad. And listen, if you’re ever back in the area, we’ll do the coffee thing. : )


  1. […] Loving well doesn’t mean blog-worthy birthday parties or being your kid’s room mom every year. Unless pretty parties and room-momming happen to be your thing and if that’s the case, love on your people with all the festive gusto you’ve got. Jen reminds us that we get to pick and choose what is essential for us and for our families. […]

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