What is Essentialism?

When people think of essentialism (or minimalism) they may think of empty, bare space and nothingness. They may think of bare walls and empty closets. Some may think of tiny houses and sustainable living, or that it is a pointless trend. My favorite definition of essentialism is that it is the art of discerning between external noise and internal voice. The life of an essentialist is about asking this question: How important is this to me?

Photography by Rebecca Diana Photography, Knoxville, TN

Photography by Rebecca Diana Photography, Knoxville, TN

Though minimalism and essentialism have definitely been trendy words for quite some time, I have an interest in finding out exactly what this kind of living would be like for me. Is it really that easy to just let stuff go? What would this look like in my spiritual life? Would I benefit from essentialism? Would it facilitate growth in my marriage? Would adopting the essentialist's mindset enrich my relationships?

To all of the above, I really think so.

So, I've decided that I'm going to try essentialism. 

In efforts to create a path for myself, I've defined what I think essentialism means to me.

The Gospel + Essentialism

When I choose a lifestyle of essentialism as a Christian, I’m choosing to let my identity as a ransomed daughter (John. 1:12; 15:4; Romans 8:14-17; Ephesians 2:1-10) of God be my essence. This identity allows me to believe that my life is redeemed. Through the gospel, Jesus has given me the permission to let go of the shame of everything I’ve ever screwed up on. He’s given me the permission to choose him, to lean in to him, to need him.  It doesn’t mean that I will never choose wrongly. It doesn’t mean that I will never lose control or always breathe every moment with deep purpose. For me, choosing a life of essentialism is choosing to make room in my crowded life for Jesus to really be my authority and the very reason I breathe.

Essentialism is...

An art.

The art of living the essential life is about learning the skill of intentional choice (another word for this is mindfulness.) It’s about practicing the freedom to choose well (another word for this is wisdom.) It’s about the discipline of joy (another word for this is gratitude.)

A mindset.

The mindset of an essentialist is one of thankfulness. Ann Voskamp is one of my favorite demonstrators of this concept in her book, One Thousand Gifts. She start out by storytelling the reader into her mess of thoughts, her confusion about grace, and her hesitancy to step into the fullness of life. One day she was challenged to make a list of one thousand things that she chooses to be thankful for. This list launched her into an incredible journey of seeing life with both eyes wide open. I love that she chose to be truly thankful in those joyful and painful moments when she let herself see. By choosing a mindset of thankfulness, the essentialist chooses to try and find fullness and meaning in the day-to-day rather than letting his/her joy be extrapolated by the critical voices of dissatisfaction and discontentment.

A lifestyle.

Because the essentialist lifestyle is about discerning between external noise and internal voice, the essentialist will ask questions like:

What is important to me?
What are my values?
What do I find to be beautiful?
How does this beautiful thing add value to my life, to the lives of others?

How does this person/place/thing add value to my understanding of my individual/interpersonal culture?
What truth can I take from this moment?

How will I choose to rest?

A challenge.

The essentialist chooses to ask questions and then chooses to find the answer, even if it takes a while. During this process, essentialism can look like setting healthy emotional, physical, psychological, and relational boundaries. The challenge of the essentialist is to open up life-space to know empowerment, wholeness, freedom, wonder, adventure, truth, honesty, integrity, love and honor.

What do you think?

What's your opinion on essentialism, or minimalism? Do you think that it fits into the Christian life (theology, scripture, relationship, mindset)? If you are an essentialist, how has this mindset impacted you? Were there things you didn't expect?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.