Monday, July 21, 2014

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less - Book Review

Greg McKeown's book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, has made quite an impact on my thinking and, consequently, on how I deal with life in general. From the title one would think essentialism is just another philosophy concerning simple living or minimalism. Though what he has to say may spawn a thinning of one's wardrobe with a haul to the local thrift shop, reading it has the potential for so much more. In fact, essentialism is a mindset which impacts every area of one's life.

Greg makes the case that, for most of us, our lives are characterized by too many choices. Our time, our money, our space are all pulled in a million different directions to the point we are stressed out and dissatisfied. Many times our first impulse is to say yes to everything in case we should miss out on something important. But, as he so well points out, when we say yes to everything, we usually end up missing what really is valuable.

For myself, I am an empty-nester, homeschool veteran with too much stuff, too much time, and too many choices for being of service to others on a daily basis who has found great peace through reading Greg's thoughts on essentialism. In fact, I am currently working my way through the book again, and I plan on giving it at least one more read and taking some notes to share with my readers as I begin to implement the things I've learned.

The book itself is divided into four parts, each step leading to the next:

  • Part I deals with the core mind-set of an essentialist. This is key to understanding how what we think determines what we do. All throughout the book, Greg revisits the differences between the mind-sets of non-essentialists and essentialists. This is vital for determining where we go wrong from the outset.
  • Part II goes farther into how we may discern what is really important, between the trivial many and the vital few.
  • Part III helps us find ways to begin to cut out those trivial many in order to invest in and enjoy the vital few.
  • Part IV ends with practical ways to make doing those vital few things effortlessly. 

The entire layout of the book makes it easy for the time-constrained person to read it through and more easily ingest the essentialist insights. Since the chapters are short and concise (the author practices what he preaches), I have found it convenient to read one chapter a day along with my morning devotions. This has also given me time to chew on the individual ideas as they are given in each chapter.

Regardless of your calling in life, whether it be an executive in a high-stress work environment or a stay-at-home mother burdened with the multiple cares of home and family, this book is a God send.

Monday, June 30, 2014

My Journey From Hoarding to Simplicity to Essentialism

Unfortunately, I come from a three-generational pack-rat family mind set. However, after helping my mother clean out my grandparents' home at their passing and helping downsize Mom three time in three different moves, I finally discovered the concept of simplicity. It especially appealed to me since I didn't want our children to have to go through what we did in sorting and distributing all that junk. But, I also began to realize this way of living was not honoring to the Lord Jesus Christ.

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As I was looking for more economical ways to feed our growing family, I read the More With Less Cookbook, which then led me to Living More With Less, both written by Doris Janzen Longacre. Though I had a hard time swallowing all of the socialist ideals, these two books helped start the wheels turning in my heart and mind to seek a better way. These were followed by two books I found on the spiritual disciplines which also mentioned simplicity: Spiritual Disciplines For the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney and Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. It also helped to read Joshua Becker's blog,, and to follow him on Facebook.

Those were a good start, but though I did a really good purge when we moved from Illinois to Michigan, I still ended up filling up the house we live in now. It didn't help that our daughter and my mother who both lived with us shared my love of thrifting and garage sale shopping. However, with our daughter's engagement last winter and the passing of my dear mother, the empty nest was suddenly looming on the horizon. I knew we would need to downsize at some point, but I kept putting it out of my mind. I didn't have time to think about it.

Thankfully, during those busy days between Mother's passing and our daughter's wedding, I read a book by Greg McKeown called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which inspired me to stop despairing over the IMMENSITY of the job which lay before me and to begin sorting with essentialism in mind.

Here are a few examples of how reading this book has changed my way of thinking:

These are the six vases I found while cleaning out the hutch. Simplicity thinking would be to only keep the ones which I really like and are functional. Here's what that looks like:

As you can see, I now have only one vase per use for different sizes and mouth widths, and I've reduced my vase stash by 30%.


This is really only a different version of the old pack rat thinking. I had to ask myself honestly, when I bring flowers in the house, do I go look up just the right vase for it? Of course, not. I always grab a lovely Mason jar! Now, I have reduced my vase stash by 100%. The new essentialist thinking finally broke through.

Here is another example:

When I have held garage sales in the past, I have been overwhelmed with all the junk left over which has to not only be hauled out, tagged, and set up, but then has to be loaded up and hauled to the local thrift shop after a long, hot day of watching the sale. Even if they come pick it up, it's still a lot of work one way or another.

Simplicity would only get through the sorting and distributing stage; essentialism narrows down even what I put in my sale. It's the difference between what barely fills the bottom of a laundry basket and really has value...

And what someone at a thrift shop might find useful which nearly fills two large, cardboard boxes.

These items are only what I purged from my hutch in the living room. Can you imagine what the rest of the house holds?!? My hutch display may be getting pretty sparse, but I can now add the things which I truly treasure and are worthy to be displayed. And there is actually room now inside to fit my good china and linens. :)

I can't say I am totally immersed in the essentialist mindset, but I'm getting better at it. I have a vision and a goal and faith to believe the Lord will lead me in the way I should go as I seek wisdom and get understanding in living a more simple and clutter-free life.

Feels good!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Poem Hymns For Christian Weddings

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While making my way through Gadsby's Hymns for my devotional reading, I found some lovely old poems written as hymns which would be appropriate to be sung at Christian weddings, recited during the ceremony or reception, or included somewhere on the program.[1]

The first is by John Berridge (1716-1793) entitled Our Jesus Freely Did Appear, traditionally sung to the tune SABBATA or any other Common Meter (C.M.) tune such as Amazing Grace or O God Our Help In Ages Past.

On a Christian Marriage -- John 2:1, 2; Heb. 13:4

Our Jesus freely did appear
     To grace a marriage feast;
And, Lord, we ask thy presence here
     To make a wedding-guest.

Upon the bridal pair look down;
     Who now have plighted hands;
Their union with thy favour crown,
     And bless the nuptial bands.

With gifts of grace their hearts endow;
     (Of all rich dowries best!)
Their substance bless, and peace bestow,
     To sweeten all the rest.

In purest love their souls unite,
     And linked in kindly care,
To render family burdens light,
     By taking mutual share.

True helpers may they prove indeed,
     In prayer, and faith, and hope;
And see with joy a godly seed,
     To build thy household up.

As Isaac and Rebecca give
     A pattern chaste and kind:
So may this new-met couple live,
     In faithful friendship joined.

The next one is called Great God of Order, Truth, and Grace, which I believe was penned by Richard Burnham (1749-1810). It is also written in the Common Meter and may be sung to any tunes written in that meter.

"Heirs together of the grace of life." -- I Peter 3:7

Great God of order, truth, and grace, 
     Fountain of social joys,
Shine with thy sweet approving smile,
     And crown the nuptial ties.

Look on the now united pair,
     And O, the union bless;
Here may true friendship ever reign,
     In firmest bonds of peace.

May each the other kindly help
     To run the shining road;
Join with delight in prayer and praise,
     And ever cleave to God.

May both be fired with one concern
     For one eternal prize;
And warmest zeal their souls inflame
     For joys beyond the skies.

One be their views, their aim, their end
     Pure heavenly bliss to prove,
Meeting at last around the throne,
     To reign in realms of love.

There may we all with them unite
     In one harmonious song;
And one pure anthem swell the joys 
     Of one celestial throng.

[1] William Gadsby, A Selection of Hymns For Public Worship (Southgate, London: Gospel Standard Publications, 1965). Also available for free here: