simple living wholehearted living

Live Like an Essentialist: 12 Things to Edit from Your Life

At the beginning of the school year, I knew my son’s class was looking for room parents. It was only a matter of time before someone asked me if I could do it. I was surprised at how assuredly a simple “no” came out of my mouth.

“No, I’m sorry. I wish I could, but life is really full for me right now.”

Maybe it had something to do with the kids dangling from the stroller I was pushing :), but the woman who asked seemed to understand, and she kindly moved the conversation on.

Hm, I thought. That was painless. Shocking. 

Unfortunately, no’s aren’t always that easily delivered OR received. Which is why most of us tend to overextend ourselves—and why knowing your why is essential.

If you know your why—or as Greg McKeown says, what you want to go big on—it becomes so much easier to let go of the nonessentials.

For me, I want to go big on faith, family, and my creative pursuits. (Our family purpose statement helps me stay on track.) For you and your family, they may be different.

Regardless, here are twelve things to consider cutting from your life, even just for a season, in order to live at your best pace and make your greatest impact.

12 Things to Edit from Your Life | If you'd like to do less in order to do what you love with more purpose, this article is for you!

Edit Your Life

1. Volunteering at your child’s school. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t still participate. There are fundraisers to donate money to, classroom parties to send treats to, and laminates that you can cut out for your teacher in the comfort of your pjs. 🙂 But if this season of your life isn’t the time to sign up for the school board or jump in as a room parent, that’s okay. 

2. Offering to put yourself out in order to help someone when it may not REALLY help.

On occasion we offer help that other people don’t really need, and sometimes I wonder about our motivations (Could it be for a checkmark on our good-girl lists? Could it be because someone you respect was standing nearby when you were asked to volunteer?), as well as our contribution. For example, bringing someone a meal when they really don’t mind having their husband pick up dinner may put you out more than it helps your friend. Consider thinking a bit deeper about what you can do that will keep your life in balance AND help your friend. (Like giving a little friend a ride home from school so that a mom with a newborn doesn’t have to leave the house. Simple for you AND helpful for her.)

3. Obsessive time spent on your house.

The journals from my newlywed years are embarrassingly full of me trying to figure out how to keep on top of the cleaning…and how to get Ryan to do the same. 😉

I was obsessed.

It’s almost like I thought a clean home was the sole qualification for being a “good wife” and eventually a “good mom.”

Thank goodness having a few kids has relaxed me a bit, because good enough is good enough!

4. Stuff.

Fewer items to care for means more time for the things that matter. This includes editing the belongings you already have, as well as wielding your purchasing power with more discretion.

If you need more motivation, check out this 5-minute TED talk that has been viewed 3.5 million times. Case closed. 🙂

5. Extended family commitments.

Declining dinner at your in-laws’ house…or the party after your second cousin’s daughter’s baptism…may sound a little harsh. And if you feel that these events fit with your why, then by all means, stick with them. But for some of us, it may help to borrow Brené Brown’s mantra, “Choose discomfort over resentment.”

Better to have time for your essentials than lose it and let resentment brew. Even if it means an uncomfortable conversation every now and then.

6. Girls’ night (or other social commitments). 

My friend Shawn’s post on self-care for highly sensitive moms drove this home for me. If you are an introvert, girls’ night is likely not filling you up. It’s fun and stimulating and, for some of us, exhausting. However, a night at home reading a book or a low-key meetup with a close friend may give you the recharge you need to stay focused on your essentials.

7. Friendships that are weighing you down. 

8. Your kids’ extracurriculars / social calendar. 

Birthday parties and soccer games can squeeze out family adventures on the weekends. Dance class and gymnastics can make your weekdays so busy that you don’t have time to breathe or think or get creative with your kids.

9. Elaborate meals and entertaining.

The key here is keeping in mind that your friends and family would rather have your presence than your performance. Keep things simple, and be all there. (Or skip hosting altogether for the time being.)

10. Numbing activities.

These are the activities we use to help us tune out everything else. Heaven knows, I think every mom needs a (healthy) numbing activity or two. Checking out for an hour with my bff (Netflix) keeps me sane. That said, it’s a blurry line between just enough and too much. Too much Netflix, too much chocolate, too much social media—too little time doing what you really care about. 

11. Fads and movements that aren’t CORE to you. 

Going green, organic, paleo; dressing a certain style—unless it’s deeply on your heart, being seen as current isn’t everything.

Ditching perfectionism and picking up your life. Plus, 12 things to edit from your life in order to live like an essentialist! (essentialism, perfectionism, minimalism)

12. Perfectionism

“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life.” Brené Brown (5×7 Printable

This entire list is about picking up your life. It’s about putting down the nonessentials and picking up your world. It’s about listening more to your inner voice than to the loud and competitive voices around you.

An edited life is yours because it’s the one you are choosing to live.

Edit Your Life—12 things to edit out in order to live like an essentialist

For help knowing and living by your essentials, feel free to check out my ebook, as well as some other amazing books to help you edit your life and stay focused on the good stuff.

    1. How to Craft a Family Purpose Statement: A Guide to Discovering the “Why” of Your Family and Building an Identity that Will Stay with Your Children Forever, by Erica Layne
    2. Playing Big, by Tara More
    3. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown
  • Alaina
    November 4, 2014 at 7:05 am

    Girls nights! I’m definitely an introvert and so I accept some invites and decline others. It’s not always worth it to spend the time & money when I’d so much rather have 1-on-1 conversation or just a book & bath.

  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser
    November 4, 2014 at 7:37 am

    I’m not a fan of Essentialism. Not at all. The following will be contrarian – I ask your pardon in advance, if I sound in any way strident, or, worse, rude. It’s not my intention.

    Fully half of the twelve items listed above involve interacting with others…and while we may be tempted to judge the effect on ourselves, we most often can’t know the effect we have on someone else.

    Withdraw, and the gifts and hope we can bring to that postulated ‘other’ is withdrawn as well.

    We might say we’re withdrawing to focus, and sharpen those gifts where they might be better used.

    Perhaps. But becoming completely intentional removes the element of serendipity, or what a religious person might call ‘channeled grace’.

    By all means, ditch the ‘stuff’ and the obsessively stylish house…but not to go big. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.

    The legacy we leave isn’t in the books we write, the antiques we restore, or the cool family vacations we instigate.

    It’s in the word of comfort to the stranger who’s hurting, or the exhausted stray dog we pick up from a roadside ditch, and wrap in a blanket by the fire in the living room.

    If you want to go big, go big on love. Forget the rest.

    • Erica Layne
      November 4, 2014 at 8:16 am

      Hi Andrew. I don’t see your comment as contrarian at all. It just depends on what your “why” is, or in other words, what you want to “go big on.” In my case, I’m shooting to focus on faith, family, and my creative pursuits (but faith and family come first). I think those are well in line with what your “why” seems to be—love. That’s beautiful.

      One last thought – I’m not saying anyone should nix everything on this list. Only that you may find a few things you can scale back on. But it’s different for everyone, and that’s the beauty of it!

  • Amber
    November 4, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    You have hit the mark my dear friend! I love this post. We have been thinking about this exact topic for some time now (minimalism being our main line of research). I love the idea of essentialism for so many reasons. A couple thoughts came to my mind while reading this. First, I can see how my list would constantly be changing. While my priorities would remain the same, different stages in our lives can influence what we do and don’t have time for. Last year I had a newborn and couldn’t even tell you the name of my daughters teacher. This year I chose to help on the PTA because I only have one little one at home now and I want to be very involved in my children’s school life since they spend most of their day in that environment. Another thing I was thinking was how sometimes the “why” of our choices does not always bring personal benefit or gratification. For example, I choose to stay home with my children, but it is extremely hard for me to do find fulfillment in this. So, why? I do it for them. It can be so hard to find balance with so many conflicting messages i.e, “spend more time taking care of you!” vs “Your life needs to be about constantly giving to others. Forget yourself.” I am so looking forward to more of your insights on this topic. Thank you! 🙂

    • Erica Layne
      November 4, 2014 at 2:01 pm

      Well said, lady! I was struck by what you said about how hard it is to find the balance between two messages we hear a lot—take care of you & take care of others. In fact, overall, my blog might just be one big conflict between those two messages(!), mainly because I really believe both are essential (at least for me). But it’s just like you said, SO hard to find the balance.

      And yes yes yes about the stages of life! I hope to get more involved in my kids’ school as they get older (for several different reasons), but now isn’t really the time for me, and that’s okay.

      Anyway, thanks so much for what you added to this discussion!

  • Liz
    November 4, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much I can relate to this post. Plate full…not sure you can add anything else, but you do, because you hate to let anyone down. I love your real-life experiences and explanations, as well as your tips. Wonderful post!!

    • Erica Layne
      November 4, 2014 at 7:57 pm

      Thanks so much, Liz! I’m touched! I can barely function in that plate-full state, but I know it well, too.

  • Karissa Barber // The Acting Mom
    November 5, 2014 at 6:12 am

    I love this list!!! Yes, yes and yes!!! We can get caught up in these things and they aren’t filling us, they are taking time away from our family and they actually are draining. Sharing on Twitter and Pinterest. Love it! (visiting from We are That Family)

    • Erica Layne
      November 9, 2014 at 10:12 am

      Hi Karissa! I’m late saying so, but I wanted to thank you for sharing this post! And I really enjoyed checking out your blog as well! I especially loved your recent 53 Ways post. Pinned!

  • Erin
    November 5, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    I’m probably with the numbing activities and the house cleaning to a point. I’ve had to say no to more Bible studies, too, which made me feel guilty. But every single night was being filled up and I just couldn’t do it. I need to be at home. Yes, I need God first, but I don’t have to do that with a group every night. A few times a week is plenty with two kids.

    • Erica Layne
      November 5, 2014 at 2:10 pm

      I’m with ya completely, Erin. Moderation in all things, right?! Best wishes!

  • Jenny
    November 5, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Ah, number 6 spoke to me. I just had this conversation with my teen daughters when they repeatedly asked why I don’t go and do like all the other mothers. (Yes, I am the mother of two very extroverted teen daughters right now) I explained that I don’t need to go out to fill my cup. I actually needed recharged a couple of weeks ago, so I had my husband show me how to drive the tractor so I could mow the field–that’s my kind of refreshment. I live in a house full of people, I don’t need more people interaction!

    • Erica Layne
      November 5, 2014 at 6:27 pm

      Ha! I LOVE that you mowed for refreshment. 🙂 I can see why that would be therapeutic! Glad you can relate.

  • Joanna @mumbalance
    November 7, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Interesting idea. Hard to put in practice, especially refusing family dinners and birthday parties.
    You definitely gave me something to think about over the weekend!

    • Erica Layne
      November 7, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      DEFinitely hard to put into practice. And I for sure don’t mean you have to do all of them; it just depends on what is core to you and what pace you feel most comfortable at in life. Thanks, Joanna!

  • John Adams
    November 7, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    Being obsessively concerned about keeping the house tidy and removing “stuff” struck a chord with me. Some of these items to me, however, were a little harsh. I challenge you, in the politest possible way, on the issue of not attending a meal after a baptism (or similar). I would argue that could potentially make you look self important.

    • Erica Layne
      November 7, 2014 at 11:56 pm

      Hi John, I think I framed it pretty carefully, saying that if frequent family commitments fit with your “why,” then be all means keep them. (And when I introduced the list, I said these were things to “consider” editing.)

      Our family, for instance, spends most of time and money allocated to travel traveling to visit family. It’s big to us that our kids connect with their cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. It fits with our “why.” But if I lived near family and a hundred extended family commitments detracted from my immediate family’s bonding time, I’d think more carefully about how many invitations we accepted a month. That may sound a little self-important, but to me all of this isn’t about whose choices are right or wrong or better or worse—it’s about whether our own choices are getting us where we want to be.

  • tove stakkestad
    November 8, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    I have to agree with the girl’s night out. I realized today that I haven’t been out to a GNO since we had our 4th baby nine months ago – and I have to admit that I don’t miss it – or need it. Instead I meet one on one with a friend at Starbucks during the day – and it recharges me perfectly! Thanks for writing this!

    • Erica Layne
      November 8, 2014 at 10:28 pm

      Hi Tove! It’s nice to know you can relate. As a mom it is crazy important to know what really fills us up. Of course I do still love the occasional girls’ night, but one-on-one interactions and even quiet nights at home with my husband fill me up a lot more. I hope you’re having a great weekend with the fam!

  • Anne Krietlow
    November 9, 2014 at 8:39 am

    Wonderful post. Number #10 is definitely mine as well. I have my scheduled time for the things I need to do, but there is a lot of off time that gets sucked up by the same even though I know that myself and my family would be happier if it weren’t.

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  • babyplaybook
    November 10, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    I do enjoy reading your posts, including this one for the simple reason that your writing prompts us to be purposeful and to remember the whys of life..

  • Sierra Burton
    November 12, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Man # 7. I have a really hard time letting go of friendships. Even if the person makes me so mad that I just don’t want to deal with them. I always want to find a solution. But sometimes it is good to just let go! Thank you!

  • Hannah Mums' Days
    November 14, 2014 at 1:22 am

    I love the way you think Erica! There’s so many points on here that have got me thinking – maybe I’m not as bad at doing everything on my to do list as I thought…I just need to do a bit of editing out the stuff not on the list!!

    Thanks for linking up to #TheList xx

  • Lynnette
    December 30, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    I love this, Erica! I appreciate that you emphasize the “why” behind behind making sometimes difficult decisions, which is what makes them so individualized. What might be right for you may not be right for me, but I think we can all gain something from editing our lives in some capacity. You have given me some things to ponder as I begin my simple new year, so thanks.

  • Desirae
    January 1, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Great thoughts! I really need to work on #3, 4, and 12. Thanks for getting me motivated!

    • Erica Layne
      January 1, 2015 at 12:17 pm

      Those are tough ones for sure, Des! Loves!

  • Donna
    February 10, 2015 at 9:02 am

    Obviously, I came to the party very late on this post, but I just want to say how much I agree with this. I spent my daughter’s 3-6 years trying to be friends with the mothers of every girl she came in contact with so that we could be ‘integrated’ [I put that in quotes because I still never quite felt it], and as a result burning myself out. I set up playdates, went to Girl’s Nights, attending purse and shoe parties I didn’t want to go to, all under the misguided notion that it was what I needed and therefore, what I wanted. I have since discovered that it’s not; I am kind of an introvert, and I would rather spend a free night curled up on the couch, rather than out at a bar, yelling over the music to be heard. To each his own, and for me, it’s the simple life!

    I have spent some serious time and effort over the last year weeding out junk friends, junk activities, junk concepts, and just a ton of junk in general. It has been time well spent!

    • Erica Layne
      February 10, 2015 at 11:45 am

      Weeding out junk in general! I love how you said that. Couldn’t agree more.

      Right now I’m working on that balance, too, between trying to help our family integrate in our new community and also keeping family and personal time sacred. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, Donna – I always love hearing from you!

  • Lauren Jade Martin
    July 9, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    Love your site, so happy I stumbled upon it (thanks Pinterest!) while I’m not a mom, I’m always getting asked to random events, social gatherings, collabs etc. that just don’t align with my interests or values. I have learned to say no and it is SO empowering 😀 Great posts and insight.

    Lauren Jade
    Lauren Jade Lately
    ‘Simplify Life, Maximize Happiness’

  • Nicki @ T-shirt & Jeans
    October 7, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    This is a great list! The points were valuable and meaningful, and great reminders. Found on Pinterest, and I’m definitely re pinning 🙂

  • Kelly
    January 8, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    I’ve been on a journey to declutter my life (emotional, phisical, social & mental) since last yr trying to simply my life. I find it difficult to implement advice 6 and 7, esp when you have type A personalities in the group of friends who somehow do not take subtle no for an answer. I’ve also read Shawn’s post and could totally relate to it as a highly sensitive person and an introvert. Sometimes I do feel if im a bad friend trying to avoid the gatherings when they are trying to keep the group intact, but I really prefer it to be less frequent and I mean like once a year. I.always feel stressed whenever another gathering is coming up. Do I take the path of less resiatance to save the trouble of explaining and just attend once in a while or do I make a stand and risk a potential confrontation like ‘why are you always the odd one out?’ or ‘why do you keep avoiding us?’

    • Erica Layne
      January 9, 2016 at 4:46 pm

      YES. That is SUCH a hard question to answer. I want to reiterate that these are all just ideas to try – no pressure to do them all! I think a little give and take with your social life sounds like the right balance. Sometimes you go, for the sake of retaining your friendships (which I do believe are essential for most women’s mental health), and sometimes you decline, when you know what you really need is to draw within.

      Would it help if you suggested a different time or place for your occasional meetups? Like a coffee shop with one or two instead of a night out with the whole group, for example. Just thinking out loud. Many best wishes, Kelly!

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