Essentialism 101 with a Garden Metaphor!

I’m really excited to start this series on my fundamental formula for Essentialism!! Although the specifics often change, this is the best and most sustainable method for dealing with the excess in our lives. I’ve talked about it before... almost everything great that’s happened to me has been because I first made the space and then moved forward with intention. I also get to see amazing things happen in my clients’ lives when we follow this outline.

I’ll continue to go into each step with more detail and specifics, but for now, I thought it would be helpful to use the concept of a garden to illustrate the formula. The funny thing is, when we bought our home six years ago, we inherited an overcrowded, crumbling, depressing garden and my life (although I didn’t realize it) felt about the same. It is now yet to be landscaped or replanted but is in much better shape than before. Most areas of my life are further developed than my literal garden (or are they?!) but looking outside continues to be a nice reminder of my journey.

(my current garden, if you can call it that ;)

(my current garden, if you can call it that ;)


1. Stop bringing new stuff in. Or in other words, stop feeding the weeds.
I mentioned our inherited garden of overcrowded and dying rose bushes, lots of weeds, a crumbling retaining wall, a crumbling fence and a few relatively healthy trees. Like my life at the time, this arbitrary, uncurated clutter weighed me down. The nice, sunny parts of the yard were being hogged by things I didn’t care about. If I added to that or fed the weeds and dead rose bushes, I was just making matters worse and my future project harder. If you’re in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging! The first goal is to stop adding to the nonsense!

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” – Peter Drucker.
We start to create a little bit of space when we stop existing mindless habits. Outer disorder definitely contributes to inner disorder. In life, this might mean to stop shopping for a little while or to stop accepting commitments if they don’t really excite you. You’ll find out where you spend your energy and money and how you feel about it.

2. Figure out what you need and want, what’s important to you. Priorities! Consider what you want in your garden.
It’s very difficult to make lasting changes in your life if you don’t first identify what’s most important to you… your Essentials! Listing your top five priorities (and then later incorporating goals and routines) provides motivation... your Why! It gives a framework for both easier decision-making and living with integrity, as you make sure something represents you now and isn’t just temporary or for someone else. The goal is to figure out our priorities so we can maximize those things which are in line with our values and minimize those that are not.

This is a very important step and I’ll discuss it in more detail soon but here are a few questions that can get the juices flowing: What makes you excited to get up in the morning? What matters most to you? What are the most important relationships in your life? How would you like to be described? What would you like to accomplish?

This is also about considering your vision… for your life, your closet, your money, your schedule. So, for our gardens, what do we want the end product to look like? What elements are priorities? What does the vision exclude? We’re getting a sense for what our garden should incorporate. Mine needs a healthy foundation of soil, a nice place to sit and enjoy the sun, some plants or vegetables, a solid fence with retaining wall and a few sturdy trees to help shade or to climb!

3. Figure out what’s working. Where are things now? What should stay in the garden?
In decluttering, this is the time to start methodically going through your stuff, finances or calendar. (Another future post!) There are two main piles: what’s working, or in line with the vision, and what’s not. Start by gathering a few favorites first. Interestingly, we usually already have enough. Maybe we have too much (limits help) or maybe there’s a new piece of furniture that would be beneficial.

The question with each item is: does this fit the vision? Is this in line with my priorities? My garden looked hopeless but there were a few things worth keeping. The soil was very healthy, the area had a lot of sun exposure, there were a few mature trees and a foundation for the fence and wall.

4. Remove what's not working. Create space. Prune!
Be ruthless about things that are inhibiting the vision. It’s very important to say “no” to those things so you can say “yes” to what matters most to you. Maybe something is good but there’s just too much of it. What’s detracting? What’s adding noise? What’s getting in the way? If I give it up or donate it, will somebody else appreciate it more?

The dying rose bushes had to go as did the weeds and the crumbling fence and wall. This can all feel a little scary, the clearing, but we already started with a good foundation: the stuff that was working. Space is incredibly important. We appreciate individual items more when we have less stuff. It’s also hard for new things to enter your life if you don’t have space for them. As Oprah suggests, your job is to be open when the next great thing comes to you.

5. Restore and incorporate maintenance. Put it all back and build or plant.
Find the right place for everything. Create a more mindful schedule or a more intuitive closet layout. Slowly add if needed but, this time, with intention! Enjoy the new realized vision and the feeling of it supporting that which is essential to you!

Then create a habit of maintenance for decluttering (or watering. ;) These things matter, take care of them! Where the old bushes and weeds once were, I’ve added a picnic table in the sunniest spot in the yard. I kept the soil and continue to weed and water that healthy foundation. I planted seeds to grow the essentials (or in life, my business and my little family). I kept the healthiest trees that ground and support me. And over time, I rebuilt the retaining wall and fence to increase my feeling of security. Grow, garden, grow!

+ What do you think? Does this inspire a little shift in your life? I’ve lived this way for five years and I just got even more excited!