Essentialism – What’s Truly Necessary for Identity

I know what it’s like to live a scattered and chaotic life. Even though I knew something was amiss, I didn’t know what it was or how to fix it. Thankfully, the concept of essentialism was there to guide me to clarity and purpose. 

Essentialism is a tool for evaluating one’s life. It helps define one’s values, dreams, goals for life, and what is most important. When applying essentialism to life, one can better prioritize their schedule, set healthy boundaries, and put effort into what matters most. 

If you feel like your life is out of control, hectic, or just too stressful, it might be time to consider the wisdom of essentialism. With these tools in your psychic work belt, you can start organizing the chaos and enjoy a life filled with joy and purpose. 

What Is Essentialism

“Essential” is defined as “something necessary.” With that definition, essentialism is living based on what is needed, then expanding outward from those core things. Applying this philosophy to your life can start building a foundation of top priorities, and then everything else is secondary to those core values. 

A Woman in a Simple Flower Field - Ananda - Gone Minimal
A Woman in a Simple Sunflower Field

Much of what I’m sharing about essentialism comes from Greg Mckeown, the author of “Essentialism: The Discipline Pursuit of Less.” In this book, Mckeown explores essentialism’s core philosophy, then breaks it down and applies it to everyday life. 

In my study of essentialism, I’ve found this relatively simple approach to life has been written and talked about in a rather complicated way. I believe this is due to Mckeown’s book being geared towards the business or working person.

That’s how it appears to me, at least. My goal is to simplify the key aspects of essentialism to make them easier to digest and apply to one’s life. I also want to talk about essentialism in a deeper, more soulful place of exploration. 

To learn more about essentialism from Greg Mckeown himself, check out this inspiring video. 

How To Be An Essentialist 

To be an essentialist means to set time aside for introspection and self-care. This is necessary because you must give yourself undisturbed time for self-reflection and connection to know what is essential to your life. 

Life will toss you about if you don’t know who you are or what you want. You’ll feel flung in different directions and feel like you can’t get your feet underneath you. On the other hand, you may feel like you need to “do it all” to find success. This will leave you spread too thin and burnt out, extinguishing creativity and joy for life. 

Essentialism: Understanding One’s Values and Desires 

To take it deeper, we can ask ourselves what we most desire. Is this desire coming from my heart and most profound truth or my ego? You may not know the difference at first, which is why it’s so helpful to spend time with yourself to get to know who you are. What brings you bliss? What inspires you? What fills your heart with love? What brings you pleasure and joy? 

Hands Forming Simple Letters - Essentialism - Gone Minimal
Hands Forming Simple Letters

These questions can help you learn who you are and what you care about most. From there, it’s essential to be clear about your values. What is the moral foundation upon which you stand? Examples of core values include integrity, openness, awareness, knowledge, expansion, grace, honesty, and heart alignment. 

To be an essentialist means to set time aside for introspection and self-care.

All of these reflective questions build the foundations for being an essentialist. You must start from the ground up to authentically apply essentialism to your life. 

Once the foundation is built, you can start designing the pillars representing your goals and dreams. They do not have to be what others say they should be! Our society has put success, wealth, and “hustle culture” on such a high pedestal that all the other amazing aspects of humanity have been shoved aside. 

For example, if one of your dreams is to be a mother or father, don’t feel ashamed about that — embrace it! Perhaps one of your dreams is to live simply from a place of authenticity. Perhaps you just want to live in alignment with your heart (I raise my arm for that one).

A Simple Lantern - Essential - Gone Minimal
A Simple Lantern

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t have ambitious pursuits; you just have to check in with yourself to see where the desire is coming from (your heart vs. material gain). If we know what our base desires are for our lives and take action towards them, everything else will naturally fall into its place. 

The Essentialist Who Cares: Rest, Nutrition, and Play

To live authentically and put forth your best effort, you need to prioritize these essential aspects of human growth: sleep, playtime, and nutrition. 

Think about instinctual nature and the behavior of animals. It’s well known that adolescent animals, such as big cats, need copious amounts of play to develop and hone their hunting skills, which is essential for survival. 

As humans, we are also instinctual beings, so why have we cut the play out of our lives? Play brings inspiration and creativity. It adds fuel to our life force. To be an essentialist is to value play that aligns with your highest good, meaning that play isn’t about going to parties and drinking every weekend.

The play I’m referring to is the activities that nourish your spirit and bring you joy. This can include traveling, swimming, dancing, singing, laughing, or doing an activity you love.


The key with essentialism is discernment, self-awareness, and heart-aligned action and decision-making.

Adequate nutrition and rest are also critical to the essentialist because they know that to put their best effort forward, they need good sleep and healthy food. A full night’s rest supports cognitive function and emotional wellbeing, as shown in a study published by The National Library of Medicine. It’s simple: when you feel rested, you feel more aligned with who you are and have the clarity to make the right decisions for your life. 

Holding Simple Whole Foods - Essentialism - Gone Minimal
Holding Simple Whole Foods

Furthermore, an essentialist knows their body is one to be honored and cared for, which means fueling it with whole foods and a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, a study published by The National Library of Medicine found that eating more fruits and vegetables leads to heightened creativity, curiosity, and overall wellbeing.

Essentialism: Boundaries and Learning to Say No

Now that you’ve built your psychic foundation and understand the importance of sleep, nutrition, and play — it’s time to take those aspects and apply them outward into your life. Now that you know your values, you must live aligned with those values. 

This means evaluating the different parts of your life and asking yourself what serves and doesn’t. Anything that isn’t aligned with your heart needs to be removed. This is the disciplined part of essentialism; it requires you to make tough decisions about your life. 

This could mean decluttering, reorganizing your schedule, and dedicating your time to what is most important to your life. It might mean saying “no” to a dinner out with friends because you need some alone time and self-care. Another example would be pulling your efforts out of some projects, so you can put more energy into the project you’re truly passionate about. 

A Minimalist Woman in Nature - Essentialism - Gone Minimal
A Minimalist Woman in Nature

The point of creating boundaries and saying “no” is that you are creating more space for what brings you joy and fulfillment. Mckeown states that for every “yes,” or agreement to something, you’re saying no to many other things. Essentialism requires you to discern where you’re putting your creative energy. Are you putting your creative energy into what is essential for you? Are your efforts aligned with your core values? 

To help you know when to say “yes” vs. “no,” Greg Mckeown shares that if it isn’t an absolute yes, it’s a no. In other words, if you’re offered an opportunity or invitation, and a part of me doesn’t feel on board, it’s probably a “no.” 

Okay, here’s where things can get a little tricky. Ask yourself, am I saying no because I have a self-limiting belief that I am not “worthy” or “good enough” for this opportunity? You need to discern why you’re saying no if it’s a social invitation.

For example, if you’ve been depressed and isolated, you probably won’t feel like hanging out with anyone. But, the truth is that you would feel much better if you spent time with people you love. Essentialism is discernment, self-awareness, and heart-aligned action and decision-making. 

A Simple Group of Friends - Essentialism - Gone Minimal
A Simple Group of Friends

Benefits of Essentialism 

If you’re not convinced essentialism is beneficial for your life, consider these benefits: 

  1. Essentialism provides you with clarity on what your purpose in life is. 
  2. Being an essentialist focuses on the qualities of a healthy lifestyle, which results in physical, emotional, and mental well-being, natural energy and motivation, and creativity. 
  3. With essentialism, you have more boundaries in your life, creating more freedom and space for what matters most. 
  4. You can better prioritize people, projects, and goals in your life. 
  5. To expand on that note, you have better relationships with those you care about because you’ve prioritized the relationship. 
  6. Essentialism sets you on a path to success because you’re focusing your energy on what’s most important to you. 
  7. With essentialism, you realize that material gain is a petty pursuit that produces fruits of greed, stress, inflated egotism, addiction, debt, and burnout. 

Here’s the thing, you don’t have to start calling yourself an essentialist to integrate this wisdom into your life. Instead, take what resonates and leave what doesn’t. 

Related Insights

What is the difference between essentialism and minimalism? 

In many ways, they are the same as both are built off of the concept of “less is more.” The difference is that minimalism focuses more on the material and physical reality, whereas essentialism focuses more on inner values and discernment. As you might imagine, the two intermingle and can be the same depending on your outlook. 

How can I practice essentialism? 

Start with the question, “what matters most to me?” Then, allow your actions to reflect your response. This can help guide a better understanding of one’s values and a more straightforward path to living in the ways that align with and support them.

How do I know what is essential to my life? 

Start with the easy things that are “no-brainers.” For instance, your partner or your family. Then, dive deeper into what brings you a sense of purpose and genuine joy. Journal about it if you need or take some time to yourself to reflect on it. 

What is the main concept of essentialism?

The main concept of essentialism is the pursuit of what is truly essential and letting go of non-essential distractions. Essentialism is a philosophy and approach to life that emphasizes simplicity, focus, and the importance of investing time and energy in activities and pursuits that align with one’s values and long-term goals.

The Essential Identity Values of Real People

When reflecting on values, you may be unsure of your values. To help spark inspiration, I asked a few of my friends and family to share three essential values for their identity. Here’s a table representing the percentages of their responses and what I learned from the poll.

Essential Values for Identity
7% of people polled said empathy is an essential value for their identity
13% of people polled said internal and external awareness are essential values for their identity
6% of people polled said communication is an essential value for their identity
13% of people polled said relying on God is an essential value for their identity
7% of people polled said routine is an essential value for their identity
7% of people polled said putting others first is an essential value for their identity
20% of people polled said integrity is an essential value for their identity
7% of people polled said loving all is an essential value for their identity
6% of people polled said having faith is an essential value for their identity
7% of people polled said having a connection to the Earth and God is an essential value for their identity
7% of people polled said making decisions that align with my highest self is an essential value for their identity
Essential Identity Values of Real People

Other Resources:

Final Thoughts

If you’re ready to take control of your life and release stress, I encourage you to embrace the wisdom of essentialism. It won’t be easy as it’s a disciplined path, but you will find clarity, freedom, and joy through it. All you need to do is slow down, reflect, and move forward with what’s most important.

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