Homeschooling Essentialism: Make Things Simple Again


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Written by Kara S. Anderson.

Cait and I post sometimes over at a place called Simple Homeschool. We both love it over there – we love the community Jamie has created, and the mission behind Simple Homeschool.

Still, sometimes I make homeschooling more complicated than it needs to be. I’ll see something another homeschooling family is doing, and think we need to do that too. I will forget about our particular strengths and weaknesses, and try to do something that isn’t our thing.

Or I’ll just try to do too much. I’ll set my expectations really high, and then get frustrated when we inevitably crash and burn.

And so recently, I picked up my worn copy of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, and I decided to read it specifically as a homeschooling mom.

What is Essentialism?

If you listen to the podcast, you know that Cait and I talk about this book a lot. I had read it before and found it helpful as a working mom – I immediately decided to eliminate Twitter from my life, for instance.

But if you haven’t read Essentialism, the skinny is that so many of us feel busy and overwhelmed, but also like we aren’t really getting things done. And especially if you are a people pleaser like me, you feel a lot of stress to say Yes, even if your smart pal Cait is your living reminder that you need more Nope in your life.

So how does that translate to making homeschooling a little less complicated? Here’s what I found:


Early on in Essentialism, McKeown gives us the metaphor of a crammed closet to explain that we need a system for constant “decluttering.” He’s explaining that if you don’t have a way to decide what is valuable to you, you’ll end up drowning in the less important.

But heck, I took that quite literally and purged our school shelf. I took to Facebook and sold the stuff of real value, and then donated the rest.

As I picked up each curriculum item, I thought about whether we enjoyed using it, whether it worked well for us or was a struggle, and I asked myself why I was hanging on to it. If the only reason was that I spent money on it, then I tried to resell it. Otherwise, it was great to make some room, and rediscover the quality stuff that had been buried.


More directly, though, in the first chapter McKeown writes about finding our purpose. He asks, what if schools dumped busywork and instead focused on helping kids to find out how they could best contribute to the world?


Because we can do that.  Each day in our homeschools we can choose to talk to our kids over drilling them with more math problems and spelling words. We can help them advance their passions and ideas.

We can make learning about something bigger than the day-to-day and test scores. We can help our kids figure out their true paths.


In a chapter devoted to the importance of play, McKeown discusses Sir Ken Robinson’s assertion that schools are killing creativity. He reminds us that the word school comes from the Greek word “schole,” which means “leisure.”

Does that mean we should let our kids watch endless TV and binge on Cheetos all day? No. But Essentialism does remind us of the power of play and why it’s important to make time for it. It even shares the brain science behind why we should incorporate more play into our days with our kids.

Let go

You know how I talked about my struggle to let go of pricey curriculum, even though it wasn’t working for us? That’s an example of sunk-cost bias, which McKeown discusses in a chapter called Uncommit (don’t you just love that word?)

We can get stuck sometimes because we’ve already put money or time into something.

Maybe you’ve spent months learning German, and you’re only now realizing that you don’t ever plan to go to Germany. Maybe your kids have started soccer, and they hate it, but your in-laws keep reminding you that you don’t want to raise a “quitter.”

I love how Essentialism reminds us that’s it’s OK to let go of what isn’t working. After all, how can we find out what works and what doesn’t if we don’t try? And isn’t it valuable to teach our kids that not everything is for us, and that’s OK?

You’re in charge

Finally, I love the reminder toward the end of the book that we need to chart our own paths. As homeschoolers, we have been given an incredible gift to decide what works for our kids. But it’s only a gift if we actually use it.

“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will,” McKeown writes.

That means that we can filter out all the noise, and zero in on what our kids really need.

Less but better

I think I could go on and on about Essentialism for a while – how the philosophy can apply to work and more importantly to life (difficult relationships, anyone?).

I like to read it periodically for reminders and for permission to curate my life, and now, my homeschool.

But I’d love to hear from you – what ways have you found to simplify homeschooling? Do you have books that have inspired you along your path?


You can hang out with Cait and Kara on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pinterest.


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