Benefits of Becoming An Essentialist In The Garden

– Posted in: Garden Musings

Leonitus leonorus with Salvia

***Please note: this post was published last summer. I thought it worth another look-see in these hot days of summer to re-evaluate how you live…in and out of the garden.

Are you a gardener who’s in a perpetual state of overwhelm?

Do you constantly feel pressure to complete your never ending ‘to do’ list?

Do you rarely feel like you’ve mastered anyone aspect of your garden or gardening skills?

If you answered yes to any or all of the above questions, don’t worry. You’re not alone!

With our culture’s emphasis on productivity,  our ‘more is better’ mentality and non-stop 24/7 lifestyle,  it’s practically impossible to experience equanimity, balance, and a sense of self-confidence and mastery as a way of life.

I recently completed reading a book called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and knew immediately that I wanted to share what I learned. This book, written by Greg Mckeown, has tremendous value for  gardeners who want to work smart, gain more joy and better results from what they’re doing, and feel less stress (in and out of the garden).

Keep in mind, as you read this article, that how we garden, is frequently a metaphor for how we are living in other areas of our lives.

Sorin garden- back hill,- yarrow, lavandula

First off,  here are the realities that are the CORE MIND-SET OF ESSENTIALISTS as set forth in the book.

1. “Individual choice: We can choose how to spend our time and energy.

2. The prevalence of noise: Almost everything is noise, and very few things are exceptionally valuable.

3. The reality of trade-offs: We can’t have it all or do it all.”

As the author, Greg Mckeown, writes “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. Like investing in the stock market with eToro, for example, it is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

I don’t know about you but I worked in the garden for decades with a nonessentialist attitude. I felt like I had to get everything done-from design to planting to maintenance. Yes, I was passionate and I don’t begrudge the time I spent in the garden. But in hindsight, what I now understand is that I would have reaped more benefits by using my energy for only a few selected projects at a given time, rather than running in millions of different directions all at once: thinking that I could do and have it all.

For example, although I was immersed in continuing to design and maintain 2 sweeping perennial beds, I decided I wanted to develop the woodland area in my garden. After all, more was better! And I was passionate about creating the garden of my dreams.

Rather than staying detached and reminding myself to slow down and work on only one or two projects at a time, I moved forward with wild abandon, designed a huge woodland area, and created a situation that took my focus and time away from what I had been working on (and loved doing). Plus I added a tremendous amount of stress by needing to research how and what to plant in this area AND then found myself in the position of needing to maintain it.

2005-09-05 07.47.42-19.jpg-COG-31.jpg-1

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless”  Greg Mckeown

Below are the 3 steps to take to begin to think like an Essentialist.


As gardeners, we’ve brainwashed ourselves into believing that there is SO MUCH to do. And we continue to commit to doing everything as we always have without pausing (because we see no other way).

An Essentialist actually takes the time to explore lots of options before committing to anything. Because they ultimately will only ‘go big’ on one or two activities, they explore more options and are deliberate in making the right choice.


How many times have you spent an afternoon in the garden doing dozens of different tasks feeling like you’ve accomplished little?

On the other hand, think about a time where you spent 2-3 hours in one area in the garden-working with focus and purpose to accomplish whatever your intent was. I don’t know about you but I find doing that deep, focused work to be particularly satisfying as well as productive (both in and out of the garden).


If you follow the Essentialist approach, you won’t feel the need to ‘make it happen’. Because you have taken the time to remove obstacles that would prevent from doing your work in a flowing manner, the process of execution become effortless and joyful.

Sorin garden-


If you’re interested in becoming an Essentialist, work on giving up these 3 assumptions:

“I have to.” “It’s all important.” “I can do both.”

And replace them with these 3 core truths:

“I choose to.” “Only a few things really matter.” “I can  do anything but not everything.”

Now it’s your turn. Do you consider yourself to be a nonessentialist or an essentialist?

My New Revised Edition of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening will be in bookstores and online September 1st. I will be giving away 1000 copies plus a free 3 part online course, Create The Life You Want: How to Transform an Ordinary Life into an Extraordinary Life.

Keep your eyes on and like my Facebook page:  as well as GGW’s FB page where I will be giving information over the next week on how to get the free book and course.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at

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Fran Sorin
18 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Randi July 15, 2015, 7:30 am

I just spent two years making tough decisions to reduce the size of the gardens and make the weight of maintenance much lighter. I have more to do. For me, gardening is a process. I guess I am becoming an essentialist.

Lisa - Ontario July 15, 2015, 8:20 am

Long ago I became an Essentialist without realizing it. it is not essential to my happiness to be a good housekeeper. if there is a choice between doing something fun and a chore, the chore can wait. I need to sit in my garden to relax my mind. I need to kayak to be healthy emotionally as well as physically. Sometimes other people do not share my priorities so are not as supportive with my decisions, but I have arrived at a point in my life that I need to do what is right for me, not others.

Fran Sorin July 15, 2015, 9:19 am

Dear Randi- It sure sounds like it. Welcome to the club. It is a wonderful way to live! Warmly, Fran

Fran Sorin July 15, 2015, 9:23 am

Lisa- I’m impressed with your fortitude and clarity. I totally support your decision and couldn’t agree more. As someone who gets up every morning at 4am to meditate for an hour and then to go rowing in the summer by 530am, I understand. When I either of those activities drop by the wayside for more than a day or two, I end up feeling lousy. It is so important to know how to maintain a sense of well-being. It sounds like you’ve figured it out for yourself! Kudos to you. Fran

Valorie Grace Hallinan July 15, 2015, 9:37 am

I’m definitely an essentialist. Great post, sounds like a good book.

June July 15, 2015, 12:05 pm

Such a beautiful philosophy – this is what I am practicing, but didn’t know it had a name! After retiring 2 years ago, I began to redesign my gardens. all the modifications I am making are to bring my 1/3 acre into the kind of garden that an aging person can maintain with enjoyment. I am already reaping the benefits of these changes, which allow me a more pleasurable pace, and increased satisfaction. I still have plenty of strength and energy, but the years will pass, and I will be glad I am making these changes now. Thank you, Fran, for these excellent thoughts.

Fran Sorin July 15, 2015, 8:50 pm

Valorie- Good for you. How much less stressful and purposeful your life is when you simplify and focus on what’s really important! Warmly, Fran

Fran Sorin July 15, 2015, 8:53 pm

I totally understand where you’re at. How we gardened at age 35 is not how most of us choose to garden at age 55, 65, and beyond- even if our physical stamina allows for it. I enjoy a slower pace and spending the time observing- while I’m doing- rather than racing through to get to the next task. You are a wise woman to make the changes in the garden now. Warmly, Fran

Debbie July 16, 2015, 5:44 am

Greetings, I’d classify myself as an essentialist in the works. Theres a mental and sometimes written list of to-do items but at the end of the day I don’t beat myself up if the list isn’t finished. Is this laziness or an investment in inner peace? Probably both! But I am learning how to cut back on commitments. Though we’ve just bought 50 acres in NW Illinois to restore to prairie savannah forest and I’ve agreed to be on our district garden board. Oops, guess thecobwebs will have to wait as I work on that essentialism streak!

Fran Sorin July 16, 2015, 7:03 am

Debbie- Love your sense of humor. It sounds like you’re in process- aren’t we all? I don’t think ‘essentialism’ at its core actually means doing less. It is about ‘doing less’ of the stuff that doesn’t really matter and focusing on things and/or a ‘state of being’ where you can use your gifts/passions to the maximum. For me, it is way of living an uncluttered and more focused life! Lucky you that you just bought 50 acres in NW Illinois to restore to prairie savannah forest. Will you be living there as well? Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Warmly, Fran

Mir July 16, 2015, 8:25 am

I love working/playing in my garden. I used to skip going to events and spending time with friends because I wanted to clean, plant…in the garden. Then last year a major hurricane blew thru our area and everything i had worked so hard on was sideways or fallen down. It made me realize that while i’ll always love the garden and spending my time there, the time spent with friends and family is so much more important and lasting. I know that this last part seems so obvious but it took a lot of wind to make me see it.
Lesson learned.

Fran Sorin July 16, 2015, 8:48 pm

Mir- So sorry to hear about the hurricane. The lesson you learned isn’t that obvious- words are easy, really integrating and making changes in your life are rare. Kudos to you for making spending time with your family and friends a priority. Warmly, Fran

tipslo July 18, 2015, 10:04 am
Fran Sorin July 24, 2015, 6:33 am

Tipslo- actually the author of the book used many examples of how becoming an essentialist at work can change your life for the better. For me, it has given me great clarity and relieved a lot of stress. Thanks for your comment! Fran

Saxon August 10, 2015, 10:12 am

Excellent insight here Fran. I find myself becoming much more of an essentialist as I get older. Hmmm … Have I gained wisdom of what is essential ? or lost the energy to do it all ? 🙂

Fran Sorin August 10, 2015, 2:07 pm

Saxon- I prefer to think of it as the former- gained the wisdom to do what is essential. You know, when you practice a musical instrument diligently, especially if you start as a child, and go deep into working out the music, the expertise and joy that one experiences is pretty phenomenal. Thanks for your comment dear Saxon!

Lorin Kleinman August 4, 2016, 7:02 pm

These are great tips: thank you! I think I’m an essentialist: I came to gardening recently, with the housekeeping insight that in an afternoon spent puttering around the house, I don’t feel I’ve achieved anything unless there’s one big accomplishment. (Or at least significant progress toward an accomplishment.) now that I’ve discovered gardening (which a) is the best thing ever, and b) doesn’t actually require a ton of obscure knowledge) there’s an awful lot to do: so much to learn, and so much garden to dig up, and I’ve mostly been moving through the yard, turning area after area from weed-ridden mess into something nicer (with occasional forays to pull up weeds in other places), telling myself that I’ll get to the other parts eventually. And for the things that are not optimal now (I probably could have planted those dahlias further away from each other), I can try again next spring, when I will know more than I knew this year. Thank you for your wise words!

Fran Sorin August 17, 2016, 12:48 am


I’m so delighted that you have been able to discover gardening. It is truly one of the greatest gifts in the world. Maintaining an essentialist attitude will help you maintain your sanity…in the garden, and in life. I love the phrase: “It’s not about doing more, it’s about doing better.” Thanks fr your lovely comments. Fran

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