Essentialism for the highly sensitive homeschool mom

Written by Jamie C. Martin of Simple Homeschool

Ya’ll, I did it again. When will I ever learn?

I knew we had a busy day coming up, so I’d tried to mentally prepare myself: “Just take one thing at a time, Jamie. You can do this.”

And it started off well. All the things on the docket that day were “good, important things”—>

  • My own writing work
  • Our typical homeschool routine
  • handling unexpected attitudes and challenges
  • beginning to sort the kids’ fall/winter clothing (one of my least favorite jobs all year)
  • drop off a child at a piano lesson
  • pick up child from piano lesson
  • spend 45 minutes with kids cleaning up a few mounds of leaves (with five acres and tons of trees, this takes a lot of effort each year!)
  • {Here is where Jamie begins to lose it….in case you’re wondering}
  • 45 minutes to take a child to a rehearsal
  • trying to recover dinner plans when the ones we had in mind fell through
  • picking up child from a rehearsal
  • and all of this after not a lot of rest the night before.

I handled the morning well, but as afternoon neared I could feel myself “going under.” By the end of the day my body physically ached from emotional fatigue, my nervous system completely on overload.

Like an infant so exhausted they reach that overtired point where they just cannot relax, I spent another night without getting the sleep I needed, too.

If you are a highly sensitive homeschool mom too, you’re probably nodding your head right now.

Clearly I have not yet grasped what is truly “essential.” 

According to, essential means “absolutely necessary, indispensable.” Essentialism means focusing only on these things, letting everything else go. In other words, “If it isn’t a definite yes, it’s a definite no.”

But what gets murky as a highly sensitive mom is that there are “seen” essentials and “unseen” essentials. Both will drain our limited energy fast.

The first we can predict, but the second we can’t always anticipate.

Seen Essentials include the basic stuff of life as well as your top priorities:

  • Meal prep and plans for breakfast, lunch, dinner
  • The absolute basics of your homeschool/learning routine (Remember: this will vary, too, depending if you’re having a good or a bad homeschool day)
  • Appointments, outings, lessons you’ve intentionally chosen for this life season
  • Dishes
  • Laundry
  • Any work essentials outside of the above

Unseen Essentials include:

  • Your Kids’ Emotional Needs
  • Your Own Emotional Needs
  • Your Husband’s Emotional Needs
  • And so on–you get my point

While I’d mentally prepared for my busy day, I had neglected to factor in the “unseen essentials” I would also be called on to deal with. I handled those moments quite well on the morning in question, but as a highly sensitive person it took a lot out of me in the process.

I realized that I need a technique to show me in each moment whether something truly is essential.

And as I prayed, an idea came to me in a flash of insight–a system of questions and answers that could serve as my compass:

A guideline for determining what is “Essential” for the highly sensitive homeschool mom (or any mom!)

1. Ask: Is this absolutely ESSENTIAL right now?

“This” refers to whatever task you’re about to do.

“Absolutely essential” will vary depending on the type of day you’re having and refers to your top priorities.

“Right now” is crucial to answer–many things will eventually be absolutely essential, but they might not be in this moment.

2. Answer: If YES, then do it!

If NO, then ask this next: Do I have the energy and desire to do this right now?

3. If NO, then don’t do it.

If YES, then ask: Even though I have the energy and desire to do this right now, do I need to conserve that energy for something essential that I know is coming later today?

4. If NO, then do it!

If YES, then don’t do it.

An example to see how this plays out

Let’s look at my day to see where I went wrong. I had already done my essential writing time and our essential homeschool routine. Plus I had dealt with challenging unseen essentials that had crept my way, and it was only 11am.

Our morning chore time began. This is when I started to sort the kids’ fall clothing.

I should have asked: Is this absolutely essential right now?

The answer would have been: No. It will be essential at some point soon, but it didn’t have to be done in that moment.

My next question, according to the list above, would have been: Do I have the energy and desire to do this right now?

Answer: Yes, I thought I did! I felt “in the mood” and like getting a start on this job for a few minutes.

My next question, according to list above, should have been: Even though I have the energy and desire to do this right now, do I need to conserve that energy for something essential that I know is coming later today?

Answer: Ah, here’s where I missed it. I knew I had an unusually heavy schedule of running kids to lessons and rehearsals coming up, not to mention the unseen emotional essentials that might come up and require handling.

Yes, I needed to conserve that energy for later, which would have meant saying NO to the clothes right then.

See how this list of questions is super-helpful, especially for highly sensitive mamas like myself?!

But I think it’s even easier to understand as a visual–so I had a gorgeous printable reminder made for all of us:

Pop your email in right here and I’ll send it your way ASAP!

Print this out and put it somewhere you’ll see it as your day goes by–your planner/binder, your fridge, wherever you’ll come across it regularly and can use it as a touchstone to point you in the right direction.

Together let’s take our life back from the rushing, the overcrowding, the pushing to always do more-more-more. Let’s guard our precious and limited energy, saving it for what truly matters each day.

Are you a highly sensitive homeschool mom, too?
































About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. Wonderful. Fellow HSP’r over here, and one who still lets her cup drain more often than she’d like. Great reminder today.
    Hannah Vanderpool’s latest post: Race Pace

  2. Bless you Jamie! Some days you just need that little reminder. I can look at this quickly and take stock of where I am and if I feel myself pushing it I can take a step back and refocus my energy.

  3. Thank you!! I keep a laminated “what to do if you’re feeling overwhelmed” list on my kitchen wall, looking forward to putting this right next to it.

  4. This is such a good reminder and good advice, Jamie. I keep a “need to do” and “nice to do” list for every day, which helps me keep everything prioritized, but it’s surprising how often I put things on the first list that don’t really belong.
    And what is it about sorting seasonal clothing? I HATE that job…and this year in CT has been particularly hard since it’s been warm so long. I’m curious…maybe there’s just something abhorrent about that kind of work to an INFJ?
    Faith Hough’s latest post: Happy 100th Anniversary! (And a new painting)

  5. I love this. It reminds me that self-care is in every choice I make. Thank you!

  6. Melissa Manzo says:

    Thank you for this timely post. I was hiding in my room , trying to mentally sort out the rest of our day when I remembered I had bookmarked this earlier. Now I feel like I have a map!

  7. Thank you for this. I am an HSP and some days are truly difficult. This was very helpful.

  8. Thanks for this! I have done a similar process in my head on stressful or sick days, but more subconsciously, so it will be helpful to think it about it more clearly. Those bursts of energy or inspiration often come before I have done the essentials for the day, and I find myself too burned out to do what’s actually necessary.

    • Yes, Katie! I completely understand what you’re saying–it can be so hard to resist those bursts when they come, but I’ve learned the hard way they aren’t always a help to me!

  9. Thank you for this! It’s so helpful! As a HSP myself with adrenal fatigue and five children, those afternoon activities really do me in and I forget to conserve. So good to know I’m not alone. This printable will definitely help!
    Eileen Tully’s latest post: Chip and JoJo, y’all!

  10. Oh I love the questions. Even it if is a yes , asking the next one reminds us of what else is going on that day…Thank you for sharing this with us. 🙂
    Jen’s latest post: Electricity Probe Challenges With STEM Lab Deluxe Science Club

  11. Jamie, thanks for sharing us your tips especially for myself, an HSP with 2 of my loving daughters. Hoping to see more of your wonderful blog in the future! Keep up the great work! 🙂

  12. I love this post and I will definitely share it with other moms. I struggle with this daily. I always overpack my schedule and neglect the unseen essentials. Thanks for this reminder as I go through my scheduling pains.

  13. Trishna Martin says:

    Hey, Mom!
    I just read the new post that you wrote. I’m so glad to read a new awesome post you wrote. AMAZING!

  14. Actually, this is a great roadmap for everyone, not just HSPs. Thank you.

  15. Thank you! And I also dread changing out clothes!

  16. This is such a great reminder! I will often use up energy I will need later that day for other things (ones I’m excited for at the time). The results are not good! Cranky, irritable, snappy mama and lots of riled and/or crying children. This will be helpful to think through our days in the future. I always love your insights on essentialism, unschooling, and leadership education, Jamie. Thank you!
    June’s latest post: Flexible Work from Home Opportunity for Moms

  17. Yes, I’m a fellow highly sensitive homeschool mom! I actually waited two weeks to read this post when I had a quiet moment as I found the title so relatable! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your day and all the reflecting and troubleshooting that you did afterward with us. I can see my experiences mirrored in your day! The suggestions you have for how to help our days flow more smoothly in the future are good ideas, indeed. Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂

  18. Thank you for this, I totally relate! That third question is what I usually forget to consider! I’m so encouraged to be reminded I’m not the only one who struggles with these things.

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