Not ready for summer to end: A soul minimalist guide for transitioning back to school

Classic Summer

Goodbye summer, hate to see you go… I wasn’t ready for autumn wind to blow… We had a fine time holding hands in June, warm in a sunshine watching love in bloom. My heart is frozen in this place, waiting for another summer’s day…

These are the lyrics from India Arie’s song, Goodbye Summer, a classic that feels top of mind for me this time of year. We’re now nearing the end of our official summer break (at least by the school year calendar), though technically, seasonally, we’ve still got two full months to go (3 if you live in the south!). Still, I can tell by the changing advertisements on television and the isle displays at Target that it’s that season, Back to School time, and with it all the chaos that it brings.

As I write this post, my wife and I are in the midst of synching school year calendars, planning back to school clothes shopping, and steadying ourselves for the onslaught of choices about after-school activities. Will they do track and field first or continue with swimming in the fall? Should all of the girls (we have 4 daughters, ages 12, 10, 6, and 4) do the same activity or is this the year we finally let them start choosing different interests? I’ve got multiple open houses on the docket for this week where we’ll learn about all the pre-school lists we’ve got to purchase items for and meet fellow parents who are just as preemptively tired about it all as we are.

But why is it so chaotic? Why is it that every year we do this to ourselves, we get worked up about all the things, we jump back into the same over-scheduled routines, and before we know it, we look up and we’re staring down the end of fall, simply hoping to catch our breaths before the holidays? What if our approach to the school year could be different? What if we could bottle up all the good things about summer, the pace, the lightness, the fun, and bring that into our school year lives? How might we do that?

Enter the term soul minimalist. Joshua Becker, author of Simplify defines minimalism as, the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it. So, to be a soul minimalist is to essentially apply this same practice to our inner lives. Or, as Emily P. Freeman who I believe coined or at least popularized the term says, it’s to pick what you like and see how it grows. In fact, she has a few steps which I’ve found quite helpful in living into this soul minimalist way of living for each season.

Step 1: Name your posture. What do you most value and how do you want your life to reflect that? For us this summer, (or at least for me) it was to be more present and go with the flow. Easier said than done for someone who loves structure and relies on it to make sense of a chaotic world.

Step 2: Create space. This means answering the question, what practices, rhythms or routines, will help create room for you to live into your values?

Step 3:  Pay attention to the tension. What’s causing you angst? What’s getting in the way of living into your intention? For me, it was hurry and business. What I discovered was that when I slow my pace, with fewer responsibilities I can better tend to the things that need tending.

Step 4: Choose your absence. What needs to go in this season for you, in order for you to live in your intention? This was a big one for us. We needed to actually get away from our jobs, our regular routines, and our extra-curricular obligations for a few weeks. It allowed us to have a reset of sorts.

Step 5: Plan your presence. This involves identifying, what will give you life in this season and then making sure you have more than enough of that reflected in how you spend your time.

I think back on the summer we’ve had thus far with the girls, where we have chosen to be intentionally slow, and “unscheduled”. We took a long road trip for weeks, driving through the south, mid-west, and out west. Everyday the only itinerary we had was to enjoy the place where we happened to wake up, which was often different from the place where we would ultimately fall asleep. I discovered a few things about myself as a parent living this way. I’m a much more present, patient, and gracious person when my pace of life shifts down gear a bit. In fact, I can be downright pleasant, and apparently my children notice a difference! I’m learning to go with the flow.

Upon our return home, we didn’t jump back into camps and scheduled activities, partly because we also all came down with Covid, but also partly because we just didn’t want to. We weren’t quite ready. Instead, for the past month we’ve experimented with our own version of soul minimalist living as a family. Dinners around the table late at night. Bike rides to watch the sunset. Impromptu trips to go “shooting the hooch” which essentially means riding down the Chattahoochee river in a tube for hours. Dancing in the rain during an afternoon downpour. It’s the life we’re choosing right now.

This is what I’m hoping we bring with us as we head into the school year, not necessarily the activities, but the mindset. So, if you’re looking for a way to head into the school year more intentionally, I encourage you to discuss this exercise with your family. You just might discover that it changes everything.


Trying to frantically paddle in the river…
What can only be described as the perfect sunset that we rode our bikes to see one evening last week.
A perfect dance party if there ever was one

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