How Mr. Rogers Inspired Me to Revisit Essentialism

Over the last few years, I have been revisiting Mr. Rogers and his wisdom in various forms. I have watched both his original television show and the new cartoon for my kids’ generation inspired by it. I have watched the Tom Hanks movie based on this fabulous article. And I have or plan to read several books both by Mr. Rogers’ himself and also about him.

I read the book Essentialism a while ago, and it didn’t really click with me- the examples seemed super focused on entrepreneurs and those in positions of extreme privilege. I dismissed most of the ideas in the book as maybe just not being a good fit. But the more I read about Mister Rogers, the more I started to see a version of essentialism that might be helpful in my own life. The root of essentialism is basically getting rid of all the distractions and only focusing on a handful of really important things. Or in Mister Rogers case, essentialism seems to be more like getting rid of all the ┬ádistractions and unnecessary decisions in order to focus on really loving people.

It has been well documented that the routines Mister Rogers did over and over again on the show- switching his shoes and sweater, the way the show had the same shape each episode, etc. provided a sense of comfort and predictability for kids.

However, he had that same sense of routine throughout his life. He woke up at the same time each day, did the same swim routine and maintained the same basic diet, and he didn’t choose to spend a lot of time thinking about what to wear so he had more or less a uniform both on set and off. This gave him more time to pray, be with family, and answer an unbelievable amount of letters from kids who watched his show, all while maintaining his busy production schedule.

I don’t necessarily want to pick the SAME essentials as Mister Rogers. Indeed, I don’t even HAVE fan mail to answer and I don’t prefer swimming as my workout mode of choice. I DO enjoy having a simplified wardrobe, but it is far from a uniform type of situation. What I want to learn from this kind of essentialism is how to center my home life around routines that bring peace, how to minimize my decision fatigue about unimportant things so that I have the brain space to follow up with people I love about the important things in their life (something that really fell by the wayside last year between post partum exhaustion and COVID decision fatigue…), and how to truly slow down and be present, even when I’m busy.

Mister Rogers did so much to make his show happen. Yet you don’t hear many stories of him multitasking. He had high standards, but I can’t find a single instance of his production crew talking about him acting like the show or a reshoot of a certain thing was just another task on his to-do list. Mister Rogers was an essentialist.

I want that. I want to spend time being present and really LOVING what I am doing and, more importantly, the people with whom I am spending my time. I want to create space for the curiosity of my kids and room for us to have meandering conversations. I want to do the same thing with my friends and other community members. I can’t help but thinking that the fast pace, the need to “get to the point” has led to our click-bait news style and the loss of nuance in so many issues in the world, and I want to teach my kids that there’s another way. To be honest, I want to remind MYSELF that there’s another way!

For our family, that means that we only try new meals once a week and stick to tried and true dinners the rest of the week to save our brain space and budget (don’t worry, we still experiment with lots of snack recipes so things stay interesting!) For me, that means my makeup routine basically only consists of lipgloss and maybe a swipe of mascara. It means I have the same breakfast every weekday morning, so when my brain is too tired to function I don’t have to make any decisions. As we continue to settle into this new home (yes, we are still settling even after this long! I am honestly not stressing about it and will be happy if this is close to done in time for the holidays…) I’m looking for more ways to focus on the essential and routines to help me focus on what really matters.

So I’m curious… What are some routines and simplifications that YOU use so you can focus on loving your people well?

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