Moving from Survival Mode to a Minimalistic Schedule

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…I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written. The following post might clear up why. 😉 To those of you who are new to the Smallish community, HI! So glad you’re here. I always hope you feel blessed and refreshed by browsing here.  ~ Evelyn


The early days of having an infant in the house are often called “survival mode”. This trying season is dubbed such because life seems  reduced to just that—surviving. The days are busy, frantic even, but the overall focus is clear: care for little humans and yourself. Most people are familiar with the idea of a survival mode; it can show up after the death of a loved one or even by being too busybusybusy.




The arrival of our fourth baby brought a definitive slowing, but somehow the past several weeks haven’t felt as desperate as other infant periods. Our lives look much the same as when other babies arrived, an odd juxtaposition of being wildly busy and not having much of a tangible product to show for it, but the feeling is different. One day it hit me: I’m living a purely minimalistic schedule.

If minimalism is foregoing the unnecessary to focus on the imperative, then surely a season dedicated solely to caring for very basic human needs qualifies.

Survival mode and a minimalistic schedule are similar in ways. They both demand a back-to-basics approach to life in which the person’s priorities are revealed because only the paramount needs are met.

Survival mode isn’t sustainable. It’s surviving versus thriving; it’s reactive to the events life dishes out. It doesn’t allow for much joy, spontaneity, or creativity.

A minimalistic schedule, on the other hand, is proactive. It makes time on purpose for the best of life. For savoring. For learning. For anticipating.

A minimalistic schedule, on the other hand, is proactive. It makes time on purpose for the best of life.

I don’t believe humans were created to simply survive. The Bible says that “…(Jesus) came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

Again in Psalms,

“You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalms 16:11

God created us to live freely in Him, to delight in His good gifts, to revel in His character. The secret to living deeply joyful is Jesus alone. But pairing down activities and freeing up the calendar can allow for more time to breathe, to reflect and to truly soak up the goodness of His presence.

Clearing your schedule down to the basics is done automatically for you if you have a baby. In other seasons of life it takes an intentional pull-back. It takes saying “no” to perfectly good opportunities and purposefully opening up your calendar to allow room to breathe.

So how do you move from survival mode to a basic, minimalistic schedule? From feeling frantic to choosing favored activities?

(Disclaimer: Sometimes survival mode is something you’ve got to trudge through and it’s impossible to fully get out in the current season. If that’s you, hang on. Walk through it. Know you’re not alone. Pray continually. But if you’re nearing the end of survival mode and you’re ready to crawl out into a simpler schedule, read on for some thoughts.)

Be okay with taking one thing at a time

Take an honest look at your current situation, and then take one thing at a time. Create a minimal focus and work slowly on that one thing and then the next until your abilities loosen up a bit. Making the mental switch to an intentional, minimalistic schedule can alleviate a lot of stress.

List your priorities

One day you’ll wake up and realize that you have the capacity for a little something else on the calendar. It’s at this junction that you might want to list your priorities for your family, your season, your goals. Choose only one or two activities that will serve to enrich and further those top priorities in your life.

Ask for help

Most of us need a boost to get out of survival mode, so ask for help. Get a babysitter for an hour a week. Request prayer from trusted friends and family. Call on your support network—times like this are what they’re there for!


For further reading and great thoughts, check out this Pinterest board. 🙂

Does anyone out there have thoughts on moving from survival mode to an intentional minimalistic schedule? Comment below and share with us!



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  • Carrie Willard
    September 24, 2015

    Right now I am in survival mode because my 5 year old broke her arm, reverting her back to babyhood in terms of neediness, and I have a preemie and 5 other kids. We homeschool, and a virus is making its way through the family and mama succumbed as well.

    I’m feeling a little better so I have been reading aloud a lot, cooking soup and doing minimal laundry.

    I’ve had many seasons of survival mode in my life. I know it will pass, so I enjoy the slowing down while it lasts!

    • Evelyn
      September 24, 2015

      Oh, my gosh Carrie– that IS quite a handful. You sound like you have such a peaceful outlook on the season! Thanks for blessing us with your current survival perspective. It sounds to me like you’ve figured out how to survive AND thrive at the same time. 😉

  • Stephanie
    September 24, 2015

    Love love love! So glad to see you back. I always look forward to new posts and enjoy looking back on old ones when I need a refresher on the simple life! Smallish encourages me to continue on the pursuit of minimal living and gives me hope that someday we will move from our apartment to a more permanent home. You have a beautiful family and a beautiful home, congratulations on both! Keep on blessing us with your lovely writing!

    • Evelyn
      September 24, 2015

      Hi Stephanie! What sweet words for me to hear. I love, love love your encouragement! Thanks for sticking around. 🙂

  • Angela @ Setting My Intention
    September 24, 2015

    I’m at a stage where I’m not in survival mode but working on establishing a minimalist schedule for myself and my family. Decluttering physically and mentally!

    • Evelyn
      September 24, 2015

      That’s a beautiful place to be, Angela! Thanks for sharing. 🙂 By the way… loving your site. I’ll be visiting in the future!

  • Berin Kinsman
    September 25, 2015

    Survival mode is the point on the learning curve where you don’t know what to do but you know you need to do something, or you know what but not how. You thrash about trying to keep your head above water so you don’t drown, until you figure out how to swim and move yourself toward dry land. A lot of minimalism is trial and error; you can’t get rid of something until you’ve discovered that it doesnt work, and you can’t focus on what does work until you figure out what that is.

    • Evelyn
      September 25, 2015

      What a clear perspective, Berin! You’re so right that much of minimalism is trial and error, just figuring out what works for you. Thanks for sharing!

  • Katie B.
    September 25, 2015

    I spent a year living in survival mode when my husband had cancer. It’s an awful way to live, and you’re absolutely right that it’s not sustainable. Death, like a birth, has a way of helping one transition to a minimalist schedule. You learn what really matters, and what just exits to distract you from the moments of wonder in life.

    • Evelyn
      September 25, 2015

      Seriously true. So sorry that you had to walk through that, Katie! I love the way you stated that–the “moments of wonder in life”. May we be present to see those moments! Thanks for commenting.

  • Thera
    September 26, 2015

    We have been in survival mode quite a few times, over the past 23 years we have been together we have raised 5 children (the youngest is 13 now), dealt with job losses, deaths, including both of our mothers, etc.
    There are a few things I have learned that help turn survival mode into thriving. Gratitude is essential and a gratitude diary in its simplest form truly helps. Meditation/rest periods and or naps give the body and mind a short break, even if its only for 5 mins. And focus, single tasking and noticing the beauty around us while doing what we need to do to survive, is essential.

    • Evelyn
      September 27, 2015

      Oh Thera what wonderful input! I would wholeheartedly agree with all three of your suggestions– so much that they might require a follow-up post. 😉 Giving thanks, rest and single tasking are absolutely essential to crawling out of survival mode, and even help in finding joy while in the hard times. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Carol Preibis
    October 1, 2015

    Hello Evelyn,

    Congratulations on your beautiful baby!

    I really like your post. The comparison you make between survival mode and minimalism make a lot of sense, and are quite useful to those of us trying to live simpler lives.
    Wishing you well, Carol

    • Evelyn
      October 2, 2015

      Thank you, Carol, for your kind words.

  • Brittany Bergman
    October 1, 2015

    This is so good for me to read right now as I head into a season of survival mode! I was reflecting on my current schedule earlier this week, and I realized that my life is comfortably full. I know everything is going to come to a halt when the baby is born, and I’ve been so worried about how I’ll get back to my old “normal.” You are so right that very slowly, according to my priorities, I’ll be able to add back one thing at a time. Thanks for this healthy encouragement!

    • Evelyn
      October 2, 2015

      🙂 Thanks for sharing. So excited for you!

  • Kariane
    October 4, 2015

    As my baby is getting older and we’re slowly moving out of survival mode (even with him being 2, it still sometimes feels like we’re there — but I can see glimpses of the future to come), I’m working to deliberately set up the type of life that we want to live going forward. This means limited extra-curricular commitments, lots of time with friends and family, lots of time to wander and dream and be outdoors. I love that we have the ability to create the life we want to live.

    • Evelyn
      October 4, 2015

      I love this!! :: “lots of time to wander and dream and be outdoors” Yes, what a wonderful gift that we can, to an extent, design how we wish to spend our days! Thanks for sharing, Kariane 🙂

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