This story is part of a 10-piece series for which HuffPost staffers agreed to experiment with improving their health and decreasing their stress on the job. It’s also part of our monthlong “Work Well” initiative focusing on thriving in the workplace.
I wouldn’t say I enjoy decluttering my life. No, I’d say I have an all-consuming, lusty passion. And it comes with a lovely side effect: peace of mind.
But getting rid of stuff in my home is easy for me. De-cluttering my jam-packed schedule, however, is a much bigger task.
When I turn down an invitation to an event, I worry that I'll miss out on something. You never know who you might meet or what memorable experience you might have. If I come across Facebook photos from events I’ve skipped, I feel pangs of FOMO (fear of missing out), which research has shown can trigger stress, anxiety and depression.
What's worse, when I’m too tired from work or other obligations, I sometimes say no to commitments at home, and this makes me feel like an incompetent mother and wife. Spending less time with my kids is particularly tough for me. I know I’m not alone here: Many working moms and dads feel stress while trying to balance their family and career, and the majority feel at some point that there aren’t enough hours in the day.
With this in mind, I decided to try and clear out my schedule a bit. I call it "saying yes to less." For one week, I accepted fewer energy-draining tasks and engagements in the hopes that I would have more time for the people and things that make me feel invigorated. It was rough, but I enjoyed the challenge so much that I might keep it up for the rest of 2016!
I weighed each choice I made for my calendar and decided whether any event was really worth forgoing family time.
I opted for peace of mind rather than a full schedule.
I bypassed drama and headed for calm waters at all costs.
I hoped this experiment would leave me feeling light and free and thrilled by the end of the week, but I worried that I’d be drowning in regret or guilt for saying no to things.
Sure enough, on the first day of my challenge, I got invited last-minute to a really cool event, something involving Bono at Carnegie Hall. The friend with the ticket said she knew it was short notice, but it was an event that had been sold out for years, and though she knew I’d really love it, she’d totally understand if I couldn’t go.
I wanted to say yes. But I declined.
Turns out, my friend didn’t understand. She was actually pretty upset, which made me realize that saying yes to less wasn’t just going to be difficult for me but would require an adjustment from others as well. I admit this rattled me more than expected, but as I joined my family for dinner, bath, books and bedtime that night, I saw that I’d made the right choice.
I’m no damn good at grocery shopping. The lines make me antsy, I stink at navigating my cart through the tiny aisles and, more than anything, I never know what to buy. Rather than just sucking it up and getting the job done, I put it off all week and go to the store at the last possible moment -- in misery. So today I delegated this despised duty to someone else who really doesn’t mind doing it at all. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, my husband.
“Delegate.” Three simple syllables and yet such a difficult concept for someone who wants to believe she is capable of “doing it all.” I hate to admit I can’t bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, but once I did, I felt euphoric! Not only did my most hated chore get eighty-sixed from my list, giving me time and energy to devote to things I care about (and am good at), but now our house is full of food. Moreover, since he bought the ingredients, my husband is going to have to cook them all, too.
A bunch of my really good friends and their kids have January birthdays. Every year, right at the time when holiday burnout has torched me to the core, suddenly they all want to commemorate the dawning of The(ir) Age(s) of Aquarius. Ugh.
Today, the annual e-vite appeared, but instead of launching my annual protest, I thought of taking a different approach. Since these are good friends, I’m going to be involved in this Aquarian celebration whether I like it or not. So I might as well like it. In this case, the result won’t be fewer events on my calendar, but I’ll be saying yes to less drama in my life -- and in the lives of all my friends unfortunate enough to be born in January. (I’m so, so sorry for the last 40 years, everyone!)
Every few months, I host a charity event pro bono. Each one has been an honor. It’s a thrill to do work I love and help out causes that matter to me. But during heavy charity seasons, I can be out up to four nights a week, not eating dinner with my kids (or not watching them not eat), not playing Legos, not making bubble baths and not reading to them before bed. As my sons grow up and need me more at night, it’s becoming harder to walk out that door.
Today, I turned down the annual request to host an event for a not-for-profit I’ve worked with for years. Worse, the woman who runs it is a family friend. This was heartbreaking, and I see now that saying yes to less will mean saying no to charities I love. I care about their causes, and they don’t always have the money for a paid host.
But this challenge involves getting over myself a bit. There are other emcees out there who are far more skilled and excited to take the stage at this point, and other folks deserve the opportunity to feel good about helping a cause just like I have for all this time.
When my kids are older and don’t feel like hanging with mom so much anymore, there will still be charity events that need hosts.
I dubbed last year “No Scream ‘15.” The goal was to get myself to lower my voice. I’m a screamer, and I yell when I could just as easily talk. I worry about what it’s doing to my children, my marriage and my work environment. This morning, I woke up in a mood, and as I heard myself yelling at my kids to stop shouting at each other, I realized I must still be a poor model in this department!
So in 2016, I’m once again saying yes to less screaming. 2015 has been a good ramp up, and my home has become a more harmonious place. But I can do better. I can do quieter. And I will.
The art of doing less to live more is an imperfect one
I’m sure I’ve already missed some important moments out in the world this week, but what I haven’t missed are the precious moments with these two young boys in our house right now. Everyone tells me it “goes so fast,” and I want to devour every moment.
I have an audience of three
I checked with my sons and husband at the end of the week. It was unanimous: they appreciated having me around more, and all of us benefitted from our attempts at a calmer, drama-free home. I love my work and my friends and all the fun I get to have outside my home, but the only reviews that matter are from these three.
More saying yes to less! The benefits of the equation are clear: Less time out of the house, more time with family. Less energy expended trying to bend the world my way, more time enjoying life just as it is. Less clutter, more grace.
I’ve loved this week. Thank you for letting me share it with you. And now, I bid you farewell as I say yes to less typing.
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