The Difficulty of Doing Less

in the grass
Photo by conejoazul

It seems like it should be easy to do less, but I find it to be pretty hard.

It’s so much easier for me to throw out an old pair of shoes or give away a shirt, but to declutter my commitments? That’s not quick and easy.

Some of the things I need to do are unavoidable, so my solution is to get them done in the quickest, most effective way possible. Productivity and simplicity often overlap, although they’re not the same.

Productivity helps you get more done, but simplifying removes what is complicated to make something easier and more clear.

What would happen if we simplified our commitments?

Would we find more joy in our daily life? Would we feel the satisfaction of living more purposefully?

Part of me is reluctant to do that. I see others seemingly “doing it all”, and I want to have those things too. I want to accomplish things that I can enjoy and feel proud of. I know that my worth is not based on what I achieved, but I do tend to measure my day’s success by what I accomplished.

It’s tempting to look at the person next to me and think, “well, she can do all of that, then shouldn’t I be able to do it too?” There is a fear of missing out, skipping an opportunity, or giving up a chance to have success.

If we try to have or do the same as everybody else, we miss out on the joy of doing what we are uniquely gifted to do.

The problem of comparing ourselves to others is that we all have different gifts. We aren’t meant to do the same things.

We have so many opportunities, and if we try to do too many, we lose enjoyment. It’s like when there is a fun activity on the calendar, but when the day finally arrives we wish we could stay home because we’re too worn out.

Perhaps instead of giving up projects or commitments, I could try to work really hard and finish them all, so afterwards I can have a “simple” life while I recover from stress and burnout? I don’t think it works that way.

Some seasons in life naturally have more activities, but I think the key is to find the balance where we can take joy in what we’re doing.  When we feel like our activities are purposeful and beneficial, not just filling the time or due to a sense of obligation.

Just because there is a need, it does not mean that you need to be the one to fill it. Just because something is good, it does not mean it is a good fit for you. And one of the best responses to manage time is, “I would love to, but first I’ll need to check my calendar and other commitments.” It’s ok to leave a few days blank on the calendar.

Jewelry Giveaway Winner

Thank you to all who entered the Lisa Leonard jewelry giveaway! I was so delighted to read your comments and emails. There were 424 entries! The winner was selected by

The winner of the giveaway is Stephanie, who said, “I am thankful for many many things….but right now at this very busy moment in my life I am so thankful that my cold is almost gone!”  Congratulations Stephanie, and watch for an email from me. 

How do you balance your commitments and your family’s activities? Do you find it hard to say no? What have you stepped back from?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Hi,
    Congratulation’s Stephanie!
    I find it sooo very hard to say no to anyone. The one and only thing that has helped me so much is exactly what you said, “I would love to, but first I’ll need to check my calendar and other commitments.” So many times I just automatically say yes and then I walk away or hang up the phone and stress and think, what have I just done. I find that one simple statement (and who could object to that) makes me less stressed and yes, if I can do it, I will, but at least it gives me the time to decide.

    corinne’s last blog post..It’s A Book Tag

  2. Funny that you post this today- my husband and I had a talk last night about what my new favorite word should be… he said I need to say NO more often. It’s hard though! I can relate to so many of the things in this post, so many!

    Amy’s last blog post..spoiled

  3. Actually, no :). Maybe I’m just good at negativity, maybe I’m too self-centered! But my family comes before anything else, and their wellbeing is foremost in my mind. However, I feel like I do too much, sometimes, for everyone other than me. With family coming foremost, I often come last. But you know what? It’s worth it.

    Evenshine’s last blog post..What happens at grandma’s…

  4. I don’t have many outside commitments, but taking care of 3 kids and managing a household of 5 is never simple for me. I suppose I also am busier b/c we have a limited income and I cook from scratch, buy as little as possible, use what I have, etc. I know it’s not the season for me to take on extra responsibilities; but how can I do less and still keep my household running?

  5. “If we try to have or do the same as everybody else, we miss out on the joy of doing what we are uniquely gifted to do.”

    Rachel, I love this statement. I have spent too many years missing out on the joy of doing what I have been uniquely gifted to do. I love the changes that have taken place in my life over the past year and 1/2 and I’m so glad that I found your blog.

  6. We have a saying in our house – “looking at someone’s outsides with our insides”. In other words, looking at those women who seem to have it all together and who seem to “accomplish” so much. But are there things we don’t see? Is there stress and chaos in their homes? How are their family relationships? How is their health? Is there something suffering because of all those “accomplishments”? Maybe not, but in my experience, those women who can seemingly “do it all” are sometimes struggling in other areas…
    I used to have a lot of trouble saying no. This fall, I made a committment to my family to say yes only to one project this year (music ministry at church) and no to everything else. And I am saying no for my children, too – only one activity outside of school per child. Our home has been so much more relaxed and fun this fall! We have time for one another and for spontaneous adventures together. And I’m a much more pleasant mommy to be around! I still worry that others may think I’m not pulling my weight (children’s ministry, PTO, etc), but I am learning to concern myself, not with what others outside our family think, but what my family thinks (and what I think), and we think things are going great!

    chinamama4’s last blog post..Pardon the Panda

  7. This is an imperative for me, but still tough. I want to do everything. But I’m finding that if I commit to more than 2 or 3 things on the week nights – we don’t work well as a family.

    I had to say no to three things I would have liked to do the last few weeks. But family sanity time is important, especially with my hubby traveling so much this month.

    Avlor’s last blog post..Iron Man – I think everyone in the world saw it before me…

  8. smallnotebook says:

    Corene, running a household is definitely not easy or simple, and I understand feeling like it is all necessary and there is nothing to cut back on. My thoughts are that food and clean clothing are the necessities, and even though I will try to do everything else, they probably won’t all be done at the same time. I mean that if the kitchen is clean, the living room might be messy, and I will try to just look at the bright side.

    Maybe someone with more wisdom and experience than me can give us some helpful advice?

  9. We are a one car family (by choice) because it keeps us from over-committing. We live 15 mins from the city, so it requires planning to do things. It’s an easy out to say “We live out of town and only have one car”.

    I’ve chosen to tell my kids that they can only do one “thing” every week – -swimming lessons, babysitting class, music etc. They need to pick one. I want them to have a few nights each week where we are home and in bed on time. We eat together every night and that is a priority for me, moreso than over-planning their lives.

    I find it easier to say no, because when I was first married, we said yes to EVERYTHING. It made me exhausted and bitter. I won’t go there again and live my life doing things I feel a duty to and not what I enjoy.

    De-cluttering events is harder because it requires a face to face “no”. But once you learn it, it’s freeing.

    Great discussion!

  10. I think I need to stop committing myself to attend every birthday party, wedding, baby shower, wedding shower, etc….It’s WAY to much!!


    Congrats Stephanie on winning the necklace.

    Amanda L’s last blog post..Are you LIVING?

  11. Saying NO is definitely a hard thing! I’ve just recently decided to stop attending a Bible study that I’ve been a part of for the past 2+ years, simply because getting there has started to cause too much stress in my life, and I know once baby #2 is born, it will not get any easier!

    I think one of the most helpful things in saying no is to rid yourself of the obligation to ever give an answer “on the spot” – say you need to check your calendar and you’ll get back t them – then it gives you time to reflect and decide if it’s even something you want to do. So often that pressure to respond immediately causes us to say ‘yes’ when a little extra time would give us the clarity we need to say ‘no’.

    Our litle guy is only 2, so we don’t have to deal with lots of activities yet, but my husband and I have already started discussing that we don’t want to be the family who’s always on the run – we desire that we spend time at home as a family together – I’m sure the challenge will be living it! :)

    jodi @ bpr’s last blog post..WFMW – Blogging – The Accountability Factor

  12. Oh, this is a tough one!

    I’m always always trying to do much, and usually comparing myself (unfavorably) to others who seem to be doing it all.

    Just today I told VG’s daycare that we wouldn’t be at the family event on Thursday evening. My fingers could barely type the words, but in the scheme of things during a busy week, that event is not a priority.

    I wrote a post on my other blog (link below) about assuming that everyone else has it all together – I was assured that this is not so!

    Reality Check

    Vintage Mommy’s last blog post..I’m Not Angry

  13. I think it is probably easier for my family since my kids are still young. We are blessed to homeschool, so don’t have hours of homework or after-school activities clogging up our evening schedule. We have decided on ONE activity per child. We prayerfully discern what our childrens’ unique abilities & desires are and choose one activity that suits them best.

    Another thing we do is multitask. I nearly always combine an activity with a necessity {like groceries}.

    I’m afraid that as they get older, things’ll get harder…..

    I try to give myself a lot of grace!

    Rebecca’s last blog post..Punkins

  14. Love these thoughts. We had a major “pulling back” last year from many of our commitments. It took a number of months, and we slowly were able to lose that overwhelmed feeling. I think its a constant process and not something you can deal with only once. For me, its definitely activities and responsibilities that I take on outside of the home (often without consulting my husband first for some much-needed perspective!!) that cause the most trouble.

    Emma’s last blog post..Dollars and sense.

  15. Great point about giftings, Rachel! Because someone else is amazing at doing a lot doesn’t mean that I should try to replicate that. Life is much more productive when we focus on what we should personally be doing, not what others are doing.

    Rachel’s last blog post..Itty Bitty Pincushion

  16. Wow, I posted on this topic a few weeks ago. It was hard for me to let a commitment go, but once I did it, I was amazed at how free I felt. I am able to concentrate better on the commitment that is most important to me outside family- my Bible study. I realized that other’s expectations were holding me back from saying “no” and once I got over that part, it was easier. Anyway, I could go on forever, all to say that I understand and have definitely been there. Great post!

    Laura Leigh’s last blog post..Small Step = BIG Results!

  17. Oh, I wrote a three part series on that on my blog a ways back–from first-hand experience. This fall, after almost two years’ experience of choosing wisely, I slipped back into old busy-ness patterns. Just yesterday I sent an email cancelling a half dozen activities I’d committed to in the next WEEK!. God is faithful to remind me where He has placed me and how I can work with Him.

  18. Congrats to Stephanie! For just ONE second there, I thought maybe it was me…but then it wasn’t my comment ;)

    Anyhoo, I have eliminated some of the less value added things in my life to help simplify…such as tv – we hardly watch any at all.

    I struggle finding balance with the amount of time I spend blogging and the other activities that go along with blogging, so I’m trying a few strategies there to see what works best.

    I think just like decluttering our house, this is something we need to revisit regularly – great topic!

    Steph @ Problem Solvin Mom’s last blog post..Everything you need for your little fairy princess

  19. I have been practicing being less committed -and it has been a blessing after blessing! I wonder why I didn’t do this earlier.

    I have been able to concentrate on my life’s ‘real’ priorities.

    Thanks for the great post!

    Karisa’s last blog post..Perspective: from a Daughter and Wife

  20. smallnotebook says:

    Deb, that was a great series, thanks for sharing your links!

    Don’t miss the 3 links that Deb posted above. Here’s a quote from her story:

    “I had placed my identity in what I could do, not who I am in the Lord. Party planner? Couldn’t find a better one around. Home school teacher? The most awesome, of course. Friend? The only one you’d ever need. Bible study leader? The most creative and insightful, not to mention hospitable. When I handed all these roles over, who was I? Who could I possibly be without them?”

    Then she shares about going on a two-month activity fast and letting go so that she could have the life she really wanted. Good stuff!

  21. This is something I’ve definitely been struggling with lately. And I love this perspective… simplifying my commitments. Makes me feel less guilty for saying no. And actually encouraged to do so.


    Adventures In Babywearing’s last blog post..The 5 Week Plea For Amnesty

  22. our lives are very children-centered right now, and i’m fine with it. they get to do one after-school activity (although i have let one daughter take on a short-term ballet project in additional to tap dancing). i belong to a neighborhood group and i’m co-room mom for both girls. last year i had a bigger role at the school and i was happy to say no to it this year. it required too much time and it wasn’t fun.

    i used to belong to a book club but quit after my second child was born. i’ve just started reading again and considered a club, but i realized i really just like the reading and doing it on my own.

    we have a big kitchen calendar that we use to keep track of events, like classes and birthday parties. i feel very busy right now, but i’m okay with it all. it helps that both kids are in school and i work from home.

    make art every day’s last blog post..Another trip downtown.

  23. In October 2006 I learned how to say no and decline “opportunities.” Due to Lawman’s employment situation, I returned to work full-time. At the time I had been on 3 committees relating to school acitivities. Now, I don’t miss them. Not that I didn’t enjoy helping and being a part of something bigger, but I think I had said yes to 2 of them because I felt obligated.

    Now that our girls are 15 and 12, we find that it’s also necessary to schedule family date nights. The girls are busy with school activities and sports and we find that if we don’t schedule time together, it doesn’t happen.

    No longer do “obligatory opportunities” get in the way. It’s made a huge difference for me personally and I know it has for the family as a whole too.

    Nancy’s last blog post..A Girl and her Pants Update

  24. This is the story of my life! I have so many different areas of my life – day job (finance), passion (life coaching/performing), romantic (newleywed), and social (family & friends). I would trap myself by saying “yes” and then creating a last-minute lie to get out of it. Not saying “no” was exhausting and running me ragged, not to mention hurting my brain with trying to keep the lies straight.

    I’ve come up with the perfect way to say “no”: “I’m sorry, I have a personal matter I have to attend to then.” The most someone will respond with is “Is everything OK?” and you can answer “Oh yes, thanks for asking.” It’s good to think of how you are comfortable saying “no” and how you’ll respond to any follow-up questions. I actually have a Category in my Blog entitled “Stuff that makes you say ‘Oh HELL no!'” You can find it here:

  25. Corene,

    How can you discount yourself for providing for your family, there is great joy in that! Your the home economist! You do not have to obligate to anything else if you don’t want to or have the time or resources to do it.
    I think as women we tend to think that being we are the caregivers that we can not say no. We have to be the do all know all.

    Find peace and sanity in your life that your not having to “plan” and run everywhere. Some day your kids will be grown up and gone and then you will have more time to pursue other things if you choose.

    rdzins’s last blog post..Hording vs Frugality

  26. I’m struggling with this right now. There are so many things I want to do and I know I don’t have the time available to do them all. It’s just not humanly possible. It’s a difficult balancing game, with “want to do” fighting for attention with “have to do.” But you’re right…working really hard to get it all done only leads to stress and burnout. And as I am recovering from that stress and burnout…well, it’s not worth it. Great post.

  27. Wow…glad I stumbled across your blog…I’ll be back again for sure to read some more. This is an area that I am always working at…with 3 kids, things can add up fast. I also know when I’ve let myself get too busy that I have to look at the reasons why. Once I get myself pared back down again, I usually have some struggles with feeling like I’m missing out…It’s a balance of reorganizing my priorities. What we’re able to do as a family can change from season to season. Letting my husband set the tempo helps a lot. He’s much better at realistically seeing my time than I am.

    Lisa Q’s last blog post..comfort

  28. i constantly find myself up to my nose with students’ works that i have ALREADY GRADED but i am keeping to put personalized comments on. i always want to assure my students that i do read (not browse) their output, and i have seen how they appreciate and are motivated by such.

    i am still trying to work out a strategy that would leave my students happy and me — less stressed and emotionally invested but just as happy…

    glorydee’s last blog post..5 and more

  29. in controlling my {and our family} commitments, I find the phrase “I’ll need to check our family calendar and get back to you.” to be really helpful. I no longer say “yes” or “no” right away. I always give myself the time I need to make a wise decision.

    I compare myself with others, but I am no longer doing for love or acceptance. I am valued not for what I do or how much I do, but because I am.

    thanks for a wonderful reminder that less is more.

    kristyn’s last blog fun by giving back

  30. Life has changed so much for me these last few years.

    I used to do everything and just go go go. I was a teacher and ran tons of school-wide activities, did organized ministries, and generally ran around like a nut on top of all the work required just to teach well, be a good wife and keep the home in some semblance of order.

    This week I’ve got two things on the calendar and that’s all. And both those things are here in my home. I need not even leave the house this week if I so choose.

    It’s different, but so much better.

    I belong to one organized activity that meets once a month. That’s it.

    I think that people who knew me before must wonder what happened to me. I think everyone chalks it up to my having little ones of my own now, but it is not. Yes, they would limit all that I could do, but instead I choose to limit what I do for all our sakes.

    I’ve decided I want to enjoy my life. I don’t want to just do what everyone thinks I “should” do. Yes, sometimes it is hard because I want to be recognized. I want more of a sense of immediate accomplishment. It still stings when people make snide remarks. But it is still better.

    I used to always say, “When _____ is over, I’ll have time to relax.” and “As soon as I finish ____ life will get back to normal.” The problem was, there was always something else to start.

    I remember the day I realized that if something wouldn’t get done unless I did it, then whatever it was must not be as truly important as it seemed. If it really mattered, someone would do it. This was hard, especially if it was an project that I liked, or I knew was something others enjoyed.

    There was such an expectation that I would run this, do that, simply because I always had. From campus-wide writing contests, science fairs, appreciation teas, plays, festivals, etc. I did it all for years. I began to say no with plenty of notice. It was not well received. Somethings other people decided to take over. Somethings were not done. And guess what? It’s okay.

    A simple life isn’t easier. It is better.

    Kimberly’s last blog post..Unplugging

  31. This is text from an e-mail I sent out this week to a PTO mom asking me to help sell popcorn at my child’s school:

    “I promised myself once both my kids were in school I would say no to everything for at least 6 months so I can re-acquire some measure of “personhood” as well as a sense of humor. So far so good except for one pre-school trip to the pumpkin patch, in the pouring rain, that I should definately have said no to as well ; )
    I will get involved with school in some capacity at some point but for now, the spring from which all motherly things flow needs to refill a bit.”