Prioritizing Goals and Letting Some Go


“Does anyone else have difficulty with setting priorities? Keeping up with my 1 year old son and part-time job are about all I can manage, so when there is a surprise “free” 15 or 30 minutes, I don’t know what to do with myself.      

Should I catch up on cleaning, gardening, financial management? Should I plan meals, de-clutter?  In getting rid of clutter, where should I start (my clothes, baby clothes, office supplies)?  But – maybe this would be time to read a book. Or call a friend. Or organize photos. Or go for a walk. 

Does anyone else feel pulled in a million directions? How do you manage?”

–Beth, commenting on the post Finishing Things

What do you do when there is more to do than you ever have time for?

It’s easy to be reminded of all the things that would be good to do. It’s also easy to feel worn out or overwhelmed.

When it comes to prioritizing, we need to remember that goals are relative. We don’t all have the same free time or energy or support systems. My life is busy now, but I’m not pulled in quite the same way that I was when Lane was one. I had to adjust my goals and expectations to fit what I could manage. We left the house a lot that year, because that was the only way I could maintain it and keep things from getting worse.

Pictures tell the story better, so let’s get down and dirty.

The year Lane was one, she liked to get things out.

Including my makeup.

It was easy to see where she’d been.

I had my own share of messes. This stuff was on my hope chest for, I don’t know…months.


Sometimes we had sugar cereal for a home-cooked meal.


Here’s a good one — I fell asleep on my bed at 7:20 p.m. beside a pile of laundry. What’s significant about this photo is it was my anniversary.


The year Lane was one, I didn’t do a lot of paperwork or organize my photos or plan meals. I was just glad when I could sit quietly in my chair and read for a few minutes. I wanted to be productive, but at that stage in my life, the results of my productivity looked very different from what someone else’s might look like. I didn’t have it together, and although that would have been nice, it wasn’t the goal.

When I found these photos, I happened to come across this one. What kept me focused on my true priorities instead of all the things I wasn’t doing is written on that page in that notebook.  


And I’ll share that with you next time!

About Rachel

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


  1. Ha ha! This has to be the most honest post ever written! I have 3 kids age 7 and under and another on the way, so I can totally relate. Priority # 1 – Sleep. Priority # 2 – Food. Priority # 3 – Family. Everything else happens along the way, if at all.

  2. The more kids you have the less time you have to do anything, and the MORE prioritizing I have to do…and sometimes it’s even hard to find time to prioritize! I am making more of an effort to “sit quietly in a chair”. Great post!

    Sarah @ Clover Lane´s last blog post..Vintage Parenting: The Return of Common Sense or Sign On The Dotted Line

  3. Any mom can identify! You brought back a lot of memories. (The trail you daughter left..oh, yeah!)

    mrs. e´s last blog post..Anniversary Part III

  4. Thank you for this reminder. With a 2 1/2 year old and a 9 month old I am finding myself increasingly frustrated with never getting everything done. If the laundry is done, the dishes have piled up. If we had a great dinner, the floors are a mess. When the toys get put away the toilet is not suited for company.

    Right now I actually made it through all of the laundry yesterday and made it to the farm for eggs and at least 6 bunches of spinach. We will eat well this week and the garden is finally in after working into the dark. But my house is in total chaos and dishes are everywhere.

    Shannon´s last blog post..Food Roots – June 11

    • Oh yes, I can clean my home, but it won’t all be clean at the same time.

      • My friend (three kids under three) just made me laugh this week by telling me how she now understands why her mother (five children including my friend) obsessively cleaned the house whenever they went on holiday. My freind now gets that that is probably the only time ALL YEAR that the whole house would be clean for more than five seconds – when they were all out of it!
        Karen (Scotland)

  5. Thanks for being so honest! With 4 kids, I feel I have no time to do a thing I really want to do! I am really enjoying blogging but even that sometimes has to be put off to do something else! By the grace of God, I have gotten by so far! :) Seriously thank you for being truly honest! It’s awesome to know there are honest people in the blogging world!

    Chele´s last blog post..Thirsty Thursday – Fruit of the Spirit

  6. beth nc says:

    It’s not just me!! Thanks for replying to my comment and for making me laugh.

  7. thanks Rachel for this.

  8. Wow! That post made me feel so much better :) I have a very active 9 month old, and am still adjusting my expectations regarding this whole motherhood/stay-at-home mom thing. It’s way harder than I imagined it would be! Thanks for writing that!

    Beth @ Red and Honey´s last blog post..Get Your Creative On: Pancakes and Waffles from Scratch

  9. Great Post! Love the pictures! Although it must have been very frustrating cleaning up those messes, look at all the laughs you and your family will have over the years when you look at them. You will always remember the fun times, not the messes.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Bonnie´s last blog post..Meet Wingnut and Marshmallow

  10. Thank you for this. My husband is out of town and I work full time and have a 10 month old. With the storm (I’m in Dallas too) last night, one of my dogs escaping in the middle of it, and meltdown city as I’m trying to get ready for work this morning, this is the first thing that has made me crack a smile today. Thanks for putting things in perspective (and letting me know what I’m in for with the kid in a few months!!!) :)

    • Lane was sleeping in my bed because of all the thunder, and now that the storm has lifted, she’s finally moved off my lap this morning.

  11. Oh the messes children create. A friend recently asked me how it is possible for kids to conspire together to spread an equally thin layer of stuff around every inch of the house. So true. Oh the strength in numbers! I think the best thing having multiple children does for a mom is help her realize that it really can’t all be done, and that is O.K.

    And truly, one of the most important things a mom can do is take care of herself and her health and emotions by having some down time. Prioritizing a nap or a date or reading your favorite book on the couch instead of cleaning is often what is best for the family. A stressed out, snappy, resentful mom is no good to her children.

    Andrea @ The Train To Crazy´s last blog post..Those moments you think you just might be doing something right

  12. Oh NO Tara! I am in Dallas too and I lost my fence also :( Hang in there-

    Thank you for this post! Ironically, I was just going on a rant lastnight about how much I had to do. I try really hard to keep my priorities in-line. However, I am starting to notice that although having a spotless house isn’t really on my priority radar, if you don’t clean at all…

  13. Francis says:

    Great post – what a wonderful reminder as I can ‘hear’ messes being made right now! :-) Looking forward to hearing about what’s in the notebook…

  14. Love the blunt honesty in this post. When you have such a well-organized blog partly about organizing, it can build up in people’s heads that you are managing things perfectly in a way they aren’t. You certainly set it straight here that you’re just a person who is TRYING (and writing well about) living a good life. :D

    Sally Parrott Ashbrook´s last blog post..Wanna play in the kitchen?

  15. My kids are now 10 & 12 and I wish I would have followed your sage advice when they were little. I overscheduled them, created unnecessary chaos, and spent too much money on activities I thought they “needed.” Their childhood is a blur in their minds and mine because I lived in fear of not doing enough. Fortunately my kids are turning out okay despite me.

  16. Amen sister! Tha

    Lisa´s last blog post..Tent Camping

  17. Let’s try that again. My cat just decided to hit “Submit”.

    Amen sister! That was a timely post. Just last night I updated my Facebook status at 10:45 pm to say that I wished there were more hours in the day or that I didn’t have to work a job. Well THAT was the wrong thing to say because LOTS of people just don’t HAVE jobs right now. I edited my comment to say that what I REALLY wanted was more free time. I have a 4 1/2 year old, a husband, chickens, bees, quail, a cat, a dog and a full time job too. Life is busy… but life is ALWAYS good.

    Lisa´s last blog post..Tent Camping

  18. My kids are now 4, 9 and 13 and yes, I still stuggle with priorities and trying to accomplish everything necessary while maintaing my health & sanity! I’ve always made sure I take time each day to read and do some form of planning b/c these contribute to my emotional well-being. I also purposely simplify at different stages of life. For instance, after a new-born I’d plan that each Friday night was a “Junk-food meal” like frozen pizza – just so I knew it was fast and easy. We do not live in a perfect world and I think it’s fair/realistic to allow ourselves some short-cuts if it keeps our overall life balanced.

  19. Wow. I don’t know you, but I feel like you are now my friend! I think it is too easy to beat ourselves up looking at what other people have done and comparing it to what we haven’t done. I really appreciate the honesty of your post – it made me laugh, and helped me see things in a different light.

    Blogging at it’s best!

    Lee´s last blog post..The Curtain is Rising Soon!

  20. two of my mottos are 1–you can do it all just not at the same time and 2–life is too short to do the things you only feel guilted into doing. let it go. say no when you need to without giving in to the guilt.

  21. If you only have a bit of time–DECLUTTER–clutter zaps energy and makes you forget where things are makes you lose things. Cleaning can wait. Reading can wait. Make your space comfortable first.

    • I totally agree with this comment. I can’t seem to do projects such as photos, letters to old friends, reading etc if my surroundings are messy. Clearing my desk and filing this week’s mundane paperwork seems to clear my mind as much as my desk. Clearing the kitchen worktop and emptying the fridge clears my mind for menu planning and batch cooking.
      Karen (Scotland)

  22. If you’d like a tool for setting your goals, you can use this web application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A Vision Wall (inspiring images attached to yor goals) is available too.
    Works also on mobile.

  23. I found a post on homesancutary blog about The Secret To Successful Home Management:”Minimum Home Maintenance” that I found particularly helpful during the I have small children and no time to wash my hair stage of life. :) 2 girls 4 and 8.

  24. Sorry for the spelling error it’s Home Sanctuary.

  25. Thank you for such a great post. It is so nice to see that I am not alone! I swear, I sometime think I must not have the secret decoder ring that all the other moms out there got because they always seem to have the perfect house and the perfect meal and the perfect outfit on their (spotless) kids and themselves at all times. When sometimes, I am lucky to remember to have the same two shoes on.:)

    Diann @ The Thrifty Groove´s last blog post..Thrifty Thursday-Make it yourself Iced Teas

  26. I was a stay at home mom for 7 years my with my 3 in 3 years daughters. I did day care 3 days a week and my husband traveled quite a bit. I am lucky as he is likes a clean house and cleans it himself. I just started working full time (taking the job as soon as I can) as my 6 year old will be in full time school in the fall. I now have a super cluttered house, a husband that still travels a lot and 3 complicated daughters. 3 VERY different personalities – wait include me thats 4 different personalities. I find the clutter very stressfull, the constant demand of my attention plus my own perfectionism very demoralizing. I have just graduated from the 200 hour yoga teacher training. One thing I have learned from it – breath in through the nose out through the mouth. There is no time for much but if I can breath through it all and hopefully start my day with 12 sun salutations (really I get 4 done), then I know I can put up with just about anything and smile through most of it.

  27. I adore this post. Thank you so much for sharing it! You know what I love best? That you took the time to take pictures of Lane’s trail of toys. Aliza Joy is SO much more active and messy than Dacey ever was. We call her Hurricane AJ and most days, it does look like at least a Cat 3 has blown through the house. It has never, ever occurred to me to take pictures of it!

    I’m taking Nancy’s advice about to heart. I can declutter a little bit a day and work towards pockets of calm in this place. Thank you for sharing that, Nancy.

    Megan at Simple Kids´s last blog post..Simple As That: Cherishing the Pet Rock

  28. I love that original comment from Beth and feel like I could have written it myself — so well put!

    Allegra´s last blog post..My baby wears Hobocamp

  29. This is such a lovely, honest post.

    Priorities with really small children are simple: sleep, food, nobody smelly, and nothing in the house dangerously unhygienic…
    That, in all honesty, is about it. Anything else is a bonus.

    I think the big decision for Beth is whether to do something that she OUGHT to do or something that she WANTS to do. It’s such a tough decision. Do the laundry/cleaning/decluttering and feel satisfied but resentful that I still didn’t get to do some fun stuff. Or, try to do fun stuff and only give it half my mind because I’m feeling guilty and still thinking of what I OUGHT to be doing.

    One solution that has worked for me is that, once the kids are in bed (8pm latest), that’s it – I’m done with obligation; my time is my own. I will willingly and happily run around like a headless chicken between 6am and 7pm to ensure everything is done.

    I do it on a day to day or weekly basis too. If i have a busy, busy start to the week and can email my husband (he’s a sailor) with all the constructive things I’ve done, then, by the end of the week, I feel justified relaxing in the back garden with a magazine while watching the kids play, instead of doing the weeding or cutting the grass.

    I can only enjoy my relaxation when I feel I’ve earned it. Veg-ing in front of the TV when I know I’ve not really done much that day just makes me feel icky.

    Gosh, this is way too long so I’ll stop now!
    Karen (Scotland)

  30. I love the pictures and the grace behind them. Thank you for sharing.

  31. beth nc says:

    Thanks for all the comments and suggestions! My little son is my dream come true. But – it just seemed that after a year, this work/life balancing act would be all figured out. Karen (Scotland) summed up my conflicting feelings particularly well. . .

    best wishes.

  32. Thanks for such an honest post. I have a 20-month old and work full time. I don’t feel I’m being pulled in a million directions because my son, my husband, and my work are literally all I have time for. I used to be organized and productive and have goals, but none of that is even possible right now. The thing that get’s me though is that people (whether that’s people on TV, people at work, other mothers, whomever) make it seem like my reality isn’t normal. I’ve often felt like a bad mom/wife/worker/whatever because I wasn’t living up to some standard, and I’m not even sure where that standard comes from anymore. Posts like this, where you cut through all the bull, help me very much to see that 1) for where I am in my life, my struggles are very normal and I’m not alone; 2) this isn’t my forever reality – things will get easier; 3) I don’t have to try to live up to something artificial, because it’s pretty likely that no one else does either. Thanks again.

  33. I just wanted to thank you for your site. I came to your website through Amy over at The Mother Lode. I love your voice and your topics are so relevant to me! I am a brand new mom, and I’m just devouring your previous posts. Can’t wait to see what you’ll say next!

    Krys´s last blog post..Sleep Update

  34. This is a fantastic post. I love the messy pictures and I can totally relate. My husband must wonder how did that happen at 6:30pm when he rolls through the door and sees daughter has banana and goldfish crackers stuck in her hair and on the bottoms of her feet, and son has purple and yellow painted ankles, and you can’t see the carpet in the living room because it is covered with containers, toys, food, books, mommy’s stuff, and who knows what else. What he doesn’t see is the mouth-full of soil I dug out of daughter’s mouth, the playdough I got out of the carpet, the dishwasher I emptied, and the sink full the day’s dishes I washed and put away, the laundry I folded, the 4 poop and 4 pee diapers I changed, the mail I sorted, the 3 outfits I changed (because they were dirty beyond wearable) the booboos I fixed, and the countless phone calls I made to doctors, charities, stores, family, and utilities, and oh the blog post I managed to get in there. Productive accomplishements are indeed not always totally visable. Thanks for this wonderful post! Abbie

    Abbie´s last blog post..Organizing Link Friday – June 12th

  35. Rachel, great post, I love to see you showing some human frailty! The plant/dirt episode would have sent me into a fit of convulsions. I have a video of my kids after 30 minutes alone with a bottle of baby powder that would probably curl your toes ; )
    The best advice I can offer for prioritizing and letting go is to stop reading parenting/women’s magazines and cancel cable. Without the media’s constant suggestions to dododo buybuybuy, there will suddenly be much less you feel you need to dododo and buybuybuy : ) Doing this has made a world of difference for me and mine.
    As always, loving your site.

    Juliet´s last blog post..A review of In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms by Dr. Laura Schlessinger

  36. One of the coolest things I’ve ever heard was someone asking the question: “what one thing would make you successful today?” Keeping a list of all things to do isn’t a bad idea, then really honing in on the one thing that’s important (not necessarily critical).

    Brad´s last blog post..All Aboard the Name Train

  37. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Rachel! What I love the most is recognizing that priorities change. So many women can get caught up in the look of perfection that their children are miserable and no one wants to walk on the perfectly vacuumed carpet!
    In my own home the priority is to eliminate obvious messes, keep up on routine chores like laundry and dishes and then organize so I can be more efficient. There’s no rule book saying 10 minutes organizing my receipts is less important than cleaning out the fridge or resting my feet.
    Thank you for taking away the feeling of guilt that we “should” be doing something meaningful and productive every minute of every day.

  38. Ah. Affirmation. Ever since Motherhood, I’ve had many days, which have turned into many season, where my mantra has been: Just get ONE thing done today. Just one. And we’ll call that day a success.

  39. Thanks for being real. Many of us mom’s have believed the lie that we all have to be perfect, supermoms and fit into this box. And if we don’t, we are failures. So untrue!! There are seasons in life and each has different priorities and different looks about them. Thanks God! How boring would life be if it was all the same, all the time?!?!

    Marci@OvercomingBusy´s last blog post..Menu Plan Monday – June 15, 2009

  40. Thank you for that post!

    Rachel´s last blog post..DIY Deodorant. Yes, you read that right.

  41. Rebekah says:

    Oh I really relate!!!
    I feel so encouraged today.
    Thanks for being a blessing!!!

  42. Rebekah says:

    I wanted to share what has been my navigation chart through my sea of to-dos: a routine. My routine is very short and simple, and it includes the essentials for maintaining a home. As long as I get these tasks done, I can choose to fill the remaining time in whatever tasks I deem most important. The routine was built over time. I have a daily routine and a weekly routine.
    The daily routine (which is to be done before anything else):
    Make bed
    Reboot the laundry
    Tidy the kitchen
    Get dressed

    The weekly routine:
    Wednesday: Thoroughly clean kitchen. (Thursday is trash day.)
    Thursday: Wash weekly linens & catch up if behind on laundry.
    Friday: Scrub bathrooms and pay bills.

    I find that the main problem areas of a home are the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry. The essentials of the routine keep these problem areas of the home livable. I choose to focus on different projects as I wish during the rest of the week. Projects can relate to organizing, decluttering, renovating, preparing, selling, or just having fun with the kids.

    I hope this might be helpful. Flylady taught me the importance of having a routine. I just made sure it was simple and worked with the way my days and weeks flow.

  43. I have a 15 year old and a husband and work from home so should find organising a breeze but I still have to maintain my beloved list and run our house like a military camp if I want to get things, anything, done and complete. I have just those responsibilities and when I even consider what it must be like to have more than one child under the age of 5 I literally shudder. I remember my midwife telling me that one of the greatest issues I would have to face when giving birth was my inability to just let go and surrender – I suspect that that is a life issue for me and I think it is the whole meaning to having children. Children change the focus, they change the order of the things, they change the list. As I said in another post, when I finally realised that my daughter and my husband and my family and my friends needed to be top priority, I finally stopped struggling as hard as I used to.

    Miechelle´s last blog post..THE DEFINITION OF SUCCESS