Refining Possibilities: Making the Best Use of Your Time

Thank you for kind words yesterday, it is heartwarming to hear your concern and encouragement.

I wanted to talk more about what I mean by refining aspirations.

Refining your goals doesn’t mean making them less or lowering your standards or expectations. Refinement means losing the extras. It’s about focusing your sights like an arrow. If anything, your aspirations become even greater when they are not diluted by all of the possible things you could be doing.

In the moments when I sit and hold the baby, I don’t doubt the purpose and significance of my role as a mother, and I know that the rest of it will get done in its own time.

But when the kids drift off to sleep or are happily occupied and don’t need me at the moment, suddenly the flood of possibilities opens up, and I think that is where I start feeling overwhelmed.

It can be hard for moms to focus because our lives are a series of five minute tasks and interruptions. “I can only do one thing at a time” is a common saying I repeat to my kids each day. We have so many things to do, and it’s very easy to add a few more tasks to the list if we don’t stop to focus.

The continual process of refining my aspirations is how I decide how I will use those pockets of time. Instead of remembering everything that is possible, I went through a mental checklist, keeping some things, and crossing off others. Here are few examples of what I decided to focus on, and things I won’t be doing after all:

Keep: Taking care of my two children.
Drop: Plans for a vegetable container garden on the patio in the Spring. I love plants, but we had too many to water last year.

Keep: The writing project I feel passionate about, that I think will have a positive impact for other women.
Drop: Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Crafts. A neat book for sure, but I have more ideas than I can do at the moment.

Keep: The back room clean out project. An organized storage area will help our apartment function better, especially when the baby starts crawling.
Drop: Organizing the fabric collection. I can just stick it under the bed, and it will be fine.

Keep: Buying someone a gift to let them know I was thinking of them.
Drop: Making a handmade gift, when it’s the thought that counts.

Keep: Replacing the light fixture above the dining table so that we’re not sitting under a spotlight.
Drop: Hope of finishing the crochet afghan I started in 1997. If you see a book called something like “Easy Afghans to Crochet in a Weekend,” do not believe it. It is a TOTAL SHAM. I hate to think that people who crochet could lie, but someone did!

When each item has been chosen for a purpose, and the rest has been dropped, then it seems easier to know that there will be time to do it. And if I don’t get to it one day, that’s fine too. It is a continual process of refinement, after all.

Do you have any examples to share of items on your list that you’ve let go of, so that you can focus on something else instead?
About Rachel

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


  1. I recently accepted that I will simply never paint my nails. How silly does that sound? But I had been jealous of women who look so polished with their perfectly done, short, shiny nails and mine are always plain and ragged, but they chip immediately after painting anyway! I decided to spend more time on things that will last: learning to sew, catching up with a friend. Besides, I did a terrible job at painting my own nails!

    Anna´s last post…A Fashion Magazine Mis-Truth

  2. Ah, this is the very thing I am working on right now. Learning how to prioritize what is important and what I need to cut to feel less harried. Here’s a couple of my keep/drop items.

    Keep: Stopping by to visit neighbors
    Drop: Feeling like I always need to take them a homemade treat- all they really want is my presence anyway

    Keep: Making my family healthy, homemade meals from scratch
    Drop: Trying a new bread recipe every other week

    Lydia´s last post…Free Swagbuck Code Today

  3. this is brilliant! i need to devote some time to thinking of these keep/drop items. thanks for the inspiration!

  4. I just came up with one yesterday! Inspired by this recipe binder ( I’m going to stop putting off organizing my recipes because I don’t have time to retype them all. I’m just going to get them (as they are) organized and be done!

    Toni Turbeville´s last post…New Look Coming Soon

  5. I just barely finished an afghan that I started in 1990! They do lie. I’m glad it’s not just me.

  6. Oh friend. I wish I lived right next door to you so we could talk these things out over a cup of tea!

    “I’m just one mama.” How many times do I say that a day?

    This: “suddenly the flood of possibilities opens up, and I think that is where I start feeling overwhelmed.” This! Yes. Totally.

    Keep. Drop. Keep. Drop. Keep. Drop.

    I’m suddenly feeling very inspired.

    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last post…this is us.

  7. I’m printing this post and putting it on my refrigerator. I have actually set aside the next few days to hit the “reset” button around here. My head has been swimming…too many possibilities. Thank you for this timely word.

    Solstice Letters´s last post…be a camera

  8. Keep: Basement remodel (which means me doing more full-time parent duties while my husband works). Our eyes are on the prize.

    Drop: Homemade detergent, for now. See above. My husband is the soap shredder. I feel a little guilty about it, but for now, it’s a little way to keep my sanity.

    And that’s too funny about crocheters lying…I do always have to wonder at what speed people knit and crochet to finish things in an hour or a night or a weekend. That’s usually only 10% of the task for me.

    Glad you and your little one are both OK.

    Jessica´s last post…spiderwebs on the brain

  9. Keep- getting my home organized one room at a time.
    Drop- trying to learn a new skill like knitting

    Those afghan magazines do not lie. They just don’t tell you a team of crochet(ers?) round the clock for 2 1/2 days to accomplish it.

  10. I love this post! For a few months now I have been operating with the understanding that each choice a make to do X is a choice not to do Y. And that’s okay. As long as I’m making choices that make sense, there is balance in my world. But when I operate out of anxiety or pressure, or stray from the things that I know make my day feel complete, things get out of whack and the whole cycle comes crashing down. I can’t think of an immediate example of “Keep” and “Drop” but I know that my days are filled with those decisions. So, to have permission (my own or yours) to simplify and let some things go is helpful on any number of levels. Thanks!


  11. Keep: do the laundry regularly
    Drop: picking out all four kids’ entire outfit each day
    My priorities had to change….trying to control the wardrobes of four kids with definite opinions was resulting in way too many battles. It doesn’t matter what I think (or what my friends, neighbors, fellow school-moms think). The opinions of others was my priority, not my kids’….and a lame priority at that.

    Danielle´s last post…WFMW: Noisy Toys

    • Karen (Scotland) says:

      Love this! My boys (5 and 3) still don’t care and will put on whatever I’ve laid out for them but my little girl, only two, is already a bit scowly some days at my choices so I am dreading future years.
      You’re right – I will have to give up the control one day so I should start relaxingwhen she wants to wear the purple stripey tights with the turquoise dres..
      Karen (Scotland)

    • Couldn’t agree with you more!!!

      jennibell´s last post…Saturday Snow Day

  12. Thanks so much for sharing this! I struggle with my “to do” list so much. Somehow it is always obvious to me what other people should be dropping from their lists, but it’s never so obvious what I should be dropping from my own. Definitely something worth thinking about.

    Appetite for Conversation´s last post…Admissions

  13. Keep: having healthy good meals we all like
    Drop: trying to have like 945 meals in the rotation–in all seriousness, my family is happy with the same meals every week.

    The Nester´s last post…L. Herbert Cupcake Prints

  14. I too have a giant fabric collection that I would like to organize or make use of but it will have to remain in the trunk where its been hiding for (gulp!) 15 years. I do want to make those Roman shades for my guest room though, so something has got to get moved off the list!

    Good encouragement to focus on what’s important.

  15. LOVE this post, thankyou so much for writing it.
    i am trying to force myself to be selective and commit to the things i care about, rather htan taking on too much. great advice xx

    rachel´s last post…Friday Five

  16. This is such a wonderful post, Rachel, and so welcome. I literally laughed outloud about your crochet afghan comment! Once again, your words resonate with me and give me some things to think about and carry with me for some time. One thing I’ve given up for an entire year: handmade gifts. They eat up my sewing time and for a lot of the recipients, I don’t think a handmade gift really matters that much to them. Also: no new craft books or cookbooks at all for a full year. I can’t tell you what a relief it has been to cozy up with my current books and projects and drop some of the “could be doings.”

    Mary Beth´s last post…recipe favorites: peanut noodles

  17. Oh, this is just perfect. This is exactly what I’ve been struggling with as a stay-at-home-mom. There’s so much that I want to do…the possibilities are endless…but there just isn’t enough time to accomplish it all. I need to prioritize and choose what’s best and not feel guilty about letting some things that are good (not best) go.

  18. I think I’m mentally going to be doing this all weekend.
    Keep: Hiking with hubby and dog. Outdoor therapy and exercise will be good for all.
    Drop: Plans to haul oak dining table to parking garage to refish and paint it. I can put a tablecloth over it.

    Yeah, that saying will be repeating in my head…keep…drop.


    Kait Palmer´s last post…Challenge Days 12,13, Ode to Le Creuset and Krochet Kids

  19. I get it: simplify! Choose and loose. How’s that for a daily reminder? I really appreciate this post. Not only did it clarify yesterday’s post, but it spoke about being realistic within a 24 hour period. We all have to do that each day.

    Have a great weekend as you choose and loose!

    Amy @ River Rock Cottage´s last post…Switching to Grass Fed Beef

  20. Jenni at My Web of Life says:

    I did a lot a thinking about this as I worked on my goals/resolutions this year.

    Keep: Keeping the kitchen clean of dishes and clutter before my children arrive home from school and at night before going to bed.

    Drop: The concept that the rest of my house will look like a magazine spread every day.

    I was getting overwhelmed by being too much of a perfectionist. A clean kitchen is good enough for me now. The rest will come later.

    • Denise C. says:

      Ooooh this is so true! I always wanted a clean and perfect house. Something right out of the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. With 2 kids ( 4, and 2) that is not going to happen. Especially when their play area is in our main living area.

      My kitchen must be cleaned up every night. I dislike waking up to a sink full of dirty dishes.

      • And then there are those of us who have more energy in the morning and prefer to do it then. . .it took me YEARS to realize that it’s o.k. to “not be like everyone else” and do it the best way for my family. . .which for me is to do tasks first thing in the morning when I’m not exhausted!!!

        jennibell´s last post…Saturday Snow Day

  21. I have been doing the keep/drop thing with my schedule over the last few months. Various interesting, fun, enjoyable and/or challenging opportunities have come along, but I have said “no” to them. Prayed about it, asked my husband, and wasn’t dicouraged from these things. But I have just felt a need to simplify and focus on what I already have going, rather than add new priorities to the mix. Great post! Blessings!

    Terri´s last post…Winter Weather Watch!

  22. I love this! I know that I always bite off more than I can chew. I have big dreams and aspirations and they seem to get the best of me. I should sit down and make a list like this!

    Mrs. Money´s last post…Is Being Frugal Always Being Different?

  23. Rachel, you are a genius! God bless you!

    angelvalerie´s last post…getting up to do it again…motivation for the hard stuff

  24. I had to laugh. Everytime I started an afghan, it took me 2-3 years to finish it and I did this THREE times! I told my husband to never let me make another afghan again no matter how cute it is. Never. Again.

    Rachel´s last post…Out With the Old, In With the New, and Keeping a Few Good Ones

  25. I have real trouble dropping goals on purpose. But I have actually just done so with two of them.

    Keep: going dancing.
    Drop: going to dance lessons (I don’t learn much anymore and was just going for the socializing.)

    Keep (actually start): getting enough sleep.
    Drop: web sudoku.

  26. Love the keep, drop, keep, drop. Need to let this one stew for a bit.

    Marla Taviano´s last post…whatcha-ma-call-em

  27. The keep/drop format here was such a lightbulb moment for me. There are so many things I need to drop bc they are simply causing me stress bc they’re not getting done. This is a case where simplifying and taking away actually adds to your life.

  28. Denise C. says:

    What a wonderful post Rachel! I am so glad you and Tom are ok. I love the keep/drop format. SO SIMPLE.

    I need to really figure out my drops.
    A keep for sure is to get into running, I have 35 lbs. I want to shed before summertime. :)

    Have a wonderful weekend! ;)

  29. Keep refining until you are happy with the amount of time and energy you have for those most important to you. This is the entire reason for my blog! I cringe at the amount of time I spent on my way to large to-do list each day when my son was tiny. I should have spent that time with him like I did my oldest. Now, I work hard to be able to spend time cuddling and playing – although there are still times I get caught up in busyness.

    Marci@OvercomingBusy´s last post…Time For Family And Friends

  30. A statement you made really resonated with me..

    “Refinement means losing the extras. It’s about focusing your sights like an arrow. If anything, your aspirations become even greater when they are not diluted by all of the possible things you could be doing.”

    This perfectly exlemplifies exactly what I am trying to do now. I had a momentary setback of a couple weeks but I need to keep on plugging.

    Thank you!

  31. This is exactly how I feel also: “suddenly the flood of possibilities opens up, and I think that is where I start feeling overwhelmed.” and Keep, Drop, Keep, Drop is totally genius! I love this.Thanks for the great post Rachael.

    Kristen´s last post…google reader tips

  32. Make a Living Will, a Family Trust, and all those important things that have to be done are not a DROP but have been in the back burner for at least 6.5 years!

    These are important but something else always gets the priority like eating, bathing, sleeping, and laundry. A definite KEEP!

    DROP: I’m finally throwing away the patterns of how to make puppets. They are so cute but the patterns have been collecting dust!

    Glad to hear that you and baby recovered from your fall. Take it easy.

  33. I have so many projects going on right now that I’ve got to slow down a bit. I’ve dropped the housework and laundry :)

    And the falling with the baby story brought up more than one memory for me! Scary stuff and I’m glad you are both okay.

    Andrea @ The Train To Crazy´s last post…A neck warmer and a new link up PARTY!

  34. omg, thank you so so so much for this post. i just had a huge crisis yesterday.
    at the moment, i have to do so many things concerning my business career, my scientific career and my private life, that i just could pass out for a whole week so i wont have to think about it.
    and then i disappoint a friend who bought me a bobby-long-concert-ticket and on my way there i just broke down. my gosh!
    thank you for this post. i will relax this weekend and then sit down to drop many many things that arent just so important now.

  35. Karen (Scotland) says:

    Thanks, Rachel, for another clear and inspiring post. I know that overwhelming feeling when you actually HAVE time and you have so many things you want/need to do, that you end up sort of frozen and usually faffing on the web…

    Keep: getting in touch with some old friends that recently emailed.
    Drop: the winter hat I’m knitting for my eldest son (I can finish it for the next son for next winter ;-)

    Keep: the plan to teach my eldest how to play board games fairly (ie not throw himself on the floor when he loses…)
    Drop: the vague plan to show my younger son how to write his name.

    Thanks again for a good post,
    Karen (Scotland)

  36. I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately. I’ve made the decision to drop the idea of selling my handmade items on Etsy or at crafts fairs (though I’ll still make them for myself and family), in order to focus more on my photography.

    Hannah´s last post…Your daily dose of Seth

  37. Thank you so much for this encouragement, Rachel. This is exactly how I feel:
    “But when the kids drift off to sleep or are happily occupied and don’t need me at the moment, suddenly the flood of possibilities opens up, and I think that is where I start feeling overwhelmed.”

    I’m definitely going to sit down and think through what I’m going to keep and drop!

    Nicole aka Gidget´s last post…Seven in Shades of Red

  38. Your ring sling is GORGEOUS! What a delectable baby. Mmmmmmm!

    I started cross stitching a stocking in 1999, but I still hope to finish it someday. I am very glad I’m not the only one with a project that has been around longer than a decade!! Because I often have kids and/or a cat on my lap, the cross stitching is reserved for times when I am a passenger on long car trips.

  39. This is the blog post I haven’t yet written (and so much better said)! My younger sister (who has one son) made a marvelous list of New Year’s Resolutions- one that I admire and will encourage her to accomplish. She is in a totally different season of life than I am with three little ones. I had to start my year listing out all my priorities, and then listing everything else that fills my time and let it all go. Kind of a funny thing to be doing while everyone else was “resolutionating”. :) I have been 100x happier accomplishing a few things well, especially since almost all my priorities have to do with my own family or church family. Thanks for saying it so well! I think I will write a post linking to this…especially since blogging has not been a main thing lately. :)

  40. I love this post!!! I think I might have to do one too. . .thanks for the inspiration. . .

  41. Just stumbled on your blog and it’s great! I was wondering where you got the baby sling pictured above? Did you make it? It’s adorable!

  42. Rachel, your words keep hitting the mark just when they are needed these days! Recently, your posting about a daily schedule that described dishes and beds like part of getting dressed…exactly the wording I needed to make that happen! And just this morning, I was sooooo tempted to sign up for a beginner’s quilting class. I bought a fabric bundle almost two months ago, wanting to make a quilt for my daughter. This class teaches exactly what I want to learn and is at a time that could work…but I just don’t think I should right now. Maybe in another 6 months. That wait isn’t too bad, and adding the class to our family’s plate right now might be. I really want to sign up…but I’ll keep your words in my head as a good influence. Thanks!

    Jennifer´s last post…What we did on Sunday

    • Just for the record, I finished a quilt for my daughter this year–she just turned 4. When did I buy the bulk of the fabric? 4 years ago when she was born…. I had to “drop” that activity because I had twins 18 months after she came along. The finished quilt is MUCH simpler than my original idea, but she loves it and it suits her. Sometimes those things we drop are only for a temporary time, but they’re very much needing to be dropped at the time! You’re right–wait it out :).

      Here’s my short list: Keep reading time with the kids. Drop: some of my blogging time. Keep training/mentoring kids. Drop some of my gourmet cooking. (See where this is going?) Keep going outside with kids. Drop big projects….

  43. I don’t even have any kiddos and this speaks to me. I really needed to hear it. Thanks for the beach illustration. My greatest spiritual growth happened when I set up a 7 pm sunset date on the lake with God a few years ago. I don’t remember the last time I saw a sunset. But I know I was just as busy then as I am now, and somehow everything just fell into place better and was more joyful back then. Refining Momements. Good stuff Rachel. I am glad you and Tom are both okay.

  44. You totally need to replace that light fixture ; )

    juliet´s last post…Apocalyptic Fiction and you

  45. I’m so sorry to hear about your fall. I’m so glad you two weren’t heart seriously.
    Have you been getting perspective or what! We certainly need a reality check every now and then, instead of putting our head down doing what we do every day…not realising it may not be the best thing.
    I love your website, that is why I have awarded you the “Kreativ Blogger Award”…no doubt you have received plenty…and you deserve it too ;)

    Meeks´s last post…A year older, and an award

  46. I just had number 4 in December and finally allowed myself to “Drop” trying to pump….Although nursing has always gone great with my babies, pumping is a real struggle for me….felt so freeing to dump this and just enjoy nursing.

  47. Lovely and inspiring. You post puts into words an elusive truth – the burden of the possible. Thank you.

  48. i am so glad you and tom were not badly hurt. but i understand the schedule and exhaustion of a mom, so even the relatively minor bumps and bruises hurt and are wearing.

    you get so many comments these days and mine is #56, i am not sure you will get to this one, but wanted to let you know i am reading and resonating. in fact, yesterday, i started a personal little project i named a step toward balance. one thing at a time, i am adding and dropping until i find the balance that feels right for me. i invited anyone else to join me, so if anyone wants to with support (and a shove!) drop on by.


    nicola´s last post…a step toward balance

  49. Thanks for sharing your thought process. I have often felt “oh, I have five minutes, but I don’t know what to do with them!” And then I get stressed feeling like I didn’t “use” that time more productively or in a way that was more satisfying! I do want to let some things go and focus on only helpful items.

  50. With the age of my children, 10, 5 and 2 I enjoy it very much to work like a team in the house. My children actually like it a lot too. I have admitted long time ago that I can not do it all, especially since my hubby is a truck driver and home for 4-5 days every 4-5 weeks. For my girl to make a craft or empty the dish washer, she is happier about emptying the dish washer because she feels more like part of the family than me almost doing the craft for her. Her self-esteem builds high. So, when we all work together, there is more time for mom and more energy for mom to do fun stuff when WE are ALL done instead of me saying I am all done, let’s go to bed.

  51. Wonderful!

    Keep: making chocolate chip cookies
    Drop: feeling guilty because that’s the only thing I really bake well.

    Keep: a list of things I can do in 15 min. or less, just in case
    Drop: the idea that I have to fill every pocket with something productive….15 minutes of “musing” (aka daydreaming) is good for my soul!

    Rachel Anne´s last post…Cape Disappointment

  52. i relate to #2. stick with the writing. it feels right and other women will appreciate it. that’s what i did when i felt similarly to what you’re describing and now it’s going to be a book. and it calmed my anxiety. it’s about Purpose i think more then the other stuff.

  53. Loved this – I linked it here: