The Yes-to-Less To-Do List

“But, Mommmyyyy, you’re not listening to me!!!,” my younger son cried from the back seat.

“I am listening, Teddy, I just forgot what you said,” I responded guiltily.

I tried to repeat back the story he had just told, but I had absolutely no idea. Something about football and monsters and candy. I think? Maybe? Or was it something else entirely?

I had uttered mmmm-hmmm at all of the appropriate places, nodded my head along with him, and said “wow, cool” here and there. And, yet, when he finished telling his rambling, nonsensical, and way-too-long story, I honestly had absolutely no idea what he had said.

Now this isn’t necessarily cause for concern. In fact, most parents will agree that this is nothing out of the ordinary. We are often listening with only one ear and I could excuse my inattention with any number of valid reasons. I could say that it was because Teddy takes forever and a day to tell a story. I could say it was because I was distracted by the rush hour traffic. I could say that it was because the story arch of a 4-year-old is almost impossible to follow, with its circles and zig-zags and unnecessary details. I could say it was because Jackson was also talking at the same time about who-knows-what.

But the truth is, I just wasn’t listening. I had been thinking about work stuff and home stuff and family stuff and how-to-get-it-all-done stuff. Laundry, emails, conference calls. Football practice, groceries, a leaky sink. Work projects to start, work projects to finish. Housekeeping chores, family obligations. Blog posts that I wanted to write, book edits that I needed to revise.

Quite simply, over the past few months, there has just been too much to do and too little time in which to do it. There are a finite number of hours in the day and the math just wasn’t adding up. Nonetheless, I was determined to figure out a way to make it work.

Which is why, instead of listening to Teddy ramble on about monsters or candy (or both?), I had been scheming in my own head, trying to figure out a way to say yes to everything and everyone without saying no to anything or anyone.

Of course, this is an impossibility. No one can say yes to everything and everyone. No one can do everything and be everything. There is no mathematical formula that can make this impossibility possible.

Yet for some reason, I thought that this basic principle applied to everyone else, not me. I could figure out a way to do everything and be everything. I could come up with some formula – some yet-to-be-determined calculus theorem with derivatives and integers and a bunch of other fancy words that I don’t understand – that would make it possible to be a stay-at-home mom, wife, author, blogger, freelance writer, volunteer, church committee member, book club-goer, sister, daughter, and friend. I could figure out a way to be all those things and do all those things – and do them well too. Great even.

Except I couldn’t and I can’t. Because try as I might, the only answer I got to this mythical equation, this Yes-to-Everything pursuit, was a feeling that I was failing at everything and succeeding at nothing. I felt depleted and frantic and out of control.

The simple truth is: I can’t say yes to everything and everyone. I can’t be everything to everyone.

Unfortunately, it took a missed story about football and monsters and candy (or was it?) for me to realize that there is no magical equation that will allow me to do everything and be everything, and that sometimes we have to say no to a few things so that we can say yes to other things.

So I am learning to say NO more often. I’m saying no to more stuff and more stress. No to the pushing and the hustling and the self-imposed busyness. No to the comparisons and the quest for bigger and better. No to the regrets and the second-guessing.

And I am learning to say YES to less – less cramming and less go-go-go’ing – so that I am able to make room for more time and space and love. I’m making some tough choices so that I can say yes to less of the things that don’t matter and make room for the things that do.

Over the past few weeks, I have had to say no to some big things and small things, some great opportunities and some less-great opportunities. And, goodness gracious, is saying no-to-more and yes-to-less ever hard! Figuring out what where my priorities lie and how to best serve those priorities – and then following through with those decisions – has been really, really difficult.

Then again, the Yes-to-Less path is difficult for everyone. There are no right or wrong answers, no mathematical equations, no formulas. It isn’t about whether to work or where to work or how much to work. It is about choosing work that motivates us rather than depletes us,  prioritizing things that fill us up rather than break us down, and maximizing time spent in ways that nourish us rather than drain us. And it certainly isn’t about money – how much we have or don’t have, what we spend it on or don’t spend it on. It is about an intentional choice to sustain ourselves with an appreciation for all-that-we-have, instead of living a life that consumes us with a never-ending quest for more.

Of course, the choices and options are different for everyone, and they change over time, which makes the Yes-to-Less path even more difficult. Difficult…yet possible.

But what about the times when we’ve said no to all the inessentials and things are still too overwhelming? How do we say yes to less then? Well, I think that sometimes we just need to put our heads down for a little while, grit our teeth, and muscle through it by saying yes to less of the self-doubt and second-guessing and comparisons. Yes to less judgment and criticism in the hopes that we might make room for a little more confidence and comfort and – dare I say? – peace.

I am trying and I am practicing and I am learning. I’m trying to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle, purging unnecessary toys and gadgets and belongings. I’m reminding myself that bigger isn’t necessarily better, that new doesn’t always mean improved, and that sometimes less really is more.

I am practicing the art of contentment and stillness. I’m learning to be more selective about what I take on so that I can focus on the work that fulfills me and the people that matter most to me.

I am saying yes to less stress and stuff so that I can, in turn, say YES to more love and life.

I am saying yes to less distraction so that I can say YES to more rambling tales of football and monsters and candy…or whatever it was Teddy was talking about that afternoon.



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