Saying “Yes” and “No” at Home

When my sister, Kelsey, and I used to play house, we would begin by grabbing composition notebooks and making a plan. I wrote out an entire persona for the character I was imagining. I’d write down her age and hair color (usually “Bethany” and blonde because…I have no idea?), the names of her husband and kids, her hobbies, and her jobs. Yes, jobs, plural. Because almost every time we played, I imagined that I had multiple careers. Anything that sounded remotely interested, my girl did. (Side note: Half the time, I was so tired after all my “planning,” we didn’t play the game at all. I think the storytelling was the part I liked best.)

Over time, I realized I would never be a marine biologist, fashion designer, or chef. I learned what I was good at (and not), and I learned the limits of, you know…reality. In retrospect, it’s kind of hilarious. But I also think it revealed something that’s true about me, deep down: Since I was young, I have wanted to do it all.

That’s all well and good when you’re a child playing pretend, but I think this mindset worked its way into my real life, too. I want to be a mom, have a career, and be an excellent homemaker. I want to be good at cooking and cleaning and budgeting and doing my hair. I want to perfectly manage any and every task that falls on my plate each day. I’m not the first person to point out that life in the age of Pinterest makes us mistakenly (and often subconsciously) think we need to be great at all aspects of life. We want to say yes to it all.

I’ve been enjoying the current season of The Simple Show, Tsh Oxenreider’s podcast. It’s a podcast I’ve listened to consistently in all its iterations for years now, but this season may be my favorite yet. Each week, Tsh and her hosts have picked a topic—like home, reading, or food—and talked through what they say “yes” and “no” to within that topic. The idea, of course, is that we simply can’t do it all, and we need to focus on what’s most important to us. Like Greg McKeown says so well in Essentialism, our energies will have a greater impact when they are focused in one direction, rather than spread out in a million different directions.

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.” –Greg McKeown

Slowly, I am learning how to do this. After each episode of The Simple Show, I’ve found myself thinking through these areas in my own life.  In some areas, I don’t have it well sorted out, yet. But I wanted to share what I say “yes” and “no” to in when it comes to two areas of life that, at the moment, I feel pretty satisfied with: my life at home and my reading life.

Today, I’m going to share what I say yes and no to at home. Tomorrow, I’ll share about my reading life.

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Things I Say “No” to at home:

I say no to anything too precious. With three children four and under, I am growing very well acquainted with some common parenting advice: “Pick your battles.” I can not spend energy battling my children about what they can’t touch, where they shouldn’t go, etc. There is very little in our home that my children can’t use or play with. Obviously, we keep anything dangerous out of reach or locked away. But for the most part, if they can reach it, it’s fair game. The stuff in our home is meant to be well-used and well-loved. It rarely looks pristine, but I’m ok with that. (I will say that we do not let them bring food into the living room or upstairs, and I don’t let them stand on furniture. Mostly because we just bought that new carpet, and I don’t want to clean it that often.)

I say no to The 11 p.m. Inspection. I believe I first heard about the 11 p.m. Inspection on Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast; it’s the idea that we behave as though someone is coming to inspect the cleanliness of our home at 11 p.m. each night, and we spend all our energy in the evenings cleaning. Now, I understand the appeal of having a clean slate when I wake up in the morning, but it’s not as appealing to me as using the the evening to read a book or watch Project Runway. So I don’t worry about my house being clean before I go to bed.

I say no to having things my way all the time. Evan and I have different approaches to decorating, organizing, and cleanliness. (And obviously, so do the kids and I. Ha!) And I could work really hard every day to put things back just how I like them, or argue with Evan over the right way to do it, or quietly fume and resent when someone doesn’t do things the way I prefer. But I choose not to waste my emotional and mental energy. I don’t care if he keeps the garage clean because he uses it more than me. I choose not to care that he doesn’t like the same floral bedding patterns I like, and I choose not to care that he doesn’t put the twisty-tie back on the bag of bagels. If he puts the toilet paper on backward or squeezes from the middle of the toothpaste tube (shudder), I just switch it back.

I say no to rushing the process. Another side effect of Pinterest and HGTV: We live as though everything in life is either a “before” or an “after.” In reality, most things in our home are constantly evolving. I’d love to declare my home “finished” one day, but deep down, I know it will never be crossed off my to-do list. I decorate and organize my home as my budget and energy allow, but I don’t rush the process. I live in the “right now” rather than expecting an “after.”

Things I Say “Yes” to at home:

I say yes to one load of laundry per day. While some people prefer a laundry day, I prefer one load a day. It makes laundry seem less like a task to be crossed off my weekly list, and more like a rhythm of our home. I try to get one load done start-to-finish, and I do it in categories. (So, one day for kids clothes, one for adults, one for towels, one for bedding, etc.)

I say yes to a (relatively) clean kitchen at night. Now, I know I just told you I don’t worry about the 11 p.m. Inspection, and it’s true. But I do like my kitchen to be relatively clean, mostly because it makes breakfast preparation more quick and peaceful.

I say yes to toys. Lots and lots of toys. My children have generous grandparents, and as such, they have a lot of toys. I could be overwhelmed by the number of toys in my home, get annoyed when they are on the floor, and stress about where to put them…or I could roll with it. Toys are just part of our home, and that’s that.

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I say yes to open windows and lots of sunshine. The winter months are so dark and gray, that when the weather is nice, I make sure to let in as much sunshine and fresh air as possible. It really makes me happy.

I say yes to inviting people in. I am not a natural hostess; hospitality is not something I’m super gifted in. Recently, I heard someone say that hospitality is not about entertaining people as much as it is welcoming them, and that was a game changer for me. When we invite people over, Evan and I feel like we’re living a little more into our purpose as a family. We don’t do it naturally (or all that often), but we have frequent conversations about how we can make it priority.

I say yes to meal planning. I hate meal planning, but I also can’t overstate how much stress it saves me. I get a littly nerdy about it, and I could go into incredible detail about it, but I’ll spare you.

I say yes to Pinterest. As much as we like to bad-mouth Pinterest for all the cultural ills and impossible expectations it promotes, I think it’s an invaluable creative tool. I never understood what kind of style and atmosphere I wanted at home until I scrolled through my Pinterest boards. I refer back to them all the time.

I say yes to meaningful over decorative. It’s easy for me to fall prey to trends, and it’s easy for me to spend untold amounts of money on every latest tchotchke from Target. But I’ve learned that I prefer fewer, more meaningful items to more decorative items. This also helps my budget enormously when I’m wandering through Homegoods.

Ok, there you have it: all the things I say “yes” and “no” to at home. I share this in the hopes that hearing a little bit about my priorities might give you a new perspective on your own way of doing things at home, just like I’ve experienced as I’ve listened to Tsh and her co-hosts over the past several weeks. Maybe reading my yeses and nos will make you think about something you’re doing merely out of habit or something that gets ignored but is actually important to you.

Soon, I’ll share about my reading life and how I make it work for me. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’ve decided is important (or not!) in your home.

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