Find More Life Satisfaction with the Freedom of No

Updated July 2022 - How saying no leads to greater success.


Here's a glimpse of my to-do list 18 years ago:

  • Work 25 hours per week as a bookkeeper.  
  • Choose curriculum and oversee my 13- and 15-year-old children's homeschooling; also get them to catechism, drama class, chess team, and youth chorus rehearsal.  
  • Find time for my own vocalizing, music study, and sessions with my voice coach. 
  • Monday evening: drive the 140-mile round trip to visit my parents (Dad was recovering from a stroke). 
  • Tuesday and Thursday evenings: rehearsals.  
  • Wednesday evening: church meeting. 
  • Friday evening: maybe visit parents again. 
  • All day Saturday: clean house, grocery shop, wash clothes, run errands.  
  • Sunday: teach Sunday school, direct the choir.  Crash.


When I had concerts and other performances they were somehow added into the mix. 


I can honestly say I don't know how I did all of that.  I was a lot younger – does that explain it?


We search for organizing systems and productivity hacks so we can continue to do it all, but maybe we should become more intentional about what we put on our calendars in the first place.  They're crammed full because we keep saying yes.


But there's freedom to be found in learning to say no.  No is a word that brings clarity.  No establishes boundaries and saves your time and energy for the things that are most important to you.



Photo by Randy Lisciarelli



How should we return to "normal life?"


As more and more people receive the COVID vaccine and restrictions are gradually loosening, many of us are once again becoming busier.


After the quarantines and restrictions of 2020, this is a good thing!  


  • Children and teens are once again enjoying at least some time in the classroom with teachers and classmates, as well as activities such as outdoor team sports.  
  • In my area, people are once again going out to restaurants and movie theaters (still keeping a distance from others).  
  • We were able to attend church inside on Easter Sunday (wearing masks and leaving space between ourselves and other worshippers).  
  • The San Francisco Symphony has announced that they will give live performances in Davies Symphony Hall in May and June (with reduced audience size to maximize physical distancing).  


Many more opportunities are just around the corner.  Of course we should rejoice!  We're beginning to emerge from a dark time.  But part of me doesn't want to.


During this past year, my husband and I spent almost all of our evenings together, watching movies, playing games, taking walks, or working side by side (he on virtual lessons for his 6th grade students; me on writing and publishing four books).  


We couldn't physically visit family members, but we had many long phone calls and video chats.  I wrote more letters and sent more cards.  I read more books.  


Surprisingly, I enjoyed the lack of pressure to warm up and rehearse (I'm an operatic singer), and found myself not only listening to a lot more music, but singing (when I felt like singing) for the fun of it, rather than as an obligation


This situation of fewer time demands and greater appreciation for simpler pastimes may be coming to an end as we all hurl ourselves back into the go-go-go lifestyle so common before the COVID era.


Make no mistake, I'm more than ready to actually hug my kids and grandkids, and after years (I have to admit) of less and less enthusiasm, rehearsing with a choir might be fun.  But I'd like to make the case for re-entering the hustle and bustle slowly and intentionally, retaining the freedom to say no – no to being constantly stressed and hyper-busy, and no to optional tasks that pull me away from what I most want to do.



photo by Toa Heftiba



8 Ways to Access the Freedom of No


1.  Consider your purpose.

What do you want to accomplish with your one life?  When you come to the end of it, what memories and achievements will give you most satisfaction?  How do you need to live so that you will be remembered as the person you want to be?  What is your legacy?  I can tell you it's not your possessions or your awards, but your character and your love.


Which activities, of those available, will contribute to your purpose?  Forget the others.


2.  Plan free time.

It's stressful and exhausting to be constantly on the go, so establish blocks of down time on your calendar.  Give yourself a chance to anticipate and prepare for a busier afternoon or evening by making it a bit rarer.  Leave that margin so you have more energy and fresher ideas for the obligations you choose to undertake.


3.  Acknowledge limits.

Free yourself from the illogic of the fear of missing out.  You are finite, your time and energy are finite – you cannot do everything.  You are going to miss some things.  So is everyone else.  It's okay!


Having admitted that, set limits.  Let your child choose one after-school activity, not something for every day.  Limit the number of meetings or social activities you accept.  Set a specific limit on when you'll have an outside obligation, say three evenings per week.  Then relax about everything you've chosen not to do.


Related article: How Limits Help You Become More Creative


4.  Observe a day of rest.

Whether it's Saturday, Sunday or another day (and if you serve in your church or synagogue, it needs to be another day), give yourself and your family one day a week when you have no obligations.  Then you have the freedom to spontaneously choose an activity you enjoy or that captures your attention.  Or you can simply rest.


5.  Leave room for the unexpected.

It's happened to all of us.  You have an appointment to get to but you really need to use the restroom.  Or your child's practice runs long, so you wind up late to the meeting you scheduled right after it.  Or you're supposed to meet your sister downtown but need to gas up the car before you can go anywhere.


It's a fact – plans don't always go smoothly.  You know this.  So stop acting like a machine and leave some wiggle room between each appointment so you don't have to blow a gasket if traffic or a toddler won't cooperate.  And if you don't need the extra time, you'll be running a little early – calm, cool, collected, and with a moment to breathe and give thanks.


6.  Delegate.

You don't have to be personally responsible for everything.  Teach your children to perform regular chores, share cooking or laundry with your partner, team up with a colleague on a project.


7.  Set your intention.

If you've decided an activity or project is worth doing, don't let yourself be sidetracked by the unnecessary.  Turn off alerts and save checking email for two or three specific times a day.  Close your browser and stop going down those rabbit holes of "research."  Schedule tasks, get started, and stay focused.


Related article: 4 Powerful Steps to Limit Stress and Get More Done


8.  Release perfectionism.

Stop comparing yourself to others.  Remember that social media posts only show the tip of the iceberg, not the full reality of anyone's life.  Let someone else's perfect-looking house or kids or life go, and focus on doing what you need to do the best you can.




Without boundaries, we can be overwhelmed, and the quality of all our activities will suffer.  Say no so you can focus on what matters most to you.




And even more:  Look for my book, Uncluttered: How Minimalism Helps You Create the Life of Your Dreams, available on Amazon.*  Uncluttered is a comprehensive handbook for a simpler life – not a one-size-fits-all approach, but a creative, encouraging multi-faceted guide to help you

  • remove the stuff that's bogging you down
  • uncover a cleaner, more spacious home that welcomes and supports you
  • escape the consumer treadmill
  • overcome bad habits and practice better ones
  • highlight your favorite belongings and memories
  • find time for what you care about
  • discover focus and peace
  • and more!

* This blog is reader-supported.  When you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

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