I need to declutter my desk, my home and my life. As I thought about this week’s prompt, I figured one way to declutter is to learn to use this little word no at the appropriate times, to ensure that too many obligations never clutter up the calendar or my life.
No – a simple two-letter word that toddlers and children have no problem mastering. They practice this word from the time they are old enough to utter a word and often it comes with a defiant ring to it. Teens may have trouble saying no to peer pressure but it never seems to stop them from using the word as a response to chores their parents might ask them to accomplish.
With all this practice, how is it that as an adult I have so much trouble with this word? Oh, in my head I know it should be the response in situations that will spill over into overwhelm or pull me in so many directions that self-care becomes impossible to do. I don’t mind if others say no, especially for a legitimate reason and not just because they don’t feel like being part of a project at that moment. Why do I need to accept less from myself?
I remember a few years ago, I had said yes to one thing after another until the to-do list, the obligations and the help people needed put me into a downward spiral. I felt like the hours in a day never covered everything I needed to do. I pushed myself beyond the limits I should have and what started out with good intentions of helping others began to drag me into a pit of discouragement, exhaustion and despair. Someone looked at me and said, “Carol, you need to learn this neat little word, “No,” and then use it.”
I agreed, but did not know how to extricate myself from the obligations without leaving others holding on to more than they bargained for. When I look back at this time, I realize I did it to myself by not saying “no” when it needed to be said. I did it to myself by not encouraging others to say yes when they needed to and not just allow them to dump it all on me – a burden I accepted, but why?
Now I need to practice using this wonderful little word and know when to use it properly. How can two letters be so difficult? The first few times I used it after I allowed myself to be overwhelmed felt strange. I had a need to justify why I pulled back from being so involved in that particular organization and then privately struggled with guilt at letting others down, never once thinking of the self-care and rest I needed. I had become a low priority and it needed to change.
I still have times I am tempted to say yes to something that intrigues me even when I know the time is not right, but I am practicing saying “no” more often. I believe careful consideration must be given to the request, my life situation at the moment and the direction my path is supposed to take. Even good things, plans and organizations might not be the best for me at this time in my life. It takes wisdom to weigh the options, search for the best amongst the good and courage to use that little two-letter word, “No”.
A prime example for me is stepping back from my involvement with Toastmasters. I had been helping people in many clubs and allowed others to just count on me for answers, for help and to be involved with everything in the area. I met many wonderful people, learned skills—practiced them too—but I also took on more than I should have because I did not know how to say no. It felt strange to step back and have people question why. Eventually, they got used to me saying no and quit asking for more than I was able to give. Several people told me it was about time I began to look after myself and do what I needed for the next phase of my communication journey.
I have been working on the proper timing and use of this little word so that I do not have my life and calendar too cluttered to say yes to what needs to be there. At times I still long to justify my answer so I do not hurt people’s feelings, but I plan to continue to be honest with myself and others about what I should and should not be doing each day in this season of my life. I will say no with quiet resolve rather than shout it at others. This will leave room to gladly say yes for people, things and projects which are meant to be here today. Yes, I really must practice this aspect of decluttering my life and learn to gently but firmly say no when it needs to be done.