Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Art of Saying No


Saying no is a hard-won skill. Here are some links to learning the art:


Pursuing simplicity is an act of embracing. Embracing what and who you love, embracing your beliefs and ideals. At the same time, it is a turning away—from demands and expectations that threaten to overshadow the good stuff; from possessions and practices that clutter your home, your mind, the environment.

Embracing comes naturally to most of us. After all, we are embracing those things we already love. But saying no takes practice and skill. Today I insisted I really needed some time to write and relax. This meant no to a family ice cream outing (definitely a tough call), and it also meant disappointing my husband. But now I am happier: I got to slow down a bit and write; I got to play Cat Stevens (major childhood memories) in the kitchen and make crab cakes with Gavin. I feel refreshed and much less cranky—and hopefully more fun to be around.

Christmas is not far off and we are starting the season, as we do every year, vowing to have a simpler approach. Tom and I don’t really need gifts, and have agreed that just having a long-postponed date would be more rewarding. But already I feel the vortex pulling me in: maybe just stocking stuffers, maybe just something small. It is hard to stop that snowball effect of buying more, incurring unneeded debt. I want a clever scheme that will save me from The Ghost of Christmas Must Have. Still working on that one.

Then there is that backlog of stuff you didn’t really need in the first place, or maybe you outgrew it. Gavin, only 5, is already experiencing some of that hanging onto stuff, and it seems tied in with sentimentality. In anticipation of Christmas we started to clean out his (several) toy storage bins, starting with a big hallway trunk. The emphasis on charity didn’t work as well as I hoped. What worked better was my allusion to Santa’s assessment of toys already owned, and how he might bring fewer toys to boys that seem overloaded. That resulted in a small garbage bag filled with forgotten toddler toys, although the barking dalmatian toy that he no longer walks had to stay.

As a mother, I struggle with sentimental clutter every day. The volume of artwork that comes home from kindergarten and daycare is staggering. I might trial a weekly “art sale” where we pick the top 5 “keepers”. Gavin’s baby clothes are packed in giant Rubbermaid bins in the attic. I can’t bear the thought of losing them; they all carry such memories. And yet, maybe some little boy out there could really use at least some of them. Do I really need 50 onesies and T-shirts to hold my memories of babyhood?

A local author and artist, Jill Butler, wrote some columns in our shoreline paper. I liked the term she came up with: rightsizing. She wrote about how downsizing sounds so deprived, while rightsizing sounds so, well, right. This is a great way to put it. I don’t want fanaticism. I don’t want deprivation. I want sanity—a clear head and clear surroundings.

What is it about saying no that’s hard? In my case, I don’t want to be difficult. I don’t want to be a “stick in the mud”. I want to be fun and easygoing, not the “bad guy”. And yet, a few carefully placed “nos” have yielded some great results. I said no to being a manager and regained some workplace sanity. Before that, I said no to a career at a large, prestigious company and got a short commute and a much better rapport in exchange. I say no to the ringing phone when I am absorbed in something else and get far more done. I say no even to mothering when I feel the need for escape, and come back much more patient, ready for any challenge.

I like this quote by Linda Breen Pierce: If you say yes to one thing (like a job promotion), recognize that you are saying no to something else (perhaps more time with family). Live consciously and deliberately.

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At 11/12/2007 5:52 PM, Anonymous Linda said...

I think that women in particular are raised to be agreeable and compliant. I found it very difficult to say "no" until my very health was at stake. Only then did it become abundantly clear that "no",in fact, meant a very big "yes" to preserving my precious health.


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