Learning to say "no" is a hot topic in the world of self-improvement and personal development. Just this week, I read a Vogue article about saying no as an act of self-care. When topics become this popular, it's easy for them to become diluted.
This concept is too important to only digest the easy, peasy bite-size version.
If you’re serious about clearing the clutter so you can focus on creative projects that matter, you need to dive headfirst into boundary-setting and learning to say “no.” Learning to set boundaries is a skill you have to learn, like riding a bike. Mastering this skill means you need to practice it until it becomes second-nature. As with any behavioral change, give yourself lots of time to practice and master the new skill.
In my first installment of the Minimalism 101 series, I talked about building habits to eliminate desire. The next step is learning to set boundaries, and learning how to say "no" with grace and ease.
This is a more nuanced concept than learning the most polite ways to turn down an invitation. Although I do have a couple suggestions:
"I can't get drinks this weekend, I'm saving cash to go camping next month." - prioritizing an activity that brings you happiness
"I appreciate the invite, but I'm busy that day! Have fun for me!" - plain and simple "no"
"I'd love to, but it's during my yoga class." - prioritizing health & well-being
“I can’t make our weekly hangout anymore, trying to make more time to work on [insert creative project here]. Can we make it a monthly thing instead?” - compromising, and prioritizing creative projects
This past weekend, I reached a boundary-setting milestone—an entire weekend of nothing but writing and creating.
I spent the entirety of Saturday and most of Sunday making a new zine. I didn't go grocery shopping, go out with friends, or do any cleaning or housekeeping. It felt amazing. I can honestly say I reached this point through eight months of flexing my “no” muscle and making myself unavailable to friends, family, and coworkers.
I am privileged in the way that I am not a parent so I don’t have any kiddos to look after. I also don’t work weekends, due to my full-time desk job. I’m telling you this so you can identify your own privilege and use it to your advantage. I also want to make sure I’m being transparent with you, dear reader. Identifying my privilege will give you a better picture of what it looks like to live my life, make time for creative projects, and run this blog.
Learning to say “no” is a habit you build through thoughtful decision-making.
For example, my employer is hosting a homecoming tailgate event this fall. I don't feel particularly obliged to go, but I am trying to connect more with coworkers at social events. At first, I thought the tailgate would be the ideal place for coworker bonding. After re-reading the invitation, I realized I would rather be doing something else on a Saturday afternoon during the most beautiful time of the year. Writing at a coffee shop, reading in the backyard, or making a zine.
So I didn't send the email asking my coworkers to go with me to the tailgate. I decided to bond with them in a different way. Sometimes, setting boundaries and taking control of your schedule is as simple as second-guessing your plans and making changes.
Your life should not be filled with events that you dread.
In fact, it should be the opposite. If your schedule isn’t filled with activities that fire you up, then it is time to make some changes.
Do you have a weekly family dinner that is taking up your time and energy? Don't go. Tell your family that you can only attend one dinner per month (a compromise). Or stop going completely (boundary-setting master!). This doesn't mean you don't love your family, it means you’re adjusting your focus. If they love you, they'll understand. If they're upset, it's their problem, not yours.
Is there someone who demands your attention 24/7? This one is tricky, because relationships are complex and these types of people tend to be manipulative. In my experience, going “no-contact” is the only way to nip these relationships in the butt. This means completely ceasing communication with the manipulator for an extended period of time. If it is your boss that demands your attention in this way, it’s time to start looking for a new job. Trust me, you’ll be happier in the long run.
Do you love attending your weekly tennis practices but hate feeling obligated to get drinks after? Come up with an excuse and dip out early. You're too tired. You have an early meeting. Your laundry isn't going to do itself. Once you do it a couple times, it becomes easier and everyone will get used to you dipping out early and stop expecting your presence as much.
Do adult obligations like grocery shopping, laundry, and cleaning pile up and take priority? Batch these tasks to one day per week. Or hire help. Delegate some tasks to other family members. Create a system that makes these tasks easier. For example, create a “master” grocery list with the same items to buy each week. For me, eating the same meals week after week isn’t so bad as long as they’re healthy and simple to make. Decluttering your belongings and owning less will help ease these chores. My laundry load became much smaller after I stopped washing my clothes after every use.
Is your fear of missing out affecting your ability to set solid boundaries? Are you worried that if you say "no" too many times, people will stop inviting you to things and you will have no friends? These feelings disappear once you replace them with the feeling of working on creative projects that you’ve always dreamed of. Getting closer to your goals and working toward your dreams brings a feeling of satisfaction and contentment that is worth missing another night of drinks at the bar.
There will always be another birthday party, going-away party, night on the town, or community event. It is up to you to determine your priorities and adjust your schedule to fit those priorities.
If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.
What would an entire weekend of "no obligations" look like for you?
Pro tip: Delete Facebook and feel the lightness of not receiving any event invitations.