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Totally Together

The Art of Saying No

August 26, 2013 by  

art of saying NO


It’s back to school season, and this is usually the time of the year where I re-prioritize my goals and daily activities. I’ve got a seventh grader, a fourth grader, and a preschooler this year.

The preschooler is only in school 6 hours a week, because I’m just not ready to let her go for more hours, yet. This means that I really need to manage my time wisely to make sure I meet all of my assigned (and self-assigned) tasks.

I’ve not always been the best about saying NO. I used to try really hard to get people/aquaintances/complete strangers to “like me” and ended up over-extending myself. I wanted to be the go-to responsible person for the PTA, or for girl scouts, or to help volunteer at the library. I wanted to be the trusted afterschool  babysitter, and I wanted to be the carpool mom. I thought that was who I was, what my identity was.

And then I snapped.

I shared through email with my friend Crystal, of Money Saving Mom, what my tipping point was and after typing it out, thought perhaps it’d be best to share it “out loud” —- because I do believe we are all on our own personal journey. We are all just trying to do the very best we can on a day-to-day basis. Crystal helped me to remember that I have not always been the way I am now. I used to hold my breath to get through my day — as she words it: I wasn’t living; I was surviving.

Anyhow. Back in 2008, when I was in the final quarter of my Year of Slow Cooking, I kind of had a breakdown. It was September, and it was back-to-school night. Things were going well with the site, and I had just signed a book deal for Make it Fast, Cook it Slow. I had appeared on The Rachael Ray Show, and because of that, the site traffic had quintupled. I was working on the site, working for BlogHer ads, and was working for Bay Area Parent. I only had two children at the time, but I was fully responsible for all things in regards to them — afterall, I was home.

I came home from Back to School night and crumpled to the floor. I had on a cute outfit, I remember changing my clothes a few times before leaving the house to man the PTA table. My hair was straightened, and I had spent more time then I care to admit on my makeup. My goal was to look breezy and put-together, and  trendy-but-not-too-trendy. I shook hands and made small talk.

I probably looked the way I wanted to look. I probably fooled a bunch of people.

but the second it was all over, I remember hugging my knees to my chest in the corner of my bedroom and sobbing. For hours.

the very next day I quit almost everything. I’m sure I disappointed quite a few, but I took back my time. I took back my priorities.

and to this day, it was one of the best decisions of my life.

This “take back” of my time is why I don’t have a personal Facebook account. This is also why I don’t own a smart phone.



excerpt from Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life


It is a wonderful feeling when a trusted friend, co-worker, or supervisor asks for your help. It is difficult to not let ego take over when you are told that you are “perfect” for something or that the school’s Popsicle eating contest “can’t be done” without you.

Don’t get talked into doing something that your heart isn’t in. Someone else will step forward, and if not, the world will not stop spinning if the Popsicle eating contest doesn’t happen as scheduled. If somebody complains, let that somebody be in charge. It is not worth stretching yourself thin to please other people—you and your family come first.

Say no to the committees, say no to the bake sales, and say no to anything that you don’t really and truly want to do. If later on in the year, you find that your time is a bit more free, there are numerous ways to ease back in to service. It’s always better to say “no” right away than to say “yes” and then fall short of the required responsibilities.

Learn also to say “no” when choosing sports, musical instruments, enrichment classes, or out-of-school camps with your children that might stretch your calendar thin. It is so easy to sign up for more than you or your child can handle, and the outside obligation can quickly take over family life.

Pick and choose carefully, and ensure that you and your children completely understand the commitment and responsibility required. Some families have found that limiting choices to one indoor and one outdoor activity at a time works well.


My days now feel more balanced. I’m not perfect, and I still lose my patience and temper more than I probably should, but I feel much more at peace than I used to.

and that’s a great feeling.


Post a comment · 16 Comments »


16 Responses to “The Art of Saying No”

  1. Jenny Evanchik on August 26th, 2013 10:53 am

    I remember the advice you gave me when my daughter started Kindergarten, “Don’t sign up for anything I wasn’t really interested in doing”. Of course, I still signed up for quite a few things, but I didn’t go crazy :) Thanks for saving my sanity

    • Stephanie on August 27th, 2013 3:49 pm

      oxoxo you are wonderful, Jenny.

  2. Sue on August 26th, 2013 8:09 pm

    When my two sons were a just starting school, I did feel the need to do something for the community outside the home. My kids wanted to do Boy Scouts, so I wound up doing various things for them over the next 15 years or so. I decided that if everyone did One Thing – coach, run for community office, volunteer or do PTA-type things, then we wouldn’t see the same people doing all those things. And once I chose my one thing, I no longer felt guilty about saying no to anyone. If I had the spare bandwidth, fine, otherwise I just said no with no guilt.
    It worked for me.

    • Stephanie on August 27th, 2013 3:49 pm

      This is wonderful advice, Sue.

  3. annie on August 27th, 2013 6:47 am

    I can use this reminder every year! I broke down last year and had to step away from a lot. It is so easy to overcommit with twins because I felt it would only be fair to do for one what I am doing for the other. Thanks for the great post!!

    • Stephanie on August 27th, 2013 3:49 pm

      I can only imagine the mind games you’d play with yourself with twins!

  4. Jennifer on August 27th, 2013 6:50 am

    I can not begin to thank you enough for this post at this particular time. It seems as if the advice was meant just for me. I am going through some tough times with regards to work and balancing three kids and a home. Thank you for helping me see the light!

    I will save this post and I am sure will reference it all school year long!

    Thank you again,

    • Stephanie on August 27th, 2013 3:48 pm

      lots of love, Jen. I’m happy to be of help in any way I can.

  5. Kim-Cook It Allergy Free on August 27th, 2013 3:33 pm

    Amen, sister!! Huge hugs! I am doing the same thing right now. I am saying NO and man does it feel damn good. Miss you!!

  6. carriem on August 27th, 2013 7:01 pm

    Say yes to some things! I love my volunteering at the school, and I do exactly what I’m willing to do. Volunteer work can be great because you get to decide what works for your family, and do that. Say yes to things you actually love or really care about (or are in the field that you thought about going in to but didn’t) and it can enrich your life.

    • Stephanie on August 29th, 2013 9:09 am

      that’s a very good point, Carrie!!

  7. sandra on September 10th, 2013 10:31 am

    One way that help keeps me organized is getting rid of junk mail as soon as coming to my house and keeping a basket to put mail to go through.

  8. Chris on September 10th, 2013 5:24 pm

    Everybody has their own laundry basket, so they can fold their own and put away their own clothes after I wash their clothes. Helps so much with the giant loads of clothes. They can even wash their own baskets. My kids are older so it makes things a little easier. But they were folding and putting their own clothes away from the time they were little.

  9. Megan on September 16th, 2013 8:24 am

    Thank you for sharing. . .I could have written this post in June. It is nice to know I am not alone. The 2011-12 school year was a blur. I told myself things would be better the next year since I didn’t have X, Y or Z. I then signed on to A, B, C & D for the 2012-2013 school year and was busier than ever. Like you, I was just surviving. When the school year ended, I decided to take control. I layed out what was important to me, and decided what was reasonable for the kids. Main thing was NO GUILT ALLOWED.

    When the email for lunch volunteers came out (an activity I didn’t enjoy) I ignored it, when they sent me a personal email I realized I did like being in the school occassionally, so I gave them 1 day a month (a very specific day) Since they wanted 2-3days/week, I figured it was a no go and was OK with it. I was shocked they agreed and now I am looking forward to lunch duty. : )


    • Stephanie on September 19th, 2013 9:34 am

      yay! Isn’t it interesting how we build stuff up so much in our mind, but as soon as we actually say no outloud it gets easier and easier? I’m so glad the school understood and were accepting of your limits. thanks for sharing — it’s helpful. xoxo

  10. Ruth on November 17th, 2013 6:19 pm

    Thank you, Stephanie. I completely relate to what you’re saying — working to weed lesser priorites away from my life. I’m almost in tears here… so grateful I’m not the only one recovering from this problem. Thanks!

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