Things I Don’t Do


Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Helen Chang

I’ve spent most of my life feeling guilty for not doing more or being better, cooking like her or saving the homeless community like him. But the last two years for me have been about unwinding the guilt, the shame, the commitments that this week or this day will be different because I will do more or be better. I’m learning speak kindly to myself and not run around doing things merely to polish my image. I’m learning to say no to good things, in order to say yes to the really important ones. But it’s been a lot harder than I expected.

You don’t change your mind overnight, so a few weeks ago I slipped back into feeling inadequate and thinking about all the ways I was failing compared to everyone else. I mentioned in an email to a friend that I really should do better and she replied, “I’m going to mail you something.”

A few days later, a chapter from a wonderful book called Bittersweet arrived at my office with the title, “Things I Don’t Do.”

I started reading and the author, Shauna, talks about panicking about her inadequacies, her ‘to-do’ list, and how all the moms she knew were better at what felt like everything even though they had longer to-do lists than she did. She realized her mantra in life was “do everything better”. But she was coming unraveled and not doing the important things well, so she decided to stop.

She made a list of things she wanted her life to be about, a “things I do” list, and then gave herself permission to write things on a “things I don’t do” list. On the “things I don’t do” list, she listed gardening, scrapbooking, having a neat house, making her bed, baking, and getting dressed just to leave the house. She doesn’t apologize for going out in yoga pants everyday, not having a perfectly neat house, or showing up with store-bought cake. A “things I don’t do” list, gives freedom to focus on doing the important things well. But, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. As Shauna wrote,

“It’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard, she said, is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.”

It’s hard for me not to do everything and especially difficult not to compare myself to other women. When I see someone who is an author, a mom, has a clean house, puts a hot meal on the table every day, and knows how to DIY a living room, a small part of me feels like a failure. I want to go home and jump on the performance treadmill and push myself harder, faster; chanting “Be better” and “Do more”.

But I’m a firm believer that we will miss the greatest gifts and opportunities in life if we are always in a hurry, measuring success by the accomplishments of those around us.

So I scribbled a list on a notepad and wanted to share my  ‘things I don’t do” list with you. I don’t do these good things, because I’m committed to doing what I’m called to do well. I’m committed to writing and loving my husband with all my heart and reaching out to hurting, hopeless women.

Things I Don’t Do

  1. Impress people with my house or my cooking. I don’t have the gift of hospitality and when I open my door, my goal is for people to feel at home, not to wow them with my perfect decor or from scratch cooking abilities. That’s great for some people, but I took the pressure off myself in this department. 
  2. Apologize for missing church activities. I give myself permission to not be at everything Michael needs to be at (he works at church) and squelch the guilt feelings about missing church.
  3. Volunteer. Sure volunteering is great,but at this point in my life in between writing and working I have nothing left to give and no more time. Maybe someday I will, but for now the answer is no.
  4. Agree to more than two activities after work. I need downtown and crave time with just Michael. This rule allows me to spend quality time with my husband.
  5. Diet. Dieting makes me cranky, sometimes irrational and I simply cannot love my husband & write coherent sentences with a restricted caloric intake. If I am stressed about my weight, I’ll always choose the gym for my sanity and everyone else’s (you’re welcome).

So there’s my list! Freedom! I hope you make one too.

 What can you give yourself permission not to do in order to do what you were made for?  What will be on your list? 

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10 Responses to “Things I Don’t Do”
  1. k says:

    hi, thanks Ruthie. I have been going thru a season of what you are saying– and it has been confusing- as I came to healing and more functional relationships later in life, so add to that trying to make up for lost time- – i just want to do it all- or i think i have to do it all. i think if i ask God and really try to listen he will tell me what to let go of, and what to grow. And i will ask him to help me see my dreams, and it is ok to have dreams of my own.

  2. Katie says:

    Ruthie, I am loving this post today! There are SO many “good” things that can be added to our plates, and I know that I am terrible at saying “no” to any potential opportunity. This leaves me tired, stressed, and unable to do anything with the level of greatness that I would like. I am also in a season of pruning out some “good” things to make room for the “best”. Thanks for this post, it was an encouragement!

  3. Sarah says:

    Yes, you do have the gift of hospitality! Making people feel at home, relaxed and safe and in good company is the definition of hospitality.

  4. Sarah Hayes says:

    Ruthie (and Shauna, indirectly), thank you for this. I’ve always been a perpetual overcommitter and it’s so easy for to feel like I’m somehow failing because I can’t do everything all the time. I went to Q LA last month and came back feeling so overwhelmed because there were so many good things that were talked about that I wanted to be a part of and I didn’t know where to start and I knew that if I was involved in everything, I would burn myself out. So thank you for sharing this. I’m reading “Bread & Wine” right now, but it looks like “Bittersweet” is officially on my “to-read” list and I’ll be starting on work on my own list of things I don’t do. :)

  5. Jess says:

    My grandma never had a clean house, often lost her wallet and always ran late. It always takes me several minutes to remember that though because I most easily remember her playing with me, reading to me or taking me to the movies. She knew investing in others made a big impact. Your post brought a smile to my face because it made me remember her. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Tatuu says:

    Ruthie, thank you for sharing this. It’s a reminder to me that I am normal and God doesn’t consider me a sinner because I am not gifted in certain areas. Of the above, I only volunteer, I love it and I have the time. :)

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] It terrifies me a little how hard I am on myself. Whether it’s not waking up early, getting distracted at work, not blogging, skipping a workout, eating unhealthy, gaining weight, looking ‘terrible’ in a picture, or making a mistake, I can really speak harshly to myself. I seldom let myself off the hook. I also push myself to the point of exhaustion, because I compare myself to the highest achievers. (For more on this, read Things I Don’t Do) […]

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