The Creative Mama » inspiring art, encouraging women

My “Not To Do” List.

How many of you can relate to this scenario: I’m sitting in bed with my laptop at the end of an exhausting day; which, among other things, happened to entail a unexpected trip to the ER with my 2-year-old (he’s recovering fine now). Of course, I had planned to write this article earlier. My priorities and commitments were shuffled so many times this week that here I am cranking it out past midnight. Not only that, I will be awoken to nurse a baby at least once in the night before gathering all three of my children age 4 and under by 7:30 and heading out the door by 8:30 for an early-morning event.

My guess: almost all of you mamas!

I’m postponing my original topic to share how I have been encouraged this week as I reflect on the commitments I make and my unending to-do list.

For starters, I am rethinking my traditional Type-A approach to my life as mama, wife, homemaker, photographer, writer etc. I am working on truly prioritizing. Anyone else? Surely I am not alone!

Here are a few speed bumps of inspiration that have given me pause this week:

#1 I shared this on my personal blog this week, but David Allen’s fantastic quote sums up many of our lives. Yes we CAN do anything, but not everything. Sounds simple. But it can be so difficult to eliminate the “everythings” to make room for the important anythings. Oh, and it also involves saying “no” – to others and to ourselves. What’s *really* important and what are we working toward? We need to figure that out first and then we can prune the list.

#2 Nesting Place had an amazing post about perspective when it comes to housekeeping:

According to suburban queen and humorist Erma Bronbeck, “Housework, if you do it right, will kill you. No one ever died from sleeping in an unmade bed. I have known mothers who remake the bed after their children do it because there is wrinkle in the spread or the blanket is on crooked. This is sick.” There is truth in there. And, although I don’t always make our beds everyday, I am guilty of this offense — and countless others. Striving for perfection in lieu of completely acceptable. The article followed with this book recommendation:  A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of A Misspent Life: How to live creatively with collections, clutter, work, kids, pets, art, etc… and stop worrying about everything being perfectly in its place. I’m adding it to my wish list pronto.

#3 This PDF excerpt from one of my favorite author Shawna Niequist’s new book Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change Grace and Learning the hard Way. The chapter is entitled “Things I Don’t Do.” I can’t wait to get a copy of this — one of may all-time favorite reads is her previous book Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life.

Want relatable? Try this on for size:

“I’m a list-keeper. I always, always have a to-do list, and it ranges from the mundane: go to the dry cleaner, go to the post office, buy batteries; to the far-reaching: stop eating Henry’s leftover Dino Bites, get over yourself, forgive nasty reviewer, wear more jewelry. At one point, I kept adding to the list, more and more items, more and more sweeping in their scope, until I added this line: DO EVERYTHING BETTER.

It was, at the time, a pretty appropriate way to capture how I felt about my life and myself fairly often. It also explains why I tended to get so tired I’d cry without knowing why, why my life sometimes felt like I was running on a hamster wheel, and why I searched the faces of calmer, more grounded women for a secret they all knew that I didn’t.”

By now, I’m already wishing I could meet her over a frappucino. She had lunch with a friend who seemed to be “doing it all” and with grace and contentment. The advice?

“…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. Her words from that day have been rattling around inside me for years now, twisting around, whispering, taking shape.”

Once again, I’m hooked. I’m singing Hallelujah from the rooftops. She goes on to share how she got there and how she made a list of the things she does, as WELL as a list of things she does not do. The conclusion:

“The grandest seduction of all is the myth that DOING EVERYTHING BETTER gets us where we want to be. It gets us somewhere, certainly, but not anywhere worth being.”

The chapter is an incredible read. And if you’ve come this far, I am certain you can relate–at least on occasion. So tomorrow (I’m wiped tonight), I’ll be starting a list of things I do not do. It’s going to be difficult if I do it authentically. But I’m ready. And 7:30 comes quickly. Are you with me?

Co-editor Stephanie Beaty is a blessed mama of three children and military spouse. After a 10-year career as a professional writer/PR pro she began Lifeography, a modern child + family portrait studio where she focuses on capturing relationships and connections. Although her growing family currently resides in Virginia Beach, Va., home is wherever the Navy sends them. Write to her at

About Stephanie

Stephanie Beaty is a blessed, homeschooling mama of four and military spouse. After a 10-year career as a professional writer/PR pro she began Lifeography, a modern child + family portrait studio where she focuses on capturing relationships and connections. Although her growing family currently resides in Tampa, Fla., home is wherever the Navy sends them.

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  • Stephenie

    Thank you for this post. As a new mom and a perfectionist, I am learning that truly the things I thought were so important that needed to get done are not the things in life that really matter. Spending your energy on your relationships with family, friends, and on yourself is where it counts.

    Recently a friend posted the following quote …and it too is a new mantra for my new lifestyle.

    Some days, doing “the best we can” may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect-on any front- and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else.” -Fred Rogers

  • Danielle

    I am SO with you. Just finished my second week back to work after maternity leave with Rhett. Trying to keep the pace that I did when I only had 1 child, as well as the pace of maternity leave with regards to the house, cooking, cleaning, etc. I. CAN’T. DO. IT. ANYMORE. and maintain my sanity, that is. Because I suppose I COULD physically do it, but then I’m too tired and cranky to love anyone. And who wants a mom who’s too tired to love and play with them? Thanks for sharing – love you Steph!

  • The Rancher’s Wife Kate

    Loved this so much! Thank you for the reminder. :)

  • Jess

    I LOVED this book! I brought Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet with me on vacation and couldn’t put them down. I appreciate Shauna’s genuine spirit and honesty – I love that you are making a list of things that you don’t do! I may have to follow your lead!

  • Susan

    One of my greatest faults is that I often jugde my self worth on how much I get accomplished-GAH! What I have found over the years (my kids are much older than yours) is that my kids and husband don’t really care if the bed is made or if there are dust bunnies in the corners. They would much rather I sit down and play a game or watch a fun show with them rather than spend my time cleaning and then being too exhausted to give my best to them. It’s taken me a L O N G time to figure it out and I had to learn to give myself PERMISSION to let things go! You are so right- you have to look at what’s really important because you cannot do everything!

  • Joyce

    What a wonderful and timely post. I’m in!

  • Wendy T.

    i’m SO glad the tide is finally starting to turn towards shauna’s thinking. i have the image of the david allen quote on my pinterest under the “AMEN” board. i think for many of us it takes having a breakdown of some sorts to finally get it. after i had mine i started a new blog called “not caught up…and that’s a good thing”. thank you for posting this…

  • Ginger

    Great read ! I think as moms and especially as military spouses filling shoes of two parents a lot of the times…it’s easy to feel this way! I have found that doing what matters most and committing to less makes me the most happy! I definitely enjoy a very slow pace of life! Can’t wait to order this book!

  • Julie

    What a wonderful reminder! Thanks for sharing! A message that needed to be heard today . . .

  • Pingback: What Doesn't Really Matter | Seeking Equipoise()

  • Robyn

    I LOVE this post. As a Type A, full-time trial attorney, mother of 2 and wife — I strive too often for perfection in things that mean nothing to anyone but me.

    There are so many great take-aways from this post. Thank you.

  • andrea

    And I just added 3 more books to my must read list. I’ve been in the process of doing just this, making a not to do list, prioritizing what’s important for me and my family. Thanks for sharing.

  • Stacey Woods

    YES! I will be ordering both of those books today, as well as making a Not To Do List myself. I’ve been saying, over the past few months: “If I do everything at once, how can I do any one thing well?” So this is perfect timing. It’s sadly comforting to know there are many of us in the same situation. Thank you, Steph. You’re always a wellspring for me!

  • Hannah

    This article connects so much to where I am right now. I have been examining priorities and my use of time, and have been convicted to make some changes. Your reading recs look great!

  • Meridith

    THANK YOU for this post. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I am also a perpetual keeper of the to-do’s, and try to keep too many balls in the air, so to speak. And every now and then I realize I need to stop. To give myself grace to let something slide. Whether that’s scaling back on professional commitments, or simply letting the dishes sit in the sink overnight–and not just for my sanity, but so I can enjoy things like reading the extra books my daughter snuck into the pile at bedtime.

    One more thing: I don’t know where it came from, but I try to remind myself to “do the next thing.” Because we can’t do everything at once, and my full attention to the next task at hand is far better than trying to do several things and feeling both distracted and stressed.

  • Heather

    This was a good read this morning for me. I’m about to become a homeschooling mom (again) after not homeschooling for 3 years and even though I have done it in the past, I sit her wondering how I will get it all done next year. Thanks for sharing!!