In the last few months my guy has been away from home a lot and I’ve been flying solo with the kid and the house and all of our animals. I finished radiation therapy at the end of January and it has been a long slow road back to feeling like myself. My stamina is still very low, I have to sleep a lot and my memory is terrible. I simply can’t keep on top all the things that are involved in keeping a household running solo, but how do I figure out what to let go? It often feels like I’m running in circles and things are still falling down all around me. I have very little resilience still, so if one disruptive thing happens – a night of insomnia, a cold, a disaster of a day – I’m flattened and it takes a couple of days for me to get back on my feet.
All this to say I’ve had to let go of quite a few things in the last few months in order to keep moving forward. That can be really hard to sit with, because I want to do all the things! I want to be fully engaged in life, creative and productive and busy. But I just can’t.
You might be in a really different place. Hopefully you are strong and energetic and not recovering from cancer treatment! But you may still be feeling that crush of wanting to do more than you can do, or having many things on your plate taking up your time and energy and resenting them.
That’s my tell, how I know I need to make a change. When I’m feeling that “I want, I want…” pull, but also that I have no space to do that think I want to do. I want to draw, but I’m running around all day and have no art supplies with me. I want to read a book, but don’t feel like I can afford to put the to do list down for a while. I want to feel deeply connected with someone but my partner and I haven’t talked in two days and I haven’t had a meaningful conversation with anyone over the age of six in a week.
That’s when I figure out what I need to let go of. And here is the secret to this process: You don’t need to figure out what to let go, you need to figure out what you want to keep.
A Four Step Guide to Determine What to Let Go
1. Make a list
What is most important to you right now? Be super selfish in this list, because this will tell you what you most crave. Leave off the things that are important to others but not to you, and everything you feel you should be doing but you are feeling resentment about. These are your top priorities.
Take a good hard look at the list and think about how you are spending your time. The first time I did this, I realized I was spending more than 50% of my waking hours doing things that were not on the list. Where is your time going? If your time is being spent on things not on your list, those are what to let go.
My first list had these things on it: Take care of me, take care of Bean, take care of the house. In that order. Instead I had been blogging, taking online classes (but failing to finish them), trying to clear out closets and my garage, thinking about volunteering in Bean’s classroom, and planning a big landscape project. None of those things fell into my top three priorities. No wonder I was feeling so exhausted and unhappy!
I made a second list, breaking down what each of my priorities meant to me. Taking care of me meant getting enough sleep, eating well, making something with my hands every day, and connecting with an adult every day. Taking care of Bean meant finding at least one hour of one on one time every day, keeping her bedtime consistent, and keeping her fed and healthy. Taking care of the house meant keeping it tidy, keeping all the animals alive, and keeping caught up on the bills and paperwork.
Remember that you don’t have to keep these priorities forever. You might need to do something drastic, but only do it for a little while. I knew I needed to get through the end of the school year and then I was going to need to re-evaluate based on my further-from-treatment energy level and our summer schedule. I wasn’t excited about letting go of blogging when I was just starting to focus on it again, but when I was honest with myself I knew it wasn’t the right time for me to return yet. I resented the time I was spending on it, and that wasn’t going to make me a good blogger.
3. Make a plan
Take a look at your schedule and map out where you will put each of your priority activities. Put them early in the day, because if you leave them until last they may not happen. Put yourself first. You might want to make a little chart in your calendar if there are things you want to do every day so you can keep track of them.
Review the things that are completely out of alignment with your current priorities. What can you set aside for a while? What can you simply stop doing? What can you enlist someone else to take off your hands? What can you defer for a while and come back to later?
Take whatever steps you need to to divest yourself of things, including possibly having some hard conversations.
Decide how soon you want to review your priorities again. What’s going on in your life that might impact your time and energy? Pick a target date and mark it on your calendar.
This last step may feel like one you can skip, because hey, you got all lined up and everything is good now, right? Don’t skip it. Things change. You change, your environment changes, the needs of your kids and partner changes. Either on the date you decided to check in again, or whenever you start feeling out of alignment again, sit down and go back to step one. Do the whole process again.
Repeat the cycle as many times as you need to, which may be forever. Each time it will be a little easier to know what is a strong priority to you and for how long you might need to focus on it. It will get easier to say no to things that may never be priorities to you, even if someone else really wants you to do them. It will get easier to let go of things that you tried, but that are not a good fit or that take more energy or time than you are willing to give them.
Leave a comment below. What are your priorities right now?