What would happen if you let it go?

Certain activities must be done. You need to feed yourself and anyone who is physically dependent on you. The consequences of other choices — say, not going to work for 2 weeks with no explanation — are probably worth avoiding as well.

But a lot of what fills people’s time is more negotiable. We develop stories of the way things “should” be done or what “everybody knows” or what you simply “can’t” do. The funny part is that these stories vary a lot between people.

When I first started writing about time, I did a lot of time makeovers. I remember one time diary from these early years where the woman in question was bathing her children nightly. She mentioned desperately wanting more down time in the evening, so I suggested skipping the baths a few nights a week. This seemed pretty straightforward to me, because my kids have never taken a nightly bath. She laughed and dismissed this out of hand. I think she honestly thought I was making a joke.

Or there was the company where a number of people worked remotely. One person’s schedule featured zero breaks. She even mentioned that she’d hired a dog walker to come because she didn’t think she could get out for 15 minutes twice a day. Her colleagues did not subscribe to the same philosophy of their company culture. There were plenty of breaks on their logs. Maybe her job was completely different from theirs, but maybe not.

Sometimes stories are preferences, and that’s fine. It is reasonable to decide, perhaps after experimentation, that “I know my kid, and I know that bedtime goes better when she has a bath to wind her down, and we do the exact same thing as many nights as possible. Since I’m tiring of this routine, I will request that my co-parent take this on twice a week” [or grandma, or a sitter, etc.] But it is a different thing to tell the story that “everyone knows children need to be bathed nightly” and complain of martyrdom when one’s co-parent doesn’t subscribe to the same philosophy.

Anyway, this brings me to a strategy for freeing up time. First, you figure out what tasks are major pain points. Then you ask “what would happen if I stopped doing this, at least for a while?” If the answer doesn’t appear to be complete catastrophe, you can then give it a whirl. You can, to quote the song, “let it go.”

So, maybe your family thinks that the laundry fairy simply puts their clothes away neatly in the drawers. You can stop doing that. Put the clean clothes in a basket and people can come take what they want. Or, if you have older children, you could just stop doing laundry and casually mention that you’re happy to teach people how to do their own.

Or maybe you seem to always be the one emptying the dishwasher. Maybe it’s because the four other people who live with you are heartless rubes. Maybe it’s because you notice the dishwasher is clean before everyone else and always empty it before they do. They’re not exactly going to fight you for the privilege, but if you stop doing it, eventually someone’s going to want dishes. You can let the dirty ones stack up in the sink and just walk away and read a book after dinner. See what happens. Who knows? It will be an interesting experiment.

You can do this on the work front too. Everyone is wrapped up in his or her own little world. Very few people are going to notice if you take a 15-minute break. Your boss is too worried about pleasing her boss to wonder if a generally productive employee is in the bathroom or has slipped out for some fresh air (perish the thought). Why not give it a try?

To be sure, sometimes there will be consequences, which is why it might be wise to start small. But a lot in life can be let go of. If a task is making you particularly unhappy or resentful, it might be worth a shot.

Have you ever decided to borrow a phrase from Elsa and “let it go?”

Photo: Let it go…

12 thoughts on “What would happen if you let it go?

  1. That’s funny–I did the opposite about the dishwasher as my version of letting it go. We had a system whereby the older kids unloaded the dishwasher (we are a family of seven so this is a daily task) and it was near constant bickering, moaning, groaning, and carrying on. I (or my husband, or the babysitter) had to helicopter to make it happen, and even then, it took too long and was awful. Every. Day. So I let go of my expectation that kids should unload dishwashers (which is how I grew up) and told the kids that if they notice the dishwasher is ready to unload and they unload it, they get a quarter. If I notice first, I unload it. Once this shift happened, the kids stopped complaining, and I’m only out a couple of dollars a week. This may be teaching them entitlement or something, but for now it’s totally worth it.

    I have a long low table behind my couch, and I use that to sort laundry. Every person has a designated spot on the table, and I just make towering, unfolded piles. Everyone grabs his or her pile and folds and puts it away (including adults). I find this very fast (I’ve timed it at under five minutes per day and I do it while talking with the kids as I would standing around if not sorting) and I don’t care if the clothes are wrinkled. My mother finds this appalling, but oh well. We have three bag laundry sorters outside of bathrooms so dirty clothes are always sorted by color as they are taken off, and loads can be done by anyone tall enough to reach the washer (I pay $1 per washed and dried load). This works really well, and is actually less time consuming for me than taking things to a laundry service, at least in our area.

    1. @Catherine – $1/load of laundry and 25 cents to empty the dishwasher seems totally worth it. I wouldn’t worry about entitlement. I mean, if they want to pay themselves $1/load into a “fun fund” later in life too, why not?

  2. Yes, this is a big theme in our house!

    First, I let go of sorting laundry by color about 8 years ago. Guess what happened? Nothing (except some saved time). Also, if you give me clothing inside out, it will be washed inside out.

    We also don’t worry about order on bookshelves. As long as books are on the shelf, who cares?

    And while we do a “reset” each night with kids’ toys — which they put away, not the adults — those toys are just tossed into two large built-in cabinets. If they want order, they can order them. I don’t care as long as I don’t have to see it!

    1. @Kathleen – sounds good! I pretty much no longer make my bed. Maybe if the spirit moves me. It usually doesn’t. The only person who sees the unmade bed during the day is me anyway, and if it doesn’t bother me…

  3. I loved Tiffany Dufu’s book Drop the Ball for this. So many things that we ‘should’ do but don’t actually need to do.

    1. @Cbs – great suggestion! I know a lot of people who read this blog really enjoyed Tiffany’s book. (And any western Canadian readers — we’ll both be speaking at the Art of Leadership for Women conferences in Calgary and Vancouver in a few weeks!)

    2. Ha! I read this post and immediately thought of Drop the Ball, too! Also, I’m guessing you’re the same poster on CorporetteMoms that I always wind up discussing that book with 🙂

      Anyway, I loved the MEL for actually putting into writing, “I am delegating this task to no one.” It’s shocking how reliable “no one” is when you delegate tasks to her!

  4. Yes! This is one of my favorite strategies. I don’t bathe my children nightly, I lower my standards for cleanliness in general, I don’t fold kids’ clothing, I don’t make the bed, and I don’t “enforce” my kids cleaning their rooms as much as I “should.” The result: more leisure time for me, and a much better and calmer outlook on life, work, and family.

  5. When my boys were little, after bathing they put on the clothes for the next day and slept in them. They were boys, so there were no frilly dresses or such to mess up, so it worked for us. My sister was mortified by the idea, lol.

    I agree with OP, if you put clothes in the basket inside out they get washed that way. Any money I find in the washer or dryer is mine. 🙂

  6. Yes!

    I kept my son in onesies for basically the first 18 months of his life, because I found they worked well and I didn’t like dressing/undressing small children. So: onesie it was, and changed as required (but not more frequently). Now as an older child he REFUSES to wear pajamas and I think it’s because the constant onesie wearing scarred him for life 😉 . But basically, yes — he goes to sleep in what he’ll wear to school tomorrow, and wakes up dressed. It’s great.

    And … yeah. I throw all clothes together in the wash on warm. Except I don’t do laundry anymore; I was willing to do it in order to be able to hang it out to conserve energy, but my DH doesn’t like that because we have a blond dog who’s a shedder and he finds the dog hair around if the clothes aren’t run through the drier. OK, but as it was the desire not to have the clothes run through the drier that motivated my doing the laundry (DH insists on using it), I now don’t; I’ve let DH take this one over completely.

    And … what else? Picking up on Laura’s earlier post, no makeup, no uncomfortable shoes, no complicated haircuts or -dos, and a simple work uniform (slacks with decent-sized front and back pockets that hold keys, wallet, phone so I don’t need a purse) and a blouse or sweater. I work in role/setting where this is feasible 99% of the time.

    I’ve realized that one thing I will NOT be thinking on my death bed is, “Gee, I wish I’d spent more time in the kitchen!” so I mostly look for pre-fab, pre-cooked, or really simple meal options. I find there are some pretty good alternatives out there … Costco’s lasagne is every bit as good as mine would be and uses pretty much the same ingredients I’d use.

  7. I have been working on this. I went back to a paid job last fall just after my mother died. Something had to go and I decided it was housework (cooking, cleaning, laundry (my kids already did their own, but hubs needed to step up), grocery shopping, dishes). The kids were already supposed to do the dishes to earn part of their allowance. I only pay if they do it without my asking. I stopped paying long ago and still dishes pile in the sink. Close to 8 months and it drives me nuts but at least I’m out of the house most of the day. I go elsewhere in the house so I am not constantly reminded of it. They do eventually do it and I am hoping (praying) that if I stop long enough they will notice more. I know it’s good for all of us, but they truly don’t see it until they need a clean glass or bowl.

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