A lot of folks associate minimalism with decluttering. We define minimalism as the process of identifying what is essential in your life and ruthlessly eliminating things that are non-essential.
But once you’ve paired down your things, commitments, relationships, to create space for the things you care about, there’s a crucial step that follows, saying no.
Saying no, against your natural urges to not feel like you’re missing out, is the greatest challenge.
In our adolescence, many of us were consumed with the thought of having people say yes to us. We didn’t want to feel left out in school. We wanted our peers to like us. So when confronted with the thought of saying no now, it almost feels counterintuitive.
Luckily, I’ve discovered a nice little hack to make saying no, a breeze. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Note: since publishing this article, we’ve recorded a podcast episode about the same topic.
You’re not confident in what you want
Saying no starts with being crystal clear in what you want. Without knowing what you want, you don’t know what you’re compromising when you say yes.
But it’s not enough to know what you want. It’s about wanting it so much that you say no to other opportunities with ease. It’s through this process we can figure out why you would say no to some things and say yes to others.
It sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s harder than you think.
To break down this approach, we need to do some thinking.
Creating your yes-list
The commitments on your yes-list are the ones that mean the world to you. They are your non-negotiables. It could be activities that improve your health, creativity, and relationships or it could be working on your side-business.
I don’t include errands in my yes-list—even though I understand that they need to be done. I’ve intentionally left them out because listing your chores may overwhelm you with everything that needs to be done.
Research your yes-list for the things you really care about. Below is an example of my yes-list:
Spending quality time with Maša
One of my favourite things to do is to spend time with Maša, whether it’s hanging out at home, eating out or travelling. When I’m not at my day job, I don’t have many moments to spend quality time with her, so when I do, I try to make it count.
Spending quality time with our dog, Chewy
Snuggling, walking and playing with Chewy lights me up and I’m pretty sure he loves it as well! Knowing that this little guy is dependent on us is a massive responsibility and not one I take lightly. More importantly, though, he waits all day for me to come home, and I owe it to him to give him focused attention.
Writing and publishing words
Outside of Maša, and Chewy, writing is non-negotiable. I have a lot to say, and I use words to publish my thoughts and ideas. My goal is to write 1000 words a day which contributes to this blog, future books and other creative projects.
Reading, watching, and listening to fantastic content
To fuel my creativity and overall perspective, I prioritise learning. Few things excite me more than learning something new or drawing inspiration to live my best life. We’re spoilt for choice with the sheer volume of content available to us on the internet, and I want to take full advantage.
Allocating time to my yes-list
When I look at how I spend my time outside of my full-time job, the majority of what I do is on my yes-list. Again, there are some necessary errands that I must do to keep life moving forward, but it’s the list above that gets me the most excited.
Now it’s your turn. Take some time to think about what you want to put on your yes-list. It could be spending time with family, cooking, weightlifting. Whatever it is, make sure it matters deeply to you.
I’ve found it crucial to keep the list to a maximum of five commitments, ideally less. This is to ensure that you experience a level of depth with the responsibilities on your yes-list.
It’s one thing to have a list of commitments, and another to immerse yourself in the benefits of those activities. It’s only when you feel so good about what you’re doing, that you won’t think twice about saying no to other opportunities. This brings me to the next point…
So far we’ve discussed the power of a quality yes-list. But I’m sure you have some questions about the variables of maintaining your priorities. That’s why I’ve created a little Q&A on how to troubleshoot your yes-list.
What happens if you want to change your yes-list?
As we’re continually evolving and growing, it would only be natural if commitments on your yes-list change over time. Don’t feel pressure to get your list perfect. Think of this as version 1.0 of your yes-list. And with each version, your priorities become more refined and intentional.
What do I do if I feel guilty saying no?
My yes-list means I say no to a lot of things in my life, some more important than others. I don’t see or talk to my family as much as other people. I’m quite anti-social and lazy when it comes to maintaining friendships.
I used to feel guilty when I said no to people in my life. But what I’ve come to realise is that this is the compromise of unlocking depth in the things on my yes-list.
The way I see it, there are two choices. Either you say yes to everything and get shallow experiences because you’ve spread yourself too thin, or you say yes to a few things, and experience laser focus and enrichment.
What I found is that when I said yes to a few activities, I found it much easier to say no to the rest because of the benefits I was deriving from depth. With depth, you unlock parts of your life that weren’t there before. With depth, you’re 100% present in what you’re doing, and you feel it.
Do I have to say no to everything outside of my yes-list?
Focusing on your yes-list doesn’t mean you can never say yes to anything that’s not on your list. For example, of course, I make time to communicate with my family, and when I do, I’m present with them. But I’m well aware that I’m not going to see them as much because of what I’ve decided to focus on.
Are you ready to start saying no?
A little while ago, I published an article talking about the real value of minimalism. The premise of the post was to get readers to understand that minimalism is more about addition rather than subtraction.
When I talk to people about this topic in person, I can see that this idea goes over their heads. I hope this article makes it clearer that minimalism is a tool to empower you to pursue the things that really matter to you.
It takes courage to live with intentionality because we’re so used to excessively saying yes to things, people and commitments. It’s when you do the hard work of figuring out what you want, and ruthlessly pursuing it, you’ll understand the value of minimalism.
So my question to you now is, are you ready to say no? Would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.
I am so inspired by this! I am 36 in February 2019 and have been a social butterfly my whole life…and a yes person! I have been looking into minimalism and thinking about it a lot lately, and where in my life needs refinement…and it is with my time and people. This article is encouraging to me and will propel me to start my yes list…Thank-you!
Hi Calora, I can even tell how you write, that you’re a lovely person to be around! I’m so glad that this post has inspired you to be more intentional with your time. I’m curious, is there one or two commitments you can think off the top of your head that will make your yes-list? Cheers, Michael.
This is a timely post as I actually went to a Bea Johnson talk just this weekend so VERY inspired to minimize how complicated our lives are. The challenge I’ve found is that a number of things we no longer need are in such bad shape that we can’t give them away so it would just end up in the landfill. I’m justifying it on the basis that once these items are gone, we won’t replace them but it is tough to see us fill a trash can for the first time in a long time now. Saying no is going to be the key part moving forward so thanks for the post!
Thanks for sharing your experience. You’re so right about the challenges of waste, and saying no is something we could all do more to protect the environment.
You’re welcome, Amy. I’ve found myself in those situations and they’re not easy to deal with, especially when you feel like you’re letting people down. But it sounds like you know what list it belongs on 🙂 All the best with it!
Saying no it’s something I’ve learnt to do since I started my minimalism journey. And is so freeing! I used to be someone that would always try to please others and would feel guilty about saying no. But that has changed. Thanks so much for sharing this article.
Thanks, Sandra! It’s amazing what minimalism unlocks for us, isn’t it? Always enjoy hearing about your experiences.
I am saying no to others’ lists of how to be minimalist. I’ve tried to limit my wardrobe only to discover how fast a few items of clothing wear out when they are worn weekly. Everything in my closet fits me, my style and my real life. Everything from all seasons, except sweaters (jumpers) goes on a hanger, so when I spot a bargain off season, I know immediately if I should buy or if there’s one already there for me. Practically everything is organic/fair trade or high quality thrifted. I do one pair in one pair out rule on footwear. Folks should follow their own rules and be comfortable saying no when necessary. Thanks!
“Folks should follow their own rules and be comfortable saying no when necessary.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for sharing Rhea.