Undone

undoneA few weeks before I had Plumblossom, a wise friend told me: “In those first months, don’t worry about getting things done. Just be with your baby.”

Oh my goodness, what wonderful advice! Before then, I couldn’t imagine not writing weekly blog posts, answering emails within two days, or letting the dishes sit in the sink. But with a huge, new responsibility, I just couldn’t do everything anymore. And guess what? Life went on, and the world didn’t stop spinning. It took my life being turned upside down (in a good way) before I could come to terms with leaving things undone.

So let me shorten this advice so it applies to everyone: “Don’t worry about getting things done. Just be.”

It’s a great thing to practice as summer winds down, and we savor the remaining days of warm weather and daylight after dinner.

Recall those carefree, childhood summers—run barefoot in the grass, lounge on your porch, chase fireflies. Read a novel. Take an afternoon nap. Have a leisurely cup of tea.

Above all, give yourself permission to be, rather than do.

With a new house, my husband and I have a million things To Do: not just everyday chores, but improvements, repairs, and finishing touches. We’d intended to knock some of these off the list last weekend. But in the midst of a hot summer, we had some surprisingly mild weather. So what did we do? Both Saturday and Sunday, we took Plumblossom on a relaxing, five-mile walk through our local park. Everything else? We left it undone.

The trim that needed painting in the sunroom? Undone.

The roof that needed clearing of branches? Undone.

The shower curtain rod that needed to be installed? Undone.

The blog post that needed to be written? Undone.

The floors that needed to be mopped? Undone.

These things will get done eventually (and some, like the floors and post, already have). But we decided that that weekend we would be, not do. And it was beautiful.

Need a little more inspiration to decrease your productivity? Heed these sage words:

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of leaving things undone…The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials. –Lin Yutang

Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place. –Lao-tzu

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. –Lao-tzu

The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough. –Rabindranath Tagore

Idleness is not doing nothing. Idleness is being free to do anything. – Floyd Dell

So from now on, instead of stressing about the size of my To Do list, I’ve decided to take pride in the size of my Undone list. For it means I’ve minimized my “busyness” in favor of the more important stuff in life: spending time with my loved ones, enjoying nature, being in the moment.

What will you leave undone today?

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

38 comments to Undone

  • Karen (Scotland)

    Sound advice. After a stressful summer last year “getting things done” (essential landlord stuff but unexpectedly occurring in the middle of the kids’ summer holidays), we have relished our laid-back summer this year. We took it further and didn’t even have a family holiday away this year. With four small kids, it actually ends up more exhausting.

    We’ve done “a day here and a day there” with quiet re-charge days in between. Utter bliss.

    And, yes, ds2′s room still needs painted, the kitchen plinth still needs re-secured and I STILL haven’t done my two year old’s baby book but I honestly, honestly don’t care.
    That’s what those long Scottish winter nights are for, right?
    Karen (Scotland)

  • Your friend was so right. When I had my baby I found exactly the same thing, that things that seemed like ‘must dos’ just weren’t that important.
    Leaving things undone has not ruined my life, it has made me a more relaxed happier person. Leaving things undone has been one of my greatest blessings

  • Inspiring post! I don’t have children yet, so I can’t relate to that. But still, I’m trying to be more relaxed and less stressful. I spend long days at the office (I love my job so I don’t mind), but I seemed to struggle to keep my apartment tidy.
    Lately I’ve changed some habits slowly so I can focus on things that I think are important. When I come home, I no longer put on the tv, but just focus on cooking a healthy dinner for my bf and me. (I used to cook while ‘listening’ to the tv, which made me more distracted from the cooking, plus it took more time.) I enjoy cooking, so that’s great. If I have time left, eg when some food is just boiling/simmering and I just have to be around, I try to do some dishes (I only do the pans by hand), but that’s not a must. After dinner, I don’t watch tv, unless together with my bf for some 15 min (news & weather forecast). After that, I just try to do one household chore (like ironing) or some little things that don’t take much time (pay a bill, take the garbage out etc). And I make sure I can prepare to go to bed quietly and not in a rush. I read a couple of pages in my book, and then sleep. Making sure I get about 7,5-8 h sleep per night is very important to me.
    I feel more relaxed now, and actually feel like I get more things done, but don’t feel frustrated anymore if there are things left undone. I just think: I’ll probably do that tomorrow (or not).

  • Love this! I had a similar moment this week and left my long to-do list for work (none of which was urgent) in favor of hiking the Black Forest all day yesterday. It was lovely. Reminds me of the Italian virtue of dolce fa niete – the sweetness of doing nothing.

  • Wow–great post for me to see today. Makes me feel better about the unproductive morning I have had. Dishes are almost always undone until the last minute. Today there are clothes unfolded, floors not vacuumed, sheets and towels not washed…the list goes on. It’s more of a question of what IS done.

    And yes, great advice for new moms :-)

  • There are times in our life when leaving things undone is the best policy. When our daughter was born was spent much of the time just holding her, looking at her, and playing with her.

    Most weekends we tend to focus on being. We spend the time together as a family and typically do a few fun things. One of the reasons we sold our big house and moved into a smaller apartment was so that we would have more time to be. Renting means less maintenance tasks and more time to be.

  • Faun

    I needed to read this today. I have a sinus infection and was stressing about cleaning my house which isn’t dirty thanks to minimalism, but does need its weekly mopping-dusting.

    I’m going to let that go and just heal.

  • I don’t think any of us will sit on our death beds and say,”Man, I wish I’d been better about getting my dishes done, instead of playing with my kids!”.

  • Kathy

    We work outdoors so in this extreme heat we’ve been getting up before daylight to start our workday and are generally done by 1pm. The afternoon naps we’ve been taking to make up for the early days have been wonderful!! Yes I could clean house, do laundry, and other chores that need to be done but those naps are SO much better and I feel much better when I wake up.

  • Kate

    Very timely, as the first bout of morning sickness of my pregancy has hit today. Instead of cleaning the huge mess my boys made out of their breakfast and tidying up before my parents visit, I’m going to go relax on the couch with some ginger tea. And try not to feel bad that the boys are watching cartoons instead of planning productive activities for them.

  • Kurkela

    Oh the irony, all the authors of the provided sayings are men :) I prefer the saying “do less now, and you won’t have to do more later”. And there are things that simply have to be done, and there are those that can be left undone. If I must write an article, then I must write an article, rain or shine. Of course, I can leave it undone, and then I will eventually be without a job and money, and then my life and that of my family will be very minimalistic indeed :). What I probably meant to say is that this “undone” thing is very slippery, and it takes some experience to learn the difference between what must be done and what may not. Of course, if we are talking only about having a child and leaving some chores for later, that’s another matter. Still, SOME chores.

  • AussieGirl

    Actually I think you can be too in the moment. I have a tendency to say ‘screw it – let’s have some fun instead’ and it has landed me into trouble.. We’ve left too many things undone! We are also renovating, but we have two older children awaiting the finish of the renovation, so we can’t just slack off anymore and choose to ‘live for each day’ instead. It may be easier in your position as Plumblossom is still so tiny and won’t care if the walls are painted or if boxes have been unpacked, but older children do care if these things aren’t done. It affects their lives when they can’t use items that want to (like toys/books) or if the house is in absolute chaos for months on end. My daughter actually said to me in dismay ‘We are never going to finish this house.’

    Perhaps I’m being negative, I don’t know. I’m just not feeling it right now with the whole live in the moment movement. Wish I was. :(

  • There has to be a balance. If I have a lot of things on my to-do list, I try to do at least a little something every day. Right now I have been sick with mono, so that would not apply— except it’s berry picking season and I can’t just let all the berries rot in the garden so I have done some berry picking and juice making. The berries just won’t wait!
    But I have done none of the less urgent matters.

    Then again, when I have energy and inspiration to clean, organize, take care of stuff, I REALLY do a lot, I can work for hours, knowing that the momentum won’t last forever. Now I’m very glad I did so much work earlier this summer, so it’s not been totally crazy now that I’m sick (again). When I get better, and have a burst of energy, I expect to tackle the remaining things on my to-do list. But yeah, I try to keep up with the normal stuff, like laundry, and then if I possibly can, do one small thing or a part of a larger project every day.

  • I think it is essential to give ourselves the permission to not try to be so “perfect” all the time and mark everything off our checklist so quickly. Like the one poster mentioned…it’s unlikely we will be on our death bed and regret not going into the office that one day…or regret that I should have painted that room sooner, but you would regret not spending more time with your loved ones!

  • Jenny in NC

    I have learned that it’s okay to leave things undone. And sometimes, the things you worry about miraculously take care of themselves. I have a big responsibility at church, taking care of the women’s organization. Sometimes I get stressed out about getting things ready for Sunday. I have found that if I don’t stress about it, usually things happen just fine. Others step in to take care of things, or things don’t happen but no one even notices it was missing. Or sometimes it doesn’t happen but people are forgiving and don’t get upset about it. A few people have even told me they like my less-than-perfect style of leadership because they feel that it gives them permission to not be perfect themselves.

  • Shirly

    Wonderful post. Thank you. I should print it and hang it over my work space as the antidote for my malignant disease, and the worst enemy of minimalism – overachieving. But then again, printing it wouldn’t be very minimalistic now, would it ?…:)

  • Paula

    Just what I needed to hear! I get so stressed about what I think I need to do, and push some of the really important things (like time with friends and family) aside. I’m going to print out this post and tape up a couple copies at strategic points in my home. Thank you!

  • Elizabeth

    This advice is not just for adults, but also for those over-scheduled children prevalent in society today.

  • Sarah

    Hear, hear!

    And to the pessimists here I’d like to say, take a mud-wrap chill-pill combo and think again! Is this post really about forgetting all of your responsibilities and so on..? I don’t think so, Tim. It’s a much-needed reality check to all of us control freaks who forget to just be.

  • How nice to read an encouragement to decrease productivity in a world where everything seems to be about increasing productivity. I get enough of that at my work anyway! My favorite quote (don’t know who said it first): “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time”. (:

  • Brianna

    I completely resonated with this post–despite not having the baby-impetus. After returning from a month-long international trip, I though I would have all this motivation to dive back into life and buckle down on things like house projects, diet, exercise, and preparing for my upcoming school year (as a high school teacher). But instead, I felt this urging to just be. To watch the Olympics for hours on end even when that produced nothing of note in my house or life. To start and finish a book in just one day–giving myself permission to let the house project go undone for just one more day while I indulged in a summertime luxury. Thanks for the beautiful quotes at the end as well. I will use them strategically to keep this manta in mind when my Type-A, overachiever, to-do driven self makes my life a task-driven mess.

  • This post is refreshing. It reminds me that no matter how much I minimize my life down, there will always be stuff that needs to be left undone in each day. Balance is leaving the right stuff undone. ;-)

  • J

    This summer I realized that I need a minimum of two states of being:
    “Just do it” – Do what *needs* to be done, whether I “feel like it” or not; and
    “Just be” – time away from the busyness to just be fully in the moment.

    This post speaks to the “Just be” state quite nicely. Perhaps the posters who felt that wasn’t enough were looking for the yin/yang of this other state as well. I find that I need both. And no more. YMMV.

    • Karen (Scotland)

      That’s a great wee summary. A lot of peace can be found from “just do it”. My mother says she prefers to just do something than to do it ten times in her head.
      Karen (Scotland)

  • Francine, thank you for this timely post! I’ve had this on my mind ever since my husband and I recently relocated from Washington, DC to a small town in Alabama. Though it’s been a big change, it’s also been very healthy for us — two ‘do-ers’ given the gift of a lot more time to BE, both alone and together.

    When we were serving as caregivers for adults with special needs, we learned that sometimes, the most loving thing you can ‘do’ for another person is to simply be present to them – to stop serving, and just be a friend. And that has carried over into what I enjoy most about small-town life — people take the extra time to be present to one another, waving hello, saying good morning, or just sharing a smile.

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us!

  • Anne

    Francine, thank you so much for always giving me something to think about, then to try out for myself, or, metaphorically speaking, to let sit and ferment. Your blog is pure joy.

  • I love the quotes you shared. I am constantly trying to not over do it and make sure I have time to just be with the kids. It’s great to get reminders!

  • Elaine

    Love this Francine! So perfect for me to read this today. I was sitting on my deck on this beautiful day thinking about whether I should swim with my kids in the pool or make an unpleasant call to Comcast to dispute a bill…. I read your blog and chose the POOL! Comcast can wait another day. : )

  • So true Francine :) I was out late at a rehearsal last night and am really feeling it today, my kids were up late as I had to pick them up from the babysitter on the way home, they are tired and cranky and we were very nearly late for school! Instead of forcing myself to stick to my schedule of things I HAD to get done today (many of which were really things I would like to get done, you know, if all the planets align, pigs fly and we get another couple of hours in the day!)I have taken things at a saner pace and I have enjoyed my day so much more because of it. I know all the important stuff will get done, because I will make sure of it! But the other stuff, well, my kids will be so much happier if I’m not a tired, cranky, stressed out Mum, trying to get too many things done to justify my OWN expectations of what I should have achieved today. Thank you for your wise words!

  • Minimalist Housewife

    This is great advice! My inlaws are visiting and I had a whole to-do list to accomplish the day they came into town.. I really didn’t have enough time to get everything done anyways so my daughter and I went to a lovely play date at the beach in the m

    • Minimalist Housewife

      …morning and accomplished the most pressing things afterwards. We had a really nice day instead of a stressful one and you know what… The sky didn’t fall and my inlaws weren’t the wiser that I didn’t finish everything. Being comfortable leaving things undone at times can save your sanity and help you to actually enjoy life. The laundry and dishes will still be there tomorrow but a beautiful day may not be. Thanks for a lovely reminder!

  • Mims

    A long time ago, I lived in a place which at that time had notoriously unreliable train services. They were indeed so notoriously unreliable that I could show up 2 hours late anywhere needing no other explanation than “(end of) green line south”. Needless to say, I spent many hours on cold platforms with no idea when the next train would arrive, occationally taxi pooling if I found someone to pool with (not unusual) and could get hold of a taxi (very unusual when it was cold and the train didn’t come). I am still grateful for this time though, because it taught me a very valuable skill; to let go and stop stressing over things I can’t do anything about.

    In learning that, I also learned to live here and now and do the best with the hand I had been dealt. I learned to just be, and I learned to cherish it, even standing on a cold platform waiting for a train that never appears.

    In some strange ways my endless ours of waiting for the train taught me not only to live here and now, but to focus completely on the things I do and can do, and not worry about the things I can’t do or that are not as important. This does not by any way mean that I have mastered the art to perfection, but in a real crisis, I imagine myself standing on the cold platform, breathing in deeply and quite literally taking a step away from stress and panic to focus on what I can do.

    Why do I mention all this? Not only because it was a very profound experience that I am still grateful for today, but because it taught me to leave certain things undone when there are more important things at hand. So what if your dishes need to be done if your niece wants a cuddle or a story, your neighbour wants to chat about the olympics or if it’s just quite simply the first glorious day of spring.

    The topic of a previous post was minimalist hobbies, daydreaming was mentioned as a very minimalist hobby, and I enjoy it very much, but I have to say, just being must be the ultimate minimalist hobby. You need nothing that you don’t have at hand, in fact, the only thing you need is what you have at hand even if it’s only doing the dishes. I usually say that dancing is the only thing that keeps me sane (and it is true to a great extent), but at the same time, the most profoundly satisfying “hobby” I have is to totally immerse in just being. That is one of the reason why I like to relax with insanely complicated knitting projects, they force me into the moment, they force me to focus on one single thing at hand, and when I resurface from my knitting, I feel calm and relaxed and focused and my mind is clear again, no matter how stressed and scatterbrained I was before or how stressful and mad things around me are.

    Thank you for a lovely post Francine!

  • [...] poca voglia di pensare, poca voglia di scrivere e scarsa ispirazione: meno male che ci pensa miss minimalist a tirarmi su il [...]

  • Brenda

    “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted” – John Lennon

  • [...] (I allow myself to miss a post or two when I’m on vacation.) There is value in leaving tasks undone. And yet there’s also tremendous value in [...]

  • [...] sent me this. He is an awesome husband (and [...]

  • Interrobang

    I guess the whole point of Miss minimalist’s post is that at some point we all go through this “rite of passage” of learning how to prioritize and eliminate what is not important for our well being and inner balance. Sometimes we just reset our goals. For me it was triggered by a real life scare. “Paradoxically”, when one realizes they might not have much time left they “suddenly find time” for getting in the right frame of mind to think what matters most. Now I just take one day at a time and stop putting unnecessary pressure on myself. I’m no longer the desperate hamster on the wheel and most importantly I don’t allow others to make me go back to the wheel. When my to do list gets too long I just pick one thing to do and browse the rest wondering which one can be discarded. I discovered I can do this without forgetting my primary goals. When I feel I am drifting away I gently remind myself that working towards achieving them is the actual pursuit of happiness.

  • [...] Undone Why you don’t need to do it all. [...]

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