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The Surprising Power of Lowering the Bar

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None of us are capable of doing All Of The Things all at once. With lives that are filled with obligations and opportunities, It’s up to us to determine where we want to invest our limited time, energy, and resources. Lowering the bar on purpose (as opposed to dropping the ball by accident) can feel both liberating and empowering.

I believe in setting and achieving goals, showing up fully for the people I love, and living up to my fullest potential. I have very high standards for myself, but I also believe that lowering the bar on certain activities can be a compassionate and productive form of self-care and a way to free up energy for more important pursuits.

Lowering the bar Here are some areas where I’ve decided to intentionally lower the bar in my own life:

Home Cooked Meals

I’m lucky enough to have married a man who truly loves cooking, but sometimes he’s busy or tired or out of town and I’m in charge of family dinner. I don’t love cooking or meal planning and I used to get incredibly stressed out about this task, but I’ve decided that life is too short to fret about dinner, so I just focus on making it as easy as possible. Sometimes I boil fresh pasta and top it with loads of parmesan cheese and fresh cracked pepper. Sometimes we’ll do “breakfast for dinner” or improvise a picnic supper. Sometimes I just order a pizza. Kids are happy and I get to reroute that effort elsewhere.

Folding Laundry

Surprise! I don’t take tremendous pride in perfectly folding my, or anyone else’s, clothes into neat little packages. I’ve put my girls in charge of putting away their own laundry (and have accepted that sometimes that means their clothes will be shoved into their dressers in twisted little balls). If they want to go to school in wrinkled clothes, it’s fine by me. Ditto for the bed linens, which I simply plop into bins so our linen closet looks tidy (just don’t look too closely at the fold on the fitted sheets which, I will never ever master).

Keeping Plants Alive

My family has a special talent: We unintentionally kill nearly all plants. We’ve tried lovingly potting baby tomatoes and strawberries and little clusters of basil. We tried to grow a pear tree. We’ve picked out pale pink flowers to spruce up our porch. All of these plants have one thing in common. They’ve died almost instantly. Instead of beating myself up I’ve decided to acknowledge that I don’t care much for gardening, and should probably stop planting things. We now have just a handful of very, very drought-tolerant potted olive trees scattered across our patio, and that works just fine for us.

Refrigerator Organization

Confession: Even though I have the skill of artfully arranging a color-coded and magazine worthy refrigerator, I’ve decided that the “fridge arts” just aren’t how I want to invest my time. On the rare occasions where I have taken the time to meticulously style our family fridge, I’ll return hours later to find a whole host of items –  a giant bowl of raw cookie dough, a whole marinating chicken, a pitcher of homemade lemonade – shoved in haphazardly. My family loves to cook and bake and snack and eat and it’s fine that most of the time our fridge is more functional than photo worthy.

I choose to lower the bar on laundry, cooking, and organizing my fridge not because I’m lazy, but because these things don’t align with my current goals, values, and priorities. I choose not to cast judgment on my worth as a wife, or a mother, when I order takeout or let my kids walk around in wrinkled clothes because I know that they feel loved and happy and safe and that’s what really matters to me. The more we can make intentional decisions about where we want to place our time, energy, and resources (and conversely where we don’t) the better.

Where can you lower the bar and create more spaciousness and ease in your life?

Photography Credit: Vivian Johnson 

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29 comments on “The Surprising Power of Lowering the Bar

  1. I am so on board with that school of thought! Those tasks are like a conveyer belt that goes on forever and should be left as simple as possible!

  2. This resonated with me so much. I’m in the process of reading your book and applying its principles to my home and this is a great reminder to choose my battles!

  3. A pandemic takeaway for me was eliminating salon pedicures/manicures which always felt more like an errand than a luxury. I am fine with lowering the bar and accepting my natural nails.

    I much prefer an occasional hand mask at home (cheap from drug store) while watching Netflix and a coat of clear polish. My nails are healthier, I have more time, and fret less about ruining “perfect” polish.

    Thanks Shira for the affirming post!

  4. I love this Shira…kinda like choosing your battles in life…simplify…simplify…simplify in my world! 🕊🕊

  5. amen. couldn’t agree more. So nice to hear the specific ways you do it and to know that even for you it can be a bit of an effort to decide to forgo things that either culturally or by our own standards we have deemed to have some value.

  6. Love this. It’s helping me drop the guilt for the things I don’t do, and accept that those are in fact values-based choices—not failures.

    Also, I love knowing a professional organizer who doesn’t personally practice the “fridge arts.”

  7. Shira,
    Thank you for being REAL! There are so many beautiful ways to drive ourselves cuckoo with all the choices. This is great since I struggle with perfectionism. Your examples help me realize it’s ok to choose what works for my own personal systems and values.

  8. Thank you for this. Every day I am crying and stressing about getting everything done all working a full-time job. Your house is very beautiful though unlike my messy one!

    1. It’s impossible. A full time job trumps all. I continue to simplify and let go any clutter. That is the only way I can do minimal tidying and a clean here and there. We are generally overwhelmed and overworked people and somethings gotta give!

  9. Shira, I love that you posted this! I have a married daughter with one son. Many times when we visit,there are piles of laundry everywhere and we’re never sure what we will be eating. We always figure it out! Our time together is always fun and our grandson is a happy,well adjusted child. It’s all that matters!

  10. Thank you so much for this article/blog post, Shira. It has come to me at such a timely moment. It’s just what I needed to hear and a help for me in getting clear on my most important goals, values and priorities. I’m not sure yet where I’ll choose to lower the bar, however, I appreciate your examples. They will certainly help me to make those all-important choices! All the best to you. 😀

  11. Shira,
    Thank you for today’s post as it really resonated with me. We only have some much time and energy. Asking ourselves how we want to really spend it, should be a worthy question to ask frequently.

  12. I can accept most things if need be for a short time if say I’m in the hospital but wrinkled clothes are not one of them!! Finding you lower the bar at times is refreshing!!

  13. Great post, Shira. Shauna Niequist wrote something along the same lines in her book, Bittersweet (I think the chapter is called Things I Don’t Do). It’s liberating to realize we only have so much time, so we might as well focus on the important things and let go of/lower the bar on the rest. Here’s a link to an excerpt of the Shauna Niequist essay: https://eatpraylearnblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/things-i-dont-do-an-excerpt-from-shauna-niequists-bittersweet/

  14. I think this is an important message. In a time where we are bombarded by images of perfection it is nice to have a reality check. We simply don’t have time to invest in making things look perfect all of the time and what that manifests is focusing on the important stuff, we make time for connection and the simple things. I absolutely agree with your messages and how we can redefine our role and reevaluate what’s important. THANK YOU!

  15. I love getting your emails as I find everything you write so mentally calming! Perfect reminder that you don’t have to do everything perfectly.

  16. Shira, Your article left me laughing and feeling better!! First, I just can’t lower the bar on laundry even when my son was at home!! We do not leave the house with wrinkled clothes!!!!!! I am also not into “fridge arts” although I wish I could be!!! I’m simple in too much back pain to do so!!! My husband has always taken care of the plants and trust me that’s best!!! I did all the cooking homemade for many, many years!! My husband has now taken care of the meals cooking homemade having learned from me!! He does a great job!!! He’s even been known o buy cookbooks for him to cook skillet meals and special gluten free baking for us!! He’s wonderful!!!!

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