On Trade-Offs

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I recently read through the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown. In a paragraph that sums up the essence of his book he says:

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.” -McKeown

It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time.

It’s a book written for business folk, not necessarily the stay at home crowd. My husband laughed just about every time I quoted some business model from the book. It didn’t take me long to see how our home could run better.

In one of my favorite parts, the author states:

 “As John Maxwell has written, You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” -McKeown

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

We all make trade-offs with just about everything we do. If we decide to sit on the couch and watch tv, the trade off is a productive evening. If we decide to work at home, the trade-off is rest. We decide to do the dishes so that we have clean ones when we need them. We make a decision to go to the store and shop for fun. The trade-off is the amount of money in your savings.

Not entirely rocket science.

I think when I started realizing that the countless decisions I make in a day matter to my long-term goals, making those decisions became that much easier.

When I do the dishes, I make the decision to not spend time with my kids. When I read to my kids in the middle of the day I am making a conscience decision to wait to rotate the laundry.

And that matters- because- well- perspective.

It’s not about what I didn’t do that day but about what I did do. 

I read to my kids. We played outside. We made scones. We walked along the creek. We worked on felted leaves. We had dinner together at the table.

Not: My kitchen is a disaster. We don’t have any clean shirts. So and So got into a fight with whomever. We didn’t finish practicing instruments. We didn’t mop the floors. Dinner is cereal, again.

While the reality is both those perspectives are true, the first one has a much different focus. And, let’s be honest, it’s not nearly as defeating as the second.

“Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?” -McKeown

Most of you reading this are not executives at a huge company. We are Moms and Dads. We are homemakers and foster parents. We work part time and full time and go to the store with our kids in tow. We run small businesses and raise not so small army’s of children. We look at pinterest and IG and drink coffee before 4 and wine after 5.

What do you want to go big on? 

Do you want to read to your kids?

Do you want to model hospitality?

Do you want them to learn an instrument?

Do you want them to speak a language?

Do you want your kitchen clean?

Do you want sparkly floors?

Do you want financial security?

Do you want snazzy looking kids?

We can’t do everything and anything all the time. You can though, pick one or two of those things on the list.


I overhead a conversation at a party recently. “We are just so busy. I can’t believe I did that to myself again. We have soccer and gymnastics and (insert activity) and (insert another activity) and (insert the cherry on top activity.) It wasn’t said with sadness or embarrassment though. It was almost a celebration. Which did, in fact, make me sad.

“What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?” -McKeown

I think that’s what I want. What I want to go big on. A celebration of the time I spent listening, on the floor, playing with my kids. The time spent writing and thinking. The time with my husband. The time I spent with my friends.

There are trade-offs. It means my house will rarely be clean. It means my kids will miss out on sports most seasons. It means we trade off money in our account for a sitter and drinks. It means we say no to a whole lot more than we say yes too.

I don’t want you to put us on a pedestal. It’s Sunday and my floors are sticky, my sink is full and I haven’t looked at the calendar for the week. I went to the store and totally forgot to buy coffee for the morning. I am feeling as frazzled as frazzled can be. Knowing I have four kids to feed and educate and love on in the morning. Ones that don’t care how much sleep I got or how much time I would like to “think.” One’s that will most certainly care that their mom didn’t get her coffee yet.

But I know that when I remember that almost everything is unimportant, I can focus on the actually important parts.

Some days, it’s cleaning the kitchen, yes.

But other days it’s a stack full of picture books.

It’s just never going to be both.

I’ll leave you with one more quote:

“Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” -McKeown

What really matters right now?

Do that.

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