Essentialism and the Caregiver

Does this sound familiar? A member of your family get sick, the rest of the family still wants and needs your attention. Meanwhile, your to-do list, which is already a mile long, keeps growing no matter what you do. More requests for your time and attention keep pouring in. You feel guilty that you haven’t worked on your projects and oh yeah, you still have your job!

Essentialism and the Caregiver: 5 questions to help you know when to say yes and when to say no |

Even if you are only dealing with a few on this list, it’s overwhelming. Sooner or later we realize that we need to simplify our to-do list and calendar because:

  • You can’t keep with “all the things”, at least not in the long-run.
  • Sooner or later, projects and due dates start to slip through the cracks. At best they get completed late, or at worst, not completed at all.
  • Your mental, physical, and emotional health starts to suffer from the continued stress and pressure.

Learning to Say Yes to the Essentials

We all go through seasons where it feels like life is spinning out of control. We know something has to give. We realize it would have been better to say no to an opportunity or project, but, we also don’t want to disappoint, miss out, or let someone down.

To figure out what we should say yes to, we need to define what our priorities are and know what is on our essentials list. With that list, we can filter our projects, commitments, and additions to our to-do list through and identify what to yes to.


I’ve written about the idea of Essentialism here and here. But, for a quick review, the definition we are using is, “The disciplined pursuit of less.” We are not talking about the concept of minimalism or getting rid of belongings; this is about what we include in our crazy schedules and even crazier to-do lists.

We are talking about a list of essentials that reflects our personal values and priorities. We are also talking about developing the self-discipline needed to say no, to even good opportunities so that we can say yes, and pay better attention to, the essential things.

What is on Your Essentials List?

Have you ever taken the time to write down what the priorities are in your life? Have you identified what is most important to you?

Here is a simplified version of my list:

  • Relationships: Family and Friends
  • Getting Outdoors
  • My Faith
  • Cultivating Creativity
  • Growing My Business

Once you have your list, it’s time to ask “Does my to-do list, and schedule reflect my priorities? Does it fit in with my essentials list?”

In taking a look at my list above, my honest answer has to be no. While I say relationships is a top priority, my to-do list and my schedule say differently. It says my business takes the top spot. <sigh and facepalm, again!>

Sometimes we need to learn to say no to not only the “bad” but also to some of the good that comes our way to give ourselves the freedom, and the margin, to say yes to the essentials.

Sometimes we need to learn to say no to the good, so we can say yes to the essentials. ~Marta Goertzen |

As caregivers, we tend to be people-pleasers which makes saying no difficult. Saying no does not necessarily mean saying no to others, it can also mean saying no to the bright shiny objects in our lives. It means looking at all the ideas and projects we want to pursue and narrow them down to the essentials. It means filtering these ideas to make sure they align with our priorities.

Creating Your Priorities Filter

To help you get started here is a list of questions you can use. This list is a filter through which you can run a request for help, project idea, or social commitment:

  1. Is this in alignment with my priorities?
  2. Will this help me move towards my goals?
  3. Will this compromise my health in any way or interfere with my role as caregiver?
  4. If I don’t do this, what is the worst that could happen or how will I feel if I say no? (Be careful with this one – make sure the people-pleaser in you answers this one carefully)
  5. If I say yes to this, what is the best thing that could happen and how will I feel in saying yes? (Be careful with this one too!)

This filter will only be effective if you have a solid list of priorities written out already. These are priorities you have prayerfully considered and clearly defined.

The Benefits of Saying No

As you start to say no you will experience a sense of freedom and less overwhelm. You will start to see margin in your schedule which allows you to give full attention to what you are doing right now.

You will also realize that in pursuing “all the things” that you have not been able to give your best time and attention to your list of priorities. Saying no allows you to be more present and pay better attention to these priorities without always needing to dash off to the next thing.

It also opens up doors for better self-care. And self-care for the caregiver is of vital importance! If we don’t take care of ourselves, we are not able to be the caregiver we need and want to be.

Getting Started

  1. Create your list of priorities thoughtfully and carefully.
  2. Write out your list of filter questions.
  3. Look at your calendar of commitments and your to-do list and run each item through your filter list and remove anything that does not fit.*
  4. With any new requests, ideas, and to-do list items that come your way, run them through your filter first before saying yes.

*Note: there may be things that you need to keep on the list even when they do not pass the filter test. If you can get out of it without compromising your integrity, do it! If not, that is okay; this is an opportunity to learn and grow.

Give yourself grace; this is a change in behavior that will not happen overnight, it will take time to learn the disciplined pursuit of less.

What one thing can you remove from your to-do list today?

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