I recently listened to an excellent podcast on Boundaries, We Can Do Hard Things (Episode 2). In it, author Glennon Doyle and her sister Amanda Doyle discuss setting boundaries in many parts of your life (one thing in particular they said really stuck out to me, “You are not responsible for people’s feelings about the boundaries you have set.” How great is that piece of advice?).
I admit, I am not someone who has strong boundaries, or even completely understands the concept of boundaries. My boundary-setting is apparently so bad, my friend’s husband recently gave me the book The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say It and Mean It.
So this blog post is my exploration of and attempt to better understand boundaries, specifically boundaries around time, organization, and finances.
First off, I think one of the reasons I struggle with boundaries is that I struggle with knowing myself. I am simultaneously really good at and terrible at knowing what I want.
For example, it’s crystal clear to me that I want to be financially independent so I can travel more and that I want to eat a whole-food, plant-based diet because I want to avoid cancer and it makes me feel better. But when Mr. ThreeYear shows me bigger and nicer houses I really want to move, and when we went out to dinner last week, and I could easily have ordered vegetable sushi, I ordered the 3-person platter with Mr. ThreeYear and Junior ThreeYear, just to go along with the crowd. And felt bad afterwards.
My friend’s husband recognized, when he gave me The Book of No (second subtitle: And Stop People-Pleasing Forever), that I am just that, a people-pleaser. He gave it to me specifically after hearing that I was giving free Spanish tutoring to my friends’ kids when they could have easily paid me.
The funny thing is, if you’re reading this, you might get the idea that I am a pushover. Those who know me personally know that is the opposite of who I am. I am fiery, opinionated, and never afraid to let you know what I really think. But I was also born with a hole in my self-confidence, and my need to be liked leads me to engage in activities or behavior I might not have undertaken otherwise.
I’m not often aware of my decision-making, either. I was reflecting the other day that it is very possible that I ran so much in New Hampshire because that was the one way I could regularly socialize with friends. Now that I am living in North Carolina and I have no one to run with, my runs are usually about 3 miles, and I rarely run longer. I don’t miss the exhaustion after a long run and I have enough energy after a short run to tackle other tasks around the house.
But, I sign up for an inordinate amount of tennis. Again, I’m pretty sure it’s because I enjoy the social aspects of tennis and not because I’m so in love with the sport itself.
Obviously, neither of these decisions is inherently negative, and people engage in sports for tons of reasons, many of which are social. Social peer pressure is such a powerful influencer of our decisions that where you live influences your make of car, how much and where you buy your food, how much you eat out, etc.
But in order to set proper boundaries, we have to know where to place those boundaries, so it’s necessary to engage in some introspection to figure out what’s important to you.
For me, social interactions are extremely important. But I have trouble managing those social interactions. That affects my time.
And I have trouble saying no to social activities. Less trouble than I used to, sure, but I still do more than I want to.
I have a strong desire for adventure, and I dislike routine after too much of it.
But the side of myself that needs rest and retreat battles with the social side of myself that craves fun and newness.
For example, this summer, I signed up for a million tennis clinics and competitions and teams until I got annoyed with all the extraneous activity and decided we’re going to the beach for three weeks. Just so I can run away from people and not feel pressure to say “yes” to getting together with anyone.
How to Create Time Boundaries Out of Nothing
Almost forty-two years of living has taught me two ways to create at least some boundaries around my time.
One is that I rarely (it happens, but less than it used to!) commit to an activity without checking my calendar first. I roll with a paper planner, because I need the old-school book I carry around to keep my life straight. I have tried the digital versions and they don’t work as well for me. So I look at my paper calendar and see if I have time.
The other tandem method is that I rarely commit to something without checking with Mr. ThreeYear, first. He is, admittedly, much better at this than I am. He almost never commits to any activity without running it by me, first, and I will often agree to tennis or birthday parties for the kids without checking with him. But if it is a family commitment, I check with him to see what he thinks.
This gives me both TIME and SPACE to further reflect on whether or not I want to engage in said activity. About 75% of the time the answer is “no.”
Lately, in the midst of this crazy Covid school year, I have been protecting my Saturdays. Because I was forced to work almost every Sunday this past school year, Saturday was my only free day, and I didn’t want any planned activity hanging over my head to mar the beauty of my free day. I still had something to do almost every Saturday, between tennis, friends, and kid events, but the rare free Saturday was such a beautiful day.
Some people effectively block off time in their planners to do an activity that’s important to them–Family Movie Nights, writing in the mornings, Thursday think sessions. That’s never worked well for me, though.
One thing that is a work-in-progress for me is vacation planning. Unless I plan vacations way ahead of time, I don’t take them. And sometimes we don’t have enough money saved, so I don’t want to book them too far in advance. It’s tricky, and it’s something that happened to us this year. I have blocked off the last week in July for a trip, though, and am going to work on booking it soon.
**Random realization: I often have to create boundaries with my dog Lucy as well. She is a very loving pup and wants to sit on my feet all the time. Right now, I am writing in the guest room and she has been scratching at the door trying to get in, but I have told her quite firmly, “No, go to Daddy.” I can hear her waiting for me outside the door.
I have been on summer vacation for one (lovely, lovely) week. I have been working hard to organize our home
Mr. ThreeYear and I have very different styles when it comes to our home organization. He is a much better and more consistent cleaner than I am. He was our family’s life saver this year. While the boys and I were at school, he would clean and tidy the house every single day, make all of our beds, empty the dishwasher, etc. It was amazing and so helpful for me.
But, he tends to keep everything, and is not as fastidious as I am about putting everything back in its place. I am a self-proclaimed semi-minimalist, and I do not keep extraneous items.
One of the ways that we have built boundaries around our preferred methods of organization is having a place for everything, and having spaces that we are “responsible” for. For example, I am responsible for and have domain over organizing pretty much the entire house, including the kids’ rooms, and Mr. ThreeYear has domain over his office, the garage, and his side of the closet. I do not interfere with those areas, and if he has something that needs to be organized, I return those items to one of his spaces for him to organize.
Yes, those three areas regularly drive me crazy, I’ll admit. But he does occasionally organize the massive amount of items in each space.
The boys, especially Little ThreeYear, have different ideas about their bedrooms. LittleThreeYear has very strong feelings about what should and should not be in his room, and he is much more like his father, inclined to keep more than he gives away.
Still, these kids have been practicing minimalism since they were little, when we would go through books and toys and give them to someone who needed them more, so they are used to the process of organizing. But Junior ThreeYear cannot get rid of books, and Little ThreeYear cannot get rid of Legos, so we have worked on compromises there. We put a big box of Legos in the attic, and a big box of books in the attic, and when they’re bored, they can
destroy the attic go into the attic and pull out their old friends.
I truly believe that the best way to create organizational boundaries is to have a place for everything, and to put things out of site (in cabinets or drawers). My sister also taught me that it is worth it to invest in slightly-more-expensive drawer organizers, dividers, and lazy Susans, in order to create a clear space for your stuff.
How do I keep boundaries around my finances? Believe it or not, I struggle in this area as well. I’ve never been one of those people who complains, “I just can’t spend more money!” I rank those people right up there with people who say “I forgot to eat lunch!” (If you are either of those types of people, rest assured that I don’t really dislike you–I just find your abilities mystifying).
I have used a budget for as long as I have been tracking my net worth, since 2008, that fateful year when I stumbled upon Dave Ramsey’s book about paying off debt.
Since I’m in a salty mood, let me go off on a tangent here. One of Dave Ramsey’s gurus (who actually spoke to us at FinCon and did a fairly nice job), Chris Hogan, was recently fired by Ramsey. I was signed up to receive emails from him for some reason, and got this weird email explaining that he would no longer work for Ramsey because “I’ve done some things that are not in line with Ramsey Solutions.” Well, I was eaten up with curiosity at this point, so of course I Googled it, and I went down the most disturbing rabbit hole. Apparently, Hogan was fired because he cheated on his wife, but he was only fired after it was going to be made public. Ramsey’s organization, when Hogan’s wife let them know back in 2018, instead of firing him, as is their policy for extra-marital sex (ok, whatever), pushed the couple to go to counseling, because Hogan had a book about to come out. The wife did not want to go to counseling so she was barred from his book tour. “Ramsey criticized Melissa in a staff meeting, and Chris was not fired for the affairs at the time” according to this article. BUT, they did fire a PREGNANT WOMAN immediately for having sex outside of marriage. Hypocrisy, much?!
I don’t talk about this much on the blog, but my faith is an important part of my life. Ramsey talks about his faith a lot more, which is why it BURNS ME UP that he fires women who are pregnant out of wedlock. What would Jesus do? Do you think he would put a pregnant woman out on the street when she has no partner to help support her unborn child? Does that seem like a Christian thing to do? I can answer my own question. NO, it does NOT. What a horrible, backward, misogynistic, anti-Jesus policy, Dave. That policy is all about appearances, and it doesn’t take the actual person and her unborn baby into account. And if your policy is that you fire people if they have sex outside of marriage, then fire the guy who cheated on his wife when you find that out; don’t criticize the wife because she wouldn’t go to restoration counseling and only fire the husband when court filings come out that will expose your hypocrisy!
That is why I will NO LONGER ever recommend Ramsey products or services to anyone. I cannot support such a misogynistic, hypocritical, backward organization that purports to be a Christian organization.
Thanks for staying with me. So, I have used a budget to create artificial financial scarcity in my life. And I have been budgeting for almost thirteen years. I first used Mvelopes and now I use YNAB which I love. Still, in all honesty, I am something of a terrible budgeter. Mr. ThreeYear will not use the budget, because it stresses him out, so we really use our budget as a tracking system most of the time. In other words, I don’t check to see if I have enough money in my budget before I buy something, I just buy it, and then move money around or take it out of savings if I don’t have enough. I have gotten better at budgeting for real expenses (expenses that are due once per year, like house taxes), and we are a month ahead in our finances, so having a budget has worked for us in terms of helping us be aware of our spending, but we have not used it as some people do, to reign in spending for long stretches of time. Still, I recommend it, because tracking is extremely helpful with your money.
Paying ourselves first has been a much more effective boundary system. We create artificial scarcity with our money by putting it into places we can’t easily get to it. For example, we max out Mr. ThreeYear’s 401k, we will be contributing a lot to my 403b, and we have a ten-year mortgage on our house.
We have less money left to spend, so we don’t spend it. We have, fortunately, paid ourselves first from the beginning of our marriage, even in Chile, where we had retirement automatically taken out of my paycheck (you’re required to save at least 7% of your paycheck for retirement there).
Hey, check this one out:
So, for us, the most effective boundaries for money have been creating artificial scarcity. I also recommend hanging with frugal friends, and/or living around other frugal people. We did not do this in North Carolina (we live in a country club–conspicuous consumption, much?) and we spend waaay more as a result. So, do as I say, not as I do.
Also, we try to make decisions based on a well-thought-out set of values. If you haven’t taken the time to think about what’s important to you, then it’s easy to make decisions based on your state of mind at the time and then regret it later. I find this happens a lot with buying houses, for example. Why do we rely so much on emotion to buy what is usually the largest purchase of our lives?
I have found it most helpful, when thinking about any type of boundary, to go inward. To stop thinking about other people, to not consult Instagram or Twitter or TikTok, to stop asking opinions of friends or family, and take time to actually reflect on what I want or what I need. That still, small voice inside of me that I call God helps me know what’s right, and figuring that part out is the most important. After that, I can work to set up parameters in my life to protect the important stuff.
What areas of your life do you find that you have really strong, healthy boundaries in? Areas you could improve?