Drowning in commitments? It’s time to stop giving a damn

The key to beating stress is to care less and if that means wearing your pyjamas to the corner shop, so be it

If youre like me, youve been caring too much about too many things for too long. Youre overextended and overburdened by life. Stressed out, anxious, maybe even panic-stricken about your commitments. I was almost 30 years old when I began to realise it was possible to stop caring so much, but I was nearly 40 before I figured out how to make it happen.

As a self-described overachieving perfectionist, I was anxious throughout my childhood and adolescence. I tackled numerous projects, chores and tests to demonstrate myself worthy of respect and appreciation from my family, friends and even casual acquaintances. I socialised with people I did not like in order to appear benevolent; I did chores that were beneath me in order to appear helpful; I ate things that disgusted me in order to appear gracious. This was no way to live.

The first time I satisfied a person who had simply didnt dedicate a you-know-what was in my early 20 s. Well call him Jeff. A successful business proprietor with a large circle of friends, Jeff simply could not be bothered to do things he didnt want to do and yet, he was widely liked and respected. He didnt show up to a friends toddlers dance recital or to watch you cross the finishing line at your 17 th 5K, but it was OK, because that was just him. He was a perfectly nice, sociable and well-thought-of guy, but he clearly reserved his time and energy for things that were especially important to him: having a close relationship with his kids, playing golf, catching Deal Or No Deal every night. The rest of it? Not. Bothered. He always seemed so positively contented and, well, happy. Huh, I often thought to myself after spending time with him. I wish I could be more like Jeff.

Later, in my mid-2 0s, I had a downstairs neighbour who was an absolute nightmare, but for some reason I cared enough about his opinion of me to submit to his insane petitions( such as the time he corralled a friend to stomp around my apartment in high-heeled boots while I listened with him from his living room below, hearing nothing, but gamely agreeing that it was a little noisy ).

Then, nearing 30, I got engaged and started scheming a wedding, an act that brings with it a veritable cornucopia of demands: the budget, the venue, the catering, the dress, the photographs, the flowers, the band, the guest list, the invitations( wording and thickness thereof ), the pledges, the cake the list goes on.

Many of these things I truly cared about, but some of them I didnt; and yet I devoted each and every one of them attention, because I didnt know any better. I became so should be pointed out that I was about as far from contented and happy as it gets. Appearing back, was arguing with my husband over playing Brown Eyed Girl at the reception really worth my day( or his )? Had minute attention to detail over the selection of hors doeuvres genuinely been necessary when I didnt get to eat any of them because they were passed round during our photograph? Nope.

But and heres where the tide turned ever so somewhat I had won one small victory: I may have had to think about the guest list( because I definitely cared about the budget ), but you know what I never worried about? Seating charts. And in that small act, of choosing my guests were grows up enough to choose their own seat, I had eliminated hours of poring over the event-space schematics and moving aunts, uncles and plus-ones around like beadings on an abacus. After the wedding, I was exhausted. Id been pushed to my breaking point, yet Id also insured a silver lining. Instead of putting that feeling of obligation ahead of my own personal predilection, Id simply decided to let people land where they may. And did anyone complain? They did not.

Then, when I was 31, I had my very first panic attack. Have you ever had a panic attack? It feels not unlike drowning in a sea of hot lava while attempting to swim away from a lava-impervious shark with ninja-throwing superstars for teeth. I had been taking on too much work, too many activities and too much indebtednes, and it had all caught up with me. This wasnt simply a panic attack, it was a wake-up bellow. I was forced to start budgeting my day, energy and money in a more thoughtful style, unless I wanted to be visited weekly by Lava Shark.

Little by little over the next few years, I stopped caring about small things that vexed me. I unfriended some truly irritating people on Facebook. I refused to suffer through another reading of friends plays. And I stopped getting dressed up simply to go to the grocery store behind my house( pyjamas are the new black ). Little by little, I started feeling better. Less burdened. More peaceful. I hung up on people calling from bellow centres to sell me things; I told no to a weekend journey with toddlers; I stopped watching season two of True Detective after only one episode. I was becoming my true ego, able to focus more on people and things that actually attained me happy.

In the summer of 2015, aged 36 and living in New York, I cease my job at a major publishing home, a career that had been 15 years in the making, to start my own business as a freelance editor and novelist. The day I walked out of my high-rise office build sliding down that corporate ladder faster than a stripper down the last pole of the night I eliminated a whole category of things on which I has hitherto wasted day and energy: supervisors, co-workers, my commute, my wardrobe, my alarm clock.

I stopped caring about sales seminars. I stopped thinking about business-casual and town-hall meetings( in fact, I no longer know what these are ). I stopped keeping track of my remaining holiday days like a captive tallying her sentence in hash mark on the cell-block wall.

Once I was released from the yoke of corporate ennui, I naturally had a bit of day on my hands and the freedom to spend it as I wished. I ate lunch with my husband, worked on a freelance gig or two( or went to the beach ), and avoided the metro as much as humanly possible.

Soon, I realised I had my own insights to share with regard to life-changing magic. Brings you joy? Then by all means maintain caring. But perhaps the more relevant question is: does it rile? If so, you need to stop caring, post-haste.

Sarah

You know what, I told my friends: I genuinely dont like tavern quizs. I felt liberated with a capital L. Photograph: Chris Buck for the Guardian
Since leaving my job, I have developed a programme for decluttering and reorganising your mental space. You will no longer spend time, energy and/ or money on things that neither construct you happy nor improve their own lives, so that you have more day, energy and/ or money to devote to the things that do. I call it the NotSorry Method. It has two steps 😛 TAGEND

1 Decide what you dont give a fuck about

2 Dont give a fuck about those things

Not Sorry is how you should feel when youve accomplished this.

This might sound selfish, and it is, but it also creates a better world for everyone around you. Youll stop worrying about all the things you have to do and start focusing on the things you want to do. Youll be happier and more genial at work; your colleagues and clients will benefit. Youll be better rested and more fun around friends. You might spend more time with your family or you might spend less, building those moments you do share all the more precious. And youll have more day, energy and/ or money to devote to living your best life.

In my experience, people who live this style fall into one of three categories: Children, Dickheads and The Enlightened. Children dont care since they are dont have to. Generally, their basic needs are being met by the adults in their lives. Dickheads are genetically predisposed to get what they want no matter who they have to offend, step on or jerk around along the way.( Note: some children are also dickheads, but for our purposes that does not matter .) Unlike my buddy Jeff, these people are not generally respected or liked. Feared, perhaps, but not liked. If being liked is important to you, then you dont want to turn into an dickheads. Sure, you might free up a few nights on your calendar each week, but thatll be because the invitations stopped coming.

But the enlightened among us know that its possible to revert to that childlike state with maturity and self-awareness. Theres a long list of things I still care about( being on time, getting eight hours of sleep, artisanal pizza ), and near the top of that list is being polite. Honest, but polite.

For example, if youre the kind of person who sends a handwritten thank-you note to friends after you spend a weekend at their lagoon home, those same friends are unlikely to be offended when you decline their next invitation to join them at their favourite historical reenactment day. Its simply common sense. You like lake houses and abhor historical reenactments? Send a thank-you note; dont be an arsehole. Its a win-win.

To be fair, my own journey to an enlightened life was not devoid of stumbling block. When I was just starting out, I stopped caring in a haphazard style. I attempted some genuinely high-level NotSorry with regard to my friends and family, such as pre-emptively declining an invitation to a babys circumcision ceremony before it had been issued; the boys mom was still in labour. I was so eager not to care about religion pageantry that I forgot I do care about my friends impressions.

I refined my approach. At the heart of the NotSorry Method is not being rude. After all, I didnt want to lose friends; I just wanted to manage my day more effectively so I could get greater enjoyment( and less aggravation) out of being with friends. And I found that a combination of franknes and politeness, exercised in tandem and to varying degrees, gets the best results.

I executed this beautifully on what I like to call The Pub Quiz Problem. I have a group of friends who simply love tavern quizs. They maintained asking me to join them, and I maintained building lame excuses not to go. Then I would have to remember what my excuse was lest I get caught out on Facebook during pub quiz night.

But once I embraced NotSorry, instead of racking my brain to be submitted with yet another lame excuse, the next time they asked, I just said, You know what? I genuinely dont like tavern quizs, so my answer to this is always going to be no. I should probably just tell you that now and save us all the Kabuki theatre of invitation and unhappiness. It ran like a charm.

Now that my friends know the truth, I feel liberated with a capital L. I was honest and polite, and nobodys impressions got hurt, so I didnt have to apologise. I was quite literally not sorry. Plus major win I didnt have to go to the tavern quiz in Williamsburg.

The discrepancies between my quality of life five years ago and now is extraordinary, and I owe it all to caring less. Ceasing my job was a watershed moment, but one Id been building up to for quite some time. I identified what things vexed me such as commuting and conference calls and corporate bullshit and rearranged my life accordingly. I didnt magically snap my fingers and work it all out in an instant, but I gave myself permission to be honest about what I wanted( and didnt wishing) out of life. Thats the first step. I wanted more day for pleasure reading( in short supply when reading is your day task ); I wanted more day with my husband, who is also a freelancer; and I wanted to be able to work when and how I pleased, including at 2pm in pyjamas with one arm cradling a purse of Doritos.

In fact, one of the first books I read for pleasure after discontinuing my job was The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up. If you have managed to get this far without hearing about this bestselling ode to decluttering, let me enlighten you. Marie Kondo is a Japanese tidying up obsessive. She has a method that involves maintaining only those things that trigger joy in their own lives. What remains is then organised in a specific style, under what is called the KonMari method.

First I did my sock drawer, which involves getting rid of socks you dont like and never wear, then refolding the rest to look like little soldiers standing to attention, so when you next open the drawer, you can see all of them in one glance. Within hours, I had also KonMarid my husbands sock drawer. After viewing the results, my husband whod initially supposed I was insane to spend my day organising his sock drawer was a convert. He did the rest of his drawers and his closet all by himself the very next day.

Allow me to explain why we were so motivated to do this work. Beyond discarding items of dres we no longer need or enjoy( and therefore being excited about all of our remaining options ), weve lessened the time spent figuring out what to wear( because we can see everything in a single drawer with one seem ), nothing get lost in a drawer any more( because we follow Ms Kondos method of standup folding ), and we do a lot less laundry( because we havent tricked ourselves into thinking were out of clothes when in fact the very best stuff was simply crumpled up in the back under the pants that dont fit ). In other terms, life is significantly better now that we can see all of our socks. I ran around for weeks evangelising to anybody who would listen( and many who would not ).

Suddenly I saw myself in a life-changing various kinds of mood. As I contemplated my exceptionally tidy home, I felt more peaceful, sure. But it was the freedom I felt from leaving a task I wasnt happy in and being able to add back into my life people and things and events and pastimes that attained me happy that truly brought happiness. These were things that had been displaced , not by 22 pairs of balled-up socks, but by too many obligations and too much mental jumble. Thats when I realised its not really about the socks, is it?

I had battled anxiety and wedding planning and annoying neighbours, and what brought me to the other side wasnt a tidy home, but a tidy mind. Now I have a clearer calendar( and conscience ), and more energy for the things I truly enjoy doing and the people with whom I enjoy doing them. And such activities no longer include corporate holiday parties, potluck dinners or newborn showers.

Im not sorry.

Ten things about which I, personally , no longer care

1 What Other People Think. This one is non-negotiable. All anxiety stems from here.

2 Having a bikini body. The day I stopped caring about how I looked in a bathing suit, it was like a litter of kittens in black leotards had tumbled down from heaven to perform Single Ladies for the sole enjoyment of my thighs and belly.

3 Basketball. I have never enjoyed or understood basketball. I dont watch it and, when invited, I dont go to games. My life is no worse for it. You can apply this to any athletic or athletics team, except the Boston Red Sox, because I said so.

4 Being a morning person. For most of my life I was ashamed of being useless in the early hours, of not wanting to schedule anything before noon, and of often arriving just in the nick of time to morning meetings. Society genuinely seems to value morning people and look down on those of us who dont( or cant) fall in line. Once I embraced the freelance life, I stopped caring about being a morning person once and for all.

5 Taylor Swift. Nope.

6 Iceland. Im sure Iceland is a beautiful country, but every time someone starts telling me about plans for their once in a lifetime journey to Iceland, or about how much fun they had in Iceland, or that the majority of Icelanders believe in elves! my eyes start glazing over.

7 Running to the gym. I often feel pressure to go to the gym, and then guilt that I never do. By choosing not to care about gym-going, Im liberating myself from those moments of feeling guilty and inadequate( and fat ), and instead joyfully indulging in an extra hour of sleep. Im reallocating day and reserving energy, and, if you factor in membership fees, Im saving money, too.

8 Feigning sincerity. I am the personification of If you dont have anything nice to say, dont say anything at all. I simply dont fake it.

9 Passwords. I used to feel so much anxiety about personal security, but then I read a number of articles by experts that suggest were all one pimply Slavic teenager away from getting hacked anyway, so I supposed, perhaps I could just use the same password for everything. Would it genuinely matter? I realised I could probably stop worrying about devising a different Alan Turingapproved crypto phrase for my Gap, Asos and Victorias Secret accounts.

10 Calculus. This may have been my earliest recorded instance of not dedicating a fuck. My high-school guidance counsellor told I had to take this class to have any hope of getting into a good college. I supposed long and hard, but ultimately determined that I did not care about calculus and could not be bothered. I did not take the class, and I did get into Harvard. You cant argue with those results.

This is an edited extract from The Life-Changing Magic Of Not Devoting A F ** k by Sarah Knight, published by Quercus at PS12. 99. To order a transcript for PS9. 99, go to bookshop.theguardian.com

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