Making Cuts

I’ve been posting a lot lately about purging, decluttering, getting rid of things, seeking the essentials and hacking back everything else.

I don’t want to be one of those irritating people who give everyone else good advice but never follow it themselves; and I think what I’ve been trying to do with all these posts is to shift the balance of my thinking. It is not easy, as I’m sure you know. Mental habits are ruts that are hard to break out of.

Rutted field near Ravarnet - - 1144990

The good is often the enemy of the best, I wrote. This is a lovely aphoristic saying, full of insight and meaning. But it isn’t anything more unless you apply it, put it into practice.

There are a number of elements I consider as essential to my life: the love of God, my husband, family and friends. Writing, reading, and handwork. Those are my core activities and priorities. Then there are the necessary ancillary activities like cleaning, eating etc.

There are a lot of other things I would like to do – often, being all excited about a new shiny idea, I start doing them straight away – which there isn’t room for in my life, not without filching time from the more important activities.

Where this really lands me in trouble is with the sunk cost fallacy – having enthusiastically launched into a project or activity, I feel I can’t call it quits, because that would be wasting the resources I have put into it.

Does anyone else know the dragging guilt and wearying heaviness induced by too many unfinished projects? Are you in over your head too?

Raise your hand if you can't swim

Here’s the truth I have to face: if it wasn’t a good idea to start giving your time to something, it isn’t a good idea to keep giving your time to it.

The sensible thing – nay, the wise thing to do is to admit that there isn’t room in your life for this right now, and let it go.

That being the case, I am regretfully withdrawing from the Historical Sew Monthly. I made a shift and a balaclava, both of which are useful, and I am pleased that I did.

I also made half of an Edwardian maid’s apron – my first attempt at pleating – which I may use as a half apron, or finish with bib, straps etc in the fullness of time, either with the frou-frou Edwardian bib, or with a fuller, more practical one.

Spot the Jabberwocky!
Spot the Jabberwocky!

But as much as I enjoy historical sewing (or at least, the results thereof), it isn’t a high enough priority in my life for me to be devoting as much time to it as the HSM’15 requires. So, I shall take my final bow (that’s me in the back row) and retire to the audience where I can sit and applaud the efforts of others.

I do feel disappointed, I admit. But the disappointment is tinged with relief, knowing this was the right decision to make, and nervousness, knowing that this is very likely only the first of many such decisions.


Every now and then I come across a book which is so thought-provoking that having reached the last page, I turn back to the beginning and start again. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is one of those books.

On the platform, reading

The author, Greg McKeown, suggests three steps which the person who wishes to make the most of their life must take, and keep taking.

1) Decide what is most important. (Priority!)
2) Get rid of everything else.
3) Make the most important happen as easily as possible.

This applies not only to physical possessions, but (even more) to how you spend your time. “Dost thou love life?” Benjamin Franklin asks. “Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”

The first step reflects the undeniable fact that you cannot do (or have) it all. We cannot have every career, do every job, own all the clothes, or maintain all possible relationships. As Miss Pettigrew says, “There are times when decisions just have to be made, or you certainly will miss out.” Other people are generally only too happy to make these decisions for you – at worst, for what suits them, and at best, for what they think will suit you.

It's your decision

Of course, deciding what is really important in your life is seldom a quick or easy process, but then, it is your life. Worth taking the time, I would say.

Once the decisions have been made, comes the hard bit (what? you thought it was going to get easier from here?) – getting rid of the inessential. Clearing out one’s cupboards is relatively painless compared with learning to say no to people. Especially when what they are asking you to do is something good.

As a child, I read a book about a woman who went off to be a missionary in or near the Sahara. I don’t remember her name, or the author’s, or for that matter what the book was called. I’m not even sure it’s the same book. What I do remember is something she was told as a child: the good is often the enemy of the best.

Horatius at the Bridge

The good is often the enemy of the best. Because there isn’t room in your life for everything, and the best is outnumbered. Because the good is defensible, because you can rationalize it away, because it’s often easier, because people will be happy with you.

The good is often the enemy of the best. Give no quarter; stand your ground.

And the third step? Same time, same place, next week.
Because the third step, mild as it seems when compared to the first two, is actually a complete game-changer.

Did You Know?

That the word priority wasn’t used in plural form (i.e. priorities) until the twentieth century?*

Anthonisz, Cornelis - Banquet of Members of Amsterdam's Crossbow Civic Guard - 1533

Priority means “precedence in order, rank or dignity,” according to the SOD of ’44. Imagine a state dinner, where all the guests are to be seated according to the precedence of rank or title. Now imagine that more than one guest has been given “top priority”. What happens? Musical chairs, and probably a diplomatic incident. (Two of the blokes above have come prepared with crossbows: one imagines they will have less trouble finding a seat than some.)

Now, while seating problems can frequently be solved with the introduction of a round table (nice one, King Arthur), life is more complicated. What have we invited into our lives – and are we sure we’ve got the seating plan worked out?

*source: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown, p.16