Saying Goodbye to Guilt

by Katy on September 10, 2010 · 38 comments

I have a shocking confession to make. Sometimes I procrastinate the tasks in my life until they become an oppressive shadow that crushes down on me, mocking any semblance of togetherness that I may attempt. (I know, I know . . . I’m the only one who does this.) There’s no logical reason for this tendency, and frankly some of the tasks are not at all difficult, but it seems to be how I’m hard wired.

But over the past month, I have been tackling these pseudo-daunting tasks one by one. Not on any formal schedule, but as the time and inspiration presents itself.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

I took the time to answer the interview questions that the lovely Naomi Seldin of Simpler Living sent over on June 4th. I did this on August 17th. I wanted the answers to be perfect, which of course was a barrier to just doing it. In the end, I actually think I did a decent job.

I dealt with a bungled medical bill, as well as a soccer camp refund that was far from straightforward.

I finally mailed out a package of gifts to Michiko, the Japanese teaching assistant who lived with us in 2005. She had a baby in January of 2009 and another one this May. I had yet to send any baby gifts, and this made me feel like crap. I consider her to be a part of my family, so it was really weighing me down.

I had bought some board books for her in January, and every time I passed them, I would feel bad about myself. I also wanted to send some goodies for her, so I bought her a cute Oregon T-shirt and a handmade tote bag. Unfortunately, the shirt smelled like incense, (that’s what I get for shopping at a head shop) and hanging it on the laundry line didn’t abate the odor. A quick trip through the washing machine took care of the hippie stank, and everything was ready to mail.

But for a number of inane reasons, (I didn’t have any wrapping paper, I had to locate a not-already-used package) it still took me another month to just send it. But today, I finally wrapped every gift, wrote out a nice long letter and dropped it at the post office.

Huge relief. Waaay worth the $26 in postage just to make the guilt go away!

These two tasks may not seem that gargantuan, but they served as constant reminders that I was not on top of my life. I still have more items on my things that make me feel like crap list, which are:

  • Schedule, and then take the inpatient labor and delivery RN certification exam. Once I have passed this test, I get a $2.75 an hour raise. Forever. I cringe when I think of how much income I’ve missed out on over the past 15 years that I’ve been in my job, but I can’t let that deter me from just taking the damned test. I am a really good test taker, so as long as I study, I should be able to pass it.
  • Touch up the paint job on the exterior of my house. There are all these little spots that got missed when my husband painted a few years ago, and I told him I would finish it up. It would literally take a couple of hours to complete, and the house would look so much better. I consciously or unconsciously cringe every time I come into the house, so this would be fantastic to just be done with.
  • Answer the interview questions that Angela Barton from My Year Without Spending sent to me in May of 2009. Yup, almost a year and a half ago. She probably thinks I forgot about them, but sadly, I have an annoyingly good memory.
  • List a few items on eBay that are worth a fair amount of money. I bought a large glass vase full of hundreds of collectible antique marbles for $2.99 at Goodwill awhile back, and many of them sell for $15 apiece. I collect marbles, so I knew a bargain when I saw it. But they’re worth nothing if I never get them into the hands of serious collectors. I also have a $3 Goodwill Sasha Doll that should bring in a couple hundred dollars.
  • Continue the decluttering that I’ve been working on is a big one, although I actually feel pretty good about this. However, we’ll be hosting another Japanese teacher starting in October, so I have an actual deadline. I want to get rid of pretty much all of our extraneous crap before we open our home up again.

It saps my energy to ignore what needs to get done, and keeps me from moving forward with what I could be doing with my life. (Exercising, socializing, pursuing a book contract, etc.) I really feel that I would enjoy life so much more if these draining tasks went on their merry way.

Goodbye, things that make me feel like crap, I have no room for you anymore!

Do you let procrastination hold you back from living the life you want? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

WilliamB September 10, 2010 at 5:31 am

I know darn well that sometimes I continue to procrastinate because I’ll feel terrible when I finally do the task, either because it was so simple or because procrastinating cost me so much. Doing the task means that I to face up to the losses from my procrastination.

Interestingly this is something we have in common with drug addicts. One of the hardest, and most subtle, aspects of getting clean is that you have to face all the terrible, cruel, hurtful things you did while high. (Not that dealing with a longstanding repair is much like getting clean but the faint kinship is there.)

For me the worst tasks are the ones that, when done, mean there are more tasks to do. Because a done task should be the end of it, right?

Every now and then I schedule a “Get the Darn Thing Done” day, dedicated to doing the silly little tasks that have persisted too long or are an inordinate amount of hassle.


Molly On Money September 10, 2010 at 5:42 am

Your list makes me tired….
This past month I:
– Finished a paver path. The pavers had been sitting in the front yard for two years.
-Rebuilt the closet that had water damage from 3 yrs ago (my waterline from the refrigerators ice machine had a slow leak and ruined the closet).
-Donated a dress I had been working on (sewing) for 2yrs that I just couldn’t get right. Some time getting things off your list means letting it go!


Kari Dahler September 10, 2010 at 6:05 am

Story of my life!!!


Karen September 10, 2010 at 6:53 am

Yeah, I know nothing of what you speak…bahahahahha….yeah, riiiight.
I started to make some lists and I plowed through some things that I really wanted to be done before school started. Spent the day with Hannah on Tuesday and finished up her school book for 2nd grade, so she could start 3rd without my guilt. I still have piles of stuff I want to scan so we don’t have to keep the paper. Her baby book was always fairly up to date….Nate’s…not so much. It’s on the list.
I have probably 10 huge totes of clothes to go through and then hand down/CL/Ebay/whatever. Last time I did it, she was probably 4. I just cannot get the motivation to do it. However, the lack of motivation to do that project forces me to do other ones. But really, until I don’t have to be on Nate’s tail ALL the time, nothing much is going to get done. He’s exhausting!
Yay for you for getting stuff done!


Sheryl September 10, 2010 at 7:48 am

Well, if I shared my list I’d probably start to weep from overwhelmed exhaustion. But I did want to say that you for sharing this. It does make me feel better to know I’m not the only one.

I will share a procrastination-related funny with you–7 years ago I cut down a diseased plum tree in my backyard. I left about 3 feet or so of stump behind; I wanted to use it as the base for a birdbath or planter, but I could never get a level cut, so the stump stayed there. It was in the way every time I mowed, and I could see it every time I looked out my kitchen window.

I kept putting off calling someone to remove the stump; I’m not entirely sure why, because it sure bugged me having it there.

Fast forward to Mother’s Day 2010. My 90 pound, 12 y/old daughter leans against the stump and notices that it moves against her weight. She ended up pulling the stump out of the ground with her bare hands–it had rotted from the inside out, unbeknownst to me.

It was sure cost-effective to wait all of that time to finally have my kid pull the stump out, but geez….I don’t know if it was worth all of the mental “ugh” it caused me for seven years!


Sheryl September 10, 2010 at 7:48 am

Oh….that should have said “THANK YOU for sharing this”.


Louise September 10, 2010 at 7:59 am

Wow, I did the math on your $2.75 raise. That’s some serious cash, whether you work full or half time.


Jacquelyn September 10, 2010 at 8:01 am

Oh my goodness, I can SOO relate. I think this blog sums it up nicely for me, and with hilarious drawings to boot:


Jennifer September 10, 2010 at 9:07 am

Yes, yes, yes.
I can relate to this whole post, but the part that REALLY had me nodding was “I have an annoyingly good memory.” Sometimes there are tasks that I wish I could forget because probably everyone else would or does, but my mind doesn’t let me.

Luckily, I’m 6 months pregnant and that whole preggo brain fogginess thing they talk about is kicking in BIG TIME these last couple of weeks, so hopefully I’ll start forgetting some of the less important tasks I’ve been putting off…though it’s a whole lot more likely I’ll remember them clearly but forget where I put my keys. Sigh… 😉


Maureen September 10, 2010 at 9:18 am

My husband’s favorite quote came from Mary Poppins, “A job once begun is half done.”

I have a constant list of things to do. Some of them have to get done before winter sets in here in the Northeast. I will be starting as soon as I get back from visiting my mother this weekend.

I’m just a lazy person in general and will sit in my recliner rather than work. And then when I’m at my desk the next day, stare at the list and wonder why I didn’t start something last night. If I can take the larger projects and break them down into smaller bits to do every night, each week something would get done.

Ok enough whining!! A job once begun is half done!


Karen September 10, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Mary P says, a job WELL begun is half done. I watched that movie way too many times when my daughter was growing up, practically memorizing the script/soundtrack!

But I like your husband’s editing of the remark–it is also good b/c you do have to start the job!


psmflowerlady/Tammy September 10, 2010 at 9:42 am

Yep. Been there, done that. One of the things that I have read about this topic is that procrastination is a symptom of perfectionism and I find that to be true in my case. And this is especially true if there is the least little roadblock associated with my “perceived” way the job should be done. I could TOTALLY relate to the can’t mail the shirt cause of the smell. It’s not that I wouldn’t know what needed to be done to take care of it – it’s just that washing it wouldn’t have been in my preconceived plan for doing the task – so I wouldn’t do it and a part of me actually “couldn’t” do it. FLY Lady talks about perfectionism being the enemy of done and how many of us grew up with the message, “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it” and for me, that truly is the case. I find that I can accomplish more things when I deliberately lower my standards. I find I can do this without guilt if I can put myself in the other person’s place and consider would I rather have a purchased card with a dashed note from a friend on occasion, or an annual formal update. Nine times out of ten, I personally, given the choice would rather have something DONE than all the good intentions in the world. Which reminds me, I can return MY library books today even though the kids didn’t leave their’s out…


WilliamB September 10, 2010 at 4:52 pm

My shorthand for what you say is “Don’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good enough.’ “


psmflowerlady/Tammy September 10, 2010 at 9:47 am

Oh… and one more thing. Lists only make it worse for me – because then I’m faced with my total failure to accomplish those things. I find it more motivational to keep a list of what I accomplished AFTER the fact. I respond better to the visual reminder of what I CAN and DID accomplish than I do to seeing what I should have/didn’t do. One way, I come out a winner, the other, not so much.


Mary September 10, 2010 at 10:23 am

The worst thing for me is dealing with paperwork – it just takes over my little desk and then I stack it in the floor by the shredder. When I finally get around to dealing with it it takes days. (I do pay my bills on time, it’s just all the other things that you have to file away or shred or make decisions on, etc.) I’ve read books about filing systems and sorting but that isn’t the way my brain works.
I love WilliamB’s “get the darn thing done day”. I’ll think about scheduling one of those when I have the time!
Should we start a support group?


Karen September 10, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I’m so in!


Barb @ 1 Sentence Diary September 11, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Me too, count me in as well!


Anne Marie @ Married to the Empire September 10, 2010 at 10:50 am

If it makes you feel any better, I just put up a tutorial on my blog this week that I’d promised to do a year ago.

It took me 6 or 7 months to make a simple valance for my craft room. It wound up being a quick project, but sewing scares me, so I kept putting it off.

I have a basket with things for the dry cleaner. Some of those clothes have been in there for 2 years. Hmmm. Might be nice to wear some of those clothes again. Part of why I put it off is that I don’t want to pay for it. But then more clothes are added to the pile, and the anticipated cost goes up even more. *sigh* But now I’m motivated to actually take them in today and just deal with it. Thanks!


WilliamB September 10, 2010 at 5:05 pm

It’s cheaper to get them cleaned then to pay for them and not wear them.


Anne Marie @ Married to the Empire September 13, 2010 at 9:44 am

True! I did take them in that day, and with a new-customer coupon (my old dry cleaner closed), the total was only $15. Hardly the high expense I was anticipating!


Natalie September 10, 2010 at 12:25 pm

You’ve been reading my mind lately! Love your blog and thanks for the inspiration to clean off my kitchen counter!


Angela@MyYearWithoutSpending September 10, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Hey Katy, sorry to be on your “things that make me feel like crap” list! Ha! 🙂 Please don’t feel bad about those questions- if you get to it, that would be awesome. But I’m similar in that I take on more than I can deliver, not because I don’t know how to say “no” but because I want to do so many things!

I also have questions from the lovely Naomi to answer, and I’ve got you beat on that one as far as how long I’ve taken, etc.

And I struggle to look forward instead of backward with things like getting a raise- I asked for one last year, and it was so simple that even though I was happy about how much more I would get, I couldn’t help thinking about how much I’d missed out on and why didn’t I ask earlier, etc.

My life is a constant process of accepting that the whole thing is a process, not a destination, and not a contest.

Congrats on the things you finally did that have been weighing you down!


Katy September 11, 2010 at 10:08 am

Please, who are you to tell me what I can and can’t feel crappy about?!




Angela@MyYearWithoutSpending September 10, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Oh, and Sheryl- we also have a plum tree stump in our back yard, it causes me guilt every time I see it because it wasn’t a happy tree when we moved in, but we neglected it so much that it died.

Now it’s just a nasty reminder to me and a dead tree in the backyard has to be bad “feng shui.” It’s my husband’s domain to hire someone to dig it up and get rid of it, but I’m going to have to make him a deal that if he doesn’t do it by such and such time, I’m going to have it done. It really has to go.


WilliamB September 10, 2010 at 5:12 pm

If you’re feeling nefarious, then do a bad job of getting it done. Then your threat of doing it yourself will have real teeth.


Practical Parsimony September 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Katy, I just wrote a blog on Wednesday about procrastinating and lists of tasks. Now, it looks like I am copying your subject and ideas! I even posted a list of over 40 things I need to do someday! NOW would be best!

Things I covered:
William–I procrastinate.
Sheryl–My memory ONLY works after 5 pm when stores close, phones in businesses don’t work in Eastern Time zone. Otherwise, it is perfect….lol…
psmflowerlady/Tammy–I am a perfectionist, but seeing all the things marked off my list is encouraging and empowering. Otherwise, I look around and wonder what I did all day and why I did not do this or that.
Mary–YES! I need a support group that has a whip and can come by and flog me for not getting things done. No, I will not enjoy it, so if you will, stay home!
Whoever said that breaking a large task into a smaller bunch of tasks must be reading my mind and the draft of my post. I cannot just write down: clean bathroom. Oh, no, there are six things on the list for bathroom cleaning.

I just came from filing for disability and am so discouraged about the things I had to admit I cannot do as I once did. Last night, in anticipation of today’s appointment about pain, I searched my soul to see if I am lazy, depressed, old (64 on 9-11-10), procrastinating all the time or if the fibromyalgia and previous injuries are the cause of my NOT doing things. I shed a few tears last night, also!

Good post, Katy! I am considering not posting mine now since I spun off My Roman Apartment’s post yesterday.


Susan September 11, 2010 at 1:25 am

Call up the charity shop and arrange collection for two pieces of furniture I no longer needed. I’ve needed to do this since ummm….March, perhaps?

Finish this jumper I’ve been knitting. It only 3/4 of a sleeve and would take me two nights top but have I done it? NO. I’ve needed to do this since March.

Take old computer games to charity shop OR potentially see if I could sell them 2nd hand. Since last year!

Finish patchwork quilt for wall hanging. I began this when I was with my ex in my 20s…completely forgot about it until I moved here and found it at the bottom of a box. I’ve washed it but that’s it. And yes, I’m 44 now so shame on me.

Any more? I’m sure there are. Thanks for sharing Katy.


Nancy September 11, 2010 at 4:21 am

I so know how you feel We are what FlyLady calls SHEs – sidetracked home executives. You find us all over the place. We are not lazy and do not lack intelligence. I had no clue that I was a perfectionist. You can’t tell it by looking. I’ve learned to use a timer set for 15 minutes. It’s amazing how much one can accomplish in that small amount of time. So much of my procrastination is because I just know it’s going to take a long time to do it right. Well, now I’m trying to turn my motto into “Just do it.” It’s not quite the struggle it used to be, but still . . . Another thing that is helping is that I’m trying to do something I discovered on the miss minimalist site. There was a list of 100 things in late August and I’ve been doing one of them since I read it Aug 26th. That is to get rid of an item every day. I am keeping a list so that in a year I can look back and see what I’ve managed to dump. Sometimes it helps to just get rid of some of the nagging guilt in the back of your mind. It helps to just admit I’m not going to do that and donate it to friend, freecycle or trash.


Magdalena September 11, 2010 at 5:07 am

When I had to get up early to feed sheep in the cold and dark, I used to say to myself, “Just do it!” Don’t think about all the necessary steps to doing it, how you might not do it well, how no one else has to do it – just get out of the bed and do it! I’ve tried to adapt this to others tasks – stop thinking about it – just start it and the rest will come clear. (Or you will stop and have to ask someone how to do it – but that’s OK too.)


Magdalena September 11, 2010 at 4:27 am

Oh, yes. While I don’t procrastinate as much as I used to, it’s mostly because I can’t foist tasks onto my husband and then blame his procrastination that they aren’t done. Since his stroke, I’ve had to take on all the household maintenance and financial responsibilities, I’m a bit afraid that if I don’t do it promptly and well, we will just disintegrate. But I did need to be motivated by outside forces to work on a task I have put off for six years! I had a bad time filing my immigration papers under the former government’s (Canada) guidelines, and after they were returned for poor handwriting or something, I never tackled them again. Now that I must find work, I need to get them done! I got the MP’s office involved and they are willng to help me with the sticky parts. Now I just need to find the huge chunk of money that needs to go with them.

A good friend will ask me to help her get on with tasks she’s let go for months/years. I say, yes, I’ll come help sew/shelve books/clean the pantry if she will tell me when. She never does. Now, that’s some procrastination!


Dmarie September 11, 2010 at 4:59 am

what a great post! I too am working harder to check off the nagging little things that are so good about piling up.


Toni September 11, 2010 at 5:49 am

You are my new hero. Seriously. A statue is being erected. You just put into words what I’ve been fighting with for years. I actually have a list of all of the things I mean to do, but it always gets sat aside for one “reason” or another. And, yes, it makes me feel like crap, too. I appreciate that you wrote this and shared it. I plan on keeping it around to motivate me with my own list. Thank you!


Katy September 11, 2010 at 9:55 am

Will you promise to have the statue be airbrushed around the waistline., please? 😉



Toni September 14, 2010 at 4:33 am

Absoutely. 🙂 I included this post in my blog’s weekly Reading Roundup ( I hope my readers find this as helpful as I have. Since reading it I’ve managed to cross some stuff off of my to do list that’s been there FOREVER.


Ali September 11, 2010 at 6:57 am

This post totally resonates with me! I read Getting Things Done this summer, and I’m trying to apply those strategies to work and home. This weekend’s task is to take inventory of my fall clothes for work. I’ve been putting this off for ages, and now I’m back to work after a 5 month maternity and it’s fall-like out!


Jean September 11, 2010 at 8:47 am

This post really resonated with me–I am actually using a weeks vacation to attack all this nagging stuff and I am ashamed to say it will probably take all of that time–but I anticipate such a relief at the end that it will be better than a week at the beach!


Katy September 11, 2010 at 10:05 am

I totally forgot one of the biggest “make me feel like crap” tasks that I tackled. I read my father’s novel, “Good Friday.” I was worried that I might not like it, so I kept putting it off. Luckily, I really liked it, and I’m a good chunk into his next novel, “Lincoln’s Daughter.”

Having my father publish his fiction and then not even reading them was making me feel like Crap. Big time.



Practical Parsimony September 11, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Katy, I read about four or five pages from “Good Friday.” The premise is certainly original. Your father writes well–intriguing. If the library does not have the book, they will order it for me. So sorry not to buy it! Is there another book that precedes this one that I should read first?


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