“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” —Josh Billings
How often do you use the word “no?” If you’re like most people, it’s probably not enough.
We live in a world that seems to glorify the word “yes”—seize every opportunity, keep every door open, spend every dollar, stay constantly busy.
But in our pursuit of more, we often lose sight of what’s truly important. Filling our lives with a million yeses often leaves us empty.
One thing I’ve learned over the years of pursuing minimalism is that the word “no” is not a rejection, it’s a choice.
In fact, it’s one of the most empowering words in the English language. By saying “no,” we take control of our own lives and free up space for what truly matters.
Kelvin Wong, Economics Professor at ASU, once wrote in Simple Money Magazine something I have never forgotten, “Every choice we make comes with a cost, even those that are monetarily free, since even our time or energy can be put to alternative uses.” I couldn’t agree more.
Every choice we make has an opportunity cost, and the currency we’re trading is not just our money—it’s our time, energy, and attention.
For example, when we say “no” to impulse purchases, we are saying “yes” to financial health and the peace of mind that comes with it.
When we refuse to jam-pack our calendar with non-essential commitments, we are saying “yes” to quality time with loved ones, or quiet moments of meditation and solitude that can nourish our soul.
When we decline unnecessary responsibilities, even if they seem like noble causes, we make room for work that aligns more closely with our truest purposes and passions.
This temptation to over-commit ourselves and our resources comes from both external and internal sources.
We live in a world that tempts us to always add more: more clothes, more gadgets, more social events, more obligations, more side hustle opportunities.
But studies have also shown that our tendency as humans, when faced with a problem, is to look for solutions that add elements to our lives rather than subtracting them. In the process, we risk overcomplicating our lives.
Here’s a fresh perspective: what if, instead of adding, we started subtracting? What if we embrace the power of “no” more often?
Saying “no” is not about shutting doors or missing out. It’s about making conscious decisions about what we truly value in life. It’s about freeing ourselves from clutter, distractions, and the weight of unnecessary burdens.
Next time you find yourself on the verge of saying “yes” to another commitment or purchase, ask yourself, “Is this adding genuine value to my life, or is it merely another distraction? If I say ‘no’ to this, can I create more room for things that truly matter?”
Remember, each “no” is also a “yes” to something else, something potentially more meaningful. It may be a “yes” to your own well-being, personal growth, financial freedom, or the pursuit of a life well-lived.
Minimalism, after all, isn’t about the absence of something. It’s about the presence of the right things—the ones that add real worth to our lives.
And often, it starts by saying one small word: “no.” And that is why it may just be one of the most empowering words in the English language.
Give it a try. You might be surprised by the freedom and clarity it brings.
For me, this is a timely reminder. I am 82 years old. When I was younger I was one of those people who used “no” infrequently. At some point in my 40s, I had a friend who suggested that I simply practice the “feel” and “sound” of the word “no” when I was driving alone in my car. The idea was to make a game of it — to say it with all kinds of inflections, different volumes, different voices. It worked. I found myself choosing to say “no” at appropriate times, and I had an entire repertoire of responses. It was a life-changing idea — an outward manifestation of inward changes.
This is gonna be super useful for me – thank you!
this is beautiful, thank you! I used to always explain myself when I tried to say no, and people would then try to pursuade me or to render my objections false. I know understand that this is somethingI created myself. I’m going to try this as well. No feels so liberating, just saying it aloud!.
This is truly empowering. Thank you for your advice and sharing your thoughts in writing. it has taken so many years of tears, relationships, frustration and maturity for me to reach to this point of saying no.
Helen Betts says
Thank you for your email comments. I agree that saying no to extra commitments is freeing. But I want to add the thought that we must be careful to not say no when the LORD has given us a ministry job. I have crazy people in my family and would like to withdraw from all their drama, but I have to be His hands and heart to them whenever they need. It is disruptive and tense sometimes but the joy of serving the LORD is so worth it.
MJ Wright says
My mother was so darn “nice.” Born in 1914 she was raised to be that way. Because of this saying no was not really a part of her lexicon. People selling stuff on the phone wouldn’t let her off. One day I just told her to go into the bathroom, look in the mirror, say “no” and see what it looks like.
My Mom died one year ago April at 95 and she said no to everything except ice cream. I tried to encourage more yeses, yet after this period of grief and reflection, I realize she taught me how to say no her whole life! My embrace of yes is partly youthful defiance and her education of what a no can do for you is her legacy that lives in me.
Kodey WhiteWolf says
Saying “NO” has been easier as I’ve gotten older especially when I realize I’ve been busy for a few days, or, put out an alternative time with “down” time in between. Take care of self then you can be there for others
Lisa Arnold says
Absolutely! The older I get, the easier this is to do. I say no to purchasing things and invitations that aren’t important to me. It feels great!
Paula F McQuillan says
Thank you for your share. Extremely timely for me in my 15thbyear of retirement. Transitioning from ‘business’ to more thoughtful choices.
Beverly McFarland says
Thank you for posting this. I copied the statement about saying no by KelvinWong. Going to look at it and remember it. I’ve said yes to quickly in lots of instances especially “things.” Along with donating lots of things I’ll use this no much more often.