On Abandoning “All or Nothing” in Favor of Something

Here’s a secret for you:

I’m addicted to All or Nothing, and I’m on a lifetime recovery mission.

Like any addict, this means choosing every day to reject my compulsion to indulge in something harmful – something that will destroy me – and to choose, instead, that which doesn’t come naturally but is infinitely more healthy. In my case, it means choose to do something, knowing it won’t be ALL, or to choose to do something instead of burying my head, giving up in defeat, and doing NOTHING because I can’t, it turns out, do it ALL.

This sucks.

I am, at heart, a Go Big or Go Home person. But I’m also, ever-so-slowly, learning the value in Not Going Home Quite Yet and Staying Out in the World to Do Something Small. Something tiny. Something good enough. Something. 

It took me until I was 35 to start writing in earnest, for example. To treat myself like I have something to say and like I’m worth saying it. Because, until 35, I wanted to write ALL of the Things, and all of them PERFECTLY all at once. At 35, I started putting my butt in the chair to write something, instead. Something small. Every day. And to push “publish” on the imperfect pieces and the dumb ones and the ridiculous ones and the good ones, too. To push “publish” on something because I choose to believe that Showing Up, Out Loud, is more important than Going Big or Going Home.

I have a saying I’ve imposed on my extended family. My dad turned it into an acronym because he’s a Marine and Marines doing nothing without acronyms… or call signs… or using the aviation alphabet. HAGE is what he calls this one, as in, “We’re doing this Beth Style! HAGE.” Which stands for Half-Assed is Good Enough. 

And, well, most often it is. 

photo (85)But you can see how our 40 Days of Lent: 15 Minute Projects is an extra challenge for me. Because I tend to clean my house All or Nothing style, and, lately, that’s meant Nothing WAY more often than All. The piles pile higher. The mess feels overwhelming. And there’s a part of me that scoffs disdainfully at 15 minutes because 15 minutes is only something

But I choose to do something anyway because I’m drowning in STUFF and doing something about it is the only way out.

Today’s 15 Minute Project is the Bathroom Counter. Or a Bathroom Drawer. Or, in my case, the half-assed purging of 2 bathroom drawers to have room to put the few things worth saving from my bathroom counter. 

photo 1 (69)

 If you’re joining us today, here are my expert tips, using “expert” in the loosest possible sense of the word:

  1. This is about purging, not deep cleaning. Although you’re welcome to deep clean and I certainly won’t stop you, our 15 Minute Projects are about getting rid of the STUFF that adds to the burden and makes us feel overwhelmed. So if you’re not getting to the deep cleaning, it’s OK. You’re OK. There’s time for deep cleaning later. Or there’s not. Whatever.
  2. Use what’s on hand. I used my son’s dirty shirt from the floor next to me and water from the sink to clean the counter and sink. I didn’t go mix my vinegar and water solution like I should’ve. I didn’t go get a rag. I knew if I did, I’d run out of my 15 minutes and be distracted by other things. 
  3. Half-assed really IS good enough. I cleaned out some of two bathroom drawers. I found bits of garbage, lids of hairspray, cardboard from bobby pins, half-empty lotions I’ll never manage to use entirely, and I threw those away. I didn’t clean out the drawers completely. I didn’t wash them down. I did what I could for today, and it’s something. And something’s enough. Something, in fact, was an entire bag worth of garbage and box of unused things to give away… and a clean bathroom counter that makes me sigh with relief.

photo 2 (75)

If you’re joining us today for a 15 Minute Project, let us know in the comments below. And use this space to encourage each other and to remind each other that something, even half-assed, is, in fact, enough.


Congratulations to Sue at NoBadDays 
who organized her craft table and shelves as part of our 1st 15 Minute Project.
Nicely done, Sue!



If you have pictures of your 15 Minute Projects, send them to me at FiveKidsIsALotOfKids@gmail.com. I’m featuring a new one every day.


photo 3 (52)

P.S. Quick Question: We share our bathroom with our twin boys. That’s where they bathe, get ready for bed at night, pee together in and around the toilet, etc. When I cleaned our bathroom counter, I found 9 toothbrushes that do not belong to me or Greg. 9! NINE TOOTHBRUSHES.

Where did these toothbrushes come from?? Do toothbrushes have some bizarre and rapid mating ritual I don’t know about? Because, quite frankly, I’m uncomfortable with all those toothbrushes gettin’ it on in my bathroom. 

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44 responses to “On Abandoning “All or Nothing” in Favor of Something”

  1. Okay, I want to know when you snuck into my house and took a picture of my bathroom counter (the before picture, minus your awesome sink!) Thank you for this series of posts. I love it! I, too, have trouble with the overwhelming jobs that are just too big to accomplish! Love the 15 minute idea – starting tonight!

  2. Beth, have you heard of FlyLady.com? I swear, your post could have some straight from her blog. She believes in the 15 minute projects, something is better than nothing attitude. I think I’ll start this tonight. Better late than never!

  3. 15 minutes in a bathroom drawer complete. It did not give me enough time to finish the drawer, but it’s better – things got thrown out. The next layer will be things that aren’t actually trash, but I know I’ll never use. My upbringing makes throwing out that stuff hard.

    • Nicely done, Amanda! And yes – throwing out stuff IS hard. Greg keeps wanting the throw up every time he sees me getting rid of stuff. It’s hard for me, too, but HARDER for him.

  4. What do you do with your “box of unused things to give away”? I have several such boxes lying around, because I find getting them actually given away is more faff than the decluttering in the first place. Then their presence discourages me from doing further decluttering.
    Do you give them to specific friends, or charity shops/thrift shops, or Freecycle, or what? I find all of those take Organisation.

    Nice sink. We don’t have a “bathroom counter”, we have about an inch of space all round the sink (small British houses), so that’s one place in our house that doesn’t really need decluttering.

    • The stuff I plan to donate goes straight into the back of my car, Rachael, to be taken to a thrift shop eventually. I used to try to keep all the donation stuff in a corner of my garage, but then it would get somehow magically displaced and scattered everywhere and it never worked the way I wanted it to. Same with Freecycle (which I love in concept)… I had to remember to post an ad, tell people how to come get stuff, etc. It just became too labor (labour ;)) intensive. So now everything goes straight to the car and I’m more likely to pop by the thrift store and drop it off in a more timely way. Good question!

  5. I am an all or nothing person too. Lately it has been not much. my house then makes me crazy and i have to clean it all in one day! I mop about once every 4-6 months. Today i swept, mopped, made Choc Chip Monkey muffins, homemade pizza for lunch, dinner in the crockpot and bathed all 3 tiny humans before coming to work. that means i can take tomorrow off and take the 2 littles to the museum! 🙂

  6. It’s funny, when I look at how big a project is, I can’t possibly have time to complete it all. When I tell myself I only have to work for 15 minutes, I seem to find extra time here and there to finish it. My brain gets in my way most of the time.

    Anyway, today I did the floor of my closet, mostly. There is more to do, but when is that not true? Tomorrow I plan to do the shelves. I took a picture but then found my toddler mooning me in the corner of the photo, so we’ll just keep that one to ourselves. Maybe you can have one tomorrow, sans butt.

  7. Beth-you again wrote about my life today. I also have been spending more time with my head in the sand because it is all just too big. Too much laundry, too much dust, too many dishes, too many ALL OF THE THINGS! So my 15 min today: some of the endless dishes and 2 calls I’ve been putting off.

  8. I did my master bath counter. I did end up pulling out rags and cleaner to get the dried toothpaste,but still finished the counter in 8 min so I was able to tackle the cabinet below too.

  9. Well, I needed more than 15 minutes… my husband’s PET scan on Monday was NOT clean and so now we are in the awful waiting limbo until the procedure to do the biopsy and let us know what we are dealing with. Hence, many hours of meditative cooking: Mideastern Chickpea Burgers (from Rebecca Katz’ Cancer Fighting Kitchen cookbook, great stuff), tzatziki and sweet potato pie made with Greek yogurt and orange zest, insanely yummy and good for cancer vets… but also, I realized, very good for me. Because when we are in this hell of not knowing, everything tastes like cardboard and I don’t want to eat but this stuff actually makes me want to. Anyway, the house is a wreck and I have been meaning to go through my kids’ clothes for weeks to sort out too-small clothes and hand me downs but all I could do today was cook, slowly, methodically. So, it occurs to me that what I need to do is 15 minute projects and then maybe I can dig out the rest gradually. In the midst of things, on the one hand, the piles and crap everywhere seem to matter so little and yet when I look at the bathroom sink of yours I know little projects like that would be good to focus on and would make things feel better even as so much else feels so out of our control. Whew. Not much on my mind. As always, thank you for the gift that is you and your writing. One day I hope to finally get myself to write and publish, too… you remind me that one just has to START SOMEWHERE. For now, I shall eat pie.

    • Oh, G. I’m so sorry the scan wasn’t clean and for the waiting, waiting, waiting. I’m thinking of you and sending you Love, even though I know it’s not enough for the limbo of the unknown. I just love your words about meditative cooking and eating pie. You capture so well the grief of the wait and the importance of methodical and life-giving tasks. x’s and o’s, friend.

  10. I chose to help my dd fold her 5 loads of laundry instead of working on any of the decluttering I wanted to get done. But I am pretty sure some of it has been washed 3 times and yet never worn. I still need to make sure it made it out of the laundry baskets and into her dresser but it was progress.

  11. I cleaned our bathroom counters just a few days ago!! My husband was thrilled I got these two small white bins, one for the kid’s toothbrushes to stand in (cause they have those fatter electric once that don’t fit in the cute holder we had!) and one that holds the toothpaste, mouth wash, spray bottle for their hair in the morning etc. That way they have somewhere to put those items instead of strewing them all over the counter!! Even better, the bins were in the refrigerator organization stuff at Target, on clearance, for $2 and $3!!! YAY!

  12. […] On Abandoning All or Nothing In Favor of Something – Beth Woosley :: “…it means choose to do something, knowing it won’t be ALL, or to choose to do something instead of burying my head, giving up in defeat, and doing NOTHING because I can’t, it turns out, do it ALL.” […]

  13. You need to include in that 15 minutes of cleaning a change out of pajamas and into “decent outfit for school pick-up and possibly get out of car in front of other parents to talk to principal” because by golly that is a feat for many!

  14. Also, it makes me love you just a little bit more that cluttering a bathroom counter caused you to need to change your shirt. Me too.

  15. I know! Those toothbrushes! I know where they come from. at my kids school they hand them out twice a year. When they visit grandma she gives them each a new one. Anytime they go on a sleepover they come back with another and every visit to the dentist/hygienist nets one more. Not to mention the Halloween/Easter/Christmas stocking ones we know come into the house. I would guess my kids each bring home about 10-12 a year from these sources. That is 30 or more kids toothbrushes coming into the house! Don’t get my started on the hand outs and worksheets from school. Because they can’t recycle it there!?! No wonder we moms are losing the battle against clutter. People send it to us as gifts and rewards and as ways to get it out of their houses constantly.

  16. Can I just comment on how awesome your sink is?! I LOVE that! Any info on where to find something so fabulous?

  17. I have two boys that share a bathroom and currently there are 6 toothbrushes in their bathroom. I’m with you – where do they come from?

  18. We have a little gaggle of kid toothbrushes like that in each of our three bathrooms. My youngest does all kinds of unmentionable things with them, so every now and then, I throw them all out and start buying new ones. Toothbrushes as Easter and Christmas-stocking loot are a given in our house 😉

  19. My twins currently have 4 sets of toothbrushes. At the sink. Plus, they have a travel set. Like I need for them to decide which flashing lights, superhero toothbrush they are going to use every morning and night. I blame Gramma.

  20. I did a project yesterday and today. But times I forgot to take before pics! 🙁
    I am so glad you push “publish” because your writing is like reading a letter from my best friend. I can’t wait until the next ones comes.

  21. Oh my! I have to let you know: my husband, up until 2 years ago, always thought it was “half-fast”. He was constantly telling me how he loved to do things “half-fast”… And I had to tell him, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means!” 🙂

  22. Oh Beth, I love this, and I’m totally stealing your acronym. Our house is a lot like yours (no cleaning, because I can’t get perfect cleaning done). I regularly mutter to myself things like “just pick up one thing & deal with it”, and “done is better than perfect”, but HAGE is WAAY better than that. It will make me laugh too, think I’ll even stick that one on the fridge. Thank your dad for me. And thanks for the photos. And the grace.

  23. I love this idea. I was just telling my husband last night how overwhelmed I was by the projects that keep getting bigger, and I don’t know where to start. I think I can handle 15 minutes at a time! Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  24. I cleaned the kitchen counters today. Still did not find my checkbook, but it looks way better and one less thing to be embarrassed about when people come over on Saturday.

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