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What’s limiting you?

I’m currently doing a Whole 30. It’s not my first rodeo, but it’s been several years since I’ve done one, and I felt the need for a hit of the food reset button.

I’d grown lax in being mindful with what I put in my body, and my body was letting me know. Even though I already know some of the things a Whole 30 is supposed to tell you—how your body reacts to certain foods—I’ve put myself on this temporary food restriction anyway. It’s my reset button.

We bought a new wardrobe system a few weeks ago, and while I mostly love it, it’s been an adjustment. It’s smaller than anything I’ve had stateside for my clothes (only my wardrobe in Turkey was smaller), and I have zero wiggle room.


Our bedroom is small, and it’s in our small fixer-upper built in 1935, an era that didn’t focus on storage space like modern-day construction. We’re being creative with the space we have, but it’s still tight.

This house is in a small town outside Austin, where yes, we go in to the “big city” several times a week, but it has to really count for something now. We don’t just drive in to go out to eat or to go to a particular store. It takes regular effort to fight the traffic.

finn scooter
Finn, scootering down our street to his art class.

Sure, there are fewer restaurants here, and yes, the coffee shop at the end of our street closes at 3 pm (not to mention closed entirely on Mondays). But we’re choosing to spend as much of our day-to-day living here, in our old neighborhood, and frequent the local businesses here.

And yes, it’s limiting.

So are things like going to bed early on the weekdays and missing out on keeping up with a tv show binge, because you know early mornings are killer if you don’t get enough sleep.

So is not using credit cards to pay cash for everything, even if it means not having that big-item thing sooner than you’d like.

So is packing only two shirts and a pair of jeans on a weekend trip, because packing light trumps having just-in-case options.

These are all examples of limits. My friend Myquillyn calls them “lovely limitations,” this idea that not having all the options in the world actually forces us to be creative.

(It’s a cousin to my idea of partial solutions.)

See, being on a Whole 30 means I’m limited to no grains, soy, dairy, legumes, alcohol, or sugar. It’s not forever. But these limits have forced me to be creative with what I can eat—it’s a fence telling me where I can and cannot go. Inside the fence, I can roam. And like an easily-distracted puppy, it gives me security.


Having a small space for my clothes invites me to finally create that capsule wardrobe I’ve been toying with for several years. It’s forcing me to ask the question, “What do I truly love to wear?” and to live it out with what I keep. If I want room for that dress I love, I have to let something else go.

Sticking to our small town as much as we can means a deepened relationship with where we live. And, less gas and traffic.

Ekeing slowly through a show instead of binge-watching it means more sleep.

Sticking to a budget means not stressing as much over money.

Packing light means packing light.

We all have stuff like this in our lives. Sometimes I just need the reminder that these boundaries, these lovely limitations, are a good, healthy thing for me. They’re letting me play the hand I’ve been given instead of wishing I had someone else’s.

Tell me about the limits in your life right now.

Reading Time:

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  1. Elizabeth

    I loved this post! I’ve been thinking lots about limitations–or boundaries, if you will–lately, as I have a one-year-old daughter. I know that creating boundaries for her is an act of love; a way to give her security and a sense of order. Such a good reminder that boundaries are good for us, too. An act of love for ourselves. 🙂 Thank you!

  2. Aubrey

    I love nothing more than packing out my calendar with church activities and fun (free) events in my city. Recently, however, my husband and I committed to serve as community coordinators in our apartment community. This includes a significant relationship investment in getting to know our neighbors, and we quickly realized that my enthusiastic calendar commitments cannot continue if we are going to be truly invested where we live. Just recently we decided to limit ourselves by committing to go to each of our weeknight church activities every other week rather than every week, saying no to activities that we would love to be a part of, and doing dinner in our community’s common areas so we can interact with our neighbors where they are at. We’ll see how this plays out, but I am absolutely thrilled by the freedom that a pre-determined “no” to some activities has given us so far!

  3. Emily

    They can be oddly comforting….my husband and I decided to welcome my mother in law into our home 2 years ago. To do that, we converted 700 square feet of home space, had to downsize our “stuff”, contend with 4 months of construction, and adjust to caring for another person, while caring for our 2 young children. This has brought a sharper focus to my schedule–she needs attention, meals, housekeeping, predictability…..and this is a big priority. It has been necessary to eliminate other not so important schedule items….and we are all calmer for it.

  4. Chara

    I am a (mostly) SAHM with 4 kids and a largely unused master’s degree. It bothers me that we’re paying for my student loans and I’m not getting to use my degree, and I’ve moaned about it for years. Years. “I can’t write and I can’t perform with 4 kids and inconsistent/unreliable childcare.” I justified it in a lot of ways for a long time, but I’m finally starting to understand that these things will always only have the time you make for them. It isn’t fair to my kids or my art to use the limits in my life as an excuse when I “beat my head against the bars” as though my life is a prison.
    Thank you for posting this today.

  5. Vee

    I LOVE limits used this way! My limits are based on my definition of “enough” and most are artificially imposed. I limit the number of hangers that I have and anytime I run out of hangers, I must purge something. I limit the number of shoe cubbies I have and the number of shelves where I will allow books and the number of hooks for towels and the number of slots in my dresser for jewelry. My limits are still not “minimalist” by any stretch, but they help me feel that I have enough. Over time I get to a point where what was once enough again feels like too much. (That happened this past weekend — I got rid of half my hangers again and eliminated one cabinet of shoe cubbies.)

    • Jen

      Vee -Thank you for posting your comments. I have never looked at my limits as making my life more free of the weight of “having” stuff. I have really gotten to the point of feeling so overwhelmed with all the stuff that I don’t need or that doesn’t make me happy. Really need to purge…not just say it, but do it!

  6. Stephanie

    My fiance was born in Georgetown and grew up in Copperas Cove. He has often talked about moving to or at least visiting Georgetown. Maybe I’ll run into you at the coffee shop someday 😉

  7. Amy P.

    Right now my limits are events. Everything else fits in around that. My son is a (homeschooled) high school senior still deciding what he will do next year, taking courses at our local community college, preparing to be recognized in an eagle scout court of honor next weekend, and then graduating in June. Those are my main priorities and I know I cannot take on major commitments beyond those. But in between, there is daily life, book group studies, family, and training a cattle dog with no cattle. I know that being faithful in the details will help to keep me focused on the big things and what really matters. And greeting my bullet journal every morning.

  8. Kelli

    How in the world do you get to your dresses? I can see them peeking through…but I would be lost if I couldn’t see which shirts or dresses are available (aka clean enough to wear outside the carpool line). Please tell me more about your closet system.

  9. Elizabeth

    I love this concept and have found setting myself limits has made me feel much freer, ironically. My wardrobe is probably the best example – I have an 80cm long hanging rack. It fits 50 hangers along it and 10 pairs of shoes at the base. Those are my limits. There is another 80cm right next to it and space for another 10 shoes but I choose to leave that empty. The empty space makes me so much happier than extra clothes would.

    Similarly, I used to have a bookshelf full of books (1000s) but I decided 10 books was enough. I picked my 10 all time favourites. Other than those favourites I borrow books from the library – I only let myself have two at a time. I get a real sense of accomplishment from finishing those two books and returning them before selecting two more – and I’m much more thoughtful in what I borrow and look forward to my reserves becoming available now I’ve set that limit.

    • Glenda

      Elizabeth, I, too, had quite a lot of books in the past and opted to let go of all but a handful or two, reasoning that any other books I wanted to re-read could be borrowed from the library or requested via InterLibrary Loan. I love your idea of keeping your library loans to 2 books at a time, and am totally going to steal that idea for myself, because I typically come home with more books than comfortably fit in my book tote and then end up not reading all of them before they’re due. I *could* renew at that point, but by then I’ve already had them 3 weeks and want other people to be able to have a turn =). Interestingly, I don’t hoard library e-books at all, unlike library physical books. With e-books, I only want to have 1 on my Kindle at any given time. (I don’t typically have more than 1 fiction book going at a time.)

  10. Kendra

    Last year my family moved to Cedar Park (from Southern California) and Georgetown has quickly become my favorite little spot in the entire Austin area. Last weekend my husband and I were there on a date Day and were SUPER bummed to see that that very coffee shop was closed (it was 3:15). So while I absolutely agree about limitations being at times quite wonderful, that is one that I wish wasn’t in place—at least not on Saturdays when I’m in town and looking for a good cup of coffee! 😉

  11. Lina

    Yesssssssss!!! Love this Tsh. Sometimes limits can spring forth freedom. Life is weird like that.

  12. Hedy

    We’ve just moved and I am going through everything to see what will make my life easier to live with. My dear husband has been diagnosed with early stage dementia and I know that I must keep our lives simple now. When I unpack items, I look at them and ask myself how much joy does this item give me ? It’s surprising how many do and I keep them. I think for a long time now I’ve been collecting small items that make me happy. But there are others that don’t and I have quite a large box for the local thrift store now. Limits are good.

  13. Joe

    This is one of the things I love about backpacking – it really strips these choices down to the bare minimum. I only have one outfit, so that’s what I’m wearing. I only have three foods, so that’s what I’m eating. Water is what I’m drinking. Recreation is exploring or reading.

    At the same time, I try to be sensitive to the fact that imposing these limitations on ourselves is a luxury that we should be grateful for. Many people live with limitations like these, and more drastic ones, involuntarily.

  14. Lindsay @ Let Me Give You Some Advice

    I’m still learning to see limits as a good thing (I know it in my head but my rebel tendencies don’t love them). This was helpful to reframe them as freeing rather than restricting. I have found one place I love limits is weeknight commitments. There are hundreds of opportunities for my kids to be in all kinds of evening programs but our limit on those has helped us all get enough sleep and not feel completely stressed.

  15. Guest

    This is such a timely post for me. I *love* boundaries. For many years colleagues and leadership have sent people my way at work to discuss healthy boundaries and essentialism (a concept I love). Friends have jokingly (mockingly?) referred to me as Dave Ramsey’s other daughter. I normally do not buck against boundaries but there is one area of my life that limits drive me BANANAS and that is food. Recently, I’ve rejoined Weight Watchers, a system that has worked well for me in the past. Of course it only works if you actually do the work. I find myself perturbed that I can’t walk into the pantry and eat whatever I want and stay on track. I can’t think of any other area of my life in which I feel that way. I have a limited wardrobe that I love and don’t feel constrained by. I’m all about limited spending, limited scheduling and limited shopping. But then food enters the picture and I can’t seem to mentally get to the place of hmm…I don’t walk in a store and start purchasing like a madwoman, why would I walk into the pantry and start eating like an unsupervised child at a birthday party? So there you have it. My struggle with limits. 🙂

  16. Emily

    I read this last night before falling asleep and have loved the places it has taken my mind, as I’ve considered your question.
    I think tonight that this concept of limits is a corollary – in my mind – to the concept of preventing decision fatigue by making decisions on small-ish things in advance. Fewer decisions each day about routine things (what are we eating, what can I wear, where can I get coffee? …) frees my mind and heart for bigger, better things.

    • Karen

      Love this!

    • Merrilee

      I appreciate your comment, Emily, about the concept of preventing decision fatigue by limiting the decisions that need to be made. It is so easy to become overwhelmed and thinking about it in those terms makes limits a positive rather than a negative.

  17. Anya

    The day after Ash Wednesday (I’m Catholic), I suddenly realized what I needed to do for Lent– a shopping ban. It hasn’t been an all-out, 100% spending ban– just a ban on buying purchases for myself, basically. No random Starbucks or drive-through Diet Coke, but when a friend who lost her mom recently to dementia asked to meet up at a café, getting a coffee then was fine, if that makes any sense. No yarn or knitting patterns or books, no cookbooks, no great new fiction or biography, just the library. No fast-food lunch if I’m hurrying to get out to work– I just have to get up on time and make my own. It’s very freeing, weirdly enough– after a few weeks, I now barely hear the siren song of “NEW STUFF!!! MUST BUY THAT!!!” 🙂 I think I’ll keep it up after Lent is over.

    • Donna

      I totally get the difference! I do the same thing sometimes. It’s oddly fun and satisfying to limit yourself. It makes you appreciate what you do more.

  18. Laura Chalk

    I bought your organizing set and am so excited to begin my lovely limitations. I have set aside a day off to purge things that don’t make us happy. This post is an inspiration to me as I’m about to begin this project! Thank you!

  19. Jill Foley

    Also doing a Whole30 right now…and not allowing myself to buy new wardrobe items for a while. And I’ve noticed that not buying new wardrobe items has turned into stuff in general….because I don’t want any more STUFF!

  20. Emily at The We Files

    This is a thought-provoking post. I like the idea of lovely limitations! We have a lot of those in our lives too. Being a small family in Seattle, staying home to school my daughter, and tinkering with writing in the rare fragments of time are just a few of ours.

    On the Whole 30 note, have you heard of Intuitive Eating? I’m working on recovering from disordered eating (some studies suggest of up to 75% of women have a disordered relationship with food!), and the health at every size/body kindness/intuitive eating communities and resources have been amazing. I only hope to encourage those who are looking for more freedom with food or want to have a more peaceful relationship with their bodies. Cheers!

  21. Maryalene

    I loved this article. It really resonated with me.

  22. Cheri

    We live 30 miles from town (almost 20 years). It has been a fabulous way to raise our kids. We had to pick and choose our activities carefully. When we go to town it’s for multiple reasons and until our kids were in their late teens we usually went as a family. It felt a little inconvenient at times to wait for each other and run ALL the errands together, but looking back I see how it built a family bond.

    The other limit I live by is a quote I latched onto when my kiddos were all babies. Edith Schaeffer wrote in Affliction, “You are being given a limited time to do what only you can do. It is true that each one of us is able to do something that no one else can do. Each one of us has an opportunity to “be” or “do”, to create or to be an audience for someone else’s creative work, that no one else has. We have a unique and individual opportunity, task, work, or path to follow.
    Thinking about what “only I can do” has eliminated a heap of options from my life – in a good way.

  23. Kathryn McEwin

    Wow! I feel like I wrote this article – it exactly reflects my heart.

  24. June

    We only have one car. We can’t afford another one and all the extra costs and time and energy that it would take. I homeschool which means I need to be intentional if I need th car (my husband does not work from home). I actually love living in these limits even though others do not get it at all.

  25. Sarah Westbrook Smith

    Great post – it’s so true that limits force you to be more creative. I’m doing Whole30 this month; my second. I’m enjoying foods I don’t eat a lot on a regular basis- it forces me away from convenience type foods. Yay for food resets!!

  26. Jane

    I have the limitation of being sole parent to three kids and no family to help out. And also living with chronic back pain. It forces me to say no to a lot of things and get really good at being thank full whatever my circumstances. It’s taught me kids a lot about gratefulness too.

  27. Lynda

    I’ve recently enrolled for a Masters degree after 21 years as a SAHM and home-educator. This is truly “clipping my wings” as far as my time is concerned – but later these new *lovely limitations* will be part of my freedom to fly.
    Thanks for this post!

  28. Lucy

    we have a limit on events/parties: one event per day/night (church or sports don’t count). last sunday, i had a 2-hour meeting then baby shower to go to… my plan was to go home to change. guess what happened. i ended up staying home. we have that rule in place for a reason!

  29. george diaz

    Ive been learning a lot lately about not thinking (and living) big. Not being constrained by physical or mental boundaries. Interesting read.

  30. Kelly

    Having fewer choices actually makes you happier according to research! For example, if you go out for ice cream and your choices are chocolate or strawberry or vanilla, you’ll be very happy with what you chose. But if you have a myriad of choices you’re likely to be unhappy with your decision (I should have had mint chip instead of cookies and cream!). I find this concept, along with the principles of decision fatigue, so fascinating!

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