Start Where You Are. Use What You Have. Do What You Can.

posted by Andrea | 09/3/2019

Over the summer, I heard a talk centered around one of Arthur Ashe’s famous quotes:

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

The point of the message was VERY different than the point of my post today — but they both stem from the same quote. 

In my own life as a middle-class, introverted, stay-at-home-mom of 4 young children with no huge goals for my life, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking I can’t do all that much or that I don’t have much to offer compared to others. 

Ironically, I often get emails and messages from others who seem to feel the same way (can’t do it, don’t have much to offer) in regards to getting organized, managing their schedules, simplifying their lives, etc. etc. 

For example, whenever I share photos of an organizing project or a tour of a room in our home, I get several emails and/or comments from readers who feel the need to explain why they “can’t be as organized as me”.

It’s usually because they believe they…

  • don’t have enough storage space to be organized
  • don’t have enough time to get organized
  • don’t have enough money to buy proper organizing containers and tools
  • don’t have enough energy to stay organized
  • don’t have enough help from family members to keep things organized
  • don’t have enough motivation to actually get started
  • don’t have enough “type A” to stay on top of the clutter

I also get LOTS of comments regarding our choice to wake up at 4 am in order to be super productive before the kids wake up.

It seems that most love the idea of waking up super early; however, the implementation often falls through for a variety of reasons…

  • up too late with teen children
  • up in the middle of the night with a baby or toddler
  • too many evening activities and family events
  • working a job with strange hours, requiring abnormal sleep and wake times
  • inability to fall asleep on time, so still tired at 4 am

And ever since I shared more about all the vegetables we’re eating each day, I’ve heard SO many excuses and reasons why more veggies just couldn’t work…

  • I work outside the home, so I don’t have as much time in the kitchen as you do
  • my family wouldn’t eat the veggies so they’d go to waste
  • we can’t afford that much fresh produce
  • we don’t have an extra refrigerator to store our extra produce
  • I don’t enjoy being in the kitchen
  • I don’t live in a place where I can grow my own garden

.

I actually have a canned email response for these situations saying, “It’s OK that you don’t do everything the same as me! Just start where YOU are, use whatever tools and resources YOU have, and do whatever YOU can do at this point in your life.”

Maybe that means putting a few carrot sticks in your children’s lunches this month. 

Maybe that means waking up 15 minutes earlier. 

Maybe that means setting your timer for 20 minutes and tackling 2 drawers in your dresser. 

Maybe that means using old shoe boxes and mismatched baskets you already have in the house versus buying pricier containers brand new.

Maybe that means growing one cherry tomato plant in a 5-gallon bucket on your back steps.

Maybe that means digging an old notebook out of your drawer and finally writing down your goals and to-dos. 

Maybe that means lowering your standards for the cleanliness of your home and enjoying the fact that it’s cleaner or more organized than it was last year or last month. 

And of course, this can also be applied to exercise, starting a new hobby or job, learning a new skill, and basically every other aspect of life. 

We are all at different stages of life, we all have different backgrounds, we all have different daily and weekly schedules, we all have different energy levels and sleep needs, and we all carry different “baggage” around with us each day.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting organized, boosting productivity, increasing vegetable intake, or anything else – and that’s OK!

In many ways, I feel like the day after Labor Day is the start of our family’s “New Year”. 

We just finished our “summer holiday” and now we’re back at it again for the next 9-10 months.

It feels like a fresh start, a new beginning, and a really great time to start wherever I am and do whatever I can, with whatever tools and resources I have at this point in my life. 

This might not look or be as good as others around me and it certainly will not be “Pinterest perfect”… but it will be the best I can do right now, where I’m at with 4 little kiddos at home with me each day, and with the tools, skills, resources, and abilities I have available to me. 

If you’re feeling discouraged because you don’t think you have the time, money, space, energy, knowledge, skills, tools, or resources to do something as well as others around you, I hope this post encourages you to focus on doing YOUR best based on YOUR current season of life, YOUR current financial position, YOUR current energy level, YOUR current workload, YOUR current sleep habits, etc. etc.

If you’re anything like me, you will notice an immediate pressure release when you stop focusing on matching up to others and start focusing on making forward progress on YOUR OWN terms! 

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

Thanks, Mr. Ashe! 

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22 comments

  1. Debbie

    09/05/2019

    Thanks for the encouragement! Funny how we (I) always start with a great goal before the summer, be it eating better or exercising. However, by the end of the summer I feel I’ve failed miserably. Your post on eating roasted vegetables has been something I’ve stuck to since the beginning of the year. I think after Labor Day I’m again making it a point to move/exercise more. It’s a great reminder to not compare myself but to be the best of myself.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I dont’ do great with Summer goals. I’m much more diligent during the school year when our days and weeks are more structured!

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  2. Janice

    09/03/2019

    Oh, girl, you said it well! I am in my early 70s, my husband and I just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary last month and I feel like I have been through several stages in life, each with its challenges and accomplishments. Childhood, teen years, college, just married and started teaching public high school and pre children, then first baby, second baby, back to work but at a Christian high school, raising children through their different stages, ministering to elderly parents, grandchildren, and now our retirement season of life. We have been through bad health eras and thin financial periods as well as good health and enough money to go on family vacations and renovate our house. Adaptation and change has been the name of the game. Nothing stays the same so you better be ready for whatever comes your way and don’t beat yourself up over not being able to do it all and do it perfectly. Andrea, I love your encouraging mantra, “Progress not Perfection.”. You are one of the most sensible and practical people I know and you have given us another wise piece of advice, giving us permission to just do the best we can wherever we are in life. Keep it coming, girl!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow — this is so encouraging to read! Thanks for sharing!

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    Jenny Reply:

    I love Andrea’s post about this topic and I love your response! My situation is very different from both of you right now, and I’m struggling a bit, but feel inspired now!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yay for inspiration!

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    Debbie Reply:

    This is very encouraging to read from someone who has walked through seasons of life.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, that’s what I was thinking too!

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  3. Katie

    09/03/2019

    This is wonderful. Do what you can with what you’ve got. Prioritize. Admit when something isn’t one of your priorities and stop making excuses!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes! exactly!

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  4. Debra

    09/03/2019

    This has always been one of my favorite quotes…bit I tend to forget it, I am typing it out and putting it out on both my school and home desk! Here’s to a great school year to us all!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh good — glad you’ll have it printed out now! 🙂

    [Reply]

  5. Anne

    09/03/2019

    Great Post Andrea! I too feel like the day after Labor Day is the start of our family’s “New Year”. Fresh starts are always inspiring for me.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I love the start of another school year — May will be here before we know it though!

    [Reply]

  6. Suzanne

    09/03/2019

    This is a great post. We are all unique and have our own situations. For some of us, getting up at 4am voluntarily is never going to happen and that’s ok. The fact that all of your kids are great eaters is proof that what you’re doing and sharing is helpful. Thank you for all of your posts.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    exactly! and you’re welcome 🙂

    [Reply]

  7. Abby

    09/03/2019

    I LOVE, love, love this post. It’s taken me years to arrive at a place where I can hear and believe that these ideas are true. One of the things I appreciate most about you is that you reflect real life and the concept that each person’s reality is different.

    [Reply]

    Karen Reply:

    Amen. I agree. We are each unique individuals and do whatever we can at our own pace. Who says we have to keep up with the Jones? I do what i can and you do you. Don’t worry about the person next to you. I’m perfectly happy just being me and living the best life i know how to.

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    Janene Reply:

    Love this post. So True! We are all on a different path! I am learning to start with little steps. Thanks Andrea! Your posts are a highlight of my day and so helpful!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thank you so much Janene!

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    Andrea Reply:

    exactly — I love your last line “I’m perfectly happy just being me and living the best life I know how to”!
    Thanks for sharing!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Abby!

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