Life gets awesome when you opt out

Did you know you can opt out of shame, embarrassment, or feeling awkward? Like, you can just take them off the table? Click through to find out how I do it
A few years ago, I found myself standing outside a painfully hip club in New York with five painfully gorgeous friends.

My friends all wore small, shiny, strappy things and teetered glamorously in tall, shiny, strappy shoes. There were sexy blowouts and bejeweled clutches and complicated manicures.

I, meanwhile, had been living out of a carry-on for the last six weeks. I’d existed on a diet of black and grey stretchy things I could layer. I had exactly two accessories to choose from: a pom-pom-edged scarf from H&M or a giant leather belt I’d purchased from Salvation Army 8 years ago. I did not, perhaps, look the part of Painfully Hip Club Attendee.

If this club had been in my hometown of Minneapolis, I might have turned inside out with embarrassment about my non-outfit of maxi skirt + tank top. But in this one instance, I felt completely at ease, tucked between fashionistas in my tank top and stretchy maxi skirt. I felt 100% comfortable because I was essentially wearing pajamas.

I also felt 100% comfortable because I opted out.

I took embarrassment, fashion shame, intimidation, and style envy completely off the table. Share on X

If these gorgeous, stylish ladies were running a race, I wasn’t even wearing a number. I was in the parking lot next to the race track, eating Combos and listening to mid-90’s folk songs on my car stereo. I was across the road from the race track, gardening and thinking about how the frost would affect my tomato plants.

Now, I’m not always this zen. Not by a loooooong shot.

That temporary zen was born of the fact that I literally didn’t have any other outfit options. It was either a tank top + maxi skirt or grey jeans + a tank top. And I didn’t see any point to freaking out about my lackluster outfit when I could be drinking on a rooftop with women I only see once a year.

But I remembered that freeing feeling of opting out and started applying it to other areas of my life.

And I realized that there were plenty of things I could opt out of – things I could simply choose to not care about.

Here are some things that I opt out of:
  • Holiday gifts for just about everyone
  • High heels
  • Traditional ideas about how marriage and parenthood should look
  • Christmas cards
  • New cars
  • Professional manicures (but I am all over pedicures)

Of course (of course!) I don’t care if other people love giving oodles of holiday gifts, sending Christmas cards, or driving a 2015 Camry.

If it brings you joy – do it! But these things don’t bring me joy, so I’m not doing ’em.

And if someone hassles me about my never-ending parade of ballet flats or my slightly rusty 2003 Ford Focus, I just shrug and say “Eh, it’s not really a priority for me.”

I’m opting out of the things that stifle me and (as cheesy as it sounds) opting into the life that feels right.

What are the things that you opt out of? Is there anything you’d like to opt out of but you can’t seem to extricate yourself? Tell us in the comments, maybe someone has some good advice!

P.S. The life-changing magic of intentional ignorance

photo credit: pineapples // cc

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  1. Andrea

    I also opt out of professional manicures, high heels and tight dresses. It's just not me. But I do have quite a few pairs of heels that forced their way into my closet.. so I may have to give them a second chance.. haha

  2. Candace

    I needed to read this today. I need to start opting out of things myself!

  3. Joanna

    What a beautiful post. I had a similar moment when I decided to not even pack heels for a bachelorette party. I wanted to feel grounded and comfortable. And to dance. And not be distracted by my feet hurting. It felt pretty bold. I loved it.

  4. Alicia | Jaybird: Home in Motion

    Yeessssss! I've never put a name to it, but opting out has really helped me balance my commitments and stay as stress-free as possible when dealing with a lot of stuff. I typically opt out of things that I just don't enjoy that much so that I can save time, energy, and money for what I do love. I've come to relish saying no because it always reaffirms a "yes" I've already committed.

  5. Ashley Leath

    "eating Combos and listening to mid-90's folk songs on my car stereo." CRACKED me up. I'll be right there with you!

    I've never heard of it referred to in quite this way, but I really like the phrase "opting out" of various life pressures. I've been opting out of making myself feel guilty for not working 24/7, for allowing myself to watch The Voice without self-judgment, and for eating that extra slice of cake on days when I really want that extra slice of cake. It's amazing what we deny ourselves, and how good it feels to embrace our inner voices too.

  6. Caylie Price

    Love this post Sarah.

    I've opted out of:
    * wearing uncomfortable shoes
    * "normal" sleep patterns if I can find a more productive alternative
    * saying things about myself that I'd never say about anyone else
    * too much time on Facebook
    * driving past Baskin and Robbins icecream shop or I'd be calling in daily
    * all work and no play

  7. Vanessa @ Mixed Martial Arts and Crafts

    During chemo, I opted out of wearing a wig. It was too much work to get it to look 'right' and I didn't have the energy (mental and physical) to mess with it.

    Now I'm opting out about feeling bad that I'm not a polished gal. I realized that my energy could be better spent either 1. accepting that I'm not into hair + make-up + nails or 2. learning how to do those things instead of feeling really jealous about girls who look great. So I'm learning how to 'put myself together' both make-up and fashion wise in a way that works with me and my style.

    I'm opting out of feeling down that my mom and sisters never taught me how to take care of myself. It was kinda irresponsible on their part (at age 7, I was responsible for calling the bank and explaining to my parents what was going on with the mortgage or insurance but I wasn't taught how to do things like dress for an interview, bring the host a gift, making small talk at the table) but now I can do those things for me instead.

    I'm opting out of feeling responsible for everyone else's actions and feelings. (I'm working on this with a great therapist!)

  8. KWu

    Love this. Sound like Amy Poehler's maxim that she had in her book: "Good for her! Not for me."

  9. KWu

    Love this. Sound like Amy Poehler's maxim that she had in her book: "Good for her! Not for me."

  10. katielookingforward

    I opt out of…straightening my hair to make it "polished" and curling it to make it "beachy". I also am opting out of Saturday night plans. I've got full days friday and saturday, and I'd rather see what life will bring me on Saturday afternoon/evening than make the plan days in advance.

  11. Danielle Zeigler

    I love this post! That's such an interesting way to look at it. I know I've opted out of a lot of things over the past few years and have felt tremendously better because of it.

  12. SR

    I love that zen moment where it feels like nothing can touch you! It's amazing how less stressful and more enjoyable life gets. Then there's the confidence that comes with letting go. It's exhilarating!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      It's so freeing! I have a friend who once responded to an attempted guilt trip by interrupting, patting the guilt tripper on the arm and saying "Oh, I don't do guilt trips." SO BAD ASS.

    • Secret Squirrel

      Oh Sarah, that is WONDERFUL. Oh, I will try to remember that one. Completely in agreement with SR's comment. I often only realise I have opted out of something when someone expresses surprise (e.g. No freezer, no microwave or TV at present). I am not being deliberately extreme or weird, when they broke I just haven't replaced them as I haven't missed them.

  13. Julie

    Have opted out of Facebook, diet soda (GROSS, I'll just take the full sugar, thank you), jewelry besides my gold band wedding ring, trying to enjoy running, making other people's happiness my responsibility, trying to eat raw carrots, trying to train my dog perfectly, trying to make my hair look any different than it is, and regular leg-shaving. Yep. Some nights I'd rather just cuddle the puppy in my bed. So sue me.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I'm with you on pretty much all of those!

  14. jillsarahg

    I opted out if lying when I don't want to do something or feeling guilty for saying no. It feels amazing!

  15. Kate

    I opt out of Spanx (or any sort of spandex body suit thing.)

    I'm currently searching for an apartment and am learning my list of "opt outs." I'm opting out of trendy party neighborhoods with crappy parking situations AND I'm also opting out of residential complexes with pools. Meh. Not my scene.

  16. Holly

    Yes to this. Most gratifying to me is opting out of the "bar scene," which I think is expensive and cliquey and tiring and well, a scene, when I'd rather be at a coffee shop and/or investing in one-on-one time with friends (or myself!).

  17. Anonymous

    YES. I love opting out.
    So, I've not been telling you something for quite some time. Um, it's becoming apparent that we are the same person. Or at least living in parallel universes. Let's see. We have both done a fair amount of independent travel. We've both taught ESL. I'm also a freelancer/consultant. We have various same likes and dislikes (case in point, I've told several friends about opting out!). We're both Virgos, in fact we have the same birthday! August 29: superstars only! The kicker was today, when you mentioned your slightly rusty 2003 Ford Focus. Um yup.
    ps My name's Krista, just because I feel somewhat creepy having all this on you. Now we're evener. 🙂

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Whooaaaa! That's uncanny! Like really, truly uncanny. If you live in the Twin Cities we'll have to meet and create a rip in the time/space continuum!

    • Anonymous

      Nope, I'm in Winnipeg. Which is kinda the same thing. Ripping away!!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Ha! It totally is, isn't it? 🙂

  18. lindsaymarie

    love this so much! i've opted out of keeping in touch just because. if i'm not amped about having someone in my life, i don't make an effort to keep them there just because we went to high school together/we used to be friends/we're cousins/etc. my husband and i opted out of having a wedding – we're introverts for whom the idea of a big party was terrifying. city hall for the win. it's taken me a while, but i'm finally comfortable opting out of the pressure, mostly due to living in nyc, to be a high-powered-busy-ambitious-do-everything-lady. i like my job well enough, but what i really love is going home at a pretty consistent time nearly every day, cooking dinner, and relaxing with my husband. i no longer get FOMO over concerts/comedy shows/art stuff/etc which i definitely succumbed to in my first few years of living here. i guess i opted out of the cultural pressure to be "like soooooo busy" all the time.

  19. Carla Cook

    I loved this. I am also an opt-outer – Facebook, diets, university. The bit at the end was really good for me though, I can sometimes find myself being defensive or judging others that haven't made the same decisions as me. It's so much better to just shrug it off and move on to something else!

  20. Erika Robbins

    I totally agree with you on the high heels thing. They are so dumb! I also opt out of Facebook, fad diets, drinking anything other than water (and alcohol, obviously), drama, and styling my hair.

  21. Dara

    Amen, sister! I've opted out of a job that I didn't enjoy and now I feel as free as a bird being a freelancer. I need to do this more often.

    Love, Dara
    Hola Darla

  22. Creole Wisdom

    Great post 🙂 it's funny because your outfits sound perfectly hip to me. Who can argue with a tank top and maxi skirt? Maybe that's why I don't club in either Minneapolis or New York.

    I'm all about opting out, even if I'm all alone in my ideas of what I won't participate in. We all have to live our truth, right.

    Here's what I'm saying "pass" to:
    • The "Lean in" movement. I have several issues with it (know I'm probably in the minority here, that's okay)
    • High power careers
    • Comparing myself to people a season ahead
    • Comparing my personal timeline to that of my peers
    • Reading the comments on Star Tribune or XoJane articles (I just can't!)
    • Lurking on GOMI
    • Bar scene/excessive alcohol drinking/any sort of drug use
    • Online dating (I met my wonderful man the 'old fashioned way,' but don't judge others- it's just never been more me)
    • Overextending myself schedule wise

  23. lamesha

    Girl yes!!! I am all over this blog post. I had almost this exact same experience at a club last weekend. But I was so happy because I really liked what I was wearing and that my friend was having fun. I've opted out of mommy guilt and conversations on hot button parenting topics, wearing club clothes, high heels that hurt, and facebook arguments. I'm sure there's more too

  24. Vanessa

    This post came at just the right time. This past week has been all about saying no to things, which has been extremely difficult for me. Power in solidarity!

    I realized I already have opted out of some things in my life:
    • shaving body hair if I don't feel like it
    • wearing makeup everyday
    • styling my hair or caring if it looks messy/greasy during non fancy times
    • pretending to be totally fine & together out of politeness
    • hiding my mental illness
    • keeping up with trendy media that doesn't interest me (books, music, film, etc)
    • keeping my political views hidden from family to avoid conflict/confrontation

    But I'm in my early 20s & there's still a lot I struggle to say no to. I really want to opt out of:
    • going to cool bars, restaurants out of my price range, and shows with bands i've never heard of
    • caring about living in a hip downtown house
    • comparing myself to my peers – feeling ashamed that i don't have a prestigious internship or that I'll be much older than most of them by the time I get my BA
    • trying to decorate my apartment so that it's blog worthy
    • being stylish – i just want to wear the same basic outfit every day, like Daria.
    • guilt over not being minimalist enough
    • buying gifts when I need the money for school/food/savings
    • keeping in contact, out of obligation, with guys who are still hoping my relationship will end.

  25. Storybook Apothecary

    awesome post! I need to post about this now haha. Things I want to opt out of : buying gifts for everyone, including the random kids of people I barely know, making my bed, marriage/children ideals, living the life people think I should lead instead of the one I actually want. 🙂 Need to make an opt-in/opt-out list STAT! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  26. jen

    Yes to opting out!
    I've already opted out of:
    1. makeup everyday
    2. uncomfortable shoes because they look good
    3. making decisions based out of fear of what other people will think
    4. thinking that i need a career to feel successful in life
    5. comparing myself to others (though this one is a continual work in progress, I think)
    6. having a second child because society expects it / vilifies the "only child"

  27. Siobhan (BeFree Project)

    This post lines up with the book I’m reading “the life changing magic of tidying up.” Yes, it’s about decluttering and tidying up your life. The one thing that stands out when discarding things, is “Does it spark you joy?” You can apply this simple but loaded question to every area of your life. If it doesn’t bring you joy, then don’t do it. Period.

    I opt out of:
    -doing things that others think I should do versus what I feel in my gut to do
    -wearing makeup (unless taking professional pictures) I’m a mascara and lip gloss kind of girl


  28. Erica Bishop

    I opt out of a lot of things, too., including everything on your list above. Plus, I don’t carry a purse, or care that my cellphone isn’t the latest model, or feel the need to shop anywhere pricier than Old Navy or Target. 🙂

  29. Rachel Swanson

    I have happily opted out of:
    *getting my hair cut as frequently as advised
    *having a 2nd car for the household
    *buying cable
    *wearing makeup that covers my freckles
    *the thong underwear movement
    *spending more than $4 for shampoo
    …and it’s ok!!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! I get like 2 haircuts a year – and I love my hairdresser!

  30. Carla

    * Hairdressers (ugh) who say things like “the last time you had a haircut was more than gslf a year ago!?!” Or “you fon’t use styling products for your hair!?!” In a tone as if I had just confessed to eating catfood from a tin.
    * Live concerts
    * Not eating carbs/fat/sugar/wheat/etc.
    * Shaving legs in the winter
    * Attending party’s I really don’t want to attend
    * Doing anything just because it is expected (I can make my own choices thank)
    * Feeling guilty
    *Excersizing self blame
    * Doing yoga or go yo the gym (I swim in a spa and take long hikes in the forest for those are the only two sports I enjoy)
    * Keeping my house meticolously clean (in the same time that it takes me to dust my house I can write a blogpost and thereby create something that ddidn’t exist before
    * Looking in the mirror or changing outfits more than once a day, again, i’d rather use my time for activities that fuel me

    I opt in to
    * Being there for my kid
    * Being there for good friends
    * Being there for myself in the same way I am there gor my friends and kid ( with lots of love, wisdom, faith and compassion)
    * Humour as a way to save the day
    * Making responsible choices for my family, our community and the planet
    * Looking for a husband

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! Yes.

  31. Carla

    Omg, typos and no way to edit them. Ok. I opt out of getting annoyed by my own typos. And the husband. I wanted to say I opt out of looking for a husband, but somehow he made it to the other list. Perhaps my subconscious has different plans.

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