When 'No' is better than 'Yes'


Dear Sarah,
Your blog is about saying “Yes” to adventures in life and great opportunities. I was wondering if you could share what you’ve had to say “No” to in your life and why you said no to certain situations/opportunities/friendships/relationships etc? Sometimes, at least for me, it’s helpful to hear what boundaries others have set to craft their lives and why.
– Carleen

Funnily enough, a few friends refer to me as “The One With Boundaries.”  
I have no idea if this is a compliment but I’m choosing to interpret it as one.  While I’m (obviously!) a positive, yay-saying lady, I also have approximately zero tolerance for bullshit and I work to add awesome and subtract foolishness from my life.
Here are the things I say no to.  With gusto!
People who engage in the same damaging, negative behavior repeatedly and then complain about the outcomes
It is 100% none of my business if you’re broke because you can’t control your online shopping.  Or if you got fired from another job because you’re always late.  Or your car broke down again because you (still) haven’t had that noise checked out.  None of these things make you bad person or a bad friend.  We all make mistakes.However.

If you want to spend our time together complaining about bad things that have happened to you – things that have happened before and should not come as a surprise – well, that’s not particularly enjoyable or enriching for anyone involved.  I want to spend time with people who inspire me.  I, personally, do not find repeated bad decisions inspiring.

Random, crazy, difficult things happen to all of us.  But some people seem to invite the crazy.  Clients who are late or mean, friends who do crazy, drunk things or yell or cry or throw things?  Nope.  I am too old for that ish.  Really, anyone over the age of 22 is too old for that ish.  I will happily be Facebook friends or see-you-at-the-party friends with a Drama Inducer, but that’s about as far as I’m willing to go.

People who complain constantly about things they have the power to change

We’d all like to change certain things about our lives – our bank balance, our weight, our job, the people we live with.  And it’s human nature to vent from time to time.  But when someone complains every Friday about being broke while drinking three $12 cocktails?  Or never-endingly snipes about his roommate but refuses to talk to him or kick him out?  It bums me out.
Non-exclusive romantic relationships
For every thing there is a season, and I’m not in that season of life where I’m interested in dating someone who wants to date other people.  If I like you enough to date you, I like you enough to date just you.  Dating multiple people works for a lot of folks – I’m just not one of ’em.  I’d rather spend my time + energy on one person and one relationship than spreading myself thin with several dudes I’m lukewarm about.
Having a data plan on my phone
Does it strike you as ridiculous that a professional blogger can’t check email from her phone?  Fair enough.  But, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I’m addicted to the internet, and one of the ways I curb that is by making my phone an internet-free zone.  Plus, it’s super annoying when you’re trying to have a deep and meaningful with your friend and she’s googling “Grumpy Cat + Santa hat.” I would be that friend.  We’re all better off when I can’t get online from the nail salon.Taking on clients I wouldn’t be friends with
Of course, this doesn’t work out every.single.time but I try to limit my clients to people I’d want to meet for coffee or who appreciate my taste in stinky cheeses.  I want to build my proverbial ‘tribe’ of like-minded awesome people whose products I, myself, would use.


Interacting with clients anytime after 6 pm CST or on weekends
Nope. If I’m feeling really twitchy, I’ll respond to their email (because I love an empty inbox) but schedule the email to send at 8 am the next morning.  I don’t want to create the expectation that I respond to emails at 9:30 pm on a Friday night.What do you say ‘no’ to?  How do you set boundaries in your life?

Photo by Beth Moore // cc



I wish I could get rid of my data plan. I got one two years ago and can probably never part with it now! I sort of wish I hadn't but at the same time, it helps me be productive.

One time I wish people said no: I contact people I respect and admire for advice, they respond "Yes! But not right now! I'll contact you when it's more convenient for me" but they never do. And it bugs the HELL out of me. If they said no, I wouldn't be so down on myself about it. I really hate this kind of flaky-ism and I'm not sure how to approach it.


This list is excellent, and I'm the same way for many things. Could I ask a follow-up question about "saying no to drama"?

I recently excised a casual friend from my life after he made a huge scene and called me names one evening. When he attempted an apology the next day (via facebook), I explained that I needed some time before I'd be willing to consider an apology, and that I wasn't willing to continue being friends at the moment, as I wasn't interested in waiting for another scene to occur. I thought I handled it well, and my life is considerably less stressful without him, but from what I understand, he is complaining about the "drama" I am causing by not being willing to forgive & forget, and accusing me of behaving childishly. I know I'm going to run into him again in a social setting, so do you have any tips for making a graceful exit if he starts on me, or for how to redirect the conversation when he brings up our disagreement? Or, how to explain to mutual friends why I've no interest in maintaining a friendship without sounding blame-y?

Sarah Von Bargen


I think you handled all of this well – you're not making any drama, you're being an adult. I'd just avoid him for a bit, and if he starts on you just say (very calmly) "I don't want to have this conversation with you right now" and then walk away.

Creole Wisdom

This is fantastic. I think saying "no" is just as positive as saying "yes," it allows people to be authentic. I'm going to have to think about this some more and may do a post about it. I often say things aren't "part of my lifestyle" and I mean that! Usually it relates to dating, but it even encompasses where I grocery shop.

Ginger Mandy

I like that method of choosing clients. Might have to take that into consideration when scoping out new opportunities. Sometimes it's just not worth it. 🙂


Slow clap to this post. I say a hearty no to "idle bitchers" (people who complain but don't change) and people who do not respect my time either by being late or by constantly rescheduling.


Gah! The worst are those who complain about things are they are in complete power of altering. I can't do it. I'll respond to it.

My "no" point is, without a doubt, anything that suggests a lack of respect. If that's the cashier at the grocery store, or the man who shares my home, that's a "no" that will be addressed.


THIS is one of my biggest weaknesses and one thing that is always on my 'keep working on it' list! Thanks for detailing HOW to say no to some of these things…sometimes I just don't know how to say it and not feel guilty/like a jerk!


This is one of my favorite posts you have ever done. Seriously. Your no list is just a positive and amazing as your adventures and how tos and yes lists!

Happy New Year!


THIS is one of my biggest weaknesses and one thing that is always on my 'keep working on it' list! Thanks for detailing HOW to say no to some of these things…sometimes I just don't know how to say it and not feel guilty/like a jerk!

Savvy Aggarwal

Love this post. I pretty much say no to all these things except to data plan on my phone and emails late at night. However Your post has definitely urged me to balance my internet time with my social time. Keep sharing your wonderful tips and thoughts 🙂


Tiffany Han

Words cannot even begin to describe how much I love this. I think you've articulated choice so beautifully here and how we can all be empowered to create boundaries SO THAT we can say yes to the things that really matter in our lives.

Brilliant. I'm going to print this and post it on my wall as a reminder. THANK YOU!


Sarah, can we just be friends because I love, love, LOOOVE all of the above! I'm a very happy-go-lucky and positive person so I can totally relate to not adhering to someone moan about situations they can change!

Cassie @ Witty Title Here

You mean I'm not the only Internet-obsessed U.S. citizen WITHOUT a data plan?!

I have one of those awful-looking dinosaur flip phones, and I've actually received a few strange looks from strangers when using it in public. But I've also gotten a lot of compliments, like: "Good for you for NOT having an iPhone!" Oddly, everyone I know who has an iPhone has said it's not that great, AND they admire my self-control. Really, though, I just don't wanna spend $100/month for the privilege of Googling "Grumpy cat + Santa hat." And I don't need to spend anymore time online than I do now.

Amanda Cobb

I have a lot of these same boundaries, and I think it's generally good advice! I'm particularly with you on the repeat-bad-decision makers, and not interacting with clients after 6pm.


I'm trying to get better at saying no sometimes. Problem being is I love getting involved in all kinds of things and I don't like to feel I'm letting anyone down.

However this sometimes results in me being very, very tired and run down – to the point that I then don't want to do anything and really miss out on the things I love doing!

So sometimes saying no, is the better option in the long run in some situations…


Great list! I'm getting much better at saying no, too. It's great, actually! Fairly sure I could never go without data on my phone, though!! Instagram is my favourite thing ever.


Echoing all the above — thanks for a great and inspiring list. Also inspiring to remember that I don't want to be the friend who's always complaining and not changing, etc etc etc!

The post-dated e-mail delivery is a GREAT idea. We have a big boss here in our office who consistently sends/responds to e-mails at 10pm, midnight, whenever, and I think it contributes to a crazy attitude around here (and makes her look a little crazy too, in my opinion).


my husband and i planned to say no to people owing us money. they are getting abusive. the same person owe us money daily and we can't say no. this time, for real.


Oh boy is it refreshing to hear someone say no to non-exclusive romantic relationships! Wish I'd read that about 8 months ago…

How did you develop your boundaries?

Sarah Von Bargen

I think a huuuuuge part of having boundaries is
a) getting older
b) having healthy self-esteem
c) having lot of other good things in your life

I'm old enough and I've had enough clients/friendships/romantic relationships to know what a good one when I see one. And I know there are pleeeenty of awesome people to befriend, clients to work for, and dudes to date. So I don't have to put up with unpaid invoices, complaining, or non-exclusive foolishness. So I don't 😉

And if you don't want to put up with it – you don't have to, either!


I am saying no to people who come around only to complain about their life and point out all that could go wrong with any news about my life I share. You know, those people who always rain on your good news with their telling you what could go wrong with the situation. I call these people "negative creeps" (a friend of mine called them "emotional vampires") because they only stop by in my life to bring their negative, cynical, outlook to everything in my life and make me feel like crap. I started weeding them out last year and will continue to do so this year. It can be a bit tricky to untangle yourself form them because they can get very "drama" when you try to ease away quickly.


I concur with most of these. I have no tolerance for energy vampires.
What I am struggling to say 'no' to now is blog-related: regurgitating press releases to products/places/promotions I am not offered to partake in (or I have little interest in). Sometimes it's just a quick delete and no hard feelings if I choose not to promote it. However, there is one PR rep who personalizes it (i.e. "I look forward to hearing your ideas on coverage") and I just don't know how to say it has to be a collaborative effort if they want space on my blog – you know?


re: non-exclusive romantic relationships

I wish more people could be upfront about their opinions on this. I ID as polyamourous and it's not a secret. Heck it states so right on my OKC profile. I've got 2 people that I date seriously but am open to the concept of a third.

Lately the routing is meet someone online, restating in the emails that I've got 2 people and not interested in dumping them to be with new person. Go on a couple dates, start to hit it off. That's about when they decide they don't want to involved with someone who's involved with someone else. Just gets annoying. Which may be why in practice I've not added a third.


I love this list, I'm currently on working on saying No to more of these things, mainly friends who complain about things that they can change. Do you just ever call them out on it? Because sometimes I really really want to. lol! I feel you on this entire list, and I give you some serious props for not having a data plan.. that may cure my internet addiction at least slightly!! Love your blog, and all your posts!

<3 Kelly


I called a past friend on it once and she just went silent for 10 seconds and went right back to complaining about the same thing. It is like I never called her on it because she came back around when the same issue cropped up again a few weeks later. I finally had enough and stopped answer her phone calls and blocked her online. 2 years of the round and round with the problem (had to do with getting back together with the cheating boyfriend over and over) was just enough for me.


Awesome list! You've got your boundaries and yay-saying ways in order. It's amazing how saying no to a bad friendship really takes a load off. There's just some things we're not meant to take on. Not at the expense of our happiness–if only I'd discovered that sooner.


This post is rather timely, as two of my new year's commitments (prefer to call them that rather than "resolutions") are to a) start standing up for myself and saying no when I really want to say no and b) when I do say no, be honest about my reasons rather than lying about them in order to avoid hurting someone's feelings. So far, it's working well – I've had some really positive results! Last night someone who I just started getting to know texted me and asked if I wanted to get together that evening – I didn't really want to; I was just feeling tired and lazy and didn't feel like getting ready to go out. I realized I had two choices: tell him the truth as per my commitment, that I'd rather lie on my couch all night than get together with him, *OR* I could actually just go and hang out with him. Finally deciding that laziness was a poor excuse, I went out, and had a great time. Hooray! Anyway. That was a detour.

I also don't have a data plan on my phone. If you ever absolutely need to access the internet, there's always a hotspot around, somewhere!


I love this list!
I completely agree with you about keeping your phone an 'internet free zone'. I don't have an iphone and I don't want one. I know I'd morph into one of those anti-social peeps who can't have a meal without fiddling with their phone. So I don't tempt myself.

I have set aside Sunday as my relaxation day. I don't do anything that even resembles work on a Sunday (other than a very minimal amount of housework). Knowing that I have an entire day to just chill each week keeps me sane.

Jenn Rowell

This post was so well timed, even though I'm just now getting to responding!
I just moved to a new town and noticed my old habit creeping in, before we even hit the road, of taking on everything all at once. I met a friend for coffee before leaving DC and was telling her "I'm going to this and this and this and this and this…and this!"
She looked at me and said, "Jenn. No. First, you pack. Then move. Then unpack. Then start your new job. Settle in. Then pick the things that are most important to you."
She knows me well and has a similar personality, but has 10 years on me, so she knows how to simmer down.
I'm working on saying no to taking on projects on the fly, and instead giving more thought to what matters most to me and projects that maximize my skills so i have the most impact and purpose.
And oh my gosh the complainers who don't make changes! Makes me crazy! It's a silly movie, but the line "Change your stars" from A Knights Tale is a favorite of mine. Running away from problems is one thing, but making positive change is something else entirely.


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