Balancing Act

May 28, 2013


By Amy Hackworth. Image by Violet May.

My eyes have always been bigger than my stomach, and not just when it comes to food. I’ve always had an appetite for more projects than I can finish and more interests than I can handle. I can’t help myself—our world really is full of a lot of wonderful things.

Though the data seemed to prove otherwise, for a long time I believed there was room in my life for everything that interested me. I could sew beautiful quilts and also write beautiful stories. I was sure there was room for both, and more, and I held out hope: there had to be a way to do it all.

I realize now that I imagined a few mystical hours in the day that I just hadn’t found yet. Maybe if I kept searching, maybe if I got up earlier or learned to work faster, I’d be able to squeeze in all the quilting, reading, teaching, writing, volunteering, gardening and redecorating I imagined, plus do art projects with our boys and learn graphic design while I DIYed a remodel of our sweet 60s bathroom.

I was trying to figure out how to manage my many interests when I asked a friend, a prolific published author, how she made time for other projects. She just looked at me. “Like what?” she asked. “Like sewing,” I offered. “Like sewing…curtains?” she ventured. “Sure, sewing curtains.” “Oh,” she said. “I don’t do that.”

But I continued to insist that I could, and I continued to buy fabric I loved for projects I never completed. And I heard first lines of essays and snatches of short stories that I never wrote. I began to understand that with my head so full of potential projects, my hands, for whatever reason, never really got to work. I pared down my appetite, and found new homes for most of my fabric. Though parting wasn’t easy, I discovered an interesting sense of relief on the other side. Those unfinished projects had been haunting me, I realized, and they weren’t anymore. I was finally free to work, not on everything I loved, but on the things that I cared about most.

If you’ve figured out the secret to doing it all, I’m still dying to know, but I’d also love to hear how you balance your interests and projects in busy lives. Have you found that focusing has allowed you to be more productive? Or do you manage lots of interests with ease?

P.S. — More work-life-balance posts here. Including Gabrielle’s favorite tips and tricks!

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Angela DeMuro May 28, 2013 at 8:49 am

Wow, what a timely post for me to read! I am you! I have had lots of ‘supplies’ for projects I would get to…I was so sure of it.
I tried getting up early, staying up late and multi tasking like a circus performer. I clearly suffered from creative ADHD. Once I realized this, and that anything remotely ‘creatively shiny’ would distract me I had to get a plan. And this is what I did: I began to pay attention to those creative endeavors that gave me an ‘Aha” feeling. A TRUE aha feeling…one that pertained to my purpose, my path.
I have narrowed my pursuits down. And I have more peace and focus.
Now I will admit I still am working on many things at the same time…my 2 drafting tables hold projects that I work on simultaneously and my night table still holds about 7 magazines and 5 books that I am currently reading:)


2 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Angela, I knew there were people like me out there! I love your plan. I think there’s something really special about finding those “aha” endeavors. Thank you for sharing this–I’m going to remember it.


3 Lucie May 28, 2013 at 8:58 am

“I began to understand that with my head so full of potential projects, my hands, for whatever reason, never really got to work.”
Woah. Hitting me hard in the face…
Maybe I need to learn to give up on some things in order to focus and achieve other- more important- ones. Thank you for the piece of writing !


4 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Thanks for saying something, Lucie! I really appreciate it!


5 Gabby May 28, 2013 at 9:07 am

This post was pretty timely for me as well! I work full time and have 2 small children. I recently started blogging and getting back to doing what I love (other than being a mom) and that’s doing creative projects. It is really hard finding time to do it all, if only there were more hours in the day…sigh. But, what I’ve found helpful is to really step back and realize I don’t need to finish things as quickly as I’d like to. It’s okay to spend 3 weeks when I really wanted it to be a weekend project; the world won’t come to an end. I also find exercising to be helpful. I know, sounds crazy, since it’s one more thing to add to the to-do list. But exercise clears my mind and helps me to focus and prioritize.


6 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Gabby, exercise helps me tremendously, too. And I love your realization that it’s ok if things take longer. I’m reading Fly Lady’s book right now, and she’s all about housekeeping baby steps. But baby steps are so important for all of life, I think, especially when you’re craving creativity with limited time.


7 Jennifer May 28, 2013 at 9:41 am


Sometimes I think I am good at this; sometimes, I am sure I am not. I have gotten much better at saying no to new creative pursuits (I’ll stick with quilting, thankyouverymuch), but I tend to overextend myself in areas where I _can_ do the work, and if I hire someone, it is too expensive. That new rock wall I want in my yard? No problem, I’ll just build that next weekend. That shed my husband would like out by the garden? Sure. I’ll just start drafting it right now. It’s hard to have a museum-quality garden in my yard and still find time for my kids and my quilting.

It’s probably time to prioritize my wants and consider the actual size of the investment I’m making when I commit to another project. It’s not completely a financial question–sometimes it’s a question of time.


8 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm

That’s a tricky one, isn’t it? When you have the skills to complete a project, but it might not be the best use of your time. Good luck with your rock wall and garden shed, whatever you decide to do!


9 Janssen May 28, 2013 at 9:50 am

What a great post – I love all things related to work-life balance.

I think it’s easier for me when I don’t feel like I have to do it all. I don’t have to love sewing and writing and cooking and travel and reading and art and theater, or at least not all at the same time. Some months and years are heavy on some and light on others.


10 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 1:32 pm

That’s the deep breath approach, Janssen. Thanks. It also helps me to realize I can love them all, but don’t have to try to do them all. Appreciating them has merit, too.


11 julia-lifeonchurchill May 28, 2013 at 9:52 am

I definitely understand. I’ve had to let go of things (like DIY projects) in exchange for working on my etsy shop. Sometimes it helps me to dedicate a day to a topic. But often my head is so full of ideas, I remind myself this stage of life with little ones is busy and it is okay not to finish everything!


12 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Yes, it is! And (I can’t help myself) they’ll be grown up before we know it!


13 Jenni Bailey May 28, 2013 at 11:10 am

I am so guilty of this, as well. Especially when it comes to writing. I have such big blogging ambitions and such big future-bestselling-novelist ambitions and such big parenting ambitions. I mean, so so so much at once. I have really decided in the last couple of months to let things go. No more new projects or new business ventures (to date, I have been a yoga teacher, floral designer, photographer, smoothie-shaker and surfboard-peddler. I have had more blogs and etsy shops than I would even dare to admit). I have had to accept that I may never be the next big thing in blogging because I will never commit to spending time every single day on it. And I’m okay with that. That bit of time is devoted writing bigger stories and trying to lead my girls on their own little adventures. And I’ll blog when I can. Whenever the spare moment shows up. Saying no to myself can be really hard and I feel the sting of choosing one thing over the rest every single day. But I trust that it is all for the better, eventually.


14 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Jenni, I like to think there’ll be a certain peace in deliberately choosing to say no, but I, too, still feel the pull of so many things. Good luck to both of us.


15 Shennon May 28, 2013 at 11:11 am

I doubt there is a woman that doesn’t feel connected to this post. While I still have way too many plans, I have found that focusing on my current phase of life helps. I once was a costumer. It was grand and involved lots of sewing and supplies. Now I work an office job, raise 2 kids, and keep a home from completely falling apart. That is enough for now. I keep many of the costuming supplies as I have the space and ribbon comes in handy for so many things and a sewing machine is just practical. But the dress form is gone. I don’t know if I will ever pick it up again. My next phase of life, my gardens may go from utilitarian to lovely or those silly stories rambling in my head may be shared. But that will be for another day. For now I am enough.


16 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 1:34 pm

High five, Shennon! “For now I am enough.” Thanks for this!


17 Liz May 28, 2013 at 11:53 am

I just put away piles of fabric, the sewing machine, patterns, needles, thread, knitting supplies…the dining room is clear!!! Now, to write that children’s book I have been drafting..

thanks so much for this post….


18 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Ha! This makes me smile!


19 Sandra May 28, 2013 at 12:10 pm

The ability to multitask is a blessing and a curse. And lately I’ve seen that it’s more the latter than the former!

I’ve always been someone with high energy, lots of interests/dreams and the ability to execute. The perfect recipe for overload if you match it with the growth in social media and exposure to so many MORE wonderful opportunities and ideas.

I’ve been thinking a LOT about focus lately. And as a mom as well as a creative, what balance REALLY means.

I’ve learned to say no. That was a hard lesson – it kills me to see opportunities go by! I’m like a magpie with all shiny bits of paper and string out there.

And I’ve learned to pare down to just a few areas (photography, writing/blogging) to focus on.

Finally, I’ve learned to be more in the moment with whatever I am doing – if I’m with my family, I’m WITH my family. If I’m writing, no social media.

You get the idea.

It’s a process. Big learning and bigger shifts.


20 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Great to hear that you’re moving in a direction that feels good to you. I love how deliberate you’re being, Sandra. That’s really inspiring–thanks.


21 Chelle May 28, 2013 at 12:18 pm

I took on a church assignment five years ago, knowing that life would change. And it did. Between work and church, there’s little time for crafts and projects anymore. I can do some, here and there, and the summer is filled with sewing! It’s been an interesting experience to give that part of my life up. Yesterday, I cleaned out my crafts closet, and threw away so many unfinished projects (don’t worry, I kept lots of them, too). I remember how excited I was to start each and every one of those projects. Each was the product of a vision. But there are so many visions to come, so I let go of the old ones to make room for the future ones. Someday, my creative juices will go back into making things, rather than teaching. Until then, I have to learn to say tell myself no.


22 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Times and seasons, right? I think that’s a valuable reminder.


23 Amy May 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm

The most liberating thing I’ve done was accept the realization that I can’t do it all. It’s made me a happier person, a better wife and mother. I do a few things really well, and the rest I’ve chucked. I also do things in chunks. If I decide I want to focus on genealogy for a month, I do not worry about organizing closets or photos or take on any other projects. I take this approach with my kids. I am a great mom in certain ways; I do not spend any time sewing, creating amazing bedrooms, or making homemade play dough. However I am fantastic at loading them up and taking them someplace fun, spontaneous trips to the book store, jumping in the pool at random times, dancing contests. I don’t want to waste time on mommy guilt. It doesn’t do them or me any good. I liked Gabriella’s posts about birthdays: Pick one idea and go with it, but don’t try to do them all. Great philosophy: it’s about making them feel special.

Thanks for the post. It helped me to know I’m not the only one.


24 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 1:39 pm

I like this: “I do a few things really well and the rest I’ve chucked.” That’s so great. Sounds like a path to peace.


25 Faye Lynn May 28, 2013 at 1:16 pm

As we grow up, we develop more interest — as it should be.
The sad part is there isn’t time for all of them and we must pick and choose.
Faye Lynn


26 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Faye Lynn, thanks for putting this in a developmental context. I’d never thought of it as simply part of growing up, but it definitely is.


27 Kristen Nelson May 28, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Whew! Thank you for giving me permission to let some things go. I find that on the days I take time to pray and meditate in the morning for at least 15 minutes (sometimes with Curious George in the background), everything seems to magically fall into place.


28 Amy Hackworth May 28, 2013 at 2:06 pm

That makes such good difference, doesn’t it? I love the mornings when I create that time, too.


29 Lindsey May 28, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I was just griping last night that I am so tired of seeing DIY projects everywhere I look that I would never have time for. Last week I went on a yoga retreat and I realized I only have so much energy. I think the key to balancing is having GOALS. Once you have goals and you have a strategy for accomplishing them, you do that stuff first and then there usually isn’t room for anything else. But…if there is room, then that’s where you can insert a little this or that. So write your goals down. The things that you want enough to write down goals for will probably also make you quite happy. Then you start coming into some good balance. xo


30 Alyssa May 28, 2013 at 3:15 pm

This is my problem as well. I get so caught up in my enthusiasm and take on way more than I can actually accomplish with small children and a husband at home. I’m an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and it shows.

My latest strategy for combating this is to keep a list of my priorities, in order, near my bed. When I collapse into it at night and start to think about all of the creative ideas it helps to weigh them against my life’s priorities. If they get in the way of the top three (kids, husband, home) they’re out. It’s not fool proof, but it helps.


31 Kristin May 29, 2013 at 5:29 am

Alyssa – I am ENFP too! When I read my profile and realized that my seemingly crazy interest and pursuit of new projects was in-born, I felt a lot better. I also read a few paragraphs aloud to my husband, hoping it would help him to better understand me! We have a running joke about how I have always wanted to take a pottery class… and pretty much any other class that I hear about;-)


32 Melissa May 28, 2013 at 4:05 pm

I love hearing everyone else’s solutions for balancing their passions and interests! I find that my secondary interests (crafts, baking, sewing, decorating) help fuel my passions (writing, parenting)–as long as I keep them in balance, time-wise. But when I am stuck in my writing, or am considering how to handle a problem, sitting and working with my hands can produce surprising solutions.


33 Lisa May 28, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s comments too. Amy, I still think you’re so brave for giving your fabric away —I’m not there yet. But I have started to see the value in picking and choosing and focusing. And I’ve come to accept that there are seasons in life and that someday I will be able to do all the many different things I’d like to. I just hope I’m not too tired by the time I get there!


34 Heidi May 28, 2013 at 6:54 pm

I appreciate this post as a full-time working mother of 5 who is having a crisis trying to find time to write my master’s thesis. There just isn’t enough time!!! And now I have just inherited 2 awesome knitting machines. They are not coming out of the box until that thesis is written!!


35 Anu May 28, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Has anyone read this : Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher

I have read this book. It contradicts the general feeling ( I am with the mass here ) of not able to do it all. And it is interesting how the whole book describes avenues , opportunities and mental state to do it all …in ones own pace & following ones own rhythm.


36 chelsea May 29, 2013 at 8:13 am

Added this to my book list! Now… to make time to read it. :P


37 Kate @ herenowbrowncow May 28, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Lots of projects on the go here. Then it’s like a smorgasbord of craft to choose from when I’m in the mood!


38 chelsea May 29, 2013 at 8:09 am

Perfect timing on this post, thank you! I love creative projects, and I save *everything* pretending that “this will be perfect” for some craft project or another. But actually, I just end up piling everything into my sewing room, and when I actually make the time for something extra, I’m more inclined to practice piano, write, or read. While working on further simplifying our home, I found myself wondering, “What if I just give away all of the yarn and fabric that I don’t absolutely love?” …I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…


39 Dee Wilcox May 29, 2013 at 8:29 am

Thanks for this post, Amy. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I think I’m a little bit addicted to having projects going — I feel creative and active, and it’s very fulfilling to finish things. It’s not fulfilling when they are hanging over my head, though. I just organized my craft room, and I’m shocked at home many supplies I have for different things. I honestly don’t know how I would choose just one hobby. Good for you for having the self discipline!


40 Anna M May 29, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Wouldn’t you know it? I wrote about the very same thing yesterday. Even had a fancy lady juggling as my header picture (but nowhere near as fancy as your lady). I have been contemplating the juggle lately and WHICH BALLS are important to have in the circulation and which to let drop completely.

Must be something in the air. You are definitely more directed on a conclusive path, though. I have faith that I will join you shortly and leave the obsessive over-juggling.


41 Koseli Cummings June 1, 2013 at 9:26 am

Seriously, I gotta get rid of my fabric. It stresses me out. And stick my sewing machine where I can’t see it. I like to sew occasionally, but I don’t love it and I feel like those unfinished projects that I never really cared about haunt me 24/7. It’s so silly because I get a lot of stuff done, you know? And stuff I’m excited about. So yes, Amy, definitely gotta go through and just figure out what’s really worth it!


42 Bianca / Little Scandinavian June 2, 2013 at 4:30 am

I’m a secret horder too, finding it very hard to part with fabric such as baby’s first curtains in the nursery and all the left over fabric that I will make pillow cases out of. My baby is now 11, and there curtains are neatly folded together with the left over fabric. And as you say, every time it pops up out into daylight I feel guilty.
If we had lived in one large house, over all those years, with lots of storage, I would have been (possibly) able to justify it. But we’ve moved 4 times over the last 11 years, and I’m carring all this extra fabric with me.
In fact -I’m reading your blog to get the much needed inspiration to do something about it. Now, need to giggle. As I expected design mom to give me a easy sewing pattern to transform it into something very trendy for the family home. Instead you’re suggesting “part with it”! And your probably right! You def achieved one thing. I’m now reconsidering it all over again. If it finally will be pillows or not -I would owe you a thank you card. :)


43 Chrissy / Doodlebump June 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm

I have just stumbled upon this blog post whilst searching for ideas of what to do with my bits of fabric! I have constantly got many ideas and projects on the go and consequently have many bits and bobs around for when those projects get started ( if ever!) They were causing me some heart ache as in the precious few hours once my son is in bed they scream make me, but I just want to sit down with a book instead! So thank you for the advice they will be sent to someone else who can make use of them, just hoping I don’t replace them with more :)


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