Lately I’ve been feeling the pinch of too many volunteer commitments.

This is ironic because I started the new school year with the very firm mindset that I was going to protect my time like it was a precious, very fragile, endangered baby bird.

But I have utterly failed, and I’m spread way too thin. My baby bird is on the verge of dying a violent, bone-shattering death.

How did this happen?

Am I wearing a sign on my back that says “Ask ME! I always say YES!”?

Apparently so, because the requests keep on coming.

And now my secret is out: I can’t say no. Why do you think I was so popular in college? Well that and the fact that I went to an engineering school with a male to female ratio of 4:1. Like shootin’ fish in a barrel.


Thanks to the loving nudge from my friend Marian, I desperately want to strengthen my “No Muscle” and not be so easily roped into volunteering for so many things in the future. And I’m happy to tell you that I think I’ve finally cracked the code! Things are about to change around here.

First and foremost, being asked to volunteer is a given. Unless you live under a rock or have no arms, someone at some point is going to ask you to help them carry their load.

If there is a smidgeon of decency in your heart, you will probably feel compelled to help that person out.

Are you excellent at time management? Is your house already as neat as a pin? Is multi-tasking your “thing”? Then go ahead and share your gifts with the world. Volunteer away!

But if you’re anything like me and you truly can’t remember the last time you washed your kitchen floor, perhaps you should remember charity begins at home, and in the famous words of former First Lady Nancy Reagan, “just say no” to additional commitments.

Have you been on the volunteer merry-go-round so long that you’re not sure what the word “no” even sounds like? Take a tip from this kickass little lady:

She’s my new hero.

Unfortunately, many of us lose the ability to say no with such confidence and verve as we mature. If that’s the case for you, as it is for me, here are some alternatives for handling the constant stream of requests for your time and talent.

If you’re a stay-at-home mom or dad, or retired, this would be the ideal time to pretend you just got a job. “Oh I’m really sorry, but I have to perform surgery tomorrow. Darn! I so wanted to help you hot glue all those popsicle sticks!” Don’t worry about being caught in a lie if you aren’t really a surgeon. You can always plea insanity later and then you’ll REALLY never be asked to volunteer again.

If you already have a job, you can also play the surgery card, as in “I’m having surgery tomorrow. So sorry I can’t help!” Most people won’t ask what your surgery is, trust me. But if they do (how rude!) just point to your crotch and make a “you don’t want to know” face. Problem solved.

Simply put, knowing that you ARE going to be asked to volunteer, and being mentally prepared to politely decline, are the keys to success here.

It’s a great idea to give yourself a little pep talk before you enter into dangerous situations like School Open Houses, PTA meetings, or anytime you are within five square miles of a House of Worship. Remind yourself of all the other things you’ve already committed to this year (like raising children, or keeping your toenails a decent length, or shagging your spouse more than once a Presidential term). Then practice saying “No” in your own special way. Practice aloud. It helps. Here are some sample responses. Choose one that best fits your personality and make it your own:

“Thank you for thinking of me! Aren’t you sweet. But my plate is already so full with all my other volunteer activities.”

“Oh I would love to help, but unfortunately there is just no room on my calendar right now.”

“Are you saved? The voices keep telling me that the reckoning is at hand.”

“Look over there! A unicorn!”

“Sometimes I want to hurt myself. Is that bad?”

“Fuck off, Jolene. If you were dying of thirst and I had a cup of water, I’d drink it right in front of you and then burp the alphabet in your dehydrated face. Bitch.”

Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure here, folks. Try not to put yourself in situations where you know you’ll be hit up to volunteer. If you absolutely must attend something high-risk, my advice is to avoid eye contact with anyone holding a clip board or wearing a name tag.

Unfortunately, most volunteer coordinators are black belts in coercion tactics. Come back tomorrow and we’ll discuss these in detail.

But until then, here’s a quote by one of my favorite authors. Say hello to my new mantra:

My dear,

Don’t let anybody make you do something you do not want to do. Don’t allow someone to utter yes for you while you’re still undecided (say “I’ll think about it”). And do not allow anyone to ever tell you that “No” is not enough. It is.

‘No,’ is a complete sentence.

Saying no is a right we all have. Use it.

Truly yours,
Anne Lamott

Wishing you peace, some guilt-free quiet time to yourself, and a rock hard “No Muscle,”

– Iris

PS – New here? Like what you see? Want to help others enjoy it too? Please share the love by voting for The Bearded Iris at’s list of the Top 50 Mom Blogs.  Every time someone votes for me, a depressed, overwhelmed mother stands an inch taller and shouts “NO” to the nearest authority figure. Do it. Vote. You know you wanna.

© 2011, The Bearded Iris.