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July 18, 2013
The Real Issue
Saying No after Saying Yes
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


I’ve gotten myself into a mess.

I’m part of a fairly new presidency. A couple of months ago I was surprised while talking to the other presidency members that I was the only one with a washer and dryer in my apartment. Without thinking, I said, “Oh — you should come and use mine!”

One of the sisters took me up on my offer. She has been spending an entire day at my house once a week ever since. I really don’t mind sharing what I have, but I did not imagine the inconvenience of turning over my house — including kitchen, toys, laundry soap — to another family once a week. It disrupts my schedule, it invades my privacy, and it makes a total mess.

Perhaps unwisely, I have said “yes” every time she has asked to come over, even it if is last minute and even if I will not be home (I leave her a key).

I am getting more and more upset about this situation, even though it is totally my own fault.

How can I get out of it?


I am glad you acknowledge that this situation is your own fault, because it is. You should have thought more carefully before you made such a ridiculous offer. It’s great to be generous, but you should not make offers if you can’t deliver, and you need to set boundaries.

On the other hand, I think anyone’s patience would be taxed by this situation. Your fellow presidency member is being extremely presumptuous. It is a serious imposition to do all your laundry at another person’s home. You should not ask for such a favor unless you have only a short-term, my-washer-is-broken need. Even then, you should only ask a close friend.

Even though you offered, she is grossly exceeding the bounds of normal favor-doing. And she doesn’t seem to be offering anything in return. Big favors require big return favors.

So how do you get out of this situation?

First, decide if there is a way you could continue to help her that would be tolerable to you. It is, after all, very kind of you to want to help her, and you do serve in a presidency together.

For example, you could limit her visits to a specified day and time every other week. You could ask her to contribute the increased cost to your water bill and to bring her own laundry supplies. You could ask her to come in the evening without her children, and you could go out with your husband while she watches your children. You could (should!) declare parts of the house off-limits, and say no to last-minute visits.

Once you decide on an accommodation, talk to her directly. “Melissa,” you could say with a smile, “my water bill has gone up $30.00 a month since you started doing laundry here. Will you bring a check for next month’s bill to our meeting on Thursday?”

Or, “The upstairs is off limits — will you please keep your kids in the living room and kitchen only?”

Or, “I’m happy to have you come, but I need to set a day and time so I can plan my week. I was thinking Tuesdays from 8:00 until noon. Will that work for you?”

But if no accommodation will solve your problem, if you just cannot handle the invasion (and I don’t blame you!), you will have to tell her that she cannot do her laundry at your house anymore.

Sometimes, subtle hints are enough to end an unsatisfactory arrangement. For example, you could say no the next few times she asks to come over, or go on vacation without leaving a key, until she gets the hint.

But I don’t think that’s a good move here for three reasons. One, she doesn’t seem like the type to catch hints. Her presumptions on your time and resources show that she may not be particularly sensitive to the inconvenience another person is feeling (unless you are a very good actor).

Two, you have already established — at your invitation — a routine. You cannot unilaterally change that routine without telling her. She needs to know that she must now make new arrangements for her laundry.

Three, you work and worship together at church. You see her all the time. Being straightforward with her about your change of mind shows respect for her.

Choose an unhurried time and a private place to have your conversation. Do not choose laundry day or a time you are feeling angry or put out. Prepare your script and practice saying it aloud a few times.

Your script should focus entirely on you with no recrimination of her. You will not say, “Your kids jumped on my bed and ate all of our Shredded Wheat.” It should be delivered sympathetically. It should also be as short as possible.

“Melissa,” you might say, “I need to talk with you about the laundry situation. I’m really sorry, but it’s not going to work out for you to do it at my house anymore.” Your goal here is to be clear about one thing: she cannot do her laundry at your house anymore. You want to be vague about the reason beyond, “It’s not working for me.”

Why be vague? Because the real reason — that you are increasingly angry about the arrangement — is not her problem. It is your problem because you offered the favor that you can no longer perform.

She will probably say “Oh, okay,” and thank you for letting her use your machine so often. You will respond with a gracious, “You’re welcome,” and change the subject to something that has nothing to do with laundry.

If she asks why you have changed your mind, repeat, “It’s just not going to work out,” until she stops pressing. If she asks if there was a problem or worries that she has inconvenienced you, assure her that there is no problem and it was no trouble, but “It’s just not going to work out anymore.”

Again, your upset feelings are your problem, not hers. Even though she was presumptuous, you opened the door and allowed it to happen.

She might also propose a new bargain. What if she came twice a month and watched your kids and cleaned your house while you went out? If her proposal tempts you, take a few days to think about it.

Then, if you think it is a good trade, tell her you can try it for a month.

But if you don’t want to trade anything, for heaven’s sake, just say no!

Finally, make sure you show increased friendship and affection for her. Invite her to do things, do little favors for her, compliment her outfit, throw her a baby shower. You want her to know that you care about her and want to be her friend, even if you can’t be her laundry solution.

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