You Can’t Have It All. You Have to Choose What’s Important

I wasn’t expecting to write a post like this, but let’s just say that I got fired up.

When I was an au pair in France, I remember talking to the kids’ mother about the things that I dreamed of having in my life. My eighteen year old self  even had a notebook version of a vision board that I’d been curating from magazine clippings.

I wanted a stunning home. I wanted a gorgeous wedding. I wanted a great career. I wanted to travel the world.

I wanted, I wanted, I wanted.

She turned to me, and I’ll never forget it, she said, ” You can’t have it all. You have to choose what’s important.”

can't have it all

At the time, I remember feeling a bit snubbed. Why couldn’t I have everything that my heart desired? My generation was raised to believe that you can have whatever you want in life.

Well… it’s ten years later, and with a decade of life experiences under my belt, I now understand exactly what she meant. 

Take the dream home, for example. Is the house that we bought representative of the home that I had on my vision boards? Not exactly. Everything doesn’t work, I have a heinous pink bathtub, and the furnace packed in a month after we moved in. I always dreamed of a single dwelling, but found myself in a duplex, destined to share a wall with whoever ends up living next door.

can't have it all

What I do have is a home that within a thirty minute commute from my work, a neighbourhood of great schools, green space across the street, a farmer’s market within one block, and walkability to Starbucks. I have a small yard where my kid will play, a fire pit where we’ll roast marshmallows and a cozy living room where we’ll curl up on movie night. That counts for a lot in my book.

What I do have is a home where we could afford to pay a 20% down payment. Could we have bought a bigger, ‘better’, newer house? Sure… but I wouldn’t have had all the things that were important to me, and we’d only have afforded a fraction of the down payment, paying more interest in the long run.

In Canada, the current average consumer debt is twenty thousand dollars and that excludes mortgages. I’m lucky in that my parents paid for my education, a gift they had similarly been afforded, but as soon as I had my first job at 14, I was on my own as far as buying the things that I wanted, and it really put things into perspective for me. That’s not to say that other gifts didn’t happen, but I didn’t get to spend willy nilly, and, luckily, I didn’t end up with student debt. I acknowledge the privilege that I’ve been afforded.

can't have it all

Suffice it to say that Canadians, and their consumer debt, can’t have it all.

Perhaps it’s because I lived through a period where my family was near bankrupt, but, to me, debt is an awful weight. I also grew up in a family where my Dad always wanted more. We lived in the big house, in the nice neighbourhood, and had the nice car (for a period of time, anyway), but we didn’t always have the funds to back that up. It caused more stress on my family than it was worth, so when I say I speak from experience, I really do.

Similarly, I look at our wedding. A coworker is currently costing out her wedding, and it’s going to cost anywhere between twenty and thirty thousand dollars.


That blew my mind, but in reality, that’s the average cost of a Canadian wedding.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but 50% of marriages end in divorce, so that’s one heck of an expensive day that 50% of the time doesn’t work out.

can't have it all

Do I have a Pinterest board full of what my perfect wedding would have looked like?


Would it have cost thirty thousand dollars to have done it that way?

Probably more.

What I ended up having was the most stinking cute backyard party for under $5,000. What I ended up having was the important people in attendance, having fun, sharing my day. What I had was a day that my husband and I can look back on and say, that was great, without being in debt up to our ears.

As a result of a cost effective wedding, we were able to do what was important to us, which was to take a three month leave of absence and backpack Southeast Asia, all for less than the cost of an average Canadian wedding. The cost-benefit analysis for that one was obvious to us.

can't have it all

Now, I’m not a minimalist, far from it, but the older I get, the more I have come to realize that, on average, things don’t make me happy, experiences do.

Experiences don’t have built-in obsolescence or limited warranties. Experiences help you grow as a person, unlike my Marc Jacobs bag that I regret coveting for so long.

I’d rather cover my wall with photos of adventures, as opposed to photos of my stuff.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to subscribe to this philosophy. If you want the thirty thousand dollar wedding, go for it – I look forward to the epic pictures. If you want the ‘perfect’ home, you do you.

What I am, however, encouraging everyone to do is to take some serious time to think about whether or not you want those things because it’s become the cultural norm, or whether you might just be happier with a little less stuff and a little more life.

A great documentary to check out on Netflix is Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, but don’t let the word ‘minimalism’ freak you out. It’s all about priorities.

I encourage you to take the time to ask yourself what’s most important to you. You might be surprised by the answer. And, remember, you can’t have it all; you can have what’s important.




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