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What Does "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" Mean?

By E. Reeder
Updated May 23, 2024
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“Don’t sweat the small stuff” is an idiomatic expression, or a figure of speech, stemming from the fact that worrying often causes a person to perspire, or sweat. It means that, instead of fretting about the many small things that can cause concern, one should focus on what is really important. The phrase suggests that people should get their priorities in life in order, expending more energy on large goals, important considerations and the overall picture than on trivial issues.

This phrase an idiomatic expression, or one in which the words themselves do not literally mean what they say. The meaning of “don’t sweat the small stuff” instead must be interpreted from context clues or prior knowledge. Like many idiomatic expressions, or figures of speech, this has nothing to do with small items or whether one actually perspires when worried or nervous.

To put this phrase into perspective, consider the workplace. Workers can be focused on the small stuff, such as the irritating personality traits of their boss, remarks that co-workers might have made about them behind their back, and the fact that not all customers are appreciative of the work they do. Focusing on these kinds of details might distract these workers from their job and not allow them to enjoy the work or perform at their best. Workers, who more clearly understand the “don’t sweat the small stuff” concept, might be more clearly focused on the positive aspects of their work environment, the overall mission of the organization, their career goals, and the great relationships they have with some customers, co-workers and supervisors.

In a romantic relationship or marriage, people also can choose whether to sweat the small stuff. A wife who constantly is angry because her husband does not always keep his closet clean or the lawn mowed, both of which can be regarded as small stuff, might overlook the good things that her husband does that may be more important to the relationship's overall health. A husband who sweats the small stuff, likewise, might focus on the fact that his wife occasionally reprimands him while he ignores all the good things she does and the fact that there are many positive aspects to their relationship.

Life provides many opportunities for people to sweat, or not sweat, the small stuff. One parent who sweats the small stuff, for example, may focus solely on the fact that the children tracked leaves into the house or got their new shoes dirty. Another parent, whose thinking is in line with the concept of "don't sweat the small stuff," might simply be glad that the children had a great time playing outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By Inaventu — On Apr 08, 2014

@Cageybird- I agree with you on the problem with defining "small stuff". I used to obsess over every little thing my spouse did when we first got married. She didn't cook my eggs the way I liked. She stayed on the phone with her female friends for hours. She watched the dumbest television shows. It went on like this for a few years. I loved her, but I couldn't get past these annoying little habits.

I finally read a self-help book called "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff" and it gave me some perspective. Her habits weren't any different than mine or anyone else's. I was the one who was making them bigger in my mind. Once I learned to focus on all the other wonderful things she did, those other things didn't matter nearly as much.

By Cageybird — On Apr 07, 2014

I've heard this expression all of my life, but I still find it difficult to not sweat the small stuff sometimes. First of all, what other people might see as "small stuff" could be a real problem in my line of work. If an angry customer calls in with what I think is a silly or minor complaint, I still have to address it as if it were a major problem. If I don't take this complaint seriously and that customer goes over my head, then I'll get reprimanded later. Other people might suggest not letting these petty situations get under my skin, but unfortunately they aren't as petty as they might sound.

I have learned not to take most of my work life home with me, however. Not sweating the small stuff means letting go of the day-to-day issues I don't need in my head when I'm away from the office.

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