Do you know anybody that writes lists? Are you one of them yourself? No piece of paper is left alone when some folks are around. Every blank scrap of paper, backs of receipts, margins of notebooks.. they all serve as a canvas for this obsession. I was one of them myself, until recently. The fridge door would be plastered with at least two full-sized sheets of paper, one filled with my tiny writing. The second was the list-in-waiting, very important, placed there because I hated searching for a piece of paper when I had a list to create. As you are probably thinking, this wasn’t just a habit. It was a disease.
I’ve always scribbled stuff down that needed my attention. I started way back when I was still in school. At the time, it was just one of those things that seemed grown-up and cool to do. Also, I simply loved post-its. One of my happy childhood struggles was always: “Do I hoard all these little impossibly cute post-its or do I succumb to the urge of filling them with lists and more lists?” Really. I think there are still little stacks of post-its back home in India, decades old, that I never wrote in. I wonder what pressing reminders lived in those early lists, but draw a blank. They probably would make me wince slightly were I to look at them today, and I wish I could see those little snippets of my then-young-can’t-wait-to-grow-up-self. (What was I thinking?!)
Post-wedding, living what might be finally called a “grown-up” life, my lists contained gems like “soak the beans”, “buy dishwashing fluid”, “reply to that email”. These were not the lists of my childhood, which existed entirely to satisfy my need to scribble on brightly colored tiny paper. These were a different animal, daily reminders of things I needed to do that multiplied magically when I did attend to them. The small surge of achievement I felt when I scratched off an item, quelled the moment I remembered the two more that I needed to do next.
A while ago, I finally understood that list-making was just making me feel inadequate. They made my life seem like a never-ending sequence of chores. It was a remnant of a childhood habit that persisted and never went away. Life is hardly the stuff of our “best” memories, our “best” vacations, our “grandest” successes. More frequently, it is a daily and gentle accumulation of mundane acts and exchanges that connect us to people and to our selves, as we all muddle about in our little corners of this big sandbox. Now that I have stopped plastering the fridge with my lists, two good things have happened. 1. Bits of paper and lovingly collected magnets don’t crash to the floor a few times every week. 2. The dishwasher is never without it’s soap, chores still magically manage to get done, I potter about the house in relative peace, and our home hums along daily. Nothing has been burnt, forgotten, neglected or destroyed by my discarding this old habit, but I am a happier person by it. Whatever feeling of liberation I had hoped to achieve by writing to-do notes like a maniac (and checking them off, of course), I actually ended up achieving them all when I threw the lists away.