I am a writer of lists
My life could be measured in my to-do lists, their contents varying depending on the stage of my life. Early lists might have included
Try not to argue with sister
STOP BITING NAILS
Find missing library books
Early motherhood saw lists as the only way to function as baby-brain drained every last thought as fast as my breasts drained of milk.
Call health visitor
Find grown-ups to talk to
Missing library books
Raising a family is one unending list. Morphing over time, though stalwarts still persisted, my lists were endless – a procession of jobs, needling doing but somehow never completed, added to the top (or bottom) of the next new list.
At times I felt my value as a mother seemed measured with the swish of a tick. The house hummed with the scent of failure both at the length of the list – too long – and the very few things I managed to tick off. Oh, and the hordes of smelly children, with unwashed P.E kits, hamster cages spilling sawdust, mouldering lunchboxes stashed under beds and the unmistakable whiff of long-dead trainers.
Years ago, when illness prevented me from doing many of the chores we all take for granted, writing lists was akin to torture. With little control over much else, certainly my body and its refusal to get well, I obsessed over lists.
List of things that needed doing urgently.
Lists for medium-term jobs.
Lists of jobs that, if we won the lottery or housecleaning aliens arrived from space keen to have a proper whip-round, might get done.
In the end, the lists swallowed me up. All my thoughts were of what I could see but couldn’t do.
Something had to change.
This was no way to live.
So, lists saved me again.
This time my list read like a 1950’s housewife’s manual
Monday – living room
Tuesday – kitchen
Wednesday – bathrooms
Thursday – bedroom
Friday – anything missed.
This list didn’t mean do everything that needed doing, it just meant do something in that room. Writing it down like this got it out of my head. Suddenly I had room to think again.
When I noticed that it looked like a small dog might be living under the sofa, such was the collection of dog hair, I didn’t worry knowing that I could get to it next Monday. Kitchen cupboard with a funky smell – fine I can do that on Tuesday.
Not much more got done, but it was out of my head. And once it was out I realised how much room it took. My brain was literally being swallowed by housework and chaos.
This new approach was enhanced by my much loved six-month rule. It goes like this;
In six months’ time will you remember that you did not do ( insert job here).
To be honest this takes care of most of life’s daily graft. Some things obviously need doing now – putting off feeding the kids for 6 months will not work out in the long run. But for most things it works – in 6 months’ time you won’t remember you didn’t do the hoovering but in 6 months’ time, you might remember the afternoon spent sewing or writing or playing with the kids instead
For me, in all that space that was left, after I got it out of my head and down on a list, I found I could write. And not just lists. Actual writing! Well, I call it writing, I guess you can be the judge.
Today all I do is write, often in bed, sometimes on the sofa. My lists today are full of the important things.
Read a book
Check what day it is
Find library books.
Some things will never change.
And in love with a good list – here is my gift to you.
Not because I am a fan of the Queen but because who doesnt love a book list?
‘‘The list of 70 books – 10 for each decade of Elizabeth II’s reign – is a real opportunity to discover stories from across continents and taking us through the decades, books that we might never have otherwise read, and reading authors whose work deserves a spotlight to be shone on it.”— Suzy Klein, Head of Arts and Classical Music TV at the BBC
You’re welcome xx