The tyrrany of lists

15 Oct
The tyrrany of lists

A checklist is supposed to organize and clarify priorities and plans, right? Perhaps also provide a symbol of  accomplishment as each item is checked off. I make lists of household tasks, homeschooling lessons and projects, errands, grocery shopping, et cetera. My grocery/errand list is a piece of paper folded lengthwise and clipped to the fridge (same as my mom uses), and I keep pretty good track that way. When the kids say they need something, I have them add it to the list. Before leaving to execute the list, I rewrite if necessary for clarity and in order of my chosen route. I have very little problem sticking to these lists, within reason, though naturally some less urgent items get rewritten to the next list. When most things are checked off, I update, and continually cycle through what needs to be bought, picked up, or dropped off. No creativity needed or wanted, just orders, actions, and completion.

But there’s another kind of list that I often prepare only to depart from it. It’s as if the list is some sort of art form (which I admire) or accomplishment in itself which I not intend to allow to rule any part of my life. Or merely a brainstorm that helps me determine what I really want to do. I might start with the first item on the list, then go off in a completely new direction as I think of more interesting plans. It’s as if the constraint of the list, its orderliness and linearity encourages me to rebel and seize my creative freedom.

But then there’s guilt, and a sense of accomplishment eludes me (although I can try to mitigate this by retroactively adding–and checking off–items). Wasn’t I the one who made the list, and weren’t the things on it worth accomplishing? After hours of mucking about with other projects, other books, other ideas not on the list, I make a stab at the third item on the list, once I find it under the debris of my actual work. But first I rewrite it and start fresh. Depending on my energy level and mood, I might have a flush of perfectionism, a vision of complete accomplishment of all items–dishes washed, floors swept and mopped, counters gleaming, papers organized, laundry and mending done, garden weeded, creative projects laid out on the table for the children, emails all answered. But that soon fades, and I’m faced with The List, minus one or two items completed with that surge of energy. And it’s no longer looking possible.

From that point, it is only force of character and will that can keep me loyal to the list. And that, as J.B. used to say, is where the rubber hits the road. Duty is where character is built and shown. Freedom and creativity are gifts, but diligence must be the master. Can I shoulder my work cheerfully and as unto the Lord? Can I resist the temptations of an unfinished book, a bag of chips, a blog that I want to work on? Yes, most of the work of a home maker is tedious and mundane, and has aptly been compared to threading beads on a string without a knot at the other end. But yet it is necessary and important–it is the maintenance and improvement of the infrastructure of home life, from which life in the community grows, and so on.

It has taken me twenty years to get to the point where I can automatically and without much inner (or outer) complaint just tackle the same old jobs each morning and throughout the day. I didn’t grow up doing housework–my mom, and when he could, my dad, did all of it, I am ashamed to say, while we were free to do other things. It was a mixed blessing–I had time to read widely, work on crafts, think, write, draw, and explore. But I didn’t get used to house work, and ultimately, one must.

So without much of a vision of how to do it, I’m trying to get my children participating in housework, at the very least being responsible for cleaning up their own messes. I’ve read books on kids and chores, made charts, chore wheels, and of course lists. But I’m only doing fair to middlin’, and frequently complain to my husband at the seeming impossibility of getting the kids to see what needs to be done and pitch in without being told. He is much better than I at getting the kids working, and on the weekends he plows through chores in his can-do way that would overwhelm me in their grimy detail. His approach is more gross motor than mine and I sometimes have to tackle and sort the former clutter now corralled in stacks or laundry baskets. But the counters gleam, the floors are swept, the dishwasher is humming and clothes dryer is spinning. And my husband is looking very attractive, so I tell him the rest can wait.

1 Comment

Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Places & Experiences


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One response to “The tyrrany of lists

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    November 17, 2013 at 8:46 am

    These are really good ‘essays’ and constructions you are putting out there—feel you are really providing some light and consciousness to ‘the path.’


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