I am not known for being an organised person but I manage a house and four children, a little chaotically perhaps, without ever making a list. I feel a certain irrational antipathy towards lists or perhaps I am subconsciously envious of those who are able to use an effective strategy for completing tasks in life. I have known obsessive list makers who write down the chores they intend to achieve in a day, including the obvious ‘make bed’ or ‘hang out washing.’These must surely only be written down for the satisfaction of crossing them off; if they weren’t on the list they would get done anyway so what is the point? Many people I know wouldn’t venture to the supermarket without a shopping list and plan holidays with military precision making lists of equipment required (when out camping), clothes to take, sundry items plus budgets.This is completely normal and indeed common sense for some but it just seems a touch OCD to me.
But the lists which really annoy me are the ones which tell us what we should be doing with our lives-you know the sort-the National Trust’s checklist of fifty outdoor challenges children should have experienced before the age of 12. Or the ‘bucket lists’ insisting that we must see this particular 100 places before we die. Also, there are no end of websites for those wanting to compile and share their ambitions, with a whole industry having formed around the notion of cramming in plenty of eye-popping, hedonistic experiences before we shuffle off this mortal coil.Are bucket lists really a good idea? It can be useful to have goals I suppose but the lists seem to encourage conformity which is disguised as individual behaviour, a situation in which everyone is hurtling towards similar goals, which have been chosen for them. The psychotherapist Philippa Perry suggests that they might actually have been started “as a brilliant PR stunt by somebody who was selling swimming with dolphins”. There’s a consumerist and acquisitive vibe to many of the lists, with the experience they replicate being the writing of a shopping list, says Perry. Instead of building on what you already have, “to make a good life,” she continues, “it’s really an attempt to fill an existential void.” These sort of lists I think can make one feel hopelessly inadequate (what, do you mean to say your child is thirteen and has never sat under a waterfall?-shame on you”) or that one has had a wasted life (it can’t possibly have been meaningful if there hasn’t been a visit to The Pyramids.) And what about the lists of 100 books to read before you die-“Says who?”
I sometimes wonder if making lists would help me focus on jobs I need to do, but just because they are written down does not mean the jobs will get done. I have seen friends make completely unrealistic lists of tasks they intend to achieve in the following month-the schedule is generally awry within a week and is coupled with a discomforting feeling of humiliation and having somehow failed.Surely it is better to simply get up in the morning and see how you feel about “things to do.” Life is for living, not for list-making.