Hello. My name is Ashley, and I’m a list-maker.

The past few weeks I’ve been thinking about the direction of my life. Am I headed in a direction I want to be? Am I learning the things I want to know? Am I developing and putting forward my best self? Or am I wasting my time in front of the television? Am I not making time for the important things in life? So I thought about sitting down to make a few lists–lists that detail what I want to accomplish in the next week, month, year, and general movement of my life. And then I thought a little about my compulsion for list-making.

I thought about how we as humans feel this need to boil our lives down to checklists. How we simplify this complexity into a list of chores waiting to be checked off. Sometimes these lists are motivational, but there is also a dark and dangerous side to them. We set these expectations for ourselves, set down parameters for what our perfect self will look like, and are then ashamed when every box isn’t checked, every to-do isn’t ta-done. 

We make a list for everything–life lists that are all-encompassing and huge, with accomplishments like marriage, children, self-employment, CEO, or wealth. “Bucket lists” that also include skydiving, Machu Picchu, and the Eiffel Tower. New Years Resolutions. Grocery lists. Renovation lists. Wish lists for Christmas. Dietary restrictions, workout regimens. We base how fulfilling our life has been on how many boxes are checked off, how many projects we finished, how many famous sights we’ve seen, how many gifts we bought or how our weekend turned out.

I am not saying there isn’t a time and a place for planning. I am a hardcore list-maker. It helps my chores get done, groceries bought, and keeps my finances in check. I even have an entire app, Evernote, that has revolutionized how I keep track of my lists and recipes. No more pieces of paper floating around my desk or couch or laundry hamper–it’s all digital, and it follows me from work to home to the doctor’s office. My complaint is that sometimes my compulsion moves from organization to OCD when I add completed things to my to-do list, just for the satisfaction of checking it off.  I want to make sure that I’m not basing my self-worth on how many lines I can cross out.

But even with all that, I still think there is value to a list. Little reminders that save me from my laziness. Nudges that say, “Remember you wanted to pickle that okra before it goes bad. Don’t forget to take the recycling out. You need garlic when you’re at the store. Your sister’s birthday is coming up, make her a card. Don’t be so angry on the road. Treat yourself nicer. Make your bed in the morning.” For me at least, it is better to maintain discipline with a list than risk than chaos without one. The trick is in learning that you’re still a good person, still a complete individual, even if you don’t finish Britain’s 100 Books, or reach the top of Mt Everest. It’s in accepting that we can have goals but that who we are, fundamentally, isn’t going to be altered by one missed Zumba class or an un-vacuumed rug. Lists should help us, not define us.

So that said, I decided to go ahead and give myself some reminders.

General Directions:

1.) Be a kinder person. Use my words to uplift and edify. This includes in traffic, when my cats break something, or when I can’t handle the tenth sales-call of the day. Do not let anger rule my head or heart. Be as free with my love and admiration as needed. Gentleness is becoming in a woman.
2.) Drink more water. Wake up early and stretch. Eat more vegetables, less cake. Zumba like nobody’s watching.
3.) Learn to love myself regardless of others’ standards of beauty. Embrace the styles I like, accept the body I have been given and use it wisely and lovingly.
4.) Explore my creative side more fully. Don’t be afraid to cut into the fabric–that’s why I bought it. Put the pen to paper. Try a new recipe and don’t worry about the calories.
5.) Live as fully in the moment as possible. Experience all emotions without reservation–love, sadness, elation, tension, discomfort.  Don’t let potential embarrassment stop me from being present in the moment.

Are you a compulsive list maker, or do you have it under control? Do you make daily lists, or life lists? What’s your list look like today?

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