#45. Making lists, checking twice, three times, four...

I promise you I am not making this up. As you know, I used the holidays as an excuse not to post a blog entry last week, pledging to write two pieces this week. Yet, as I sat down to write about what is now the change from the week before last, I drew a complete and total blank. I seriously could not remember what the hell I had done. Not even an inkling. Nothing. Like my brain had just been vacuumed out. How on earth, I wondered, could a person make a change for seven days in a row and then, within two weeks, have absolutely no recollection of it? Many weeks, I jot down notes on my changes as the days go by, but not this time. I was drawing a complete and total blank which, as an aside, is a terrifying thing, proof positive to one as anxiety prone as I that I am finally losing my mind.

It was bound to happen. I just thought I might make it to 41.

Then, about ten minutes ago I was in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, berating myself in the mirror for forgetting, thinking about how I was going to have to write a sheepish mea culpa promising the “lost” entry whenever (if ever) my memory returned. I thought to myself, I swear to God I am going to start keeping a list.

Oh. My. God. That was it. Seriously. I’d spent the week making lists. Apparently, nothing will jog my memory like completely forgetting.

It started out like this: as Christmas crept closer, all my bragging about being ahead of the game came to bite me on the ass. There were a million things that still needed done and I was feeling completely overwhelmed. I had to come up with a coping measure or else hide in closet until New Year’s.

Now, I understand that this concept of making lists in order to manage one’s chores is hardly revolutionary. People have been making lists since the beginning of time, Ogg scratching his To Dos on the side of his cave. My husband is an inveterate list-maker. Or so he says. Frankly, I can’t read his writing. He could just be scratching doodles on index cards and claiming to be organized.

I, for some reason, am not and have never been a list-maker. It’s always got me in trouble, especially considering I have the memory of a sieve. Even as a child in school, I would get scolded for not writing things down, forgetting deadlines, failing to bring in this or that.

I always have good intentions to be a list-maker and I have certainly tried. I figure I must have made some lists in college, since I managed to graduate. And I know that in my professional life, I had to keep lists or else I wouldn’t have kept jobs. (Although, truth be told, things always fell through the cracks).

I like the idea of being organized and the sense of accomplishment I imagine comes with crossing accomplishments off a list. To that end, I’ll download apps to my phone or programs on my computer. I’ll keep scratch pads on every surface and I even bought a mouse pad that doubles as a notepad so I’d have somewhere to jot down all my items. But I’ve never found any one system that works for me. I’m always crazy motivated for about half a day and then start telling myself that I’ll “just remember” to do this or that instead. Needless to say, more often than not, I don’t.

So when I say I decided to be a list-maker for seven days, I mean I decided to go whole hog. I was going to make lists for everything. It was going to be INSANE list-making around here. My goal: not a gift would go unpurchased, a dish unmade, an item unpacked for our Christmas trip to Indy. If I played my cards – or my lists – right, this could be the elusive key to the perfect holiday season.

I started out by making a master list of everything I had to do for the week. Within said master list were subdivisions – things to buy, things to make, things to wrap, things to pack. No item was too small. I was not going to find myself knee deep in would-be cookie dough only to discover I’d no vanilla. Nor was I going to have everyone gathered together for the perfect Christmas photo only to discover I’d forgotten my camera battery charger and there wasn’t enough juice left to pull it off. No one was going to feel left out on Christmas morning because I’d once again failed to notice a small package sitting under our tree at home.

In addition to the master list, I made small hand-scribbled lists every day of household things I had to do. Pay bills. Write checks for the house-sitters. Pick up extra litter. Send this email or that. It was all written down and it was…completely overwhelming.

That said, I must also admit that it was kind of exhilarating too. I felt like a machine. Santa may make his list and check it twice, but my master list became my obsession. I was constantly checking it, adding an item here or there, specifying, creating new categories, dying to cross things off, making sure that nothing had been left off the list. I needed my list to be perfect. BECAUSE WHAT GOOD IS A LIST IF IT’S FLAWED?!?

On paper at least, I was together, man. I was the Empress of Holiday Organizing. I did it. Every last thing. Every present made it to Indianapolis with us. No one was forgotten. Everything was in place that needed to be while we were gone. I had every item of clothing I needed, every power charger, every camera lens.

Also, I was kind of nuts. And completely exhausted. Part of why I’m not a list-maker in the first place, it seems, is because I operate at a very high level of denial about how much stuff I actually need to take care of. I don’t like to think about it. Sure, the price for this denial is that a lot of crap doesn’t get taken care of, plans fall apart, dinners don’t get made and people get angry with me.

But the benefit is that I worry less, and I can guiltlessly sit on my rear and watch a Top Chef marathon without a pages-longTo Do list nagging at me. And if that isn’t worth letting your life slowly fall apart, then I don’t know what is.