Silencing the silent to do list

Soaring without striving

Do you ever feel that you are being shouted at as you walk around your house? And I’m not talking about the children, but rather the clutter. Accused, taunted even, by an ever growing pile of miscellaneous papers or a bag of old books. It felt so good to clear those shelves – but the fact that they are still blocking the corridor 6 months later is less satisfying! It’s exhausting and terribly lonely. It’s like living with an invisible bully that only you can see and hear constantly insulting you, badgering you, assaulting you in your own home simply because there is more stuff in your life than time, space and energy to manage it all.

This phenomenon has been called the silent to do list. Silent because we are talking about inanimate objects and tasks that don’t tend to make it onto our written lists of things to do. No, that would be far too decent for these sneaky tasks. They would rather ambush you when you are already juggling three other tasks and have no capacity to filter, break the task into do-able junks, or even scribble it on a list. They defy quick wins and are experts in pushing you into the realm of catastrophe and hyperbole. And even if you do manage to get them onto a list they are the worst sort of tasks that just sit there clogging it up, having to be transferred from list to list, delighted that they can now jeer at you in surround sound – not only by their irksome physical presence, but now from right within the heart of your very defence strategy against them – the list!

One way to shut these tasks up is minimalism. Less stuff = less noise. Clear surfaces and corridors are much better at staying clear than cluttered ones. Want to stop all the clothes that you never wear shouting at you every time you open your wardrobe? Get rid of them.

And in one sense I have no argument with that.

But if we are not careful we might just be giving them another accusation to hurl at us. “If you were a better ‘minimalist’ I wouldn’t even be here. Pity you have failed at that too. Just imagine if I wasn’t here cluttering up your corridors! Oh well”

I am reminded of the shrieking portrait of Walburga Black in 12 Grimmauld Place.

Filth! Scum! By-products of dirt and vileness! Half-breeds, mutants, freaks, begone from this place! How dare you befoul the house of my fathers–

And I am not going to put up with it. This is my house and my family’s house and yes – life is more full of stuff than time and space and energy to manage it all – AND THAT’S OK. Would I like to head in the direction of being more discerning about what I let into our house to join the ever growing mound of ‘this needs managing’ – yes. Do I like it when a system works and flows and puts an end to certain bottle necks? You bet I do. Will I be relieved when the charity shops open up again so I can shift some of the bags – of course.

But I also want to have a box of Easter bits and bobs ready to use each year and so I choose to embrace the inevitable weeks of having that box clogging up my room as things come out of it, get used and then go back into it.

If I am deliberate in my listening perhaps I could draw the curtain on the jeers of the ‘to do’ and instead hear the box of baby clothes calling to me – “We are so blessed to have the Bonus Feature. She’s doing so well, she’s growing out of clothes like there’s no tomorrow – but what love and fun was had while she wore these.” I can choose not to go through the choices I have to make about the box every time I walk past it – I know the options – selling them; giving them away; or putting them back up in the loft in case there is a bonus bonus feature. None of those options is going to be hard to do, but the information / time / opportunity isn’t available right now to make that decision. Yes the box represents a decision and a job I haven’t sorted yet, but it also means that the cupboards and drawers in her room are working well and are easy to manage and keep on top of. Plus I actually needed something from it the other day and was very relieved we hadn’t got rid of it all yet.

I guess what I am saying is that it is good to recognise the noise of the list, it is a great way to help those we live we see the toll these piles can take on us. But let’s be kind to ourselves. There’s going to be stuff and there’s going to be piles and there are going to be moments of victory – how huge is my corridor going to feel when the boxes are gone!!! – and there is going to be defeat – what will move into their place and how quickly? And it’s going to be okay.

2 thoughts on “Silencing the silent to do list

  1. Oh i do so identify with this, Jo. so many ‘things’, so many memories tied up in those things, both good and bad.Add being a war baby brought up in an age when “we’d better keep it, it might come in handy ” was the housewife’s mantra, and the potential for clutter is immense. One day…

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