The Importance of a Not-To-Do List

I am a list person. I love writing the “to do” item with a little hand-drawn square next to it, just waiting for that satisfying moment when I can check it off. (Yes, I actually draw the square). I have lists for groceries, work tasks, house projects, blog ideas, trip packing, etc.

But I also have this pesky mental list of things I should be doing. Things that other people are doing really well. Things that I see my friends doing, and my facebook friends doing, and that I assume everyone else is doing.

It is just part of my personality (#enneagramtype1) to want to do all of the things, and to be great at all of them. So I create pinterest boards of container gardens, buy books with cross-stitch patterns, save scraps of fabric and clothes for quilting, stock up on seasonal craft supplies, bookmark recipes with ingredients that I’ve never heard of and on and on.

And then those things sit on my shelves and in my attic and in that one closet that will never ever be organized and they mock me because the truth is, I can not do all the things.

Shauna Niequist, an author I really resonate with, wrote in her book Bittersweet about a conversation that she had with a friend about this very thing. Here’s what her wise friend told her:

“It’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard…is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.”

What am I willing to give up in order to do the things I really care about? I spent some time thinking about this question, and it led me to create a Not-To-Do List.

This list is not a commentary on what is worthwhile and what is not. This is my personal list of things that have made me feel less-than, that I am now giving myself permission not to do. Writing them here, in black and white, gives me the freedom to say, “I’m not doing that and I’m okay with it.”

My Not-To-Do List:

  • Grow my own vegetables. I wish I could do this. Or any sort of keeping a plant alive activity. But I have the blackest thumb ever, and right now the closest I can get to home-grown veggies is occasionally buying organic at Publix. If they’re on sale.
  • Plan elaborate birthday parties. The closest we get to a ‘theme’ is whatever plate design the birthday kid chooses at Party City. Related — I also don’t make goody bags, the cake, or plan any sort of party games.
  • Buy things on craigslist, offer-up, facebook marketplace, etc. I know there are some great deals out there, but I just can not handle the stress. I am giving myself permission to pay full price for something and not feel guilty about it. Or to bribe a friend to shop for me!
  • Cook breakfast on a weekday. Heating up frozen pancakes, pouring cereal in a bowl, or making a piece of toast is about all I can handle. Throw some fruit on the plate and it’s a win. (Related – I also do not cook on Friday nights. Pizza-picnic-movie-night on the family room floor, baby.)
  • Make homemade versions of things I can buy. Spaghetti sauce, I’m looking at you. Why would I make spaghetti sauce when I can buy it in a jar? Also in this category: pancake mix, cookie dough, and all crafts. All of them.

When I say a deliberate no to these things, it opens up space and permission for me to focus on the things that only I can do. Like chasing daily after God, spending time with my husband, playing outside with my kids, showing up for my friends, encouraging parents, and writing here at In This Family! Those are the things that actually belong on my to-do list.

What about you? What can you add to your Not-To-Do List?

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