The end of the list


I’ve been looking forward to some time off because I keep thinking I need to “sort things out”. What I need to sort out, I’m not so sure.

I feel itchy, dissatisfied… my mind keeps casting itself to the corners and storage places. The boxes under our bed, the clothes in the corner, the disorganised scraps of paper where I keep ideas for things I want to write or make. I crave focus, clarity. But I know from experience that taking bags to the charity shop won’t bring me that. Or at least, it will bring peace but only for a day or two. Then I will want to move on to the next thing: which area of my life shall I organise now? I will go through my archived mail, labelling and colour coding emails that I might one day need, deleting those that I won’t. And again, I will feel peace. Until I won’t.

I take satisfaction in writing lists. Lists of things to do this weekend, lists of things that I will do before I die. Just writing them makes me feel better. I distract myself with organisation until it’s tidy or I’m tired or I can’t do any more. So then it’s finished, but I feel no peace in this. I tell my husband I’m bored, but it’s not just that. I feel… empty. I start thinking of the things I have to do the following day: what to wear, shopping lists, laundry. And then I worry that I distract myself with lists and order to hide the fact that deep down I don’t know what I enjoy, or who I am.

There are things I want to read, I want to write, I want to make. But I can’t start to do them while there are clothes on the floor. I pick the clothes up of the floor and then create new reasons not to. I think, I will buy that book once I’ve reached an arbitrary goal for my bank balance. I will try and knit a sweater once I have used up all the small scraps of yarn I already have. I worry that I stop myself fulfilling my potential (whatever that might be) by putting up these barriers.

Recently I’ve considered enrolling on a masters course. My mind has already given me a list of things I need to do first, many of which are unachievable.

It’s exhausting.

I joke that my greatest fear is a cup of weak tea. But I’m now wondering if my greatest fear is the end of the list, because once I’ve done everything that I’ve told myself I need to, I will have to think about what I actually want.

In the past, this kind of idea would spark by brain into “How can I fix this?” mode. This involves, you’ve guessed it, writing a list. This time, I’m going to sit with this thought for a while and see what comes up.

It’s a test of my patience. I’ve never really aimed to do nothing before. It seems like a waste of time, so I’ve never learnt to be comfortable in my own skin. I’ve always been restless, ready to make a start on the next project.

But lately I’ve been thinking, what do these projects mean? I measure my life by how tidy my bedroom is, by how neatly things are organised, how many books I’ve read, how many hats I’ve knitted. I can’t do anything without recording it, posting a picture online. I say, “Look at what I’ve made. I’m productive. I’m worthwhile.”

But what if I wasn’t publicly prolific? The idea scares me. I’m wondering if my greatest fear is not being noticed. I’m wondering if my new year’s resolution should be to do less. Talk less.

But what’s on the other side of that list?

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