Written by Sarah Hendrickx


Living off the list

Sarah Hendrickx bloody loves a list. (C’mon, who doesn’t?) Realising she might have taken it too far, however, she decided to go list-free. Brace yourselves.

some of Sarah's lists
I like a list. I know I’m not alone. It is a place to store all of the stuff that might get lost in the poorly categorised database of the mind unless it is committed to paper/phone/alphabetti spaghetti. How often have you yelled, in overly dramatic but utterly accurate panic, “I have to write it down, NOW!” as you dash, arms spinning in search of a pen and the back of a bus ticket (damn that environmentally sensitive double-sided printing trend).

Nothing wrong with lists, you say, and you’re absolutely right. They are indeed a useful tool for the busy, the aged and the downright forgetful, but isn’t it funny how young people never seem to have them? Is it that they have less to remember, more to remember it with, or that youth provides a more carefree attitude to actually doing the things that you are supposed to – like eat, pick up the kids from school/remind yourself that you have kids and buy toilet roll – that we lose as we mature?

But as with much of life, there is such a thing called balance and moderation when it comes to list making and I struggle to maintain this sensible equilibrium, frequently tipping over the line of efficiency into overkill. The same applies to gin, Nerf guns and children.

I knew I had a ‘problem’ when I found myself sitting at my desk surrounded by six identical lists along with a series of sub-lists with tasks categorised by location and type: indoors, outdoors, shopping, meals for the week and a list of jobs that I have decided that my partner needs to do.

Added to this plethora of apparent productivity was a diary, a phone/laptop with a calendar, a weekly schedule pad and a monthly calendar. I knew I had a ‘problem’ when I found myself writing things on my list that I had already done just so that I could cross it out and feel good about myself for achieving something. I knew I had a ‘problem’ when ‘read paper’ and ‘clean teeth’ started to appear on my lists. I was out of control.

The time taken to administer and delegate tasks on to different lists, calendars and schedules was reaching the point where I never actually did anything except list management. I suspect that there are many individuals working in the civil service or local government who have built entire careers on exactly this skill profile. I hope they are happy and are comfortable with the fact that they are entirely impotent.

“I’m so concerned that I might forget things that I have started piling up objects on the kitchen table connected to the things that I need to remember.”

As the source of endless hilarity from loved ones about my constant need for a plan, I decided, in the interests of science, sanity and ‘fuck you, family’, to demonstrate that I could live perfectly well without my administrative safety net, thank you very much. So, I gave them up. All of them. This is what happened.

Day one: Spent the day constantly thinking of all the things that I needed to do. Remembered enough to not run out of biscuits or be arrested (Get dressed. Tick). The day was a success. Am I officially chilled out yet?

Day two: So concerned that I might forget things that I have started piling up objects on the kitchen table connected to the things that I need to remember, for example, a piece of the food mixer to remind me to bake a cake. Have realised that this is just a list by any other name, but a bigger one which collects dust. I don’t do dusting. House is increasingly cluttered. I hate clutter. This is more stressful than list overload.

Day three: Without a menu plan, I don’t know whether I can use up all of the food in the fridge. I won’t waste food and usually have a meal plan which avoids this. Started to eat weird dinners consisting of remaining items in fridge. Mostly I spent the day sitting down and reading because there are no lists, ergo there are no jobs. I am liking this idle life, even if it is accompanied by a constant sense of foreboding about what chaos from this carefree nature is lurking around the corner.

Day four: I can’t cope. The house is fast resembling one of those hoarder shows on Channel 5, I’m twitchy as hell for not being busy and I’m sick of eating pumpkin. Give me a pen and a recycled receipt, NOW.

It turns out that they were right about me. But I’m good with that: I’m never late, eat great food and am organised to within an inch of my life. All those laid-back, flaky souls can keep their running out of underwear, mouldy onions and unpaid bills lifestyle.

Chilled out is old school, efficient is the new cool and spreadsheets are my accessory of choice. I am living back on the list until all the jobs run out, which, of course, they never will.


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Written by Sarah Hendrickx

Sarah Hendrickx is a writer, author, autism specialist and occasional standup comedian. She lives part-time in rural Portugal where she tries to make friends with geckos and grows broad beans. Her book about moving overseas, How to Leave the Country is available on Kindle/e-book. She blogs at www.bicyclesandbiscuits.com.