Hidden Treasure in the To-Do List

I’m off of work this week, taking a much needed break. It would have been nice to go on a vacation but money’s too tight. My husband was actually a little miffed that I was taking a week off. “Why?” he asked. “Why not save your time until we can take a trip?” At our current rate of making ends meet and saving anything left over, we’re never going on a vacation ever again. This week off was my gift to myself; a reward for showing up to work every day even though I hate being there, even though no one bothers to be respectful to each other anymore, even though my own manager has mentally checked out. This was going to be my week to do what I wanted, when I wanted, all in an effort to feel good about life and not have any stress.

Since we weren’t going anywhere, I decided I’d get a bunch of things done that I’ve been wanting to do but never can find the time. So I began my week off with a to-do list of 18 items. Over the course of the week I added 8 more, and by Thursday night I had managed to scratch off as completed 10 items. I still have the weekend and Labor Day to whittle away at the 16 remaining tasks. I knew at the beginning of my week off that I had more on my list than I would be able to accomplish, and I was okay with that. The list was meant to give myself permission to be creative and do things that I enjoy, but don’t require traveling or a lot of money. In reality, the list is a testament to how pathetic my life has become. Clean out the junk drawer. Clean the cupboard that has our school and office supplies. Sort through the food storage containers and toss all the pieces that don’t have mates. Defrost the freezer.

My to-do list was an exercise in liberating myself. I started writing the list a week before my time off, writing down all those “one of these days” things just so I could get them off of my mind. Even though I wrote down the tasks, I decided I wouldn’t plan anything ahead of time and instead would wake up each morning and decide then what I felt like doing. I told myself I could sleep as late as I wanted, eat when I wanted, move or sit still when I wanted. As the week passed, I found the lack of structure inviting at times, and other times I was frustrated at my inability to get motivated. Sleep late? Ha! I woke up at four each morning. It took until Thursday before I found myself crawling back into bed at 6 to sleep a couple more hours. Even so, I embraced the absence of structure. I did get a book read. I did get the junk drawer cleaned out. And I did toss at least 3 storage containers that didn’t have lids and 12 lids that didn’t have matching containers. Already my stress was reduced.

There were a couple of things on my list that I considered top priority. In fact, I even told someone that if I could get those two things done, then I would be happy. So what were those two things? Replacing the weather stripping on the top of our front door and replacing the weather stripping on the top of our garage door. I know, pathetic, right? Well, maybe not. Every time I walked by the front door and saw the sunshine coming through the top of the door, all I could think of was the heated or air conditioned air going out that crack. It was annoying and a waste of money. And it’s been driving me nuts for months. I was determined to fix it before winter arrived. The garage door weather stripping was a different problem. Every time I drove my car into the garage, my eyes would catch a couple of places in the weather stripping that had worn and torn away and were hanging down, just begging to be cut away like a loose thread hanging off a shirt sleeve. It looked tacky. No matter how beautiful everything else about the front of the house looked, all I could see were those hanging shredded pieces of rubber.

The problem, I knew all too well, was not that these tasks were too challenging. The problem was that these are the kinds of things that once started would require at least two or more trips back to the hardware store for the right part or for additional parts to finish the inevitable “other thing” that needed fixing in order to complete the first thing that needed fixing. These are not tasks that you can accomplish on a regular weekend off of work. These are the simple things that take an entire week to accomplish.

I felt very proud on Thursday afternoon when I could finally cross off those two things from my list. It had taken only four trips to the hardware store and spanned only two days. There is no more sunlight coming through the door frame on the front door. Makes me smile every time I walk by it. And there is new weather stripping on the top of the garage door, along with a new bottom seal on the door, and a fresh coat of paint on all of the trim around both of the garage doors. Oh, and the flag pole holder has a fresh coat of paint too. The front of the house looks wonderful, so long as I ignore the weeds that sprouted in the flower gardens.

My daughter Kate called to check in with me and I was sharing my excitement at having completed these two tasks. As I finished telling my story, I apologized for getting so excited about such mundane, pathetic tasks. Kate laughed and said, “Those are great accomplishments! I love hearing how women take on those kinds of tasks and do them. It shows independence and determination. Women strong. Way to go, Mom!” In that moment I realized why I felt so much joy about replacing worn weather stripping. I understood why I felt so empowered by such simple tasks. And I understood another reason why I am so proud of Kate.

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