What a To Do! Lists get things done!

“Will you  be passing a shop today?” asks my husband, knowing full well that I am going to work where I can practically spit at Asda from the front entrance.

“Yes, I’ll be passing a shop,” I say.

“We need some milk,” he says. “Oh, and could you get me some slug pellets and a flat leaf parsley plant?”

“Hold on a minute,” I say, “I feel a list coming on…”

My husband is a big fan of a list.

Essentially, nothing will happen unless it’s been on a list first.

So, the  shower won’t get descaled, the chickens won’t get cleaned out and the car won’t be booked in for its MOT unless all of those words have first been written on a page in the Book of Lists which sits by the DAB radio in our kitchen.

The Book of Lists is the only gospel which means anything to him. 

Knowing how much he loves lists and ticking things off them, I have created a meta-list for him. This is a list which goes beyond the small, domestic tasks into the realm of ‘Household Projects.’

On this list you will find such directives as:

  1. Finish painting bathroom.
  2. Finish repair to loo in family bathroom.
  3. Finish re-roofing shed.
  4. Finish cleaning decking (and paint).
  5. Create garden path you promised me in 2004.

As you can see, most of the Household Projects on the list refer back to moments when my husband enthusiastically embarked on a ‘little job’ which he imagined ‘wouldn’t take more than a weekend.’

They are yet to be ticked off.


My younger son has clearly inherited the listing thing.

On those days when putting the hoover around his bedroom seems like a thing a good mother would do, I come across tens of Post-It notes upon which he writes the List of the Day:
‘Games kit – extra clothes – agenda.’

‘Laptop – headphones – train stuff (see Mum) – charger.’

I put this down to his being a super-busy person taking in lots of information and fearful that boring things will just fall out of his brain if he doesn’t write them down.

Whereas I put my husband’s listing habit down to what I once described (early on in our marriage) as his ‘inability to cope with the banal, quotidian aspects of life.’ (He had failed to pay our TV licence on the grounds of ‘forgetting.’ “So! Write it down and you won’t forget tomorrow!” I’d yelled.)

That, and his having a father who took lists to the extreme.

I will never forget the first time I saw my father-in-law go supermarket shopping.

In his hand was a printed spreadsheet with groceries itemised and neatly organised according to the supermarket aisles. There were tick boxes with everything from loo rolls to fishfingers.

My favourite on the sheet was: ‘Jams: specify.’ 

I will never get over ‘Jams: specify.’

I think my father-in-law hated shopping so much he’d created the most efficient but equally most joyless way of doing it.

I mean, who doesn’t take a sneaky peak at the ‘reduced’ shelves in the hope of a knock-down egg custard tart, right?

‘Jams: specify’ always makes me laugh.

It makes me laugh almost as much as my all-time favourite scene on this subject of domestic routine, in the film ‘The Odd Couple.’

Jack Lemmon’s character, Felix, is berated by an exasperated Oscar (played by Walter Matthau) who’s had enough of Felix’s little notes:

“‘We are all outta cornflakes, FU!’” says Oscar. “It  took me three hours to figure out that FU was Felix Unger!”

Sometimes, I can’t help myself. I go to the Book of Lists and I write ‘We are all outta cornflakes, FU!’ underneath the most recent one.

My own lists are mental ones.

I write them in my head each morning as I’m walking the dog. They are inevitably dull. This was my mental list for Friday:

  1. Book dog grooming appointment
  2. Book hair appointment
  3. Put up show posters
  4. Go to bank
  5. Noodles

By the time I got home, the list had become: dog, hair, posters, bank, noodles.




What’s not so easy is my Mental Meta-List where I store secret ambitions:

  1. Publish something (anything).
  2. Present something on Radio 4 (anything except Farming Today).
  3. Headline at the Hay Festival (or any festival though music festivals less likely).
  4. Have dinner with Ian Hislop.

I think it could be some time (forever) before I get to tick those off… Still, it’s good to dream.

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  1. Oh,Sam! Lists are my life savers kept in three notebooks. Stuff to keep life ticking over, food, pay bills, doctor appointments
    Stuff to make life fun…dinner dates, guests for weekend, post birthday cards
    Really important stuff….cheques for grand-children, Christmas presents, packing for holidays
    Come on, we are getting old, without a list nothing would get done. I’m with the men in your family on this one. Wish the man in my life would write one…..holey socks to bin, clear out boxes in shed (some surprises there), buy wife big jewel etc. Love, xx

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