by Susan McCarthy
When I was emptying my parents' house, I found all sorts of dishes, silver-plated trays, and cut-glass bowls that I hadn't even known my parents owned. These were things that may have come out of their grandparents' homes.
Some quick inquiry lead to the conclusion that these weren't highly desirable items. These were things in everyone's parents' or grandparents' attic and the market was being glutted with things that belonged to another era.
My reaction should have been, "oh, okay, let's put this in the yard sale" and been done with it. Instead, I found myself going to the library and borrowing books on antique and vintage items. Why on earth did I find it necessary to investigate all those oddly-shaped, highly specialized serving utensils for things like jam and olives?
I have no clue. I mean, I like learning new things, but assigning myself this extra work was a distraction I didn't need. However, once I went down that rabbit hole, I was trapped. What was the difference between items marked "Made in Japan" versus "Made in Occupied Japan"...and why did I need to know? Particularly when the little figurines had obviously been broken and then re-glued?
Why you want to create a not to do list
A not to do list is a reminder of what you can avoid doing. I know, that's a tad obvious. However, if you find yourself going off track by getting caught up in distractions, then deliberately identifying what you don't want to do is as important as noting what you do want to accomplish.
Particularly when you're feeling overwhelmed, it can be easy to desire an interruption. Even if the task doesn't have to be done, you may feel that you're claiming some space for yourself by welcoming the distraction. "I want to do this" is a great way to feel like you're doing something Even if "this" is busywork that doesn't have to get done.
Also, catch yourself if some of this busywork is the result of perfectionism - your desire to do things the "right" way.
Candidates for your not to do list
Trying to find the "right" home for an item. You may be frustrated that your kids don't want the antiques from their grandparents' house. Maybe you're still trying to find the perfect consignment shop for your mother's outfits from the 1980s.
There is no best way to make certain that everything will get into the hands of the people who're going to cherish those items that've been living in your father's garage for the past three decades.
Endlessly re-posting items for sale. Set a time limit for how long you'll leave items up for sale and then donate them. I know, it's frustrating to think how some things might sell better during a different seasons. But do you really want to turn selling items from your parents' house into a year-round business? Or do you just want to get the task done as well as you can?
Answering the questions of potential buyers, packing items, and bringing them to the post office all takes time. Also, if the items are still sitting on shelves, you aren't really making any progress in emptying the house.
Besides, it's unlikely that every item will sell.
Promising yourself to finish their tasks. Maybe your father bought a new toilet seat that he never put in place or your mother left behind a partly finished afghan. You are not obligated to finish these projects and tasks.
Doing so isn't honoring their memory, it's adding more stress to an already stressful situation that you're trying to work through.
If you want to finish a project, work on one of your own.
Planning to use their things. Maybe as you empty the cabinets and closets you uncover things like a barely used bread maker or recumbent bicycle. You're thinking, "I could bake bread every weekend! I could get some exercise while watching television!"
Maybe. Were you planning on buying these items before you uncovered them in your parents' home? If not, that's a pretty good indication that you will use these things as infrequently as your parents did. Then, someday, your kids will find that bread maker in the back of your kitchen cabinet.
Clinging to "should" thoughts. If you feel that you should do something, take a step back and consider why you feel that you are tied to a task, event, or even object. Chances are, if you feel that you should do something then you aren’t all that interested in actually doing it. On the other hand, if you choose to do something, it’s likelier to get done because you want to do it.
Can you alter “should” actions so it’s something that you choose to do? If not, then you might just want to admit you don't want to do that thing and put it on your not to do list
Be kind to yourself and create a not to do list
Creating a not to-do list is about making decisions. Question what is important to you as opposed to doing what you feel obligated to do. You have enough to do right now, you don't have to make things more difficult for yourself by adding things to your to do list.
And, yes, just the way you can write down your to do list, you can also write down your not to do list. In fact, this may help you commit to being kind to yourself in this difficult time without piling more things onto your place.
By deciding to not do something (instead of leaving it in maybe land), you'll actually reduce your stress. It's not completing a task but making a decision about it that will free you from commitments that you don't need to add to your life.
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