Things I Do and Things I Don't Do: Determining my priorities

Sometimes I need to absolve myself of my guilt for feeding our son a banana and Cheerios for breakfast.

When I was growing up, I ate Cocoa Puffs with non-organic, probably antibiotic and hormone laden 2% milk for breakfast. Do I resent my parents for it? Will I blame my every present and future malady on the fact that I didn’t eat a nutritious breakfast every day of the week when I was a kid? Of course not. But in today’s culture, we are hyper-aware of the nutritional value or danger of foods and every meal is a mark of success or failure as a parent.

There’s something to be said for trying to do better. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” As a perfectionist I already have voices in my head telling me plainly: DO EVERYTHING BETTER.

Shauna Niequist wrote about this “DO EVERYTHING BETTER” inner voice her lovely, beautiful book Bittersweet. Like so many other women, she became overwhelmed with the pressure to improve in every area of her life and “do it all.” She had lunch with an older, wiser woman one day who said something that stuck with her:

And this is what Denise told me: she said it’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard, she said, is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.

So Shauna set about determining her priorities by creating two lists: “Things I Do” and “Things I Don’t Do.”

When I read about her lists, I immediately wanted to create my own. I have always been a perfectionist, but especially since becoming a mother I have been inundated with instructions for how to do things better. Everywhere I turn, there is a simple tip for getting something done, or getting it done better. I collected each one I came across, like a novice builder collecting nuts, bolts, and nails from bulk bins. I had a bunch of pieces, manageable in and of themselves, but putting them together to build a house is an entirely different task.

My lists are a work in progress, and they’re more aspiration than reality at the moment. But I hope by claiming my priorities and embracing my limitations, I will be freed to live a more satisfying life. Here are the beginnings of my two lists.

Things I Do:

  • Keep my body healthy by making eating and drinking as much my priority as taking care of these needs in others. I drink enough water and eat nutritious meals and snacks.
  • Make an effort to get regular exercise, even if it’s just a walk or quick yoga session.
  • Shower every day. If I don’t shower in the morning, my day is going to suck. I will feel like I just need to go back to bed the entire day. I may forget to brush my teeth, but I will never forget to shower.
  • Cook (at least somewhat) healthy meals without feeling like they have to be fancy, and I allow myself a “convenience” food (like frozen pizza) about once a week to give myself a break.
  • Recharge with at least an hour or two a week of quiet alone time, when I don’t have to meet anyone’s needs but my own. I want to use this time to read and write and generally think about things besides taking care of other people’s needs.
  • Go to church on Sunday with my family. I always feel better for it. Always.
  • Play with my son. Sometimes it’s hard not to just plop him in front of some toys and go clean something, but we are both so much happier when I engage him in play or read him a story.  I won’t want to remember the cleaning years from now, I’ll want to remember when he first stacked blocks and drew with crayons and gave his stuffed animals hugs and kisses.
  • Stay in touch with friends, making a point to see people in-person as much as is possible without feeling over-scheduled.
  • Make the bed in the morning. It doesn’t take long and it makes me feel a little less anxious about the overflowing laundry hamper in the room.

Things I Don’t Do:

  • As my opening line suggests, I do not make complicated breakfasts. It takes me a while to wake up and I don’t have the energy and brain capacity to cook well in the morning.
  • Worry about the ever-present baskets of unfolded or half-folded laundry in my living room. I despise folding and putting away laundry. Probably because I need to go through our closet and drawers and get rid of all the clothes we no longer wear or pack away what’s out of season. Ugh, I do not want to spend time doing that.
  • Extreme fitness, like running a marathon or crossfit or climbing a mountain. I’m too competitive and placing high expectations on myself only creates an “all or nothing” mentality and sets me up for either anxiety and pride or failure and depression. I’m learning to be gentle with myself and accept small victories.
  • Clean all the time. I could spend all my time cleaning so that everything was to my satisfaction, but I would miss out on a lot of Things I Do. So, yes, there are toys strewn around the living room most of the time. The kitchen sink usually has dirty dishes in it. Usually the only cleaning my bathroom sinks get is a quick once-over with a disinfecting wipe. When I finally do get around to scrubbing the bathtub, I spend extra time in the bathroom just admiring how shiny it is.
  • Thrill-seeking adventures. Skydiving, traveling to foreign remote locations and scuba diving all sound very unappealing to me.
  • Work out with groups of people. No Zuma. No hot yoga. Aside from a 5k or 10k run, I don’t like jiggling or sweating around other people. I’ll fire up a DVD or YouTube and do that in the privacy of my own living room.

What about your life? Are there things that you feel pressured to do or be better at that you want to put on your “Things I Don’t Do” list?