I have a gift for you today. I'm about to make you feel soooooo much better about your Unfinished Project list. If you do not have an Unfinished Project list because you just never have time for projects, then you will feel better because you will see how much you really didn't have time for and is not now clogging up your life. If you do have a massive Unfinished Project list, then you will still feel better because yours is not nearly as wildly absurd as mine. If you do not have an unfinished project list because you always finish all your projects, and promptly display them in your home with coordinating decor and finishing touches, you need to go volunteer somewhere. You have too much time on your hands.
My gift to you today: here is a partial list of the unfinished projects randomly strewn around my house, along with the amount of time said projects have remained incomplete. (My definition of incomplete project: these are projects I have purchased supplies for and begun actual work, not just an idea floating around my head or one item I might have bought somewhere along the way intending to add more elements later.)
A fish/pond themed quilt to match the other fish/pond quilt (completed) for the west bunkbed. 14 years. The boy for whom I was making this no longer abides in that bedroom. Or fits on to a bunkbed.
A leaf/forest themed quilt to match the other leaf/forest themed quilt (completed) for the east bunkbed. Also 14 years. Ditto on the boy.
A new valance for my family room window in a fabulous soft red satin tapestry with dragon flies embroidered on it. Three years.
A lovely birch shelf for my son's bedroom, to be stained a dark walnut to match the chair rail. 7 years. (I think the wood for this has became part of a trebuchet scouting project, so this one might be off the list by default.)
A scrapbook of my daughter's high school years. 8 years.
A scrapbook of my oldest son's high school years. 6 years.
A scrapbook of my second oldest son's high school years. 2 years.
A scrapbook of my third oldest son's high school years. Graduated last week.
My wedding scrapbook. 28 years.
My college scrapbook. 30 years.
(I'm beginning to think I'm a TERRIBLE scrapbooker . . . )
A sci-fi book series (three books planned as of right now, first book 3/4 written) based on the fourth dimension of our world -- time. 3 years.
A fantasy book series (four books planned as of right now, first book 1/2 written) based on human existence after death, interaction with the living world. 7 years.
A fantasy children's book series (indefinite number, 2 written, 3rd planned) based on my mother and her siblings as children interacting with a magical world in the forest. 10 years.
So the quandary I always find myself stuck in the middle of is this: do I actually have ADD or am I just an erratic non-finisher? Is that the same as ADD? Because it kinda sounds like it. Not being able to stick to one task through to the end because you keep jumping to a new project is the definition of a deficit of attention, I am thinking. Being unable to stick to a task for three decades has to win some kind of award for deficit longevity. But the thing is, it gets worse. Add to the Unfinished Project list my normal day's To-Do list:
Dinner (Needs to be healthy but something everyone will eat. And isn't spaghetti again. Where can I hide the spinach? Do I already have some thawed meat I need to use? What else needs to be used up in the fridge? Gah, that's my grandmother's catch phrase.)
Laundry (Finishing all the laundry today isn't really possible, gotta get at least three loads of towels done out of the boys bathroom, need to wash all the kitchen dish towels since the boys used them to floor surf, oh and I have no clean pants. Minimum of 5 loads then.)
Vacuum the stairs. (What are those marks? Is that mud? Oh please let it be mud. But I think Jeff did go out to the cow field earlier today. Uuuuggghhh)
Call the Billing Office at the Pediatrician. (Pretty sure I paid this. Didn't I pay this? Maybe that was for the other kid. Hmmm.)
7 trips to the middle school. (I swear, I am enacting a law that items forgotten at home stay forgotten. Even shoes. I mean come on, how did we get all the way to the school without noticing you weren't wearing shoes?!)
3 trips to Walmart. (I WILL make a list this time. Good grief.)
Exercise (Only 42 days behind. No problem.)
Do something with the garage (Like maybe burn it to the ground.)
Drop off bag of boy clothes at the local shelter. (Do NOT let them rattle around the back of the car for another month!)
Download last 7 of Jonathan's WA State History assignments (Which means de-bugging the scanner and figuring out why it's not on speaking terms with the computer. Again.)
Email the school photographer to order copies of all the school/team photos Jacob forgot to tell me about all year long. (They want how much for one 8x10? But the download is three times more?! Ugh. Well, kids only graduate once. Thank goodness.)
Call the Health Insurance carrier AGAIN to figure out if they've determined if we actually exist yet. (Don't even ask. Seriously. It's ridiculuous.)
Finish one project. (Yeeeeaaaahhhh, probably not.)
It's always a tie between getting depressed over the length of the daily to-do list, including the number of things that get rolled on to the next day's list week after week, and getting depressed over the number of things I didn't finish because I completely forgot to put them on the list. Because that's a whole separate category to consider: Crap I Completely Forgot About That Sometimes Includes Picking Up My Kids From School/Practice/Scouts.
So I decide to quit and run away into the world of books.
I tumble into the world of Amelia Peabody Emerson, Victorian-era archeologist and early champion of both women's rights and owning up to your own absurdity. Amelia discovers tombs, solves capers, catches criminals, thumbs her nose at people telling her what she should and shouldn't do, runs a large house, and manages her family. I could do this. I think I would make a fantastic Victorian female archeologist. I KNOW I would be fantastic at flouting convention. I begin to feel a little robbed of my true calling as a crime-catching, world-traveling, adventure-journaling suffragette. Amelia never had to deal with clogged toilets, she got her house staff to do it. She never toiled over a dinner only to have her son declare it to be "disgusting." The cook got that honor. You know, the one that wasn't even allowed upstairs.
Hmm. I think I have solved part of the problem. Obviously my housekeeper and cook got lost in the mail. Soooo many of my issues would just go away if I had my designated housemaid and cook. This is a whale of an oversight. Who do I call for that? The postal service? Is that just FedEx? Is it Health and Human Services? But no. No, the person I need to call is my SHRINK who can remind me that Amelia Peabody is MAKE BELIEVE. Fictional characters don't have to worry about all kinds of things that weigh down real people. It's part of the "Doesn't Really Exist" package. Maybe if Elizabeth Peters had written about the full glories of pooping in the 1890's, detailing the wonder that was the Victorian London (nonexistent) sewer system, in a multi-layer dress including serious hardware, and without the help of modern day tp, I would be less tempted to pine for the fictional. I mean really, that's just kind of a baseline for me. Flush toilets and tp. Call me spoiled, but there you are.
All thoughts of pre-public sanitation life aside, I begin to see the actual answer. It's not me. It's the LIST. The list is too bleeping long. I might actually be ADD, but there's no way of really knowing because NOBODY can actually remember and accomplish the quantity of necessary crap on my list! I've read studies before that delineate how no one can mentally multi-task more than about seven things in their brain at a time. That is to say, process, consider, solve, ponder, remember, sort, etc., seven things. If you add something to your already-full plate, something is going to get pushed off the side and in to the abyss of forgetfulness. That's just how the brain works. It really isn't me. It's my list. And it's really isn't you. It's your list.
It would be nice to say, "So burn the list and run free in the wild!" But we come back to the whole "well, I actually do like living indoors and eating hot food, so I'd better remember to pay the bills," aspect. We have to live with the list, but we don't have to be ruled by the list. We are the writers of the list and we can decide what goes on it. The new valance for the Family Room can go. It's neither necessary nor fueling my creative needs anymore. Sorting out the health insurance fiasco has to stay on the list or it's going to exponentially suck up my life's energy. Dealing with the garage can wait. Really. There's a door there, I'll close it and voila! No more messy garage.
And thus, I manage the list. Yep it's still long, yep it's still there. But I let go of the guilt and stress it tries to slather over me by prioritizing both my real world needs (the health insurance) and my own personal needs (creative outlet through blogging, for instance.) One trick I have learned along the way is to add awesome stuff to my list each day, stuff I really do want to do that is more important than we generally credit:
Take a nap
Read for an hour
Watch funny videos with boys
Paint toenails bright green
Try a new brand of chocolate bar
See? Add a few of those to your list and you'll feel so accomplished at the end of the day! The list generally stinks but it can be a help as we take charge of it. It doesn't just have to be a list of what we failed to do. It can be a gauge of what we did accomplish, which is almost always way more than we give ourselves credit for. Spending time laughing with our families is vastly more valuable than having clean towels. Resting your mind and body so you can not only function as an adult but also enjoy your tasks is way more critical than vacuumed stairs. The towels and stairs will get done, but remembering their relative importance is vital to our sanity and happiness. The day/week/month is going to pass no matter what. Let's fill it with cookies and toenail polish, along with the laundry and dishes.
I still think the universe owes me a maid, though. Somebody get on that.