Do You Have A "To Don't" List? (You should & here's why.)

We lead busy lives. We need to go places, get things, leave things, send things, receive get my drift. There are only so many hours in the day that we can devote to getting things done and we try to organize ourselves to work as efficiently as possible, to cram as much as possible into every single day. Many of us feel we'd be lost without our calendar, reminders, task lists, alarms and sticky notes. 

What about your "to don't" list? Do you have one of those?

I've found that most of us have one, we just don't want to acknowledge it. Passively, our "to don't" list is all the stuff that's always on the list but that we never get to. We mean to get it done but we show no commitment or time investment to actually do it. 

There's a lot of emotional baggage attached to items on a passive "to don't" list, which I'm finding as I work through my second month of decluttering. There is guilt, disappointment, regret, possibly even anger and frustration. Why do we do this to ourselves? 

Getting rid of stuff that clutters our homes is liberating. It feels like a weight off our shoulders to get rid of junk, old clothing, electronics and kitchen ware that we don't use anymore. So why don't we do that with shoulds, woulds and coulds?

I've recently started using a real, in writing, "to don't" list and I like it. I've written down things I WILL NOT GET DONE and it feels great. I'm finally getting to terms with things that I just will not get around to doing because I don't care enough about them. There's no point in dragging them with me for weeks, months or even years. They're not going to happen and I just need to get over it.

What's been on my list lately? Here's a sample:

  • Keeping up with a dozen email subscriptions I felt I "should" be reading over the last year but wasn't. I'm now unsubscribed and have deleted past emails.
  • Meaning to mend two pairs of pants for about 2 years. I obviously don't like them. I'm not doing it so I donated them.
  • Collaborating on a project with 2 colleagues that I realized I don't want to participate in. I contacted them and let them know it was just not for me.
  • Keeping a small cross-stitch project that is half finished that I know I won't complete (it's been one of two projects I've kept around for almost 20 years - sheesh!). For regular readers, it's not the same one as I mention in my bucket list...that's one I did complete.
  • Keeping a book I'm halfway through and have been halfway through for over a year. I'm donating it and getting rid of the feeling I should keep reading right along with it. I'm an avid reader and I should really worry about books I actually want to read.
  • Meaning to use new recipes I found in a half dozen cookbooks over the last decade. I obviously don't want to devote the time to these particular recipes since I've looked up, made and enjoyed many other ones during this time. I've removed the sticky notes and donated the cookbooks.
I can't believe I kept so many cookbooks I never used. My mother's rule: only keep the "sticky" ones. They're the ones you're actually using. The ones with all the sticky notes I got rid of? Not one of them had a smudge on it.

I can't believe I kept so many cookbooks I never used. My mother's rule: only keep the "sticky" ones. They're the ones you're actually using. The ones with all the sticky notes I got rid of? Not one of them had a smudge on it.

What's common to the above is that this list is full of good intentions. And that's all they are...intentions. These intentions are sucking energy out of me by remaining intentions and, when I really think about them, I know that I don't care enough about them to follow through so why allow them to suck up any of my mental energy? I'm much better off choosing to do away with the time I spend thinking about them. By doing that, I'm giving myself permission to think about and do other things that, for now, I find more valuable. 

I get that this is a hard thing to do. It means letting go of something we were or that we want to be or feel. There's an emotional connection with our intentions that can be difficult to sever. That's why it's important to realize that we are shackling ourselves with the thought of alternate actions and states that just aren't aligned with who we are, at least for the time being. Things can always change and we can always come back to the activity and things that we actively chose not to pursue, though maybe in a different form.

The problem with living in the past is that it inhibits change and is therefore inherently pessimistic.
— Gordon Livingston, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart

By adding it to the "to don't" list, we're not closing the door forever, we're simply allowing ourselves to be focused on what we really do want in the present and use our time and energy for those things. That focus increases our likelihood of success, as opposed to diluting our time and attention on what won't matter in the long run.

So far, nothing that has made a "to don't" list has ever come back to haunt me, despite the fact that it often means I get rid of physical things in the process. Of course, the better I get at this activity, the more likely it is to happen, but that's a risk I'm willing to take, given the reduction in wasted time and stress I experience. The upside of having less to worry about and less clutter in my mind and in my life is much more valuable.

I hope I keep getting better at working on my "to don't" list. I find I'm happier and more focused the longer it gets.

Do you have a "to don't" list? If so, what's on it? Do you keep adding to it?

Thanks to J. Money @ for the thumbnail picture idea for this blog post.