That time when the neverending list was DONE

That time when the neverending list was DONE

File under: what I learned in February.

This story actually began right after Christmas. Or almost exactly three years ago, depending on how you want to look at it.

Right after Christmas, Will and I began “researching” our next family home. Or that was the intention; we bought the first house we looked at.

No surprise here: we weren’t ready. We weren’t ready to pack, or move, and—most of all—we weren’t ready to sell our current home. The one we first made an offer on almost exactly three years ago, the one in a great neighborhood that needed a fair amount of TLC when we bought it.

Right after Christmas, it wasn’t in bad shape—largely because I decided when we moved in that I wouldn’t put off making the changes that would make it feel like home. And we didn’t: we settled in and made it ours; we even made a few big changes along the way.

But it still needed work. I felt like I had a never-ending list of nagging tasks that needed to be done: patching and painting, sanding and trimming, landscaping and locks and broken storm windows, a garage door that wouldn’t always open and a hallway door that wouldn’t always close. The usual homeowner stuff, and so much of it.

That list felt never-ending.

But when we realized we were selling—and soon—we set out to tackle it. (Our newly longer list, actually, because it tends to swell when the realtor is going over your house with a fine-tooth comb.)

We asked around and got a whole bunch of names: somebody’s favorite handyman, another’s favorite window guy, a landscaper who needed work during the winter. A painter, an HVAC pro, an electrician. I feel like I saw everybody.

And that never-ending list? We knocked it out, we did it fast (three weeks, maybe four?) and here’s the real stunner: it wasn’t even that expensive.

The whole point was to get our house ready to sell, and it was. It looked amazing. (Upon my comment that our home never, and I mean NEVER, looked that good for one single day while we lived there, our realtor told us not to beat ourselves up: staging a house is like getting married. Right now she was a bride wearing an expensive dress with fancy hair and professional makeup and flattering lighting, but tomorrow she’d put her blue jeans back on. Such is life, and real estate.)

Back to the list: we didn’t really tackle anything crucial, just the odds and ends we’d been “meaning to do” since we moved in, or even before. Nothing was terribly urgent, so we kept putting those things off. But it felt so good to get it all done, even if we wouldn’t be the ones to enjoy the results.

I told Will: If I had known this was possible, I would have done it years ago.

Those nagging tasks weren’t high priority because they weren’t essential. Nevertheless, I thought about them all the time. Every time I made a quarterly plan, I’d make notes about taking care of some home maintenance. Every time we saw an open-ish weekend on the calendar, we’d talk about if maybe this was the right weekend to paint, or go to Lowe’s, or find a repair company. These small tasks took up headspace. They call them “nagging tasks” for a reason.

Of course, home maintenance isn’t a once-and-done kind of thing. We finished our list, yeah, but if you actually live in a house, that list doesn’t stay done. (If only!) Things break, wear out; white walls get dirty. Stuff keeps coming up; that’s the way it goes.

And yet, I want to remember how good it felt to have that list finished—how good it felt to not have nagging house tasks hanging over my head, for once.

Now we’re in a new-to-us old house that is in pretty darn good shape, but things are going to break, and wear out, and get dirty. We’re going to want to make changes; we’re going to need to make repairs. We’re going to have a list.

And when we do, I want somebody to remind me about that time our list was finished, and how good it felt.

Do you have a list, about your home or house or something completely different? Have you had one in the past? I’d love to hear your experiences, tips, and general musings in comments. 

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31 comments

  1. Adrienne Gilman says:

    I don’t mind the house list as long as SOMETHING on that list gets done every once in awhile. I prefer weekly. I feel pretty great when a house project gets moved along a bit, even if it doesn’t get all the way done or there’s more to do later. As long as SOMETHING gets done, I’m good!

  2. Caitlin says:

    My fiancé and I have one of those lists and very little on it gets done. However, I think I have figured out why. For everything on that list, there is a reason why we are waiting for the other person to suggest it. The kitchen back door needs painting, but he is waiting for me to say that it is warm enough that I can live with it being open for a day and I am waiting for him to tell me that painting isn’t going to stop it closing properly (been there, had that problem, lived with it being ajar for 2 months). So I’m writing three list, one of things he can do on his own, one of things I can do on my own and one that needs both our input. If my enthusiasm continues, it will end up in Google Drive with columns for dependencies (good weather, a task that must be done first, etc) and time I think it will take. It might not work, but it’s worth a shot.

  3. Kathy Grey says:

    OMG, do I have a list?! And does that list nag me! Some things I cannot afford (new roof, new HVAC); some things I can’t manage on my own (clean carpets); some things I’m afraid to do myself (paint); on and on. So, I put things off for “some day” and end up only fixing things when it is absolutely necessary. Of course there are things on my list I just don’t want to do, too (cleaning windows, cleaning blinds). I am a professional procrastinator — wish that was a paying job! Living alone and being 62 years old just seems to make everything more daunting. I don’t have a solution, except maybe a live-in handyman! That would be Heaven!!

  4. Meghan says:

    I have often said to my husband, “Why don’t we just get these things done, right away, and then we can enjoy it while we’re still living here?” But then life gets in the way, and they don’t get done. Thank you for sharing your realtor’s analogy to the wedding day. It makes me feel so much better to think that we’re living in a comfortable sweatshirt rather than a tuxedo.

  5. Guest says:

    We had a similar experience with the first house we ever owned. The things we did to prepare it to sell made such an impact and yet were not that expensive. I kicked myself that we weren’t able to enjoy them so we’ve invested in those things in all of our subsequent houses. This might be just me but the other thing that I’m a huge advocate of is spending the money on landscaping because it makes such a difference for our family. We’ve never regretted spending money on landscaping.

    • Kate says:

      We have so very many deer where we live that one of the only things I DO regret is spending any time or money on landscaping! Very expensive way to feed deer that have ample things to eat in the woods behind the house. 🙂

  6. Beth says:

    A post I needed to read! Thanks for sharing! I’m in the process of buying my first home. I’ve been in a rental for several years, so I don’t have a list for that but I do for the new house. And my list really centers around one of your previous posts about not waiting and really making this my home. I never put my stamp on the rental because I was hoping not to be there long, but one year turned into five! I don’t want to look up in another five years and wonder why my house has no personal touches. So I’m going to continue my list and be determined to tackle things with enthusiasm knowing I’ll be happy (or relieved!) when items are checked off.

    Just curious…have you added something like the “Borrower door” to the new house??

  7. Emily says:

    It’s undoubtedly a common theme, but our consistent experience has been that after the effort we’ve put into getting various homes ready to sell, we’ve wished we’d done the work years before, so we could enjoy the results while we still lived there!

  8. I love lists. Without lists I fear I would never advance in life. I have lists for everything, and, I’m of the personality type that doesn’t demand of myself that I complete all tasks, but, that, when most tasks are completed, I start a new list, moving over the uncompleted tasks to the top of the next “To Do” list.
    The items that get re listed repeatedly usually involve money or a bunch of research that I don’t want to do. Vacation or new kitchen floor? Spend another day searching for the perfect handy man? Those kind of things hang me up, and, by the way, where are all the perfect handymen?
    I will say, that life has taught me that procrastination is not good for self esteem. I have heard my children remark that when I get an idea in my head….BAM!….it’s done. I have an 8 foot high dinosaur topiary in my front yard that happened that way.
    But chores are different than Dinosaurs in the front yard
    ….still they must go on the list, be crossed off the list, or moved over to the top of the next list….or I may just disappear.

  9. Mary Witt says:

    We moved to a new city a year ago after 16 years in the old one.
    We had a reputable and reliable person for *any* circumstance in our previous city. Not having those has been one of the hardest parts about moving.

  10. Brandyn says:

    I sold my house in October and had the exact same thing happen. I think one factor was I needed a handyman for several small things and never knew who to call. Advice – Call a Realtor! They have handyman names.

  11. Tara says:

    Oh, gosh, yes, I will be happy to remind you as long as, one day, you could return the favor; don’t worry, it’ll be a long time from now…unless we decide to suddenly sell our house. 🙂 Our home was built in 1927, so I can relate; the list does seem never-ending but I’d rather *live* than worry too much about it. Thank you for sharing this!

  12. Calee says:

    I had two weekends with a sick-ish older kid. Mild fever, just enough to cancel plans, husband out of town. So I looked around and asked myself–what can I do so I won’t feel like this weekend was wasted–and the baseboards loomed. Our white baseboards had black Roomba scuffs. We had bought the paint months before and it probably took me an hour or two to feel great about an accomplishment. Plus! Painting the baseboards convinced me it was time to use to stored up Amazon gift cards to hire a painter through their platform. No more grubby finger marks on our stairs and hallway white walls. I love my house so much more now and it really didn’t take much time or money.

  13. Marci says:

    Graduation parties (or other big gatherings) will also prompt homeowners to tick things off the “to do” list. In the year before their son graduated, my neighbors completed things that they had meant to do for years. The irony is that guests spent most of the day outside and never saw those improvements — but my neighbor was so happy to get those nagging tasks off her mind. I told my husband we needed to have a party and invite everyone we knew, just so that we had the impetus to get stuff done!

    • Mary Ann Garcia says:

      You are so right! Celebrating something big and having guests stay over definitely motivates us out of our everyday comfort with a less than perfect house. Time is precious, so when the choices on a weekend are something like – go for a hike before the day gets too hot or scrap paint off the window sills; family day trip to the mountains or paint the shutters, family fun often wins out. Yet, I can’t deny, it always feels good when we delay gratification and check something(s) off the Honey Do List. It’s kind of like working out, some days my motivation lags, but I’m always glad when I go…

  14. Karen says:

    Last year I helped a friend with decluttering and painting before they moved. They were tackling other big projects and had that same feeling of “Wow, this house looks great. I wish we’d been able to enjoy all these improvements while we lived here.” After observing their experience, I decided to just pretend that we were moving and it actually did help me to tackle some of those small, nagging projects.

  15. Alicia G says:

    We learned almost this exact lesson with our house we are selling now! We FINALLY found a good handyman that we love. We are about to move to new house & I am going to schedule him regularly every single season to fix those nagging little things & help us tweak the house to fit US.

  16. Jennifer N. says:

    We have a “list” and a lot of it comes from the Home Inspection we had done before we bought the house over a year ago, but something always seems to happen that takes priority over list-checking. We also haven’t really prioritized our list, either, which probably delays things because we’re not focused on working toward one goal. We probably need to do that. We are very unorganized folks when it comes to these things. It also doesn’t help that we have limited funds, small children, and limited time.

    I have been making my own to-do lists in my bullet journal and that has been helpful, but I have yet to check everything off (I’ve started making weekly to-do lists since most of my tasks don’t have to be done a specific day.)

  17. Oh, do I have a list! We bought our first house in October, and I think we have about 5 lists, things to do ASAP, things do to in 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, 10 years……it goes on and on! I’m glad to hear you were able to tackle your list quickly!

  18. Ashleigh Anne Payne says:

    This makes me laugh! We too decided we needed to move after Christmas, and started looking at new houses and planning to get ours on the market. Stuff we’d put off for 3 years suddenly got done quickly. And then we decided not to move! Now our house is all fixed up, we get to stay where we are (looking helped us to realize we had the best location and house for us for the long term), and now we can keep putting down more solid roots and building community since we know we are staying. Plus we made lots of life changes to improve our situation in other ways so we could stay put. Happy new home to you!

  19. Rita Bodine says:

    Literally just had same experience with my apartment which we are selling. I went from hating it to thinking maybe we should stay with only a few updates (fresh paint, new switch plates, updated cabinet knobs). I, like you, vow to make steady progress in our new house!

  20. Samantha says:

    I learned an incredibly important lesson from Peter Walsh, the organizer. He said that whenever I heard myself say the word “later” to ask myself why I don’t just do it (whatever “it” is) now. Sometimes I didn’t even think or say “later”, it was just implied because I thought or felt that the task was going to be too time consuming, would require too much mental effort, or honestly, that I was just feeling lazy and didn’t want to do it right then. He challenged me to do every task NOW. No putting things off.

    I realized one thing right away – I put off doing a lot of stuff every single day. My biggest obstacle is thinking that something is going to take longer or require more time than it actually will. I always overestimate the amount of time a task will take. I spent more time thinking about that undone task than the time it would have taken to just do it. So I decided to experiment and challenged myself to do absolutely everything that I saw that needed to be done NOW. If there was nothing truly holding me back from doing a task it had to be done NOW.

    It was not easy to just do things. I was much more adept at making a list and putting things off than I was at just doing it. Once I got going though I found a wonderful sense of freedom and accomplishment in doing things as I thought about them or saw them. It is a totally different paradigm for me though. I did not realize that although I love lists and lists make me feel organized that I actually felt more organized by just doing the task there and then. The list was actually boxing me in and making me feel trapped in a sense until the items on the list were completed. So, do away with the list!

    I did find myself at times thinking “Ugh, why did I see that task or think about that one? Now I have to take care of it.” LOL What I found was that after the initial disgust at having to do a task as soon as it came to mind that I was getting excited to just do it and not put it on the list. Now my goal was to have the shortest To Do list possible.

    I still have to work at this every single day but when I challenge myself to “just do it now” I have a lot less hanging over me than I do if I do things the old way.

    I took this concept and came up with “Only Touch It Once Day” (I know, not the greatest name but it works for me lol). That means that if I’m working on paperwork that day that if I touch a piece of paper I have to complete the task for that piece of paper before I can pick up a new piece of paper. I have to make the call or scan it or put it in the shred box (I take my shred off site) or write the letter or do the research. The first time I did this I walked around the house for literally hours trying to figure out what I was going to do with the one piece of paper. It was so funny. I did eventually figure out what I needed to do to “complete the task” and was able to let go of that piece of paper. When I apply the “do it now” principle I no longer have piles of paper to deal with. When I open the mail I have to take action of that piece of mail. No putting it in a pile to be taken care of later.

    Again, I have to work at this every day. Some days I rebel against doing everything “now” but most days I know that even though it is foreign to me to just do it I will feel better at the end of the day if I do.

    Anyway, that was my epiphany and I completely get that keeping your list, always having to think about it, and having it hanging over your head is more familiar than just taking care of things as they come up. I think that we are taught that list making is a great skill so we make lists. I see lists now as deferring my life, deferring my happiness, and deferring my sense of accomplishment at completing a task. Because of this new found knowledge I have come up with another rule that I cannot put something on the list (books to read, shows to watch, tasks to complete) unless I take one thing (at least) off the list first. I don’t want my life to be a bunch of lists of things that I never get to. By doing this I am actually living my life instead of making a list of what I’d like to do.

    Sorry this was so long but I’m passionate about this in my own life. I’m glad you were able to get your never-ending list checked off and that you were able to see the freedom in just doing it now!

    • Lauren says:

      This is brilliant! I struggle with wanting to wait to do something until I can do it perfectly (or really well). So a lot of things just go undone. I will try your”just do it now” approach – now 🙂

    • Lauren says:

      This is so true. Instead of your “Only Touch It Once Day” I call mine, OHIO for “Only Handle It Once.” It’s absolutely the same principle though, and IT WORKS! I have tried to teach my kids the same principle because I think it is such an important way to avoid procrastination (now I have son who goes to college in OHIO and we laugh about it from time to time; I guess I’m famous for acronyms). I occasionally get fed up with all the books I have checked out of the library and return them all, even if I haven’t read them and REALLY want to, just because the visual nag of books left unread is so frustrating that it stops me from getting to other important things I need to do. There is absolutely nothing like the peace that comes with knowing all tasks are completed and and I can reward myself with time to read watch a DVD.

      • Samantha says:

        Lauren, OHIO sounds a lot less perverted than “Only Touch It Once”! LOL I may have to steal that with your permission (though with permission it’s not really stealing is it?). I put a bunch of CDs and a couple books on hold thinking they would come in at different times since they were coming in from all over the state and of course 5 of them came in on one day! LOL Guess I know what I’ll be doing this weekend/upcoming week. These were recommended by my primary care doctor so I wanted to get them in before my next appointment. If I have not finished them by the due date (3/24) they all go back anyway. There is peace in having nothing on the To Do list. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Carrie says:

    This was just what I needed to read today! We are in the process of selling and buying. I don’t have a list- I have an entire notebook (a pretty one!) of my to dos. It is so overwhelming! I have divided the notebook into sections for each room, plus garage, yard and deck. Each has it’s list of things to take care of. I am just decluttering now. I’ll leave my book cases for last, because that will be soothing. The worst will be the office- tons of paper work- I broke my shredder and haven’t replaced it!!

  22. Laura says:

    Six months ago, we were in a similar boat. We were ready to sell my husband’s old condo (the one he bought before we met) but we were so overwhelmed with all the little projects that needed to be done before we could put it on the market. And we have a 3yo and a new baby. But, we met with our realtor and she suggested simply hiring their handyman to take care of it all for us via a “construction lock” on the house so he could come and go as he needed to. So we did! It wasn’t that expensive, and it felt amazing to have it all done with almost no effort on our part.

    The house got 4 offers within the first 48 hours of going on the market. We close in two weeks for way over our asking price. Hooray! Now we can focus on our primary home; you know, the one we actually live in. 🙂

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