The to don't list

The To Don't List | Darling Magazine

I’m haunted by the woman I’ve always wanted to be.

She floats through her days, always smiling and laughing and making others feel at ease. She never needs anything but is always willing to help, a selfish thought never crossing the threshold of her perfectly styled head.

She is a trailblazer and a lover, simultaneously busy and restful. She’s inspiring and inviting and always cooking something delicious.

I can never catch up to the daunting level of her perfection and it has kept me on a hamster wheel for as long as I can remember, making lists with items like – lose 5 pounds, maybe 10, do this, stop doing that, clean your room, go to yoga class.

To-do lists get me in trouble, especially when the tasks get more abstract and far-reaching than “answer emails” or “buy milk.” I begin getting overzealous with my list thinking that my to-do list ensures that those things will be done, leaving me one step closer to perfection.

But instead it adds pressure. Instead I find myself at a party, surrounded by friends looking at my list, scrolling through and wincing at each unchecked box.

If I’m honest, part of me believes that this list is the thing standing between me and being satisfied with who I am. Maybe if I can get that list down to zero, I’ll finally be happy.

But what I’m realizing—my eyes puffy from lack of sleep and my brain foggy with exhaustion—is that this list is a lie. There are always things being added, always new areas to improve in, and always one more co-worker that seems to have it all together. It’s a losing battle to place your worth and permission to rest in the completion of a list that is, by it’s very nature, unending.

The word that has been swirling around in my head these last few weeks is the word “enough.”

What would it look like if we practiced the art of enough? What would happen if we set aside the hamster wheel of relentless self- improvement? What if we stopped focusing on the areas that make us weak and started concentrating on the areas that make us strong? What if we stopped trying to become something that we’re not and rested in the peace of being who we are, who we were created to be?

My favorite author, Shauna Niequist, was faced with this dilemma—hitting a breaking point when her to-do list revealed the depth of her perceived inadequacies. She shares this in her book “Bittersweet”…

“At one point, I kept adding to the list, more and more items, more and more sweeping in their scope, until I added this line: DO EVERYTHING BETTER. It was, at the time, a pretty appropriate way to capture how I felt about my life and myself fairly often. It also explains why I tended to get so tired I’d cry without knowing why, why my life sometimes felt like I was running on a hamster wheel, and why I searched the faces of calmer, more grounded women for a secret they had that I didn’t.”

So she made the opposite of a to-do list—a “to don’t list.” She carved away the things that didn’t really matter, the things that would make her a really good “someone else” but not a great “her.” She carved away the pressure, the extraneous, so that she could concentrate on the beautiful work that was only hers to do.

So I decided to give it a shot. Here’s my list…

– I’m not a master chef. I don’t spend time cooking unless I’m feeling particularly creative, or unless I’m really, really hungry.

– My apartment isn’t perfectly clean. I’m committed to keeping it to a dull roar, not letting it get too out of hand, but it just doesn’t need to be ‘Martha Stewart perfect.’

– I don’t look perfect everyday. I just don’t. Sometimes I just have to get my clothes on and call it good.

– I don’t gift. I love the people in my life with my words and with my actions and with my time. But I’m not the one who sends cute care packages. It’s not my strength and that’s ok!

– I don’t finish every single book that I start. I don’t need to. Just because I haven’t finished it, doesn’t mean I didn’t learn something. That’s ok.

– I’m not best friends with everybody. I have a group of friends that I love deeply, but I’m not going to cheapen those relationships by trying to make every friendship that deep.

What is on your “to don’t” list?

Image via J.Crew and Cappuccinos


  1. I just stumbled across this article today and what timing, it made me think differently and yes I would love to start a To-Don’t list. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for writing this!
    I needed to hear all of these things today. My to-don’t list is almost exactly the same and it was nice to see that someone else felt the same way about those things.

  3. Thanks for sharing your list! I’m definitely going to make a “to-don’t list” of my own!

  4. Jacki, I hear you so much with this. “Stop being terrible at everything” is sometimes on my to-do list. “Be patient and graceful with myself” is the newest item! 🙂

  5. Oh, this is great! Right now my to-do list is basically, “stop failing at everything.” I feel like I’m just not living the life I should be, and it’s largely my own fault. I guess my to-don’t would be, “don’t beat yourself up over not being perfect.” What a great reminder to focus on what makes us strong, not what makes us weak. Some days all I can see are my weaknesses.

  6. Kate,
    Thank you so much for sharing. You’re absolutely right- its so daunting to look around at what other people seem to be capable of, and to feel like you’re falling hopelessly short. ‘Grace on a daily basis,’ I love that. 🙂 We can be easier on ourselves together! 🙂

  7. Shauna is such an amazing writer. Looking forward to her new book release in April! Thank you for reminding me of this exercise in self-liberation. There is so much freedom in accepting the limitations that make each of us relatable and real- I love it!

  8. Stephanie, this is perfection. You have become one of my favorite contributors. In fact, after reading the first few lines, I guessed it was you writing. You definitely have a unique voice! And you are truly an inspiration!

  9. Almost started crying at the first line because I relate to this so much. I try to remind myself that I have things on my plate that other friends (who seem to have it all together and have time to cook amazing meals and have clean apartments and pack their husbands sack lunches and wear red lipstick) don’t, so I need to give myself grace on a daily basis. I love the idea of making myself a to-don’t list that can replace my multiple to-do lists, and perhaps be a visual reminder to be easier on myself!

    (P.S. I thought I was the only one that didn’t finish books!)

  10. Nathaly, I’m so glad! I read a quote recently that said something along the lines of ‘great, now that you’re not perfect you can go ahead and be good.’ or something like that. I just love the idea of being free of the pressure of perfection and being able to just be us. 🙂 Thanks so much for reading!

  11. Thank you so much for this list, especially because I can REALLY relate to your To-Don’t list. Perfection shouldn’t be the goal, but improvement, and this article helped me regain perspective.

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