Scrap The 'To Do' List: There's A New List In Town

It's Time To Embrace The 'To Don't'

The To Don't List

I hand a black Sharpie to my eight and ten-year-old and say, “Alright, draw your pumpkin’s face,” and then turn to the pan of pumpkin pulp on the table and begin separating the seeds to be roasted. I don’t hover over them as they draw or give them tips and suggestions. I don’t even glance in their direction. I don’t care one iota what their pumpkins end up looking like. I don’t care if the eyes are uneven or the mouth is too small, or there are Sharpie lines visible all over the orange skin. When they’re done, I ask, “Are you happy with it?” They nod their heads yes and smile, and then we carry the massive things outside and perch them on the front steps. 

In the past, I would have been the one to draw the outline of what face the boys wanted, I would then slowly carve it out, all the while fretting over whether it looked as good as the Pinterest picture. But this year, I realized how little I actually cared about picture-perfect pumpkins on Halloween. Hence my “do whatever you want” approach. 

Extraordinarily carved pumpkins are officially on my “to-don’t list.”

Have you heard of the “to-don’t list?” It is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves as women. Because so much of what we think we “should” be doing, when we take a moment to examine it a little closer, doesn’t actually matter to us at all. We are really good at coming up with to-DO lists. All the things we think we should be tackling in the run of a day, week, or month. But out of all of these activities and events and behaviours, what percentage of them are things we don’t actually need to be doing?

Enter the to-don’t list. Your new best friend. A simple way to help you escape the hamster wheel that you feel your life has become, where you are caught in the cycle of endless comparisons and constantly feeling like you’re not enough, like you can’t keep up. 

What race are you running that you don’t need to be in? It’s time to say, “I’m out.”

Do we really need a homemade dinner on the table every night? Do our children really need to be wearing matching neutrals every day of the week? Does the birthday cake need to be made from scratch and have three layers? 

For some of us, the answer to these will be a wholehearted yes. These things matter to us, and we enjoy investing our time and energy into them. Others might say no but realize we are trying to achieve those results anyway. A lot of the pressure we feel is self-inflicted and unnecessary. If we don’t actually like baking the cake then we would be better off buying one from the grocery store (our children will be just as delighted!). Or perhaps we could add a frozen meal to the weekly dinner rotation because cooking has become something we dread doing every single night. 

We won’t know what to put on our “to don’t” list until we’ve taken some time to examine our lives. We need to take stock of the things we are putting our time and attention into and then get extremely honest with ourselves. What are we doing that actually brings us joy, that makes us come alive? And what are we doing only because we saw someone on Instagram doing it, because we think we “should” because there is a dialogue in our heads telling us that if we don’t do that thing, we will be a lesser mom, or wife, or friend, or daughter. 

Are we willing to confront that dialogue and name it for the lie that it is? Are we willing to say, “I’m out of that race”? Are we willing to feel the initial discomfort that comes when we start living based on our own desires rather than other people’s expectations of us (real or perceived)?

Some of us need to switch our mission from living the most productive and impressive life to living one that is authentic and true. One of the most helpful steps we can take is disconnecting from social media for a while! We spend so much time focusing our attention on what everyone else is doing, and what everyone else is claiming to be important. What might we discover when we separate ourselves from the noise — what rises to the surface naturally? What do YOU actually care about and value?

Does making your kids’ Halloween costumes from scratch make you feel like a kid again? Does it get you excited to hunt through the bins at your local secondhand store, or scroll through pictures on Pinterest to get inspiration? If not, put it on your “to don’t” list and spend the money on a nicely packaged store-bought one.

Do you love spending your weekend in the kitchen, simmering a sauce for the lasagne you’re about to layer together and pulling a batch of banana muffins from the oven? If not, scratch that from your list of things you “should” be doing and find something more enjoyable to do with your Sunday afternoon!

Does your front porch need to change with the season and holiday? Do you love switching out the pansies for a pot of mums, and your fall rug for a winter-themed one? If this doesn’t make you feel giddy then allow yourself to have the same welcome mat all year long and know you’re not the only one. 

What would you put on your “to-don’t” list? Having a ten step skincare routine? Getting your nails manicured every month? Having shredded abs? Staying up to date on the latest Netflix dramas? Waxing your lady bits?

Whatever comes to mind, write it down. Let it be a reminder to you of the kind of person you want to be and the things that distract you from your values. Enjoy the lightness that comes from letting go of things that were not yours to carry, and have fun exploring what to pick up in their place.

Maybe it’s an award-winning pumpkin that you spend four hours carving Taylor Swift’s beautiful profile into, but maybe it’s one your eight-year-old does in the span of five minutes that he’ll grin at all week with pride. 


Andrea is a freelance writer in Halifax, NS. Her writing has been featured in Today’s Parent, She Does the City, and Our Children magazine. Before deciding to pursue writing full-time, Andrea received her BEd and worked as an elementary school teacher. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through nature, journalling at a coffee shop, or hanging out at home with her husband and their two boys. Usually, she’s eating chocolate. You can connect with Andrea on Instagram