‘Unripe bananas, fools who tell me what I ‘want’ to do, beds that sink in the middle’ – these are just a few of the things that really annoyed Mary Maclane, an American writer in the early 1900s. Documented in Dominique Loreau’s book L’art de la Liste: Simplify, Organise and Enrich Your Life – out in November.
The book has already been a sensation in France, where it was released in 2008 and spent months at the top of the best sellers lists, and her ethos is well beyond planning and becomes a detailed process of undoing personal knots.
Make lists to improve relationships, for finding your true self, for deeper connections, for anger management. There is a catharsis in the list-making process that the book extols the virtues of, and if you have ever taken pen to paper and ‘downloaded’ something that has been running around your mind, you may appreciate the simple but effective purpose in her sage advice.
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Laura Freeman, who reported on the book in the Sunday Times, illustrates the perspective-making merits of Loreau’s concept, particularly regarding life’s small injustices that can cause so much personal anger when kept rattling around in our heads.
“A friend of mine writes furious emails, listing minor infractions, to her husband – crusty washing-up, socks on the coffee table – and deletes them before sending.”
The purpose of writing them down being that they immediately seem less important and emotionally weighted.
Freeman notes with particular joy the benefits of Loreau’s suggestions for list making on the topics of Brave Things I Have Done and Balms for the Soul, saying:
“If you make no other lists, make these. I tend to bully myself about fears and small anxieties, and rarely remind myself of battles won. If you have steeled your nerves over an overnight flight, a blood donation, a job interview or, in my case, a knock-kneed speech: make a note. It gives you courage for next time. Similarly, keep a balm list folded in your purse and in moments of stress, pick one. Mine are: putting on my walking boots, delete Instagram, get out my sketchbook, read a Betjeman poem, brew earl grey with gold top milk, and baked bramley apples.”
Freeman’s list seems most definitely good enough to pinch.
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Of course, Loreau’s book comes at a time when there is a general trend towards ‘tidying up’ – simplifying, purifying and as a result, improving our lives and creating less stress.
Consider the joyful cleansing many have found by following the philosophies of Marie Kondo, or Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat, which works on the principle of not dieting, but getting the most from the things you most enjoy. It operates on the virtues of freshness, variety, balance, and always pleasure.
The idea is that, rather than adding to life’s to do list in order to improve health and wellbeing (both physical and mental), we remove things. In this instance, ironically, by making more lists.
The logic is so deliciously simple and accessible, addressing not only the big issues that we may feel under pressure about, but acknowledging the importance of the seemingly small issues that may be causing us stress and anxiety.
It might only be October, but perhaps it is time to make ourselves a little resolution-style promise and devote a little of our time to the physical act of writing a good list or two – offload, brain dump, put the things that are troubling you down on paper so that they’re no longer rattling around in our heads.
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