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Lists and spreadsheets

My late grandfather used to say, quite seriously, that the best way to remind yourself to do something important during the day is to write down what you need to do, then thoroughly crumble the piece of paper on which you wrote and put it into the front pocket of your trousers; having that ball of paper in your pocket would be a constant bothersome reminder that you need to do something…

I am not as inventive as he was, but I am extremely organized in my planning and my daily life. I keep fairly evolved lists of to-dos, follow-ups and things to keep my eye on at work, I consult nested task lists at home, I make Natasha write down things that require her attention during the day beyond the simple grocery list.

When we go away on holidays, we always go through our thorough packing lists to make sure we don’t forget anything, starting with documentation and ending with caramel candies for ear pressure relief in flight. Our lists include absolutely everything that we ever needed on any type of holiday; we check off the things that we pack or cross out the things that we do not need for the specific trip. Several years ago, I even contemplated designing a software that would produce customized packing lists based on input such as number and age of travelers, type of destination, length of stay, etc. Laziness won and I did not progress much beyond conceptual design, and the all-encompassing packing list is firmly in our preparation routine.

Relocation gives me a huge platform to flex my organization muscles. We have an overall to-do list, an items-to-sell list, an accounts-to-close list, an accounts-to-retain-but-change-address sublist, etc. Every item is marked with a target date and a responsible party. There are green, amber and red statuses…

I exhibited similar fervor in preparing Natasha for house-hunting. We came up with a nearly exhaustive list of things that we want to pay attention to in prospective properties, and I coded a weighted formula into a spreadsheet that Natasha could populate upon seeing each house. Bigger things (number and age of bedrooms/bathrooms, size and quality of kitchen space, existence of a fully finished basement, quality of outdoor space, etc) get larger point allocation, but smaller things such as closet space, fireplaces and included/excluded appliances are counted as well.

I suppose a house purchase is more about love and hate than about weighted numerical analysis. You walk into a house, you love it, you find several shortcomings that you are willing to work on once you own the place. You walk into another one, everything seems to be suitable, but there is something off-putting that you cannot overcome or one specific parameter – price? noisy road? garage not big enough to fit your SUV? – that make the house undesirable. In the end, after seeing X number of properties, you sit down, look through your notes, discuss all pros and cons of houses that you liked and pick the one that you like the most.

We aren’t any different in expecting to do just that. Yet, I would like to have some quantifiable foundation behind our likes and dislikes.

My formula awards a maximum of 290 points, but no house could conceivably pack in every single feature that we’d like (while simultaneously staying at the lower end of our price range), so I figured that anything around 230 would be as close to an ideal house as one could get. When we did our preliminary online property reviews, we got a handful of houses into 160-170 range on the basis of realtor reports, with a number of unknowns. That boded quite well for Natasha’s search.

But after two days and a dozen viewed properties, only one house came close to 200. It was one of our online top two, but it has a couple of serious shortcomings, including backing out on a major county road…

Several other houses dropped their marks, on account of a realtor report generously saying “new” where the right description would be “20-year-old but in decent condition”, or “finished basement” where the qualifier “partially” would be key. Still, a couple of houses of the ones Natasha has seen score ok and she liked them well enough to schedule a second viewing. Stay tuned.


  1. Nathan

    I love lists. I make To Do Lists for just about everything. Interestingly, I rarely go back to look at them other than to cross off a bunch of stuff that I actually did. Having written the list seems to be enough to make me remember what I need “to do”.

    Oh, and on that driveway backing onto a major road? There are a few things that would make it intolerable.

    1. Is it on a curve in the road where you’d have people driving into your living room with unfortunate frequency? (Yes, there are houses that have that as a recurring problem.)

    2. Can you slow down on the main road to pull into your driveway without risking being rear ended on the main road?

    3. Is there room in the driveway to get turned around? So that you can pull into traffic from the driveway instead of trying to back out? Having to back onto a major road all the time would suck…especially when it snows.

    4. How is the traffic noise from inside the house? Will you have big giant trucks downshifting in front of the house and making that horrible “blat, blat, blat, blat” noise?

  2. Jim Wright (Stonekettle Station)

    I suspect you and my mother (and Nathan) would get on famously. My mother had lists for everything. And she’d make lists and itineraries for every trip. What we going to do in what order – 9:15AM Stop at World’s Biggest Ball O String, everybody everybody empties bladder, purchase 1 commemorative spoon, 1 rubber tomahawk, 4 postcards. 9:45AM In car, buckle seatbelts, exit parking lot, return to highway… and so on.

    “Spontaneity” is not in my parent’s vocabulary – well, it is, but it’s next to “Liberals” and “Communism.”

    Which is probably why I friggin hate this kind of planning today. When we travel we just head assbackward into the unknown. We rarely plan trips, we just aim roughly in the direction we want to go and head out. Traveling with us would probably make you insane, Ilya.

  3. Ilya

    Jim, actually, with travel, I normally have no more than an “outline” for day’s plans, which leaves plenty of room for spontaneity and adjustment. Several places that I want to find myself at, in a geographically-logical order, but no rigid timetables. If something unexpected catches our fancy along the way, we’ll explore it; if we realize that we are spending more time than expected somewhere, we’ll reduce the number of stopping points for the rest of the day… But I am certainly not much into proceeding without a plan altogether, even if that plan consists of solely “Wander aimlessly all day”…

    Nathan, those are the points that we consider, but in the neck of the woods that we are looking into, the bigger one is about the road passing closely behind your backyard: Can you enjoy a Sunday barbecue with friends without having to raise your voice above the noise of zooming cars?

  4. Tamila &Yan

    We need a person just like you around, or some of your spreadhseets as we are packing for a 3 daystrip to San Francisco with a 14 months old baby;)))))
    We have 3 nights to pack everything.
    It’s a good time to look for the house. You should be able to play a strong buyer’s hand in this market (at least judging by the state of CA Real Estate market). We love our house, except for one little thing – our street is hilly and therefore kids cannot ride bikes. One of those little things….

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