Addicted to Lists

By Janey Womeldorf

I love lists. I need lists. I would not be able to function without lists. I can never figure out though, whether the reason I make so many is because, one, I am an organized genius, or two, my memory is shot. As I get older, my need to make lists is intensifying, as is my dependency on calendars. Do I have some sort of weird addiction or just one horrendous memory?

In my kitchen hangs the essential wall calendar – my lifeline – the bigger the squares the better. Without this, I would never show up for appointments, renew my lottery ticket or send out birthday cards. I also have my fridge-magnet list for daily but less vital reminders to take out the chicken, vacuum and bake cookies, which strangely I never forget. In addition, a blank notepad hides permanently behind my fruit bowl for when I’m peeling potatoes and my brain suddenly spurts out that we are down to our last roll of toilet paper. It is a fact of life that these spontaneous reminders never happen when hands are free, clean or dry. On my desk notepad, I list overly-ambitious “To Do This Week” goals, but the mother of all lists is my yellow legal pad.

No flimsy scraps of paper for me; my master list is a full-sized, yellow writing tablet, and if I say so myself, a work of art. I list the groceries I need down the index, and write the items on sale, grouped by store, on the top half of the page with the grocery ads (complete with sale items circled) tucked in the back, all held in place by a large rubber band. I even attach paper clips for the coupons I don’t want to forget at the register. Nothing tortures the soul more than forgetting to use a coupon that sat just inches from your wallet. One time, my Mom and I both forgot to use our $5-off-2-entrees coupons at Red Lobster. Our husbands never flinched at our wasteful oversight; five years later, it still makes us cringe.

How do people even shop without a list? If I get to the store and don’t have my list, I might as well go home, otherwise I’ll buy everything I don’t need and nothing that I do. I found someone else’s list once on a bunch of broccoli. I was tempted to make a customer service announcement for the distraught shopper; I felt her pain. I should know; I lost my list once – scariest day of my life.

To the addicted list keeper, lists are a science.

I value neat lists, I have rewritten a list that looks messy, and I don’t like the way others make my lists for me. One time, I sounded off to my husband items I needed him to write down as I was handling raw chicken. When I looked at my list later, he had included too much product detail and his writing was too small. When I write cottage cheese, I automatically know I only buy low-fat. I don’t need to read “low-fat, large-curd, 2% cottage cheese” – too wordy. I rewrote it when he wasn’t looking. Also, if we are shopping together and he has control of the list, he makes a measly, simple check mark next to the item once it goes into the cart. I hate that. I wait until he gets sidetracked at steak and seafood, then I grab the pen and strike lines with abandon. Secretly, I love the feeling of crossing something off a list. I have even written things on a list just for the satisfaction of crossing them off – it’s the sense of accomplishment. The list is my “in” basket and nothing satisfies like seeing it empty; it’s a sign of a job well done.

Other pearls of list wisdom: Never compose a list on anything that may double up as a Kleenex or on the back of paper napkins at fast-food restaurants. You will, without question, forget what you did and trash everything on your tray on the way out. Two hours later, one of two scenarios will plague you. One, the forgotten item still haunts you, to the point of being stressful, or two, you remembered it and scribbled it blindly down on the car notepad while driving, which now means you have gobbledygook posing as a word that you can neither decipher nor remember. The size, shape, and feel of a notepad are also key.

Lined notepaper is too restricting as my scribble rarely fits in the tiny space, so I prefer a blank slate or minimum half an inch between lines. I don’t like pre-printed titles like “Don’t Forget.” I mean, why not just slap me in the face. I’m only using the list because if I don’t, that’s exactly what I will do. You don’t need to rub salt in the wounds of my absent-mindedness. Let me title my own lists thank you very much. Also, notepads are like purses – best selected by the user. I even take my favorite on vacation with me. The thought of being in a hotel room with nothing to make a list on makes me panicky. What if I suddenly think of something we need to buy when we’re out? Too risky.

I also keep permanent lists on my desktop: Christmas-Gift Ideas; Upcoming Vacation Packing list; Books Recommended to Me and my New Year Resolutions list. As this last list rarely changes – lose weight, clean more, drink less – I don’t even put the year on it now. One year, I resolved to keep less lists. I failed after three days. I deleted the resolution from the document and instead embraced my quirky habit. Lists are my life. They complete me.

Lest you think I’m shallow, there are some other things that complete me too; I just can’t quite remember what they are. Wait a minute; I think I wrote them down somewhere.

Let me just get that list.

About this writer

  • Janey Womeldorf Janey Womeldorf once went to work wearing different shoes. She now freelance writes and scribbles away in Orlando, Florida. It’s probably best.

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7 Responses to “Addicted to Lists”

  1. chris w says:

    Janey – you took the words right out of my mouth. Love it!

  2. Chari Dodge says:

    I loved your essay. Listmaking is high on my list of favorite things to do.

    • Janey Womeldorf says:

      Chari, I agree, list making really is a fun thing. But for me, I would have to confess, the really fun part is the crossing things off. Is there anything more satisfying??

  3. X says:


    kindred spirit

    fellow traveller in the journey of life

    thank you for this

    Every word of this sounded exactly like me except that I have started making my lists now on my iPhone. I miss my notebook sometimes though and still use it

    thank you

  4. Nesreen says:

    OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS!! I thought I was the only list freak on this planet! Soooooooo good to know there are others that share my addiction! Thank you for making me feel just a little bit saner!

    LOVE IT!

  5. Sarah says:

    Love love love love this!

    I’m totally addicted to lists and “nothing satisfies like seeing it empty”!

    Amazing. :-)

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