Chronic List-Making 101

I’m not entirely sure whether making lists is strictly learned behavior, or there’s actually some OCD genetic component at work. But I’ve got it, and I come from a long line of list makers.

My father was a superb list maker. He had lists all around the house, depending on the type of items on it. As a result, he was pretty organized, and excelled at labeling items as well. I still have boxes in my garage with his handwriting on them. And I vividly remember his ritual of transferring all important dates from the previous calendar to the current year’s. This didn’t just include birthdays and anniversaries, it also was important for when to schedule certain doctor appointments, scheduling various types of home or car maintenance, and even checking on when his CDs were to come due so that he’d be able to figure out what to do with them in plenty of time.

My sister also inherited this trait, and I recently found out that one of my first cousins is also a phenomenal list maker. My cousin is apparently the Queen of the Spreadsheet. I bow to her superior organizational skills.

But I’ve got this trait as well. And frankly, it’s saved me countless times. I’m not sure if there’s a cause and effect relationship to list making and absentmindedness, but I rely on my myriad of lists to help keep chaos at bay. My cubicle at work looks like that famous post-it note scene out of “A Beautiful Mind.” Yet my boss doesn’t care as long as it helps me do my work! I keep lists all over my house as well. Do YOU keep paper and pen next to your bed for when that Important Thing You Almost Forgot pops in your head? I do. (It’s also for jotting down those 800 numbers of those oh-so-important infomercials that I see when insomnia hits.) I keep several lists next to my computer – in particular the To Do list that is more long-term (update the Earthquake Box, expand the irrigation system, that sort of stuff). There’s also the more “immediate” To Do list, containing items like stopping at the grocery store on the way home, or putting up a white load in the wash.

Now for those of you who are now convinced that I’ve lost my mind, or those of you who don’t understand how all these lists can possibly be a good thing, let me introduce you to my two most-used lists. They both live on my refrigerator. One is the grocery list that is a magnetized pad, so that I can tear off sheets of paper each time I go to the grocery store for a big shop. Because let’s face it: I may live 5 blocks from the Safeway, but I really don’t need to go there multiple times a day because I’ve forgotten some critical ingredient for tonight’s dinner.

The other is the white board. I can’t take credit for this idea, I got it from our friends Anne and Bob. It has become an integral part of my daily life. On that, I list all sorts of stuff, like dinners for the week I plan to make (and thus shop for, reducing the chance that I’ll impulse purchase the entire store), or random tasks I need to get to, or leftovers I might forget to eat, or what produce is buried in the bins, etc. It’s also the place where I might use a bright color and circle a particular task that is of utmost importance (like water the neighbor’s plants when they’re away, or put out the trash). I’ve even got a Chinese food container filled with pens and white board markers held up with magnets on the fridge so that I can update these lists at a moment’s notice without having to scrounge for an appropriate writing implement.

Is this OCD? I’m not sure. But it works for me. And you have NO IDEA how liberating it is to cross something off the To Do list. I get a ridiculous amount of perverse pleasure in that. This can’t be completely normal.

Are YOU a chronic list maker? How does it help you manage your life? Please let me know; there must be more kindred spirits out there…


  1. Madalene says:

    I think list making is a good thing. It makes tasks less overwhelming if you can prioritize. I make my lists on blank index cards and keep a stack in my purse. I don’t like visual clutter so this card deck idea works for me. I also draw pictures with measurements for project ideas so hense the blank (no lines) index cards. As for calendars, I put everything on the computer so I can access it everywhere and be hounded by email and text reminders. I gave up real paper calendars a few years ago.

  2. Shanley says:

    I too am a fan of lists. Also a note person who alway has the dimensions of things to look for in case I find my self a a garage sale.
    Things like a cabinet that would fit at the end of the counter, but not to wide as to run into the window. Also you never know when you get time
    to have shelves cut to replase the glass ones that broke.

  3. Mary Hennessey says:

    I’m a big emailer/phone messager. I email myself through the day with stuff I have to remember at home, and for really important stuff I call my home phone and leave a message. During the night I text myself. It makes me feel like I have attentive friends!

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