Monday, January 13, 2014

A list of thoughts on lists

I like lists... I think most of us like lists.  Whether it's a grocery list, or a to-do list, or it's a list of information that's been compiled, there's just something about a list that has a certain appeal, even a fascination.  One of my favorite bookmarked websites is essentially a lists of lists.

So, why the fascination?  On the surface, that seems a pretty easy question.

For grocery lists, even though we hate grocery shopping we love the list.  As we wind our way through the store, we check off the items that have been placed in the cart, and when everything on our list is checked off, we can finally leave.  The despair and exasperation we feel as we get to the end of the store and realize there's an items that has not yet been checked off, is nearly unmatched.  Fortunately, it's also short-lived as we make a bee-line for the correct aisle, grab the omitted item and finally find ourselves looking at a completely checked-off list.  (While this may seem extreme to some of you, it truly reflects how I feel about grocery shopping.  My antipathy for this activity is matched only by my husband's antipathy for this same activity -- or else I'd make him do it!)

To-do lists are similar to grocery lists, except that the tasks represented might be good or bad.  Repairs around the house - bad.  Items to pack in the suitcase for vacation - good.  But good, bad or otherwise, when we find ourselves looking at a list with everything checked off, it gives us a sense of satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment.  And of course let's not forget about the bucket list, which is the granddaddy of all to-do lists.  Although -  I'm not quite sure what you're supposed to do once you check off the final item on your bucket list.

These types of 'check-off' lists - whether grocery lists or to-do lists, are so popular, that there's somewhat of a mini-industry that has built up around them.  There are note-pads that present typical grocery items - either alphabetical or categorized by store sections.   There are note-pads that say 'To-Do' at the top, followed by a bunch of blank space.  Both of these items include  a whole bunch of boxes just waiting to be checked off!  
 And while I haven't personally seen such a thing, I would not be surprised if somewhere out there is a pre-printed To-Do list that includes items such as 'prepare grocery list', or even 'prepare to-do list'. And of course, in this day and age of apps, there is a long, long list of apps for smartphones and tablets, in case someone wants the list to appear on their device.  The apps that I've seen, actually allow for you to check things off (!) ... although personally, I've found it's not nearly as satisfying to indicate a check mark on my iPad, as it is to use my pencil to check off a written list. And after all, the best thing about these types of lists, is the ability to check things off.

Besides the 'check-off' lists, there are the compilation lists.  The summary lists are particularly prevalent now, at the beginning of one year, as everyone and his brother seems to be interested in summarizing the previous year.  A friend of mine pointed out the absurdity of this, pointing out  "I was there.  I remember."  Nonetheless... there are many who actually look forward to these summaries.  And of course there are the competitive lists -- Richest people, Most productive businesses, Best educated countries.  For me, the compilation lists that are most enjoyable are those that provide odd bits of trivia in the abbreviated format of a list...  Things you should know about Scotland; Bizarre Victorian inventions;  Different types of teas.

Lists represent organization and tidiness -- which is appealing both to those who are organized and tidy, and those who are not.  They represent progress, moving forward.. and a bit of a 'don't look back' sort of attitude.  Most of us throw out our completed lists.  After all, once all the boxes have been checked off, the lists are no longer of any use.

Oddly enough, when I looked  up 'attraction of lists', the result was lists of attractions; I couldn't find anything discussing this attraction to lists.  I would think that it was just me, except that there is an abundance - some might say an overabundance - of lists.  So perhaps it's just that people only care about the lists, they don't care about the fact that they care about the lists.

Hmmm.  This requires further thought, over a nice cup of tea.

What's that you say?   I promised you a list?
Well I suppose I did.
Seems a bit redundant, but here you go....


  1. Y'know - I'm not much of a list-maker, but my wife is. Sometimes, when I'm firing on all cylinders my 'go and get it done' process leaves her 'make a list and check it off' plan. Other times...not so much. I should keep track of who is more productive and then we can both adopt the more efficient philosophy. Aw, but I'd probably have to make a list of things to measure...and I'm just not up for that.

  2. If I didn't make lists, I would not be able to go to the grocery store, would not be able to load the RV, would not be able to pack for any trip, would not, could not do much of anything!