managing my list habit

My husband is not a list maker. When—if—he manages to scrawl a column of words, that’s about as far as he gets. More often than not, he’ll get up to go do something and then never look at the list again. Or, if it’s a shopping list, there’s a good chance he’ll leave it at home (like he did on Saturday). Even when he remembers to take the list with him, he often forgets to refer to it, which means he is notorious for forgetting key items.

I have tried to help. “Cross the stuff off as you go, hon,” I’d coach. “It’s not hard. At least make sure you read over the entire list before entering the checkout line, okay?”

When my suggestions didn’t do the trick, I took to reading my lists out loud before he’d leave home. “It says fresh ginger,” I’d say, “but I only need a little. Just two or three inches worth.” Or, “The generic seltzer water. And don’t get something flavored by mistake, hear?”

“I know, I know!” he’d huff impatiently, trying to snatch the paper.

“Call me before you leave town,” I’d shout as he hustled out the door. “So I can make sure you have everything!”

To be completely fair, he does do a pretty good job most of the time (as long as he remembers to read the freaking list). It’s just that he’s not … list-inclined.

There is one exception to his I-don’t-do-lists rule. Whenever I get hit—usually on a Saturday morning at breakfast or late at night before bed—with a wave of there-is-so-much-to-do anxiety and launch into an involved tale of all the ways the world is crashing down on my head right this very minute, he’ll listen for approximately 17 seconds (about how long it takes him to judge the severity of my meltdown) before cutting me off.

“Just write it down,” he’ll say. “Make me a list.”

And so I do, and then he does all the things. (Except for the ones he skips. But I’ve learned to compensate for his sub-par list-reading skills by bulking up the list with extra items. That way I don’t get as peeved when he skips a few.*)

I, on the other hand, am a voracious list maker. I make grocery lists, to-do lists, wines-I-like lists, books-I’ve-read lists, food-I’ve-served-company lists, ideas-for-gifts lists, what-to-write lists, and so on. Lists keep me focused, rooted, and productive. They are my coping method for managing the crazy town that is my brain and the chaos that is my house and the whirlwind that is my husband. In other words, lists are my cheap therapy.

My list habit means that I’m always jotting things on bits of scrap paper and then leaving them lay. This drives my husband crazy. He can’t stand all my fluttery reminders cluttering up the surfaces. He’s been hounding me to get a notebook for years. But I don’t want a notebook; I like the transience of scrap paper and the fun of throwing it away when it has served its purpose. Then just a few weeks ago I hit upon a method that makes both of us happy. It goes like this:

On Monday I make my typical to-do list. This list usually includes a section of studies and chores for each of the children, so I can keep track of them, plus my own agenda. Throughout the day, I cross tasks off and add new ones. I also use the list to record phone numbers, recipes, and other random bits of pertinent information.

On Tuesday morning, I start a fresh list, place it on top of Monday’s list, and staple the two together. Then Wednesday’s new list gets stapled a-top the old, and then Thursday’s, Friday’s, and so on. By the end of the week, I have a fat packet of accomplishments. I review the lists and copy over anything that’s still relevant to a new list before discarding the whole pack of scraps (or, confession, letting the packet lay on my desk for another few days).

So that’s my brilliant new method. Aren’t you impressed?

*When my husband read my bulking-up-the-list technique, his eyes grew round. “I don’t…Are you…? What in …,” he stuttered. His shock quickly turned to indignation—You are so bad!—and then laughter, “Are you sure you want me to know this?”

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (12.8.14), okonomiyaki!, the quotidian (12.9.13), smoking hot, a family outing, zippy me, peanut butter cookies, baked corn, and butter cookies.


  • viviane

    Exactly, except I write down my lists in an Excel Spreadsheet : wishlist, books, films, gifts, knitting projects, diy projects, etc. The advantage is that all the lists are in the same place, and hopefully un-losable, and they make up for my poor memory…

  • Melissa @ thelittlegrayhouse

    I confess to being a list maker as well. It gets all the this out of my brain freeing my thinking up for other endeavors. I use yellow legal pads and throw the pages away at the end of the week. I get a bit panicky if I misplace my legal pad, it's like a security blanket.

  • Becky

    I don't make lists on a regular basis, but I do make notes. And while I have notebooks all over the place (including in my purse), I tend to scribble them on whatever is closest – so, there are notes on the corner of the Sunday paper, on post-its, on the kitchen chalkboard, on the back of that envelope….
    What's on these lists? Books I want to read. The name of a song I heard on the radio that I liked. What I need to bring to dinner Friday. What I need to remember to pick up at the grocery store. Things I need to put onto a list for my husband and daughter to do.
    My dear husband has actually gotten really good at finding some of these notes and use them to buy me books and music for my birthday, Christmas and Mother's Day.

  • Mama Pea

    My name is Mama Pea and I am a list maker.

    I keep two white lined tablets in a cubby-hole corner of my kitchen shelves. One is an 8-1/2 x 11, the other a 5 x 7. The bigger one holds all of my notes on what I need to do sometime (not today) as well as projects/tasks for (good weather) outside next summer. The little tablet shows to-dos for today (if I'm lucky). I keep crossing off and adding to each list (transferring ones from the big tablet to the small one as I deem them worthy of making "today's list"). When a page gets full, I rip it off and transfer any leftovers to the new page.

    My dear husband has a desk literally piled high with lists, bits of paper with notes, etc. much like Melodie's husband up above. Not only does he not remember what a note refers to when he comes upon it, but can't actually read the note because his handwriting is so illegible.

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    I, too, am a list lover. I also streamlined my list habits recently. I bought one of those yearly calendar books that shows a week spread across the two pages. The blocks are large enough to hold our appts. on the left and my to-do list for that day on the right. I still keep several other loose paper lists but this has helped me keep track of what I need to do several days out. List-makers (control-freakers) unite! 😉

  • Melodie Davis

    Wondering too how he responded to the bulked up list (he reviews most/all posts, doesn't he). I'll have to try that!

    I like the idea of stapling them together. Lists tend to overwhelm my desk, too. And I agree, notebooks aren't quite right for a list.

    Now what I'd like is a solution for the scattered notes my husband takes on random backs of envelopes or even the front page of the newspaper, while watching TV and scrolling the web for this or that phone number, product, or person, that he likely will ask me for in a week or two, "did you see …. " but it has long since gotten to the bottom of his stack, and even he can't remember what phone number connects to what idea or person or company. Ugh.

  • Elaine

    I'm a list maker, too! I really like your new method and I think I will try to implement it to fit my style. Stapling each day on top of the other sounds especially helpful.

    I was wondering if your husband reads your blog posts. 😉 I really like his reaction especially that he ended with laughter. That's a loving husband.

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