My List

check-list-800pxHalfway down the driveway, my wife called me back to the house.

“Stop at the Quicky Mart,” she said, “I need milk.”

“Is there anything else you need?”  I asked.

“Crackers, yogurt and you better pick up craisins and walnuts, we are getting low.”

“Have you checked the cupboard.”

“I don’t have to.”

So I headed back to the car and almost made it.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” she called.

I thought about it for a while. “Nope,” I said.

“You forgot to make a list,” she said.

“Why do I need a list?” I asked.

“Because you forget things.”

“Like what?”

“You just forgot to make a list.”

I hate it when she forces me to make lists. I never use them. Even when I carry one, I will forget to look at it. I trust my memory instead – not that my memory is all that reliable – but it is trustworthy. The only thing a list will reliably tell you is what is on the list – you have to trust your memory to know why.

Like with craisins.

My wife insists that we eat oatmeal in the winter. She says it is good for us in the cold weather.  But she will not eat it until she has sprinkled walnuts and craisins into her bowl. So she keeps a generous supply of them on hand and when it gets low, she gets anxious. Instead of checking the cupboards and realizing we have ten packages of craisins and twenty packages of walnuts, she will put both on the shopping list.

But here is the thing about lists. Lists have magical powers. Once an item is placed on a list, it gains a life of its own.  Try as you might, you can never remove it. You can scratch a line through it but that doesn’t fool anybody. You can blot an item out but you will always know what hides there and it knows too.

I learned this about lists years ago.

I worked for a project manager who lugged around a day-planner that was twice as thick as a New York telephone book and weighed six times as much.  It rivaled The World telephone book for detail because it was crammed full of lists.  Wherever she went, whatever she did, she made a list of it.

One day, after reviewing a list of attendees for a requirements gathering session, I pointed out that no one in the room understood the business.  They were people who managers sent to our meeting because they could afford to send them.   All the people who knew what they were doing were too busy.

So we spent the day making ridiculous lists of whatever popped into anyone’s head. After the meeting, I spent an hour revising the list by scratching off all the fluff.

She was horror struck.

“You can’t do that!” she cried, “we have a process and we are going to follow it.” She then slavishly insisted that all the original items be included in the plan.  I bailed long before that project hit the ground.

“Let’s see what you got,” my wife asked upon my return.

I presented the milk, crackers and yogurt for her inspection.

“You forgot the craisins and walnuts.”

I offered nothing in my defense.

“You forgot something else too,” she said.

I reviewed my mental list. “No I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did.”


“You forgot the list.”

Author: Almost Iowa

52 thoughts on “My List”

  1. I squealed like a pig in slop when I found the Notes ap on my iPhone. Perfect List Maker! Right now I have a Grocery List, Book List (books I want to read), Things I Want (like a Universal DVD player my brother told me about that will play all the different zones), Meal Plan (what to do with the Grocery List), Apartment (wherein I keep all the measurements of the spots where Things I Want might go), Cards to Make (Birthdays I need to remember), and Topics for My Therapist (list making not withstanding).

      1. Thank you! It is taking me so long to read just a few posts by a few people that I’m reminded of why I can’t do this. Yet I’m craving writing again. Argh.

        1. Ha ha! That does not mean I read solely to garner reads (or else I’d read indiscriminately) although it is true I won’t post after a long gap if I haven’t read. That would be just plain selfish..

  2. I’m actually wondering what the fallout was for you forgetting the walnuts and craisins. Might there be a follow up post soon or haven’t the wounds healed yet?..:)

  3. My memory is neither reliable nor trustworthy, so I make lists and still forget things I was sent for. Lists get too long when you hand over the pencil.

  4. My husband loves lists, too, especially “to do” lists. The problem is, by the time we actually get around to the projects on the to do lists, there are always more projects to be added, so the lists just remind me of all I haven’t done. So now I only make the lists AFTER I’ve completed a project, and carefully note everything I’ve already done, with a check by each item. Keeps my husband and I both happy.

  5. I detest lists but have found them to be necessary in some situations. Grocery shopping is one of those necessary times. However, with me, if I make the list, put it in my pocket or purse and head out for the store, I don’t need to refer to it. Somehow just writing what I want to buy and having the list where I can get to it if need be seems to do the job for me.

  6. Oh, yes, you need a list for grocery shopping. Day-planners the size of the NYC phone book? Not so much.

  7. In my last job, I worked on project management software, and by extension with project managers. For some reason, they thought I needed to list everything I needed to do, and preferably on a gantt chart.

    1. The best project managers know project management well and the business intimately. The worst project managers know all about “process”. When they show up, I bail out.

  8. I make a grocery list but my writing is illegible so my husband brings back some very strange items.

      1. Russ has an old cellphone with no camera, He calls and asks, “What does this say?” Me: “I have no idea, I can’t see it from here. What does it look like to you?” Him: “If I had a reasonable guess, I wouldn’t have to call you.” I suppose I’ll have to start typing up the list. My writing seems to get worse as I get older.

  9. I’m with your wife on this one. I love a good list, I am the Queen of lists in our house! Like Sammy D. I too like to write things down, so I can cross them off. At least that way I feel like I’ve achieved something!

    1. A lot of people use lists as a way of measuring progress. Project managers are the worst of this lot – mainly because the things that get checked off are often the least critical. They fall into the trap of believing that since half the items are checked off, that the project is halfway done…that’s when last item will take more than half the allotted time.

  10. I love lists !! Sometimes I make a to-do list of things I’ve already done just so I can cross them off and feel accomplished. We’re both very good about maintaining our grocery list, but invariably forget to take it with us to the store. That results in way too much chocolate in the house (me) or sliced turkey (Hub) or bags of popcorn (both of us).

    Craisins and pecans are my secret ingredient in Tuna Salad (shh).

  11. Melanie rushed out of the bathroom saying she had to put her thought on a list otherwise it would disappear and never be done.

    We went to an event close the library this week. We brought a book to be returned in the handy drive by drop off box since it was on the way. Halfway home, guess what. Even tho the book was in her lap, we forgot. I dread what things I will forget in 20 more years.

  12. My husband likes listed. My mum likes lists. My world liked lists. And I spend longer trying to rationalize the list than I do searching for items on the list. Why list milk next to cough syrup? Oh yes; they’re both liquid… And fruit next to cough drops?

    1. “My world liked lists.”

      I know, I know… and it is scary.

      Whenever I take a list to the store, I follow a path as random as fruit fly, hitting the same aisles multiple times. The clerks take pity on me and ask me to wait by the register while they find my items. That’s because they get complaints “about the strange man wandering aimlessly about.”

  13. Craisins? Really? Well, that explains it. Everyone knows there’s an ingredient in Craisins that leads to compulsive and inexplicable behaviors: like list-making.

    I do make grocery lists, and other sorts of lists, as well. If I don’t, I know I’ll forget whatever it is I’m supposed to do, since I’m sublimely inattentive to most of life’s little details. I started making lists after the day the nice policeman pulled me over for an expired car tag, only to find that my inspection sticker and license were expired as well. Lucky for me that my insurance was up to date. It did get me to court, though — in a bayside building with a Hemingway-like ceiling fan and a judge in a Hawaiian print shirt and sandals. In the end, I only had to pay court costs: proof positive that a good story can sometimes sway a judge.

    1. “I’m sublimely inattentive to most of life’s little details.”

      Ah, a kindred spirit.

      I always forget to renew my driver’s license and tabs. Mostly because I misplace the notice and forget that it was sent. The irony is when a cop pulls me over, I am the one who wrote the software that alerts them that my DL and plates have expired. Snared in my own trap so to speak.

  14. I always use a list when I shop for groceries. It keeps me (usually) from buying what I don’t really need. I’m with your wife on lists. And I’m with her on the oatmeal. I eat it every weekday, topped with bananas. In every season. I am eating it now, while reading and commenting on blog posts.

  15. I hate shopping with a list. I still mess it up. I once bought two bottles of ketchup because they were 2 for $5. When I got home, my wife explained that they are always 2 fr $5. If I do have a list, I always add to it. I just assume my wife forgot chips.

    1. I am amazed at how many competent technical people do not write things down. We all know how bad they are with documentation, but I think that is part of it. By keeping details in their head, they have ready access to them with the need arises.

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