The Joy of Making Lists

Amy Rees
July 14, 2014

This is what happens when the MTV generation grows up. We chronicle our lives in lists. We count down, like the old video marathons or Letterman's standby. We compile, rank, and shuffle. We enumerate, therefore we are.

So, what's the point of all these lists? Is it just the emblem of our fragmented attention? Are we too impatient for a paragraph, too addled to follow a train of thought without mile markers?

Nah. It's just that a list is a lovely thing. Without any more distracting prose, here is a list of our reasons to love a list:

1. Paper remembers so that we don't have to. Parenting gives you amazing memories—and it robs you of the wherewithal to remember them! A list keeps track of all those slippery thoughts, bless its heart.

2. Satisfaction guaranteed. Crossing even a single item off a list brings an otherwise lacking sense of accomplishment to a parent's life. Sure, all the unfinished items are staring back at you, but heck, you just crossed something off. Did it. Finished that. Called it done. Even if you put it on the list even when it was already done just to have the satisfaction of crossing it off. 

3. A list lets you daydream and do something, all at the very same instant. Make a list of fun things you want to do this season with your family. Think about places you'd like your child to see in his life (an entire industry within book publishing is dedicated to this train of thought). Sketch out what you'll do when you win the lottery. Just a second, I'm busy; I'm making a list!

4. Sometimes just putting a wish on a list makes it come true. Just ask Santa Claus.

5. Lists are the cornerstone of an organized life. Make a list, and all of a sudden, you are bringing order to chaos. 

6. Lists make the intangible tangible. Can't keep a resolution? Make it into a list (or a chart), says Gretchen Rubin. A creed, a set of commandments, the house rules—they are all just lists to make the big stuff vivid in daily life.

7. Make a list, keep a journal. Just letting your daily to-do lists flow over the pages of a bound notebooks makes an instant journal. Look back over the need-to-gets and need-to-dos and you are brought instantly back to that moment in time. Witness the artist Diane Arbus's stream-of-consciousness to-do lists or the hilariously poignant grocery lists collected in Milk Eggs Vodka.

8. The best lists are on paper, even in our digital world. You may have a hard drive full of abandoned lists, but the one you grab to get you through the grocery store is still on paper. Maybe even a scrap of pretty, leftover, wrong-address stationery that you keep just for making lists.

9. Lists are cumulative, so you can add to a list, perfect it, get it right the next time. Much like parenting itself, it seems.

10. A list prompts an answer. Looking for a report of what your little one did today at preschool? Ask for the three things she liked best. Adults are always asking kids what their favorite food/color/animal is; that's nothing but using a list (of one) to solicit a response from a shy munchkin. 

Oh, looky! A top 10 list about lists, even without trying. Told you: everybody loves a list!

From the Parents

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