The psyche of a master list maker….

Curious Rascal
4 min readMar 19, 2024

I am an evangelist.

Well aren’t we all. If the definition includes being encouraging, persuasive, cajoling, threatening….Here you may be disappointed to learn what I sermonise. The cult of list making. I caught myself doing all of these things as I spoke to my 76 year old mother about changing her habits to begin list making. I surmised from my grandiose pedestal it would transform her life; she would feel less stressed and more organised. As you can imagine, my mother gave me a wry look and promptly ignored me.

The truth is I am lost without all of my lists — to do or otherwise. They are the Valium soothing my path through life, giving substance to my purpose and expectations. Without this semblance of control — regardless of how ethereal the control really is, I could unhinge….

Pen to paper. I am very particular in how I proceed. Putting aside the weekly dinner menu list which flows into the shopping list, both crafted carefully on a Sunday. Consider for now my work related to do list and another for personal ventures. Each list placed side by side on one page. Particular actions may be highlighted or circled as priorities for the coming days. Dashes against each undertaking provide further context. Admittedly sometimes I am a little vague in my noted description of the necessary activity; be warned — it is a novice trap encouraging your descent into a whirlpool of procrastination and incomplete endeavours.

As I proceed I cross out firmly that which has been achieved, relishing the warmth of endorphins parading through my veins from such an innocuous act. I am ashamed to admit on occasion I note down a completed pledge to savour the hit from immediately effacing it and observing a page full of scratched lines.

Am I slightly deranged. Possibly, but what I am not is flakey. Joining the ranks of list maker takes commitment and emotional resilience, coping with the ebbs and flow of successful strike offs and failure to complete. Given its emotional grip could I see myself abandoning the list maker path I have chosen. It is a forbidden fruit. A part of me marvels at the exhilaration; the freedom…to be spontaneous….and the other wonders of the chaos which would ensue. So no. I do this to ensure my little world is not consumed by the black hole of inertia followed by obscurity. It is the way.

Before you speculate, note there is logic to my madness. List making it has been suggested fits with how our brain organises and processes information with limited evidence it stymies creativity even though by its very nature it seems the opposite of inspirational. It has been found such undertakings can help you complete your chosen actions; to be disciplined. In the process encouraging reasoning out of other areas of your life because the act of noting a plan can be a relief to holding the idea in our heads as well as reducing anxiety we may feel about completing the task (Harvard Business Review). The positivity from finishing further influences our ability to make decisions. But it is true where we are unrealistic in our to do list making it can be discouraging and debilitating. And there is a part of me which acknowledges the upwardly mobile, ambitious facet of those who list make and dare I say it perhaps the inability to sit still to be happy with the present….

Lists abound when you consider carefully. To do lists, bucket lists, movie lists, guest lists, Christmas lists, new year resolutions, goals, shopping lists, brainstorming. How long humans have assembled lists — I don’t know, but it is a universal convention surpassing culture and differences. I have been perusing an endearing website ‘Found in a library book’ which gathers submissions left behind in library books. It is a curiosity — from photos to art to notes to — you guessed it, lists. A fascinating insight into the human psyche. Many of us like order, structure and in this world of information overload I am sure we at times enjoy simple approaches to cutting through the tumult diffused through our lives or simply being told what is best or worst.

I’ve never made a list of my likes and dislikes. But in February 1977, Susan Sontag the writer, produced hers with it seems no particular rhyme or reason. I found it quite soothing….but there again I am a evangelical slightly deranged master list maker….

‘Things I like: fires, Venice, tequila, sunsets, babies, silent films, heights, coarse salt, top hats, large long-haired dogs, ship models, cinnamon, goose down quilts, pocket watches, the smell of newly mown grass, linen, Bach, Louis XIII furniture, sushi, microscopes, large rooms, ups, boots, drinking water, maple sugar candy.

Things I dislike: sleeping in an apartment alone, cold weather, couples, football games, swimming, anchovies, mustaches, cats, umbrellas, being photographed, the taste of liquorice, washing my hair (or having it washed), wearing a wristwatch, giving a lecture, cigars, writing letters, taking showers, Robert Frost, German food.

Things I like: ivory, sweaters, architectural drawings, urinating, pizza (the Roman bread), staying in hotels, paper clips, the color blue, leather belts, making lists, Wagon-Lits, paying bills, caves, watching ice-skating, asking questions, taking taxis, Benin art, green apples, office furniture, Jews, eucalyptus trees, pen knives, aphorisms, hands.

Things I dislike: Television, baked beans, hirsute men, paperback books, standing, card games, dirty or disorderly apartments, flat pillows, being in the sun, Ezra Pound, freckles, violence in movies, having drops put in my eyes, meatloaf, painted nails, suicide, licking envelopes, ketchup, traversins [“bolsters”], nose drops, Coca-Cola, alcoholics, taking photographs.

Things I like: drums, carnations, socks, raw peas, chewing on sugar cane, bridges, Dürer, escalators, hot weather, sturgeon, tall people, deserts, white walls, horses, electric typewriters, cherries, wicker / rattan furniture, sitting cross-legged, stripes, large windows, fresh dill, reading aloud, going to bookstores, under-furnished rooms, dancing, Ariadne auf Naxos’.

Susan Sontag

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Curious Rascal

I'm keen to understand more of the world, people, history, science, making sense of the random because it helps me in life and improves my thinking.