List-making in the age of anxiety

I am a slave to lists. At least as of late I am. Any kind of list. On a notepad. On my phone calendar. In my head. List-making has all but consumed me, and it’s a horrible, horrible feeling. Life has become a mound of paper scraps and I’m wading through it hoping not to drown.

Fine, I’m being a little dramatic, I suppose. But the number of lists and the contents of those lists are piling up, and the result is an overwhelming sense of anxiety and dread. And so I’ll share some of my list-induced anxiety by offering you a laundry list of all the lists I’ve been making. Maybe sharing them will lighten the load, letting each item float away one by one. Thank you for inadvertently being part of the therapeutic process.

Okay. So, first off is Mishloach Manot. We are instructed to give two edible items with two different blessings to one person. A Fruit By the Foot wrapped around a pretzel log would do the trick. She’hakol. Mezonot. Easy peesy. Done.

But no, it can never be that simple. First, the lists of families to give to are so long you would think people were planning invites to the next family simcha. And of course there’s always the two or three who you spaced out on and did not put on the list. Word to the wise: keep some extra junk food-filled Amazing Savings bags by the door and in your car as you drive around making deliveries. You never know who might come by with a bag for you, and it would be inexcusable to return the favor empty handed.

Though, truth be told, this year’s mishloach manot anxiety had less to do with lists and more to do with worrying that I might catch the coronavirus during this neighborhood-wide exchange of germs and snacks and more germs. There’s no guarantee that every person doing the packing had just washed their hands with antibacterial soap and a rushed recitation of the ABCs.

Speaking of cleaning. List number two: Passover prep. The list of what needs to be cleaned and kashered is the tip of the iceberg. We have menus for every meal. Food items to purchase. Ingredients for each recipe. The recipe instructions. A list of new cooking utensils to replace last year’s Passover utensils that I made chameitz to use during the year since they were in better condition. And the list the night before Passover of where my child placed each of the 10 pieces of bread throughout the house.

Of course grocery shopping happens all year round, and that list is never ever ending. We’ll make that the third kind of list on my list of lists. Actually, this is the one I lose most frequently. I’m constantly losing my shopping list in the supermarket or when I get out of the car or, more likely, in the kitchen, where I left it in the most obvious spot on the counter. And so I have a trick to take a photo of the list on my phone, in case I end up misplacing it. Which I inevitably do. The fun thing about the grocery shopping list is that I know from the get-go that I’m not going to stick to it. And yet I fool myself every single time into thinking that I am only going to buy the exact items on the list.

Four: shopping for clothing. My kids have 101 hand-me-downs for every season, from adult down to size 4T, but everything gets stained, ripped, or lost. I am forever buying sparkly leggings in size 4T and bi-weekly pairs of black tights. So while those two items don’t even need to go on the list — I mean it’s practically muscle memory to beeline my way through the Target aisles to find them — everything else needs to go on the list, lest I get sidetracked and leave the store with one more pair of boots or sneakers that I bought just because.

The most chaotic of all my lists is the to-do list: call this person, answer that email, fill out some forms, clean the kitchen, clean the bathrooms, find a cleaning lady to clean instead, take out money to pay the cleaning lady. Put my to-do on my phone calendar, only to postpone each task reminder over and over again, like I’m pressing snooze on an alarm clock.

That’s the fifth list for you. The sixth and seventh lists are more individualized toward me in particular. List number six is comprised of the various tasks that must get done for the mental health and addiction symposium that Refa’enu and Communities Confronting Substance Abuse are co-hosting. (Save the date: May 10 at Ben Porat Yosef!) And number seven is the list of literary agents who I’m trying to persuade to publish my work before the death of the printed word.

Number eight is the bucket list. The first thing on my bucket list is to go to Italy, which I gather will not happen anytime soon. A friend said to forget the bucket list, anyway, because they only cause worry and regret when you haven’t yet achieved all your dreams. In a way, bucket lists are setting yourself up for failure. Or, at least for anxiety about failing.

The ninth kind of list on my list of lists is doing the actual laundry. Just when you think you’re done washing and drying and folding and putting away, you’ve got a whole new batch with which to start over the process. The laundry keeps piling up and never ends, which is probably why we use it to describe other lists. They never end, do they? They just never ever end!

And this is the point when I wonder whether I am making all these lists, or if the lists are making me. It’s hard to tell at times.

I recently downloaded the Google Keep app, which essentially functions as a single spot where you can keep all your lists. You can type notes, write notes using your finger, include photos (which comes in handy for my grocery shopping lists), and even keep recordings. And I’ve been thinking. The fact that such an app exists to keep track of all our lists brings me to believe that list-making is a widespread issue, and not one that pertains only to our overly busy, sometimes overachieving, oftentimes frazzled North Jersey suburban bubble.

And that reality strangely makes me feel less anxious about having so many lists myself. Another thing that eases all the list-making anxiety is the satisfaction of crossing items off the list.

Like writing this column.

About the Author
Dena Croog is a writer and editor in Teaneck, New Jersey, whose work has focused primarily on psychiatry, mental health, and the book publishing industry. She is the founder of Refa’enu, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mood disorder awareness and support. More information about the organization and its support groups can be found at You also can email with any questions or comments.
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