A list of things I wanted to include in a blog post about lists

My application for British Citizenship paperwork has been collecting in piles on my kitchen table since Brexit was little more than a glint in a politician’s eye. It requires me to be an excellent archivist of self. It includes sections for listing the last five years of trips into and out of the UK; family history; the last ten years of employment history et al. I’m not an excellent archivist. I’m forever almost completing the form. The Home Office seems to issue a new and improved version of the form each time I come close and I have to begin the listing process all over again.

The presence of so many lists, unbound and semi-finished, written and re-written, makes me strongly aware of all the lists in my life. They call to each other, replicating, and turning my kitchen into their ideal habitat by force of numbers. They flutter on post-its, the backs of scrap paper and old envelopes, bits of cardboard. Lists of characters and their motivation for my fiction writing; lists of books to read; to-do lists; shopping lists.

I’ve become obsessed with lists. I bought a book by Umberto Eco all about lists in art and literature. Followed by a book about lost and found shopping lists. I’ve been collecting articles about historical lists and I even started listing all the things I found while trawling the internet in our Ephemera Online section.

The truth is I’ve also been meaning to write a piece of sustained prose about lists for some time now, but all I’ve managed to generate are further lists. So I’ve decided to let form be informed by content. Here’s a list of all the things I wanted to include in my piece about lists, which, a bit like my application for citizenship, I can never quite seem to complete:

  • Kinds of lists I want to write about: shopping lists. Other types of list. Are all lists shopping lists?
  • The aesthetics of the shopping list – visual culture and lists. Visual lists. Eco. Ciphers. Symbols. Barthes.
  • Lists in the movies; lists as plot device. Who writes the lists? Why?
  • Shopping lists as writing:
    • Shopping lists as journals – private writing. Private lists in public places – the mall/market
    • Everyday writing – ephemeral and domestic. The everyday.
    • Gendered writing: Over 70% of female shoppers are likely to carry lists. Only 59% of male shoppers do – find where you found this statistic! UK? US? Is this the same everywhere?
    • Cultures of lists. Consumerism and archives. Is a receipt a list? ‘Retain for your records’. Self as curator and archivist. Shopping as writing or defining. Foucault??
  • Shopping lists as ephemeral history:
    • The shopping list they found under the floorboards in an old stately home (find that article…)
    • Cities as lists. Bureaucracies. The postal service. Codes and coding.
  • Lost and found shopping lists
  • The meaning of the space between the list items. Shorthand. Handwriting. Back to the private/public thing
  • Scrap all of the above and simply do a detailed textual and visual analysis of the shopping list below (found stuck to a tub of humous in a shop in Bloomsbury):




Maybe this list will one day become a fully-fledged blog post. Or maybe I can no longer think in prose, only list form, which is a kind of banal poetry. Until then, I hope the intellectual shopping list above — with its ideas half-way formed, not quite yet purchased — gives anyone who has ever thought deeply about lists (shopping or otherwise) some food for thought.

NOTE: If the list pictured above belongs to you, tweet us and we’ll credit you!