by Deborah Poh

Lists. We all make lists. Lists help us maintain some sense of order in our cluttered lives. And just like the people who create these lists, each list in itself is unique. Their uniqueness lies not in their mere outward appearances such as their shape, size, whether they’re electronic or physical paper lists, the materials used to write those lists etc. But also, in the thoughts, dreams, wishes, failures, and disappointments that they hold.

Assuming that we’re all very familiar with lists and their nature to take on some form despite whatever season of life we’re going through, we’ll delve a little deeper into only a selected few of these wonderful man-made keepers of order and watch them as they do their jobs.

First, let’s take a look at lists that are of the practical kind (something all orderly people revel in) as they hold thoughts related to everyday life and the execution of necessary tasks to keep the world running smoothly. Nonchalantly is often referred to as the mediocre daily “to-do” lists and grocery lists and yet these lists hold the record for the highest birth and death rates amongst their kind. Yet, they play such crucial roles in our structured lifestyles that you will never be able to completely erase their existence in your life.

Perhaps they might not be written specifically by you, but there’s no doubt that they influence your life in some way or another. Scribbled on bits of used envelopes, scrawled in messy handwriting across the pages of unwanted exercise books, or barely visible on whiteboards magnetized to household fridges —- these lists exist to maintain a general sense of order in a house.

The daily “to-do” lists, as its name suggests, lives for less than 24 hours. It ensures that you don’t forget to do “x number of pages for y number of subjects in z number of hours.” With unwavering consistency, the daily “to-do” list makes it of top priority to remind you of every single task that you need to complete in the 24 hours that we fondly call— “a day.” Used by and belonging to people of all ages and class, these lists aid everyone. From the forgetful child to the (equally) forgetful businessman, the young housewife just initiated into home duties to the seasoned mistress-of-all-trades grandmother…to name all the people whose lives are kept in order by the daily “to-do” lists would in itself require a list.

Grocery lists, with the lifespan of a grand total of 6 days more than the daily “to-do” lists, have a tendency to let slip a little about its author. For example, a grocery list with cute brand names like “Gerber” or “Peter Rabbit’s Organic Food” or “Happy Tot” hints of a young couple with a toddler or two a list full of “instant foods” ( not necessarily limited to only “instant noodles,” “instant cereal,” or “instant coffee” but full of surprises and several other entries of “instants” that would aid the incompetent, lazy, or time-pressed students in filling their stomachs) paints a bleak picture of a college dorm student practically inhaling his or her quick fix meals at the queerest of timings. Likewise, a family with teenagers would have a grocery list with entries such as “1 whole chicken,” “500g of beef,” “1 tray of eggs,” “3 packets of xxx vegetables” and everything else necessary to create a robust meal for growing humans. Occasionally, if this matronly grocery list falls prey to young blooded mischief, several highly detestable food items like “tomato sauce sardines” or “broccoli” would vanish off the list and in its place would be several unhealthy food item entries written in a handwriting oh-so-similar to the original author’s (much to the horror of some mothers).

Isn’t it so sad that these lists barely live past a day or week? I suppose so. Are there special cases of lengthened lifespans for these poor lists? Of course, there are exceptions! Occasionally, when you make a deal with procrastination, your daily “to-do” list gets to live for a couple more days, weeks, or maybe even months. Yet, dear reader, please don’t get fooled by the tantalizing promises of relief that procrastination offers. (even if it means that your list gets a slightly longer lifespan…it’s just not worth it)

Procrastination is a list lover’s biggest nemesis. Flirt with it and it will surely drag you into a strange Bermuda triangle of its own. Many people have mysteriously disappeared for various lengths of time into the mouth of that time-eating monster. Some are found again, many years later, as a sorry shadow of the strong person they once were; while others hold the status of “constantly missing in action” for the rest of their lives.

Now, one thing I’ve realized while battling with this merciless time consumer is that its favorite meals are lists with longer lifespans. Lists that fall into this category are precious as they are closely woven into a person’s dreams and wishes. Some of these lists can last an entire year, a few years, decades, or even for an entire lifetime!

And these lists are usually the lists that hold dreams and wishes.

There are many types of lists that fall into this category. Why? Because there is literally no limitation as to what can form a list. Everything and anything under the sun can be worthy of a spot in such a list. Here is an exhaustive list of things that you can make a list about:

  1. Food
  2. Delicious food
  3. Not-so delicious food
  4. Things you own
  5. Things you wish to own
  6. Things you don’t own
  7. Trends
  8. Statistics
  9. Medicine
  10. Places to visit (before you reach 50)
  11. Things to do
  12. Holiday plans
  13. Favorite artists
  14. Christmas
  15. Criteria for future partners
  16. Jobs
  17. Types of ______
  18. Cards to write
  19. Gifts to buy
  20. People to visit
  21. etc.

Well, as you can see there are numerous things that can form the core topic of a list. The similarities of these lists are the dreams and wishes that one can find embodied in the list entries— if one knows how to read between the lines.

A list about places someone wishes to visit before they reach the age of 50 may seem rather boring. But there is likely some story behind each one of the destinations written on that list. Perhaps on that list, we might find the names of countries—which all coincidently happen to have Disneyland theme parks in them… because for some reason or another, this person never let go of his or her childhood dream to visit every Disneyland theme park in existence. This same happy list might one day be found tucked away in a scrapbook of an old grandpa who managed to live out his dream which was made into a wish list with the help of his years of hard work and his children.

Christmas lists are another one of those lists that must branch out to many other lists. And each and every one of those lists has a purpose to it— and a part to play in some dream, wish, or memory. A Christmas party is the product of hours of hard work and planning, which of course, means that there are plenty of lists made (if one is organized enough to make them). There’s the guest list, the food list, decorations list, card list, gift list, etc.

Ooof, just hearing of the number of different lists needed is enough to give me a headache. Okay, but what if you don’t have a Christmas gathering/party then? Wouldn’t that make the list making a lot lesser? Well…I suppose so. But there’s this ONE particular list that I’ve never managed to escape from making (and trying to fulfill)— The Christmas Card List.

Yeah, that’s right. The Christmas Card List. It can’t be worse than “Santa’s Good and Naughty lists”…can it? Not much is known about Santa’s TWO lists…but one is enough for me – thank you very much. And may I ask, is it just me or does this list like to grow? I’m not just talking about its lifespan being very long. But just everything about it. It grows in length, up till the day it’s fulfilled. From the names of people, you’ve met in the last 24 hours to the people you haven’t talked to ever since last Christmas, the length of the list just grows continuously. As if growing in length isn’t enough of a scandal, it grows in width too! Writing down the name of the person isn’t enough because you suddenly realize that there are two or more people with the same name on your list and you need to differentiate between the two. If that wasn’t enough of trouble, you happen to have that FEW friends whose surname you still don’t know even though you’ve been friends for eons. So you end up writing details like “NAT: YEAR 2 VOLLEYBALL CAPTAIN THAT LIKES BINGSU” or “ JOSH: TWENTY-FOUR HOUR MACS STUDY PERSON” and eventually, you end up writing more and more details next to the name of the person that you wrote down at first.

I like the idea of giving old-fashioned Christmas cards to people. The main problem? I can’t ever seem to make enough. Let me tell you about my encounters with this queerest of lists. So, somewhere between the time that Halloween decorations start going up in malls and the time that Christmas decorations take over their place is the time I usually start writing my Christmas card list. At this point, it doesn’t sound too terrible, does it? All I’ve got to do is just write down the names of people I know to whom I want to wish “Merry Christmas”. But here’s the thing, a couple of things actually:

  1. I never manage to include EVERY SINGLE person I know
  2. Someone eventually gets left out (whether it’s someone’s sibling I happen to know or that quiet person in the group that I totally forgot about or that new friend I made last week) and then well, I end up unintentionally hurting the person.
  3. I never get to finish making cards for EVERYONE on that list by Christmas (maybe only the first 20 people on my list gets cards)
  4. Even if I manage to make 20 cards, the quality drops with each passing card. (it’s a struggle…)

So I figured, I needed to find a solution or quit writing cards for people.

As I’m rather reluctant to give up my dreaming aspirations to spread cheer through cards, I think I’d send e-Christmas cards this year. Yes, you didn’t read that last sentence wrong. I did write… “E-CHRISTMAS CARDS.” And to which, you — my dear reader, exclaim indignantly: “Does that mean you’re giving up on being sincere in your handmade cards? Doesn’t that mean that Laziness won? Oh, what betrayal! How dare you?” Well, if you’d allow me to share with you a different perspective…I’m just being eco-friendly by saving the trees. Although I would probably be bothering a couple million electrons, I would be saving time, resources, and energy by using e-cards!

Think about it. How many people actually keep the cards people give them? Oh, did you just raise your hand, dear reader? Oops, I’m so sorry then. But most people (including myself, though I do treasure them…I can’t really help it if they play hide-and-seek with me) can’t find the Christmas cards or birthday or congratulatory cards that they’ve been given in the past year. Isn’t it such a shame? All that hard work and precious material put into the card gone to waste!

E-cards are a lot more fun to “open” and “read.” Some of them require you to follow certain steps before you get to read the main message of the card, which makes the whole process more special. For example, click on the green light, then on the lamp, spot the passerby wearing a scarf, and click on the house to enter…”MERRY CHRISTMAS!” While other cards remain equally interesting by featuring funny videos or turkeys dancing to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” before displaying the final message from the sender to receiver. E-cards like these are a wonderful mix of personal heartfelt messages and fun while requiring minimal effort to create something of good standards.

www.americangreetings.com is a site that my English teacher used to send e-cards to my class. And we always enjoyed opening them to see what new, fascinating cards we’d get that year. https://www.bluemountain.com/ecards is another website I found while researching for this article. https://www.hallmarkecards.com/ seems like a decent website for this purpose, too! (note to reader: no, we’re not sponsored by any of these three websites. I just placed them here for your convenience if you ever decide to try them out.) All three sites require the user to make an account before using, and “american greetings” and “hallmark ecards” require you to pay a fee to use their services. (hallmarkecards have several non-premium cards that you can use for free.) Bluemountain e-cards are available for use without paying a fee, so if you are interested in trying this method of sending Christmas cards this year, you can try this free option first!

This year, instead of procrastinating and letting my Christmas card list remain unfulfilled,  I think I’ll try sending e-cards. After all, it’s the new trend to go paperless these days and save the trees! Whether you hand-write your cards this year or use e-cards, I wish you all the best and hope that your list doesn’t conquer you!

person writing Merry Christmas on paper in between Christmas decors

by Deborah Poh