Why I’ll Never Give up on Paper Grocery Lists

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kristin Appenbrink)

It feels like I’ve tried a million to-do and list-making apps on my iPhone, from the built-in Reminders app to TeuxDeux to Todoist. I’ll stick with them for about a week each, making my to-do list and grocery lists, and jotting down anything else I need to remember. But in the end, I never actually stick with them.

I always seem to return to a pad of paper and a pen. (Yes, as the photo above shows, the notepad usually has my name on it. I’ve been given a lot of personalized stationery over the years.) So what is it that makes a paper list just work better for me?

  • Easier Input: I don’t know about you, but I hate typing lists on my phone. Adding new items to a list is inevitably a pain. And even when I could sync the phone app with a website or an app on my computer, it still took more time to type my list than to just write it down.
  • Faster at the Store: I understand the appeal of having a list on your smartphone, after all you likely always have it with you. I’ve definitely gotten to the store only to realize that I have my phone, but left my list on my kitchen table. That said, I find a paper list faster to use at the store. Instead of having to take my phone out of my pocket and unlock it each time I’m looking at what’s next on my list or crossing something off, I can just keep my list in my hand. Plus, I can see my entire list in one glance without having to scroll through to make sure I’ve picked up everything I need. It might only save a little bit of time, but it’s worth it for me.
  • Science Backs Me Up: There have been plenty of studies about why it’s better to write things down in your own handwriting. Generally, they apply to note-taking and journaling, but I’m going to extend those ideas to my grocery list. It’s been shown that when you take notes by hand, the act of writing out the letters helps you commit your ideas to memory better. This means that if I end up at the store without my paper list for some reason, I’m going to be more likely to remember what was on it than if I’d typed it out. It’s also been shown that writing down ideas and emotions by hand helps you “off-load” them. I’d rather write what I need on my grocery list, and then not have to worry about it bouncing around in my head.
  • It’s What I’ve Always Done: What can I say? Old habits die hard. I grew up with a paper grocery list always in progress on the side of our refrigerator, and while I don’t quite do that, I do generally keep a list for a couple of days before I go to the grocery store. And if I run out of a staple (flour, vanilla extract, garbage bags), I’ll start a list immediately so I’ll remember to pick it up next time I’m at the store.

Now tell me, are you a paper-list maker or do you use an app? If you use an app, I’d love to know which one and why you love it!