what truths does a shopping list hold?
Have you ever been walking around and seen a shopping list on the ground and stopped in your tracks to peer down at it and possibly even pick it up? Have you looked at someone else’s handwriting, someone else’s paper, someone else’s list of stuff to buy and wondered “who the heck are they? why do they need bird seed and vodka? what’s up with the poor spelling?” If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you will enjoy grocerylists.org, a site collecting found grocery lists.
A grocery list can reveal a lot about a person. With a candidness few people can muster these days, a grocery list is pure stream-of-consciousness, the most private writings many have. With no time to keep a journal, and the mere exercise of hand writing going the way of the dinosaur, the grocery list is one of the last places Americans put pen to paper to pour out their thoughts.
Everything from choice of paper to stains can reveal. Coffee stains, blotted lipstick, oil, grease. Does the list-maker cross out items, have a hybrid method, attempt some architecture of categorization, or use a pre-made list? Lists made on notepaper advertising prescription drugs gives a hint as to what sort of maladies the individual may suffer. Likewise, the choice of design on notepaper can give a clue (cats, watermelon) as can the lack of design (Post-It Notes, legal pad), or if the list is made on something else entirely (diner check, envelope).
It’s plain to see who’s eating healthy, who’s not, who’s having a cookout, who’s a little sexy, who’s got more on their mind than just groceries, who’s watching what on TV, who’s a bit goth, and who we’re a bit scared to ask. Some people leave cryptic doodles on their lists, while others look like they’ve been playing with fire. Some lists contain information that causes the mind to reel: a nightclub address shares space with an immense list of items written in tiny scrips with hardly any order; other lists are too short to be random (but by no means less bizarre). On the other hand, some lists have laser focus.
Some lists point to a rather sophisticated creator, a do-gooder, an insomniac, or someone who eats TV dinners. In short, browsing the site is a bit like peering into a notebook or purse, a place of details both banal and intimate.