List-making OCD

“Folder, journal, book, phone, computer. Folder journal, book, phone, computer,” I say in my mind on repeat, listing the items I’m carrying upstairs.

Then I remember, “This is OCD. I shouldn’t be ritualizing.” So I stop, sit with the small spike in anxiety, and continue with my evening.

List-making OCD is a flavor of OCD I’ve had for years. The obsession is that I won’t remember “important” information and the compulsion urge is to list it repeatedly. Truthfully, the information is unimportant and often nonsensical.

Morgan's iphone 8.19.14 003.JPG
Just some of the lists I had made and saved…

Years ago, when I was still deep in the trenches of OCD, I would make physical lists on post-it notes or in my phone because listing it in my head wasn’t enough. I didn’t trust my memory. I call it “information hoarding.” In the DSM hoarding falls under the OCD umbrella, so it makes sense that there would be similarities. I would make these physical lists, and then I was unable to throw out the post-its or delete the digital notes, at least not without feeling a rush of anxiety.

So, that’s exactly what I did as part of exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) (with a therapist who specialized in OCD). It began with a dramatic act of literally setting all my saved post-it notes on fire. It was a fun way of showing OCD who was boss. Then, I got to work deleting some easier notes off my phone. I gradually increased the difficulty getting to information my OCD deemed “more important.”

Now if I’m being honest, there are still lists on my phone I could work on deleting. I’m in recovery from OCD, but that doesn’t mean I never do the occasional ritual (What Recovery from OCD Means to Me). The difference is I keep working on it, and the exposures cause me far less anxiety now.

And as a bonus, I intentionally messed up my list at the beginning of this post by omitting one item. I wasn’t going to let OCD ritualize that easily.


Morgan's iphone 8.19.14 009


  1. Wow, this is so relatable for me. I struggle daily. I have dozens of lists on paper and on my phone. Once I start in my head its hard to stop. Purchasing items or food is a trigger. I don’t want to forget them so I list them obsessively. I don’t know how to cope or talk to people about this. I don’t know how to go about therapy. I am angry at myself for struggling so much. Any advice would be appreciated

    Liked by 1 person

    • Are you in treatment with an OCD specialist? For me, it was helpful to gradually make less and less lists and gradually destroy exiting lists. I had to sit with the uncertainty that I might forget something.


  2. Thank you for this article, I’m currently going to a therapist and working on my OCD tendencies. I have a similar compulsion of list making ever since I was younger. It used to be on sheets of paper and now has changed over to my notes on my phone being filled with pointless lists and words. I am glad to hear that we aren’t the only people who suffer with this.

    Liked by 1 person

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