Keeping Track

I come from people who keep track of everything: groceries to get, bills to pay, upcoming events, the day’s experiences, and past events.

As a young woman, my mom kept a diary that noted what mattered in her days: starting a novena and that a guy she was dating was kind of full of himself (they were happily married for 67 years anyhow). WE’RE AT WAR! she wrote in December 1941. Later in life, she recorded the weather daily on small pads of paper she kept next to the sofa. At her funeral, my cousins told me my uncle (her brother) had also kept meticulous notes—some about his garden, others about the weather. We marveled at the shared habit.

When my mother-in-law recently moved, at least 20 years’ worth of journals turned up. I was aware of her habit because she often asked how to spell something we’d served for dinner. Cioppino or ratatouille. She enjoyed keeping notes about what we ate and did during visits.

I’ve gotten an extra measure of documenting genes. Off and on since high school, I’ve kept personal journals in which I work out confusing feelings. I also make entries in a gratitude journal to remind myself of what’s good and right in my world despite the pandemic and trying political times. I document garden plans—what’s planted where and ideas for next year’s garden. I have lists of books I want to read along with books I’ve already read and what I thought of them. When dieting, I keep track of my exercise and meals.

I’m not alone in those habits, but for me, it doesn’t stop there. I have a ridiculous number of notes in my phone app. Supposedly 194 of them, but that can’t be right! Poems I like, blog ideas, writing tips, ideas for pottery projects, a list of lawn chemicals that won’t harm birds and pollinators, the steps for starting the snow blower. The notes go on and on!

My reasons can be practical. I want to remember something or find it quickly, and my phone is always with me. I tell myself I’m being efficient and orderly . . . but maybe ‘obsessive’ would be more accurate! Other times, keeping track is an emotional impulse. My personal and gratitude journals help me maintain equilibrium.

The habit of keeping track intrigues me. I think there’s something universal, something beyond the practicality of grocery lists, receipts, and calendars. The same impulse that leads people to document their lives on Instagram or Facebook, keeps me writing extensive notes and ongoing journals. It’s what caused my relatives to make daily diary entries.

As far as I know, my mom didn’t consult her weather notes after the fact. My uncle might have looked up which kind of tomatoes did well. I don’t know if my mother-in-law refers to her notes to remind herself of a previous year’s Christmas dinner. I suspect she doesn’t.

I believe the impulse to keep track is a way of saying, “I was here. My life matters. To me.”

What do you keep track of?

15 thoughts on “Keeping Track

  1. My family thinks it’s silly for me to keep track of stuff. They in the mindset of … if you cant remember it and blah, blah, blah. At 65 year’s, the mind aint what it used to be neither!

  2. Ellen, You keep such good track of your Notes on your your phone! I’m impressed. Mine are a mess. Do you go back and read your youthful journals? I need to find mine. (They must be some place.)


    Sent from my iPad


  3. I think part of my obsession with photographs is that they are a way for me to keep track of what has happened in my life. I rarely journal (the bare minimum), but I do take a lot of photos, print them, and put them in albums labeled with both the date and the place. When I look through old albums, it’s a trip down memory lane! So I completely understand why you keep track of things…

  4. Keeping track, logging into a journal, a calendar, or what I use, Field Notes feels like a personal almanac. It’s a devotion of being aware and to the art of observation, particularly when it comes to nature, the weather, how the garden grows, or how many tomatoes were used to make ratatouille.

  5. Love the thought of you coming from people who keep track. I’m a tracker, too…though no longer track nearly as much as I once did. And I’ve tossed all my journals so no longer even have access to what I once tracked.

    • Not sure what I’ll do with my old journals . . . often they are records of something troubling me. By themselves, they create an inaccurate picture. Good times don’t need as much explanation!

  6. Early on, I kept garden journals, but I soon realized that with things always changing, dying or being moved, the orignal plan morphed quickly. If I make notes, I seldom check them anyway!
    I have kept personal journals all my adult life. I turn to them mostly when I’m troubled and need to ‘think’ things out on paper. It usually helps… funny thing is, the same problems seem to crop up over and over, ha! I’ve told my kids if they ever read them after I’m gone, not to think I was a troubled person, but to see by the entry dates how seldom I was troubled. 😉

    • My garden journals are mostly maps of what perennials I planted and I’ only update them about once a year! I use my personal journal the same way you do –to work out something that’s bothering me. I’ve had the same worry about someone reading them after I’m gone. Leave orders to burn them?!?

      • I need to print out a warning to paste into the covers of each and every one, ha! My sister-in-law burned all hers because she didn’t want her daughter to read them. Made me wonder what she wrote!

  7. I like the way you ended this post, Ellen, emphasizing that you keep track because it matters to you. I too keep track but not nearly as diligently as you. I keep note in a paper calendar diary of books read, bike rides taken, exercise, various appointments. Its fun to look back on Dec. 31st and remember all that happened. But the best way I keep track is on my blog where I write a miscellany of stuff that happens in my life. Like you, I feel this is a record of me, proof that I exist and that I matter.

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