Joe ‘Posset’ Murray did it first. He used to post his shopping list finds on Twitter, way before I started. I used to admire them, signifiers of shoppers in a different town or city.
I believe my first post, on Facebook, was an odd one as it had ‘mouldy ham’ written down, discarded in a park while I was on the way to the JobCentre one morning. I didn’t pick it up but took a photo to post once I got back home. After that I kept seeing discarded grocery lists all the time, in trolleys or baskets, at the end of the tills or on the floor.
After picking up a few I noticed that some were indecipherable, others just fragments. This led me to cary on as if I’d discovered some hitherto unknown source of found poetry, scores for readings that had yet to be heard. Handwriting and spelling leant what would be a shopping list in any other hands an air of mystery, especially once I got our eldest child to read out a few.
Still the collection grew bigger and I would get moaned at by the wife for picking up ‘other people’s rubbish’ even though I’d explained my reasons.
I had a vague idea for a ‘zine’ but photos and scans of lists didn’t appeal. Then Covid 19 hit. Long queues at supermarkets with paranoid shoppers (myself included) meant I was only photographing shopping lists in situ as they lay discarded on the floor, instead of picking them up as usual. I was left without a resource.
I was given the chance to perform a gig which gave me and the eldest a chance to read some of the shopping lists in public, plus a couple of found care notes, over some no-input mixer, a kind of low budget power electronics to our peers. We enjoyed it and the idea stuck. I was guided towards older sound poetry by Joe who had written a piece for the TQ zine and this set me on the path to concrete poetry. I downloaded pdfs. I bought a book. I devoured the images and descriptions. A quiet spell at work set my mind towards creating a form of found concrete poetry.
I’m still working on it and developing a CD (or tape) to go with it in zine form. I’m also back to picking up random pieces, making sure I wash my hands thoroughly after photoing and handling them. Daft, I know. I think there’ll be some form of recorded output with our daughter again using some lists, but that’s a separate project now, it’s taken on it’s own identity.
But it’s all Joe’s fault. Thanks Joe.
About the author
Jonathan Lee lives in Darlington, England with his wife, 3 children and an overly needy cat. Aside from collecting discarded shopping lists, Jonathan makes music under the alias Stapperton, collage under the alias insolent.collage and works in a post office. You can find him on social media here (https://instagram.com/insolent.collage) and admire some of his musical output here (https://lurkerbias.bandcamp.com/album/lb-071)
Shopping List Contributions
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This shopping list has kindly be donated from contributor in Livingston, Scotland.
She says she found it whilst walking her dog – nowhere near a shop. The list has normal items with a good amount of fruit and veg. Burgers and rolls, lettuce, tinned tomatoes, yoghurt…
On the rear of the shopping lists is a meal planner for 5 days. Sure enough, there are the burgers again. The kidney beans mentioned on the front side no doubt find a home with the chilli and rice. I can’t read the 2nd or 3rd item.
Wagamama’s could be a night out or could be a branded item from the supermarket. For example Morrisons sell Wagamama’s meal kits and ingredients like this.
Maybe the contributor could help decipher items 2 and 3 above???
Nowhere near a supermarket, Livingston, Scotland. November 2022
If you need some Isopropanol (iso) alcohol, you can buy it over the counter in the UK, even from Amazon https://amzn.to/3IMydAe
There is a lot to look at on this tiny shopping list. Small writing in 3 colours shows this person had a busy day. They went to the bank to pay some bills, they then went to Target for some iso-alcohol… before going to Walmart where they picked up their groceries.
After they finished with the Iso Alcohol for their cleaning, they could start on the drinking with their Jim Beam.
Wednesday 27th April 2022
Walmart Neighborhood Market, La Mesa, California, USA
Eggs and bacon for breakfast with specified types, Eggland’s eggs and Canadian Bacon. A full letter sized yellow lined shopping list.
An experienced shopping list maker here with crossing off, dividing lines and item quantities. Brands and types of groceries are closely specified, e.g. sugar free jello. This person is looking after their health, lots of low sodium, low fat, low sugar purchases.
Walmart Neighborhood Market, La Mesa, California, USA
I am very pleased to say that TheShoppingLists.com has received its largest ever donation of found shopping lists. What is more, this is an award winning collection.
The lists have come from La Mesa in California and have been kindly donated by Loraine who got in touch via email.
This grocery list collection was entered in to the collections exhibit at The San Diego County Fair and won first prize in the new collections category. In her own words, Loraine says:
These shopping lists were collected from July 2019 until the Summer of 2020. It started when I kept finding discarded grocery store shopping lists at my local Walmart Neighborhood in La Mesa. I enjoyed seeing bits of people’s personalities and figured I better start saving them to make a collection for the San Diego County Fair.
Whenever I would go to that store I would look around the parking lot, often finding one or two lists either on the ground or left in a shopping cart.
After the pandemic started, I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep picking them up, but I didn’t have to worry much because I soon stopped finding them. I’m curious as to why that was. I have held on to these lists for these past two years, until now.
In total there are 72 lists, all from Walmart Neighborhood in La Mesa.
These very special shopping lists will be posted here over the coming months. There are some gems to look forward to.