Going Paperless: Creating Interactive Holiday Wish Lists in Evernote

My 3-year-old has become a list-maker. Ever since last Christmas, when he started to get the concept of Santa Claus, he has been busy compiling lists of things that he wants Santa to bring him this holiday season. He doesn’t write these lists down of course. He points them out and depends on his parents to keep the list for him. And since I do my best to avoid paper, I have been using Evernote to maintain his holiday wish list. And it allows me to do some pretty cool stuff. We are still a few months away from the holiday season, but the list is a year-round thing. The following tips describe how I use Evernote (with some help from Skitch) to maintain these lists.

1. Create a Wish List Notebook in Evernote

To keep things simple, I created a Wish List notebook in Evernote. Every possible holiday gift idea goes into this notebook as a note. I’ll tag each note with the name of the person the gift is targeted for. If it is not clear from the note itself, I’ll add some details about where the item can be found.

2. Snap Photos of Things When Walking Through the Store

We live within a short walk of a big Target store and we walk there frequently. Sometimes, when I take my little boy there, he’ll ask to see the toy section. We’ll walk through and he’ll point out the things he like. “Daddy, I want to put this on my list,” he’ll say. So I’ll break out my iPhone, open Evernote and create a photo note of the item he’s indicated. I’ll try to indicate the price in the note, if it isn’t captured in the picture. Then I’ll tag the note with my little boy’s name and add it to the Wish List notebook.

Of course, I can snap pictures anywhere. Sometimes we’ll be at a friend’s house and my little boy will see something he likes there, so I’ll snap a picture and add it to his list.

3. Scan and Markup Circulars

Occasionally a circular from Toys R Us or some other place will show up in the mail. My little boy likes getting mail so I’ll give these circulars to him and he will pour through them until they are so used up, all that’s left are tatters. Before handing them over, however, I’ll scan them into Evernote as image files instead of PDFs. The reason I scan them as images is because they are easier to mark up using Skitch.

After my little boy has had a chance to skim through the circular once or twice, he’ll usually come by and say, “Daddy, I want this one and this one and this one on my list.” I’ll pull open the note, find the page he’s indicated, and open the image in Skitch so that we can circle or markup those items that he’s interested in. It might look something like this:

Wish Lists.PNG

4. Clip Items from the Web

If we are watching TV and something is advertised that piques my boy’s curiosity, I’ll do a quick web search for the item and then clip the page to Evernote, adding it to the Wish List notebook and tagging it with his name.

5. Create Saved Searches For Each Person

I’ll typically create a saved search for my little boy and my little girl (who is not yet old enough to get the concept) so that when we review the list, he sees only those things that are on his list.

6. Reviewing the List

Having the list in Evernote is great because it makes it a much more interactive experience. It comes in particularly handy when my little boy is grouchy or bored. I’ll say, “How about we review your list for Santa Claus?” He lights up! I’ll grab my iPad and we’ll sit down together. I’ll pull up the saved search with his items and I’ll hand him my iPad so that he can scroll through the list and drool over all of the things he’s added to it. I think he likes being able to see the result: that his list has been captured, not just as a written list that he can’t really understand yet, but with pictures of the things he’s added.

He knows that Santa won’t bring him everything on the list so we occasionally talk about the stuff that he really wants. This is where managing the list comes in handy.

7. Managing the List

Anyone who has little kids knows that they are constantly changing their minds. Something that seems interesting one moment may be completely forgotten the next. Having the list in Evernote becomes useful because I can start to mark up those items that are more interesting or less interesting and I watch that interest wax and wane over time. Typically, I’ll do this by tagging items: 1 – Must Have, 2 – Still Interested, or 3 – Not Interested. As we review the list together, or as I hear his interest change over time, I’ll revise these tags. When it comes time to do the shopping, the #1 and #2 items on the list should be the things that are at the top of his list.

8. Shopping

Of course, shopping becomes much easier. We have a list. We have information about where to obtain the items. We have information about cost and we know how much we’ve budgeted to spend. More often than not, we can do most of the shopping online. But even if we go into a store, the list is right there on the iPhone

Once we buy something, I’ll tag it as purchased, but I won’t remove it from the list because my little boy still likes to look at the list. And over the years, I imagine that the wish list will be an interesting to look back on.

9. Provide Gift Ideas

The list is also convenient as a way to provide gift ideas to family and friends. When the grandparents call and ask what the kids want for Christmas, we can send them a list of the top things on the list that we haven’t yet purchased. And instead of having to go through the effort of trying to explain what the item is, the note usually contains a picture, where to find it, the estimated price, and specific model number so it’s hard to pick up the wrong thing by accident.

I’ve found that having these wish lists in Evernote provide a tangible way for us to assure our little boy that we are capturing what he puts on his list. The list is more than just an abstraction: it is something he can see, play around with, and understand. And it is fun, too!

(As always, this post, and all of my Going Paperless posts are also available on Pinterest.)


  1. Thanks for another great idea. This blog has been the reason I switched to Evernote as my main note taking app. (Thanks for that too, btw). I still use OneNote for a few things though. Such as taking notes in class: I find it invaluable to be able to take notes right next to the pre-published presentations most profs use here.
    Another feature I’m currently missing in EV, applies to this article and is the option to put a password on a Notebook or note. Is the option there and am I just missing it? (I am using the paid subscription). I think it would be a good idea to block my girlfriend acces to her whishlist, even more so if I going to tag items as purchased 🙂

  2. This is great stuff! I’m diving into Evernote heavily this week to find interesting uses for my business (and personal) life and will definitely start using this idea.

  3. I’d been doing very similar thing with Evernote. My wife thinks she has a good memory, but when I showed her some of the notes, she realized he did not remember a lot of the items that my son indicated he would like. I do this for both Christmas and for birthdays. While traveling on vacations, I will see unique and interesting items but don’t want to stuff our baggage for the return trip, so I will take a snapshot of the item and a business card, which typically has a website on it. Then I’ll order it later over the internet or phone and have it shipped. You provided more good ideas on tagging and information to capture. Thanks.


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