The curious thing about bucket lists

The curious thing about bucket lists

Oddly enough, I started writing about bucket lists… and ended up exploring my thoughts on wills. So here we are. I suppose I felt I had to set bucket lists in the context of our wills, because I see both as a snapshot of our hopes and desires at a moment in time.

I’d like to see the world, we say, but also to give money to Jake and his donut shop. I want to make sure I have money in retirement, but I also want to go snorkeling in the Bahamas. Probably I’ll donate my house to the animal shelter, but what about petting a (very well-fed, very sleepy) crocodile in Africa first?

Dreams, by Rafael Olea on Flickr

A will may be a way of passing on what we love to those we love… but a bucket list is a way of getting all the I’d like to’s out on paper before that time comes.

My Dream List

I recently found a list of life goals I’d written in 2014, and it’s pretty fabulous:

  1.    Live in Germany and learn German.
  2.    Write and publish a children’s book as well as a grown-up book.
  3.    Get a few academic articles out.
  4.    Long Term Relationship.
  5.    Help to raise children, my own or others.
  6.    Find God? Or Jesus? or Raven goddess? something like that.
  7.    Learn 3-5 signature dishes, toasts, or drinks.
  8.    Learn to like movies just enough.
  9.    Make movies.
  10.    Speak Kazakh fluently and become World. Famous.
  11.    Remember my dreams.
  12.    Be a bestselling researcher/professor.
  13.    Be an elegant and charming lounge singer.
  14.    Have well-ordered thoughts.
  15.    Have confident but considerate manners.
  16.    Sense of fashion. Need one.
  17.    Also white teeth.
  18.    Care for the poor?
  19.    Be an auctioneer.
  20.    Mother? No, I’d rather be a grandmother.
  21.    Wife? Don’t particularly want to be wifey either…
  22.    Learn to become an accomplished swearer?
  23.    Travel the world with M–, T–, N–, A–, and friends.
  24.    Take amazing people without money to the places they want to go.
  25.    Have good reasons and meaning for life.
  26.    Hmm. will work on this later.

Hmm. So I’m still working on this. But it makes me smile–I love that becoming an accomplished swearer is on the list.

I also like seeing how I’ve changed. I did write articles and drafts of books. I took singing lessons, and traveled, and got married after all.

And I also now have perfectly well-ordered thoughts and confident but considerate manners. . . !


Reasons for Writing Dream Lists

Looking back at this list, I was thinking of how often Americans seems to talk about “dream lists” or “bucket lists” or “fifty before you’re fifty.”

Obviously there’s a cultural element here. Middle-class folks around the world have leisure time. We’re exposed to a lot of ideas through education. We’re encouraged to form dreams and accomplish them, to always be moving towards and living out a passion, as Ilana Gershon recently pointed out. We’re supposed to measure life by some combination of relationships, experiences, accomplishments, and ‘making a difference.’

But there are also motivations specific to a person, I suspect.

Some folks like dream lists because the process of dreaming is fun. You look things up, you feel high on ideas, you explore beautiful possible futures.

Others are indecisive, and so thinking about what success means and laying out all possible paths gives them something to pursue.

Folks like 2014-me are more goal driven, with my white teeth and five signature cocktails. (The downside is a tendency to tick things off a list, going, finally, I had a good time snorkeling and wrote a book! No need for that ever again.)

And others could use dream lists as a way to share their desires with friends or partners.

Amos’ Dream List

Last year, I asked Amos what his life dreams were, and he said:

  • Attend religious services from different faiths
  • Work abroad
  • Build a house
  • See Hamilton
  • Learn Hebrew and Greek
  • Get a tattoo
  • Make a set of armor
  • Tour Buddhist temples in Japan
  • Raise kids
  • Have good friends.

That’s an enviable life.

But whether it’s my world-famous Kazakh speaker desires or Amos’ tour of Buddhist temples, sometimes dreams like these can cost a lot of time or money.

Neighborhood Dream Lists

So a more practical idea, especially if you’re limited on time and money, is to write a list of things you could do in the next few months, or in the community around you. If you’re looking for ideas, the Achievable Bucket List is great, as well as things like 50 playful dates, 50 things before your next birthday, and a just because bucket list.

I’m working on my revised list—which currently has things like make an artist’s book, host a party, write down my elders’ stories, and visit Los Angeles, which is not so far from me.

If you’ve done a bucket list, I’d love to see it.

What’s on yours?


  1. Anna in Atlanta

    I definitely like idea of a lifetime goals list, but I hate the term “bucket list” (I know why it’s called that, iit just sounds stupid to me). I prefer to think of it as my “rocking chair” list — when I’m old and rocking in my chair on the front porch of the retirement home, what am I gonna kick myself for never having gotten around to doing. I guess it’s more of a prioritization thing. #1 on that list was raising children. The husband thing was looking way harder to accomplish, so I made an end run around that obstacle and adopted (from KZ, in fact). Best decision of my life. At this point, now that the munchkins are both in college, I’m adding things to the wanna do list, but if I kick the bucket tomorrow, I’ll be good (well, except for the undone taxes and the cluttered house . . .)

      1. Anna in Atlanta

        1) organize/minimize all the stuff I might leave behind / “Swedish Death Cleaning” (I’m not THAT old, but old enough to be thinking ahead, plus the stuff is also a bother right here and now)
        2) learn to surf
        3) move from the city back to my home town in Tennessee

      2. Cee

        Surfing! That sounds like a lot of fun. I’m hoping to go hiking more in the East Bay hills where I live; there’s really no excuse not to.

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