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To start 2022 off right, chuck the bucket list

Instead, make a "chuck-it list" and feel the accomplishment of checking off box after box of things you never wanted to do — and successfully haven't.
Animated illustration of a bored looking skydiver.
It’s satisfying. A list of hobbies that don’t interest you that you didn’t pursue. Travels that didn’t appeal upon which you never embarked. Goals you never set and also never met. Check, check, check. Hunter French for NBC News

I never wanted to gamble in Las Vegas. Check.

I never wanted to be an intrepid reporter in a war-torn country. Check.

I never wanted to make a bucket list, and I have successfully not made one.

I never wanted to climb Mount Everest. I’ve read harrowing tales of others who’ve done it. I get it — Everest is tall. But Colorado’s mountains are tall enough for me. The Catskills are tall enough for me. Check.

As the new year dawns, we often take stock of the past 12 months, and sometimes the entirety of our lives. This impulse has been even more pronounced during the pandemic. We often ask ourselves what we’ve accomplished and what remains to be done.

It’s been a tough couple of years. While some overachievers have managed to write the book or run the marathon or bake with fondant or learn to play the tuba, many of us have only managed to stay standing. That alone is no small task in light of what we’ve been through. But who wants to feel like they’re just treading water? So I came up with a way to feel the happy sense of accomplishment that comes with checking box after box upon reaching milestones.

My life hack? A chuck-it list: All the things I never wanted to do — and that in my life so far I have successfully refrained from doing!

It’s satisfying. A list of hobbies that don’t interest you that you didn’t pursue. Travels that didn’t appeal upon which you never embarked. Goals you never set and also never met. Check, check, check. Didn’t want to, didn’t do it.

It’s hard to know where to start with my many feats.

I never wanted to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show. It seems like a lot of pressure, even before you belt out a tune. Who knows what the event planners might have in mind: Would you be shot into the stadium by a cannon, or enter atop an elephant, or emerge unexpectedly from the jaws of an enormous boa constrictor? Just give me chips and salsa that Sunday and I’m good.

I never wanted to live in a mansion so big you could get lost in it. I live in a New York City apartment built in the 1890s. Realtors would describe it as “cozy.” It has no soundproofing, so if I quietly sigh at one end of the apartment, thinking of a poignant moment from days gone by, someone at the other end calls out to ask what’s wrong. I wouldn’t mind an extra closet, to be honest, but it’s a small sacrifice: I’ll take the city’s dynamism and unbridled human energy over a lush, yet hushed, chateau any day.

I never wanted to swim with the dolphins, pet a tiger or ride through a field of lilies on a galloping horse. We recently adopted a 10-pound middle-aged Shih Tzu rescue dog named Carson. Occasionally he thinks he’s a wolf. That’s enough wildlife for me.

I never wanted to be a titan of Wall Street. I never wanted to walk importantly down a hall barking orders while an underling scrambled behind me, frantically jotting down my wisdom or satisfying my whim. I never wanted to be a titan of anything, frankly. I’m not even the titan of my own cozy apartment. (That would be Carson, the middle-aged Shih Tzu).

I never wanted to fall in love at the top of the Empire State Building. When I visited the observation deck as a kid, a fellow tourist said that if you dropped a penny, it could kill an unsuspecting pedestrian below: Gravity would make the penny fall so fast it would get embedded in the person’s brain. A lot of responsibility there, and peril, too. Not a place to lock eyes and swoon. Years later, a professor proved this wasn’t actually true, but by that time I’d successfully managed to not fall in love atop that or any other skyscraper. My husband and I initially met at work, but we ultimately locked eyes at an Al Gore fundraiser. Now, that’s romantic.

I never wanted to visit all seven continents. I’ve traveled plenty, and when I was younger, I lived in other countries. Like many, I’ve been utterly transformed by immersion in different cultures and exposure to new world views. But let’s face it, Antarctica’s too cold. And Australia? If I’m going to spend 24 hours in a stuffy airplane cabin hurtling to the other side of the planet, it should be more disorienting when I emerge. It should feel like the bar scene in Star Wars. Vegemite and koalas seem far too modest a reward for such a long trip.

Finally, I never wanted to make a list of things to do before I die. It always seemed like a morbid endeavor. I’m well aware of how finite life is, as increasingly we all are (or should be) after the past two years. But the most important things in life — family, meaningful work, friends, community — don’t lend themselves to a checklist. When would you check off “family” or “friends”? When could you proudly say “done” with either of those and move on to the next item?

Even taking a narrow interpretation of a bucket list, focused only on something as specific as places to visit, seems foolhardy right now; it’s not a moment for round-the-world journeys. But it’s also potentially limiting, because it can prevent us from appreciating what’s already at our feet. These past two years have shown that there’s more beauty to absorb close to home than many of us had ever realized. Have you heard of Vroman’s nose in the Catskills? I hadn’t until this summer. It’s not Machu Picchu, but it’s breathtaking, nonetheless.

I never wanted to make a bucket list, and I have successfully not made one.

Check.