Pruning The Bucket List

We all have one, and ever since the movie with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, it has a name: the bucket list. Which is a clever name for things we want to do in our lives before we kick the bucket. As in die.

When we are young our bucket lists are quite long. There is a lifetime of things to do, to accomplish, to accumulate. Some of them we get to check off and others we do not. But here is one thing I have noticed as I have gotten older – things that were once on my bucket list aren’t there anymore.

When I was young, my mother’s Aunt Alma lived in an elegant home built in the 1930s. This home was no mansion, but it was an expensive house in its day, built by a successful doctor and his wife, and included such luxuries as pushbutton radio tuners behind small, polished wooden doors in several of its rooms. I always imagined that someday I would live in a house like that.

This is an item that is no longer on my bucket list. In my city there are many such houses in many such neighborhoods, but the problem is that they were either financially out of reach thirty years ago (a situation that has only gotten worse with time) or they are in iffy neighborhoods or in need of major rehab. I have reached the point in my life where I am not willing to risk being a pioneer in turning a neighborhood around after a descent into a crime haven and have also lost the appetite for investing the kind of sweat equity necessary to turn a house-sized sow’s ear into a silk purse. So scratch one item.

Another item is a grand old wooden speedboat. When I was a kid my family lived in a part of northeastern Indiana that is near quite a few lakes. In my youth almost everyone I knew either had someone in the family who owned a lake cottage or was on good terms with one of those people so as to be invited there periodically. “Going to the lake” was a common answer to “What are you doing this weekend?” It didn’t matter which lake, as the selection was large. And many of those lakes were inhabited in the summers by folks with beautiful antique wooden boats.

These were the classic boats seen in old movies, with inboard motors that were often inline six or eight cylinder marine engines that sounded lovely as they burbled at idle or even lovelier as they skimmed across the water’s surface with someone on water skis following behind. “That” I said to myself “is going to be me someday.”

I was tantalized by a couple of them early in my life, one that had been pulled out of a garage after who knows how many decades and needed someone with far more woodworking skills than I had (then or now). Another was on a trailer at a marina near a lake cottage my father owned. I still remember it, a 1951 Century with a Chrysler six cylinder marine engine – it was one of the later ones, but still had the classic look that would soon give way to the more familar shapes of the fiberglass boats that followed. It cost, coincidentally, almost exactly what I had just paid for an engagement ring for Marianne. I jokingly suggested that we could take the ring back and own a classic boat. She not so jokingly suggested that I would be enjoying said classic boat without her.

As you have guessed, I never got my boat. But I can pretty well guarantee I would never have kept the boat but I still have classic Marianne. And I am fine with that. I do not own a place at a lake and I know that wooden boats hate cycles of going into and out of the water, with multiple wet-dry-wet-dry cycles not being tolerated well by the wood. I do not wish to spend the time required to maintain such a beast and realize that enjoy vs. maintain would be an unfavorable ratio. I see such a boat now and smile a little wistfully, but the urge to go out and find one for myself is not there at all.

Not all of my bucket list items were grand things. Another was a basement rec room with a pool table. My mind always conjured pictures of entertaining family and friends in such a game room as we sip on cold beers and laugh at each others’ stories and sink billiard balls by impressive displays of applied geometry. But I have gotten old enough to know that we are long past the age where that sort of thing would see regular use. And if my experience at others’ homes is any indication, that pool table would sit alone and unused in a dark room 99% of the time now.

Yes, I am maybe a little wistful about letting go of some off these old visions about what my life would be like “someday”. But I am also largely content with things as they are and do not need more toys or an extravagant money pit of a house (or one that is a bigger money pit than the sixty year old residence I currently call home) to be happy. In fact, I think what would really make me happy is a big truck to back up to the garage for filling with all the stuff we have but no longer use.

For every thing there is a season, observed the author of Ecclesiastes (and later the Byrds) and I am happy to reach the season where less is more.

20 thoughts on “Pruning The Bucket List

  1. Perhaps the best way for one’s bucket list to evolve is the elimination of material items (such as you have noted) and adding more experiences. My bucket list, while not well defined, seems to have more of the latter. A definite plus is experiences don’t take up much room in the house.

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    • I remember a time when I preferred things to experiences because the things were still there a month later. I have come around to your way of thinking as time has passed.

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  2. I wanted to do a solo skydive for a long time, but now if it never happens, whatever. I, too, wanted to own the lovely old house, but like you I no longer want to do the work associated with that.

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    • Skydiving was one thing that never made my list. I did get a pilot’s license, which was a big item I got to check off. I absorbed the pilot’s view of skydiving, which is that there is no sense jumping out of a functioning airplane.

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  3. We bought a pool table for my youngest son, and assembled it in the basement. It came from Sears, and is a good table. However he moved out many years ago, and the pool table sits unused 99% of the time, in a dark room. Um, yeah. A cue has not touched his hands in some years now. I’ll knock some balls around on it now and then, but with diminshed skill.

    No boat for me, but I’d like to try my hand riding a Jet ski. Just to rent one, not own. Same with a snowmobile. Just once would probably do it for me.

    Should ever a major lottery win ever come my way (unlikely since I never buy a ticket), a classic Mopar would find its way to my garage. Or some storage location.

    Until any of these, or none, transpire, I am quite happy in the place in life in which I find myself.

    Thought provoking as awlays JP.

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  4. ๐Ÿ™‚ A nice piece about how our bucket lists always need some editing as we move through life ๐Ÿ™‚ Some on mine I have hit, others I’m still reaching for, and some, like you, I no longer find necessary ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. I think itโ€™s a sign of good health to be free of items on oneโ€™s bucket listโ€”or not to have such a list at all.

    Or maybe itโ€™s legitimate concern about saddling the kids with the responsibility of emptying the contents of that overflowing bucket.

    I like the truck arriving at the house. Now if I could just find someone to fill it and drive it away…

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  6. I like the truck idea too…..I’m finding less is freeing in terms of maintenance…even when it comes to gardening. I still would like to own a beach cottage however, but that is way out of reach now as prices have skyrocketed with no other travel allowed. The Lottomax is 70 million (high for us) again this week…

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  7. Less is more – amen to that, J.P. My bucket list will always include a chance to view the Masters golf tournament from the gallery (and therefore walk the course) but there’s no way I’m paying the ridiculous price for that privilege. Like other items on my list, seeing the Masters probably won’t happen and I’m okay with that. Perhaps a life well-lived isn’t contingent on the number of items checked off the bucket list.

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  8. Alas, I’m running out of time and money to execute any more bucket list items for the near future! Exigent circumstances put an end to my ‘measured’ roll into retirement. Family needs with aging parents led to moving back to help them, and moving into areas of the country with little employment for me. After they passed, the ability to find long term employment at my age, has been the major disruptive force in my life! Taking a job on a professional level apropos to my skills, and then getting let go shortly after with a corporate blood-letting that took out half the company, hastened my “retirement”. I planned to spend the last three or four years of the time I wanted to work, divesting myself of accumulated possessions, so that by the time I was ready to pull the trigger, I would be very lean, and ready to move back to the coasts from the flyover, get a very small place, and start spending time on all the things I wanted to see and do. Nope.

    I now find myself in stasis. I have a storage space full of items too valuable to “junk”, yet by the time I spend all the time and money to sell them, I’ll probably just have traded money around, and lost the time. Instead of creating a “bucket list fund”, it’s going to cost money to get small. Right now, all I can do is use social security to live every month, but it doesn’t generate enough to work on “life enhancing” personal projects. Too much to go into here, but fair warning to all, you can’t decide to “get small”, and “get mobile” too early! While living on the east coast, it was easy to foresee a life-time of employment in my profession (and most of my friends still are employed and working on their “retirement set-up”). In the fly-over, it seems like many white collar professionals are having trouble holding on to professionally paid work in their fields after the age of 50!

    At my age, sometimes the joy of the situation I’m in is NOT having to go to work every day and work with idiots! If your bucket list includes not talking to idiots every day, I’ve accomplished that!

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    • Haha, not dealing with idiots should be on everyone’s bucket list! I know what you mean about the late stage disruptions – our economy seems to have prized efficiency over all else, and efficiency is often not that great of a metric for those of us who are reaching the end of our working lives because it often requires either moving or very specific skills that have become a thing only in recent years. And I understand perfectly the quandary about how to turn stuff into $. I have threatened for years that I am going to start offering two or three items a week on eBay to start clearing some of the detritus from our lives. And I keep not doing it. Your words of caution are something I should heed.

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  9. I’m not a movie aficionado and have never seen that movie you referenced, so I did not not know the origin of the term “bucket list” – I just assumed it was a metaphor for a receptacle that contained all your wishes and lists for down the road when money and leisure time helped you to fulfill those dreams. So that was interesting to learn about. My regret is not completing the international travel destinations I always hoped to visit. I always thought I’d complete that wish list upon retirement, but the state of the world, pandemic or not, leaves me less hopeful to cross many items off unless they are domestic destinations.

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