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Instead of a Bucket List, How About a Chuck-It List?

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As we age, many of us have a written bucket list – but how many of us have a “chuck-it list”?  Could it be that a chuck-it list might actually help us enjoy life more as we grow older?

We confess, here at the Blog, that we love this idea of the chuck-it list. We came across the notion in this recent Washington Post opinion column written by Valerie Tiberius – not a journalist, but an author and professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota. In a time when many are virtually enslaved by their so-called bucket lists of things that they feel they “must” do before they die – visit Machu Picchu, swim in the Nile, learn to swing dance – it might be a healthier exercise to “clean house” emotionally and let go of some of those things that, truth be told, we really don’t care about doing all that much anymore.

Let’s see what Professor Tiberius has to say. Maybe you’ll want to create your own chuck-it list!

Moving from the Bucket List to the Chuck-It List

“On my father’s 75th birthday, he announced some news: He no longer intended to learn Spanish,” Tiberius writes. “He told me that, for most of his life, he imagined he would one day speak the language fluently, but this year, at this new age and vantage point, he was giving up that goal.”

She adds, “He seemed a little melancholy about it but mostly relieved that he no longer had this piñata of shame hanging over his head.”

What did Tiberius’ father call this concept of a goal-no-longer? An item on his “chuck-it list”. (Tiberius does note gently that her dad’s name for this list was a bit saltier, if you catch our drift.) Tiberius believes that this concept has liberating potential for everyone, so let’s explore further.

Move “Oppressive” Goals to the Chuck-It List

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of a bucket list. Such a “dream list” can be a fun and inspirational tool for expanding our mindsets and encouraging us to try new things, like taking an African safari. “But let’s face it: They can also be oppressive, irritating reminders that you can’t afford that $3,000 flight to Johannesburg,” Tiberius quips.

With her philosophy background, Tiberius has good insight into this concept. Tiberius writes, “As a philosopher of well-being, I can tell you that philosophers tend to divide into three camps on the subject: hedonists, who think well-being is all about good feelings; objectivists, who believe we live well when we achieve things with value transcending the individual; and desire satisfactionists, who think well-being means fulfilling your own goals.”

Where does Tiberius herself fall? In the third camp. “I like that this approach respects individual differences and explains why there are so many different good lives,” she explains. “But it also has a serious flaw: Focusing on pursuing our goals often leaves us running on a treadmill of desire and frustration.”

Creating a Chuck-It List Means Choosing Goals Selectively

So how do you solve this problem? It starts by choosing carefully which goals are truly the most meaningful to accomplish. Mindless pursuit of a long list of so-called goals won’t in itself promote well-being. You have to prioritize – especially as you grow older and face the realities of life’s limitations.

“This is where the chuck-it list comes into play,” Tiberius writes. “Are you the kind of person who is going to be on your deathbed regretting that you missed your chance to ride in a hot-air balloon, like Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’? Then do it! But when I really thought about that long-held fantasy, I let it go pretty easily, along with parasailing and completing a ‘century’ (a 100-mile bike ride).”

She adds, “I felt liberated when I moved these activities to my chuck-it list. It freed me to think about what I actually want to do — which is, turns out, shorter bike rides and flying only in the safety of a commercial airplane.”

Chuck-It List: Big Rocks, Small Rocks

So, this begs the question: how does one build a chuck-it list?

For this, Tiberius turns to Oliver Burkeman and his book “Four Thousand Weeks”, in which he rejects the familiar old metaphor of treating your goals like rocks that you have to fit into the glass jar of your life. The common advice is to put the big rocks (or important goals) in first, otherwise you’ll fill your jar with little, inconsequential pebbles and leave no room for the big ones.

“Burkeman dislikes this advice,” Tiberius writes. “He points out that the metaphor presupposes that we can squeeze in all the big rocks if we start with them, which might not be true. I agree. Sometimes, it’s a big rock that we have to move to the chuck-it list.”

Tiberius recognizes that discarding goals that we care about is difficult, because failing to accomplish them can make us feel sad or regretful.

“For my father, the relief of letting go of speaking fluent Spanish came tinged with sadness because he saw learning a foreign language as valuable,” she writes. “When you move things to your chuck-it list because you can’t physically do them anymore (e.g., a marathon), there’s also likely to be a layer of disappointment about aging and the reminder of mortality. The same can be said about goals on a bucket list made impossible by financial constraints or time limitations: They force us to come to terms with circumstances beyond our control.”

Chuck-It List: Handling Sadness, Regret

Is it possible to reframe these negative feelings? Tiberius says yes.

“My neighbor, a retired pianist and choir director, told me she took learning certain difficult musical compositions off her bucket list,” Tiberius recounts. “She described the resulting feeling as ‘sweet loss’ — sweet because she can still listen to those beloved pieces, loss because she’s not going to be the one playing them.”

This certainly requires a shift in perspective. “Bucket lists tie the value of our dreams to our value as individuals. Once we cut that tie, we can still appreciate the value of our abandoned goals by finding pleasure in the achievements of others,” Tiberius writes.

Focusing less on our own achievements and more on the achievements of others can help giving up our goals feel a bit less bitter. And Tiberius poses: what would the alternative be? Trying to force all of the rocks into the jar by accomplishing everything on your bucket list?

“This inevitably leads to disappointment and frustration,” she writes. “It might also lead to missing out on enjoying what wasn’t on your bucket list — things brought to you by serendipity that you couldn’t plan for, or things you’ve been taking for granted.”

Tiberius concludes by stating that she believes that the chuck-it list is just as important as the bucket list, because it allows the natural growth and evolution of who you are and what you want as you get older: “Give yourself permission to remove those items you’ll probably never get to. And most important: Don’t feel so bad about it.”

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(originally reported at

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