The Fill-the-Bucket List

I turned 30 this past year and it wasn’t life-changing. Here’s why:

For the few years leading up to my 30th birthday, I watched several friends hit 30 first. A surprising amount of them wrote up a whole bucket list of things they wanted to accomplish before the big birthday. For most of them, the 29th year meant racing to finish a made-up list by an arbitrary deadline: the 30th birthday. I watched one friend successfully finish all 30 things on her list (which involved a lot of frantic racing the few weeks leading up to her birthday and a few all-nighters). Another friend even started a blog about the 30 things she planned to accomplish before she turned 30. I think she blogged twice that whole year. On her 30th birthday, she wrote about how she remembered how much she hated doing new things. When she turned 30, she felt bad about not hitting her goals for about ten minutes, and then she realized that was dumb. Being 30 meant she was free from the “decade of decision” and she could own who she was. Her goal after that was to have no adventures and fully enjoy what she actually likes to do.

I'm the one on the left

I’m the one on the left

I have the benefit of being among the youngest of my friends. And watching them all set goals for themselves that were uncharacteristic, not enjoyable, and a stress to achieve made me avoid making one altogether. When I was 28, I got roped into taking a karate class with one of my 29-year-old bucket list friends that had “learn martial arts” on her list. Three of us took it together with a 12-class Groupon and had an absolute blast. We were the oldest people there (by a lot) and were called the “karate moms.” I didn’t have a bucket list, but I jumped at the opportunity to do something I hadn’t before. I realized that I wanted to make my own list, but a different kind. I call it a “fill-the-bucket” list and it has no deadline at all. 

What is the Fill-the-Bucket List?

Life is full of opportunities, changes, and unpredictability and it’s all about experiences and filling your bucket so that by the end of your life, your bucket is full. Instead of making a list of things you would like to see happen in your life, a fill-the-bucket list focuses on the opportunities you have had and the things you’ve taken a chance and done.

My Fill-the-Bucket List:

Riding an elephant

  • Riding an Elephant in Cambodia: I was working on my undergraduate degree at the time and never anticipated getting married before graduating and going to Cambodia. Because Mr. T had lived there for two years before we met, he wanted me to experience it as well, so we headed there six months after we got married. When we were asked if we wanted to ride an elephant, we took the opportunity.


  • Taking Salsa Lessons: Penny took a dance class when she was little. At her holiday recital, I won a door-prize of free salsa lessons for me. They were also running a promotion that night that all lessons were $100 off. So, Mr. T and I signed up for 12 weeks of salsa lessons for $120. We would never have spent the $440 it would have cost to take them and we probably wouldn’t have even tried to figure it out with two young kids at home, but we took the opportunity and had an absolute blast (and don’t we look like we know what we’re doing?).

    northern lights

    That’s me!

  • Seeing the Northern Lights from my Neighborhood: A lot of things on my fill-the-bucket list are Alaska-related. I never anticipated living here. And I really never anticipated being able to walk right outside and see the Northern lights.
  • High-Fiving a Musher on his way to Nome for the Iditarod: One year we packed up the girls and headed North to Willow to see the official start of the Iditarod. We went to the ceremonial start in Anchorage every year, but after the mushers go through the ceremonial starting line, they wave at the crowds, run a couple of miles, and then pack up their car to drive to Willow the next day. The start in Willow is real. The mushers are all bundled up and hugging family members they won’t see for nearly a week or more. And they race right past you on their long journey to Nome. I stuck my hand out and got a high-five. And amazingly, Mr. T caught it on camera just before contact. “Going to the Iditarod” may have made it on my bucket list, but something so awesome and specific can only fit on a fill-the-bucket list.iditarod handRunning Reindeer
  • The Running of the Reindeer: Every February, Anchorage holds a big two-week festival called Fur Rondy. One of the events is called “The Running of the Reindeer” and involves people dressed in crazy costumes running down the street downtown being chased by reindeer. One year, a friend of mine was working for the festival and called to see if Mr. T and I wanted to do the race because she had two extra shirts and two open slots. We donned our trapper costumes (last-minute and warm!) and ran with the crazies and the reindeer.

Create Your Own Fill-the-Bucket List

The fill-the-bucket list focuses on finding joy in life’s unpredictability. My fill-the-bucket list is long. And every item on it has one thing in common: taking an opportunity. You’ve done amazing things, too. And you’ve had opportunities that I haven’t. Challenge: Start a Fill-the-Bucket list. If you have a blog, share some things that are on your fill-the-bucket list. If you don’t have a blog tell me some of the awesome opportunities you’ve taken in the comments. 

LIST OF AWESOME PARTICIPANTS! – Check out the links to all the Fill-the-Bucket Lists! (It’s also never too late to add yours!):

fill the bucket list


Accept Yourself Now


Our 2016 Non-Financial Goals


  1. Maggie, this might be one of my very favorite posts of yours! I love the “fill in the bucket” idea — it reflects a mindset of adventurous living, open-mindedness, realistic goal-setting, living with gratitude, and accepting “enough.” We’ll have to start our own list!

    • MaggieBanks

      I can’t wait to see yours! Life is all about taking the opportunities around you. We can’t predict everything and that’s what makes it all so exciting! (and thanks for the flattery… made my day!)

  2. I Love it! What a perfect way to rejoice and reflect on what we’ve done instead of bemoaning what we haven’t. Perfect.

  3. Maggie….I am seriously head over heels for this idea. THIS is awesome. I am definitely inspired & I am going to start my fill-the-bucket list! It’s actually quite similar to my accomplishment journal I keep (which ends up being things I took on, or got to experience that I never anticipated). Oftentimes, experiences/events/opportunities arise that were never really on my radar to begin with! Currently, I’m reading the book called “Looptail” by Bruce Poon Tip and he explains how every person you meet in life provides an opportunity. You either join in and go for it, or it may be a missed opportunity (not in a negative way, maybe it just wasn’t meant to work out). All of the people in my life (past, present & new) have given me inspiration to take on new ideas, activities, passions, etc. The fill-the-bucket list provides more of a fulfilling reward, versus a scarcity aspect (such as your friends trying to play catch up in the last week before turning 30)! Thank you so much for this idea, I can’t wait to start! What amazing things you already have on your list!

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m so glad you’re participating! This is just a sample of my own fill-the-bucket list. I agree with you that every person is an opportunity. And every place. I’m so excited to read all the opportunities everyone else has taken!
      (PS – you’re my 1000th comment on the blog! Congrats!) 🙂

  4. Des

    Ok first of all, the friend you describe by saying “Her goal after that was to have no adventures”? Yeah, she sounds like my kind of human! Lol that sentence made me laugh out loud and it’s so how I feel about most of the things I’m “supposed” to like doing in my 20s, like going to Burning Man or concerts.

    Give me warm snuggles with my dog and you can keep your adventures, thankyouverymuch.

    Secondly, I am so down for this! I’ll post mine next week and give you a shout when it’s up!

    • MaggieBanks

      She’s a book reader, surprised? 🙂 I do love a good adventure, but my sister is very similar to my friend in that her dream come true to a night alone. I’m excited to read your list!

  5. LOVE THIS. Before I even finished reading the post, I had already started pulling together photos that I want to put in a fill-the-bucket post over at our place. (Though there’s one I can’t find… that might bug me all weekend.) I love this idea, and focusing on the cool things we’ve experienced is certainly a lot more positive than thinking about all those unrequited dreams — abundance thinking always beats deficit thinking. Have a great weekend!

    • MaggieBanks

      “Abundance thinking” – I like that. We have met several people move up here that I like to call “Alaska haters.” Instead of enjoying all this place has to offer, they mourn the loss of some other place or some other opportunity that didn’t happen. And I always think: “you live in ALASKA!” Enjoy it while you can!

  6. Cool idea, Maggie! I’m doing it! I feel like this goes hand-in-hand with choosing to be grateful, which is definitely something I want to do more of. I can think of a couple of fill-the-bucket experiences right off the bat; the others might be harder…but it’ll be a good exercise! 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s a great mindset to have – I’m always trying to find new opportunities for my fill-the-bucket list. I look forward to reading yours!

  7. Great idea! Will help me reflect on all the cool things I have done already and help me plan for the future cool things!

    • MaggieBanks

      Life is full of opportunities – most of which aren’t planned or expected. But aren’t they great?

  8. Happy New Year Maggie – I love the fill-the-bucket metaphor. The difference between that and having a bucket list, to me, is in the verbs. To have is passive. It’s like saying “one day I hope to do this” but to fill the bucket requires action. You made me realize I need to get more specific with some of my adventure goals. Thanks.

    • MaggieBanks

      Interesting take. In my opinion, it takes action, but more accepting opportunities rather than planning them. 🙂

  9. Mrs. FI

    Brilliant! I can’t wait to get started on ours and thanks so much for the idea! P.S. Jealous about your Northern Lights listing. There have been several times that we should have been able to view the NL’s from our area and we missed them EVERY. TIME. We plan to “take that opportunity” the next time it happens 😉

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m excited to read your list! I am truly floored by the northern lights every time I experience them. They are amazing, inspiring, and a bit creepy. And unlike any description. I hope you get to see them.

  10. J

    I love this idea, thanks for sharing! I’m excited to start my own list. 🙂 During our Tasmania trip last December, we thought we’d be able to see the Southern Lights. The forecast was very promising and all the chasers in the area were excited, but they didn’t show up on the night when a G7 was expected. I was sad and disappointed and all I could think of, honestly, was “man, Maggie must see the Northern Lights all the time from their backyard.” Oh and they came out the following night when we were already back in Melbourne. I guess it wasn’t time for me to see them yet.

  11. Love this. Gonna start thinking about my fill the bucket list!

  12. Love this idea. Count me in. Will hunt down some photos.

  13. Well, we truly are Sisters, because I have started a whole blog dedicated to Our List over at Encore Wanderings. It is based on a similar type of premise. We called it Our List, because if either of us begins a sentence with “I wanna…” – it went on the list! That said, there are no “buckets” about it. No time line. No limits. Just inspirations and opportunities that might be fun. I started http://www.encorewanderings just a couple of weeks ago to start telling our “fill the bucket” stories about the fun stuff we’ve done on the voyage!

    • MaggieBanks

      Awesome. The fill-the-bucket list focuses on opportunities that couldn’t have been predicted with a list necessarily but that we took advantage of! I’m loving looking through the things you guys have been able to do.

  14. This is such a good idea. It took a part of this weekend to go through aal the pictures and attached memories from past travel. Great to see how memomries and happy thoughts can come back like that.

  15. I love this idea. As soon as my blog is back up with my new host, I’m totally doing it. I really do think that gratitude is 87.5% of what makes us truly content, so a chance to reflect on that is never a bad thing.

    • MaggieBanks

      Awesome. Let me know when you do and I’ll feature it on Twitter and add it to March’s plan update with everyone else that has participated.

  16. Great post. This is a great idea. I stumbled to your blog after visiting

    He just completed his fill-in-the bucket list. I’m inspired. My list is coming soon. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • MaggieBanks

      Awesome. Let me know when you share your list and I’ll share it too.

  17. Found your idea on Dream Beyond Debt and just wanted to say that I love it – I am definitely going to make my own list soon! Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Awesome, Let me know when you do and I’ll share it as well.

  18. I love this! What a great way to think about a bucket list and show gratitude for your life…plus, the memories!

    • MaggieBanks

      I think it’s a wonderful perspective and I’ve enjoyed reading so many celebrations of opportunities!

  19. I finally wrote my fill-the-bucket post! 🙂

  20. East Coast Dame

    I just found your post after writing my next post about creating smaller goals to stay motivated while working on larger ones. I love this idea! I’m so excited to write down all the things I’ve already done that I loved experiencing as a reminder that I’ve gotten to do so many things in life & have already accomplished so many goals of mine.

    What a great reminder to stay happy, grateful, and motivated about life – without adding the stress of a traditional bucket list like your friends did. Thanks for inspiring me today.

    • MaggieBanks

      You’re welcome. And let me know if you post a fill-the-bucket list and we’ll add it to the master list!

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