How a "Quarantine Bucket List" Kept Me Sane in 2020

Writing at desk

 Home Made by Carmona

I’ve always been big on lists, but far and away my favorite kind of list to make is a bucket list. I have one for important life goals, but I also make a smaller version every year. 2020 was going to be a big one. I had plans to see the tulips bloom in the Netherlands, take a road trip across the United States, go camping in Glacier National Park—and that was just through August. There were non-travel things on my list, too: have a 10-year reunion with my sorority sisters, get scuba certified, try a new restaurant every month.

It all sounded pretty exciting. Of course, we know what happened next. When we went into lockdown in March, I naively held out hope that some of my trips would still happen. As the weeks drifted by, the possibility dwindled and I found myself in a funk. I’m not accustomed to sitting still or staying home for very long. (A coworker once joked I should rent out my apartment on the weekends because I’m never around.) After negotiating refunds or credits and tearfully telling myself there’s “always next year,” I realized I desperately needed something else to look forward to. I needed a new 2020 bucket list, even if that list looked very different from all the lists I’d made before.

Here are a few tips I discovered in the process:

  1. Seize the Opportunity: I thought about the kinds of activities I enjoy, but never really made time for because time was scarce pre-pandemic. Maybe it’s trying out a new face mask every week or re-reading all of the Harry Potter books. When I shifted my focus from all the things I couldn’t do to all the things I could, it changed my outlook.
  2. If Possible, Recruit a Quarantine Buddy: In my case, it was my boyfriend (he’s an introvert and would have been happy with no list, but he humored me). Having someone else to bounce ideas off of not only makes it more fun, but he also thought of things I wouldn’t have.
  3. Think Big and Small: Some items that made the cut were simple, like “find the perfect view to watch the sunset,” while others required more planning, like “go camping during peak fall foliage.” Some didn’t involve leaving the house at all, like “finally organize my spices” and “make a creative cocktail with only the existing ingredients in our liquor cabinet.” 

I had to be more imaginative than ever, but this yielded new traditions that I hope to continue even after the pandemic is over. One weekend, we went to a blueberry farm and had it almost all to ourselves. Picking the berries was meditative. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining and communing with nature was just what we needed after months of being cooped up. Really, I thought, it was what I needed more of even in my “normal life.” We brought home our treasure and soon realized we had more than we could possibly eat in granola or muffins, so I was inspired to bake a pie and, in the process, discovered a recipe for an all-butter crust that is now my go-to.

Another Saturday in October, we spent the day driving around, looking at outdoor Halloween decorations. Every year, we host a big Halloween bash where I make it my mission to turn our townhome into a haunted mansion, complete with a spooky gallery wall and life-size tombstones. I knew this was one of the things I would miss the most, so inspired by another tradition—going to look at Christmas lights—I melded the two and created something new. In a way, it was almost better than Christmas lights because there isn’t really a template for how to decorate for Halloween and people’s creativity was on full display. Plus, I got lots of ideas for my own fall-inspired front door.

When I look back on these memories, I can’t say they felt big in the moment. Sometimes they were even bittersweet because while it was fun, we still knew it was an alternative to something we were missing out on. But this year taught me more about being present. Because we had nothing to do and nowhere else to be, I was forced to slow down, rethink my definition of an adventure and enjoy things closer to home. That’s a mindset I hope to carry with me wherever I go (or don’t go) in 2021.

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