Building a better bucket list

A couple of years ago I created a bit of an over-the-top Pinterest-inspired summer bucket list with my children.

In June, we made a big, colorful poster with lots of ideas of different things to do and put it on our fridge, thinking we would check off each experience as summer went on.

We started right away with some practical and classic summer activities, such as swimming, picnicking and setting up a lemonade stand.

But then we lost our momentum: We got held up on some of the bigger ideas, such as going on an impromptu road trip, hosting an outdoor movie night and creating a nature-inspired photo book, to name a few.

Some of the things we didn’t check off our list looked practical and fun on paper, but didn’t happen because they ended up being cost prohibitive or more work than fun to complete.

The interesting thing I’ve noticed when reflecting back upon that particular summer bucket list, is that I remember mostly the things we didn’t do from the list.

As it turns out, there’s actually a scientific name for this — the Zeigarnik effect, which is: "the psychological tendency to remember an uncompleted task rather than a completed one."

Well, the Zeigarnik effect was kind of a killjoy for our well-intentioned family project. I think we set the bar a little too high.

roasting marshmallows over campfire

In fact, we haven’t done another list like it since — and my children don’t even remember putting it together. Fortunately, we went on to enjoy all our summers anyway, of course.

So let’s give it another shot, this time making a summer bucket list that’s both attainable and fun — one that includes experiences I want my kids to have nearly every summer, as they grow up in Minnesota.

Keep-it-simple summer bucket list

  • Make homemade lemonade and set up a lemonade stand.
  • Pick berries and make homemade jam.
  • Swim in a lake.
  • Unplug. Go screen free for (at least) one full day
  • Sleep in a tent.
  • Run through the sprinkler.
  • Visit a Minnesota State Park.
  • Have a picnic.
  • Go fishing.
  • Read a chapter book as a family.
  • Throw a rock in Lake Superior.
  • Visit a farmer’s market.
  • Watch a baseball game.
  • Light sparklers and watch fireworks.
  • Make pickles.
  • Build a campfire and roast marshmallows for s’mores.
  • Enjoy some live music.
  • Go stargazing.

My hope is that this list will serve as inspiration, not obligation, for being intentional with our family time this summer!

As we approach the midway point of summer in Minnesota, I encourage you to move forward with intention and work to share simple, yet meaningful experiences with your child.

Remember: Some of our most precious — and fun — memories can come from the simplest experiences.


Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives with her husband and four children in Northeastern Minnesota. Follow her on Instagram @megtdevine. Write her at mdevine@mnparent.com.