Don’t Buy It: Your Wish List

26 05 2009

So I have this list. Kind of a dream list, or a bucket list. It has the things I’d ideally like to be doing with my life, the kind of place I’d like to live, things I’d like to have but cannot afford. Maybe you have a list like this, too.

I’ve been keeping the list for a couple of years now, and recently I noticed something interesting about it: Some of the things had crossed over from “wants” to “haves.” A place to go swimming and an ice-rink, for example — I always wanted those. Well, last summer I moved and bought a house that happens to have 75 feet of lakeshore and a sand beach. It came with a dock, a powerboat, and one of those swimming floats with a slide and diving board. Personal swimming hole: check. I now officially have nothing to complain about, right?

When winter came, my husband (bless his heart) shoveled off a regulation size hockey rink. Over and over again. (We live in New Hampshire. There is some snow.) My son was given hockey goals for Christmas.  Private ice rink: check.

You know where this is going, right?

So, guess how many times I went skating last winter? Zero. And how many times did I go swimming? Zero again.

The most luxurious house I have ever or likely will ever own, and I don’t even appreciate it. And yet here I am, looking for ways to tick off more things on my list. So today I sat down, looked at the list, and noticed this pattern. What I have been doing is working hard — very hard — to collect all the things (career, objects, work, people) on my list, obtaining some of them, and then feeling exactly no different (well, except more exhausted) than before.

I’m a scientist, and scientists use previously collected data to predict the future. And my future with this pattern of wishes fulfilled by hard work and achievement looked…. grim.

But what to do instead? If even my fondest wishes are steering me into misery and overconsumption, then what?

Well, today I looked at my list with a fresh eye. For each item on my list, I asked myself: what would you be doing that would be so much fun, if you had this thing in your life? In other words, I took all my wishes, and changed them from nouns into verbs.

For example, this was part of my old “wish list”:

  • Hot tub
  • sauna
  • stone wood stove
  • solar hot water
  • geothermal/wood heat
  • wind/solar electricity
  • minimal utility use
  • greater harvest canning/drying/preserving
  • composting toilet with bidet seat
  • big kitchen
  • gold and white room
  • a Japanese-style tea room/guesthouse
  • a tree house
  • a large dining yurt and indoor/outdoor kitchen with stone fireplace.

Can you imagine how much money or D-I-Y effort it would take to get all that? When I look at this list, I feel equal parts excited and hopeless. It seems so hard to get all of that. How could I ever be happy?

But look, here’s the same portion of the new list:

  • Hot baths
  • Hot baths with company
  • Sitting in front of the fire
  • Not harming the planet
  • Canning food
  • Drying food
  • Preserving food
  • Washing dishes
  • Being washed by someone else
  • Sitting down with others to prepare food
  • Having a tea ceremony
  • Climbing trees
  • Sitting with a friend or a lover in the tree tops
  • Being whimsical/fanciful
  • Having guests
  • Not having to clean much
  • Having dinner parties indoors
  • Having dinner parties outdoors
  • Having tea and reading/writing in the trees
  • Sleeping on the floor in a big room all together
  • Sweating, then cooling off in the lake

When I finished this second list, this list of wish verbs, I felt excited, and liberated, and so free! Everything on the verb list sounds fun and satisfying to me, and everything on the list I could do right now. Most of it costs nothing, and could be done on any weekend or evening, just for the joy of it. My verb list has so much joy in it, in fact, I couldn’t wait to hang it up at home, for inspiration on some bored and listless day.

Both lists capture the kind of life I want to be living. But one list is effortless and light, and the other list is full of work, and maybe pain. And yet there’s only one difference between them:  One list captures my life in the things I could buy, if I only had enough. (Except, who ever has enough?)

The other captures my life as I live it — in verbs, in actions, in a thousand joyous moments, free for the choosing, free for the taking.

What happens when you convert your wishes from nouns into verbs?




2 responses

17 06 2009

Hi –

This is a great article! You’ve hit the target, -and I’m going to start my new verb-centered list immediately. I can’t wait to shed all that burden of acquiring things that is a requirement of my current list – and I can see the upcoming relief in my mind’s eye already! I’m going to send your article to my kids, too. Everyone should read it, really.

You are very very clever!

Thanks so much! – Pam

17 06 2009

Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed!

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