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Here’s Why You Need a Sensory Bucket List

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom and author
02/08/21  8:00 AM PST
bucket list

Have you ever noticed the slightly cinnamon smell of fallen leaves in late autumn? It reminds me of rambling bike rides as a kid in jeans and a puffy jacket that swished as I pedaled. That cinnamon-y scent also evokes my camp-leader role as a mom when we plan winter family hikes around the lake in search of the ever elusive “adventure.” It’s a good kind of spicy smell that is both comforting and energizing.

We all have olfactory triggers that transport us to a scene and a feeling without any effort from us. It’s time travel through your nose. Sometimes it’s good, like my cinnamon leaves, but sometimes it’s not – like the first thing you ate that gave you food poisoning: the mayo, oily smell of egg salad or the slightly sour scent of day-old sushi. But for better or worse, we are sensory creatures. We are tied to the world around us through our fingers and eyes and nose and ears and taste buds. Our bodies react to physical stimulus in ways we can’t predict and that in itself is an adventure.

I read about a woman who, when she found out she was losing her hearing, she made a list of all the sounds she never wanted to forget. She knew she had five years or less before the world would go silent so she embarked on a hearing journey to make memories that would last her a lifetime. Waves lapping the shore as she dug her feet into the Pacific Ocean. The sound of the ice cream truck tolling down the street followed shortly by the sweet taste of an ice cream sandwich. The roar of a stadium crowd at a soccer game. The sound of the organ in her childhood church. This sonic bucket list became a quest and in her eagerness to capture these sounds before they were lost to her, she made all new memories.

I think we often latch on to gratitude lists because they tie our emotions to a moment that make us slow down and hold the feeling a little longer. I am thankful for the wood smoke that mingles with the setting sun as the campfire finally takes light. I am here, in this moment, about to eat a s’more with my children and I will probably burn my tongue, because I can never wait, but I am thankful for the chance to be here, right now, with these people, at this particular point in time. But I think sensory lists can be just as powerful, if not more, because they encourage you to make new memories and seek out those things you want to cherish in life, whether that be the tang of the first blackberry picked off the vine in summer or the texture of your favorite sweater when you sip coffee on a cold morning on the porch or the sound of your children laughing somewhere distant in the house.

Sight, smell, sound, taste, touch. I would encourage you to make a list of the ones you want to re-capture or create anew and have your family do the same. Go on each other’s sensory bucket list adventures and experience a little of their joy as you share yours.

child with special needs
Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom, author and blogger.
Read her blog, The Mom Gene.
Follow her on Facebook.


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