Forty (small) things to do between 39 and 40
January 19, 2015 11:41 PM   Subscribe

A friend who's been going through a tough time is about to have her 39th birthday. Help me make a "forty things to do before you're forty list" for her that fits some special snowflake criteria.

My friend's had a tough couple of years which have included two disastrous relationships (the last of which has just ended for the third time), trying to make a living as a freelancer during a downturn, and a death in her family. She's feeling pretty bruised and sad about getting older.

I'd like to come up with a list of forty small useful/quirky/fun things she can do this year that might boost her mood, make her feel loved and special, and/or get bits of her life back on track. Not so much "climb Mt Kilamanjaro" or "run a marathon", more "buy yourself flowers" or "get back in touch with an old friend".

Things that are not expensive would be great, and I'd like to find a way to include things that are useful habits without being patronising. I'm finding it hard to come up with forty without being trite and obvious - can you help?
posted by girlgenius to Human Relations (33 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Does she have her own place with at least some space for a yard? Plant a fruit tree (this is the best, I've done it with friends over the years and it always feels pretty cool--also it means I get fig jam and bags of limes a couple times per year.)

Heck, even a big container will suffice if she doesn't have dirt. There are dwarf lemon trees already at fruiting age, about 2 feet tall, for around $30. Planting a tree, alone or with company, is an enjoyable, forward-looking, contemplative process no matter how you go about it.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:50 PM on January 19, 2015 [13 favorites]

I once made a pledge to go someplace new every week week for a year, someplace of my choosing. It was a good year.

Maybe you could adapt the theme to be 40 new places to visit.
posted by rw at 11:51 PM on January 19, 2015 [13 favorites]

Oh also: is she in a city with a real transit system? Building on rw's suggestion--visit all points on the line(s) you live on, and variations on the theme as applicable. My housemates and I back in the early 2000s visited every Metro stop in DC over the course of about 3-4 years. We made a point to find a beer or something to eat at every one. We kept a map on the living room wall that we covered with a souvenir from each (bus transfer with the date on it, beer cap, etc.).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:55 PM on January 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

Bake cookies.

Memorize a favorite recipe that can be made to comfort yourself or a friend.
posted by amtho at 12:01 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not sure if these are too cheesy, but the first thing I thought of were a series of lists written by the artist/author known as SARK: Being a succulent wild woman, Live juicy and How to be an artist, as examples.
posted by Cheese Monster at 12:02 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe a physical goal? A cartwheel, a handstand, pushups - nothing really really intense, but a push?
posted by geek anachronism at 12:04 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, grow tomato plants or lettuce seeds. Cost: between $3-$100 depending on whether she does lettuce seeds in her own soil in old plastic butter tubs or $5 starts in potting soil in new planters. Watching plants grow makes you feel like you succeeded at something.

Watercolor your own painting? She could put it in one of those low cost Ikea frames even.

Useful habits... bake a casserole? test your smoke detector batteries? install a new light fixture?
posted by salvia at 12:04 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is she the sort of person who would like this gift? Because as someone who is turning 38 in a few months, is still dealing with the aftermath of a devastating breakup, and is struggling to keep her life together as it is (and I don't freelance for a living)? This gift would stress me out and give me a massive panic attack. Gifts shouldn't make someone feel guilty. I appreciate the sentiment and I think it's sweet that you're trying to help her take time for herself, but I'd be very careful to ensure that this doesn't read like a bunch of chores on a to-do list, a litany of ways that she needs to improve herself and her life, or isn't a bunch of things that maybe she can't afford.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:15 AM on January 20, 2015 [22 favorites]

I just came across this list right after I saw your question, its for teens but there may be something in here for you.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:23 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @elsietheeel You're right to be concerned and I definitely don't want to present this as a "you must do all the things" list. My friend has mentioned that it is the little things that are helping her get through things at the moment, so I'm pitching this as "here are some more ideas".
posted by girlgenius at 12:33 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I feel like you're coming at this from the wrong angle. This too would stress me out and I spend a lot of time on "the little things" because it's hard enough just staying alive, let alone functioning enough to do something as complex as buying myself flowers. (Do I have the money for that, then I have to decide on the flowers, where is my vase, I have to prep and arrange them, I worry about the cat knocking it over, I watch them die, then I have to deal with the cleanup, why did I spend money on something that just dies like that, etc)

Instead of the self care angle, or the encouraging good habits idea, my suggestion is to lean hard into the silly. That way there is much less pressure to do any of them because they are all pretty ridiculous. Suggestions:

Balance a different object on your head every day for a week.
Eat five differently colored foods.
Make a song about your favorite spot in your house.
Stick chopsticks in your mouth and pretend to be walrus.
List your favorite smells.
Decide what you would look like if you were a dragon, dress to coordinate.
Make a pillow fort.

And so-on, because a lot of people associate getting older with a loss of whimsy, and a lot of very stressed out people get into their heads that they can't afford whimsy.
posted by Mizu at 1:33 AM on January 20, 2015 [39 favorites]

40 is only 28 in the hexadecimal number system! She could learn about it to, um, cultivate her erudition. And create a web community where people can do their lists of 40 things, together.
posted by XMLicious at 2:43 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

This may not count as just one of forty items to cross off a list, since (at least for me) it's something I do daily but, that caveat aside: I too am coming out of a few rough, pain-filled years and have been thinking a lot about resiliency and how to rebuild my sense of myself as a strong, capable person ready to embrace the second half of my life. So that's what I've been doing: embracing myself. Every morning I spend a few minutes hugging myself tightly and running my hands all over my body while reminding myself that I am amazing and strong and that my body is the reason I get to have the experience of being alive at all, ups and downs included.

I realize that may sound uber-new agey and might not be for everyone but since I started doing it a month or so ago I can feel a noticeable difference in the start of my day.

Good luck to your friend!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 3:12 AM on January 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

For some reason my new years' resolutions this year is kind of filled with this stuff. Some things from my own list:

* Find some place that serves a proper High Tea, and go there. All dressed up proper, of course (or at least matching what you personally conceive "proper" to be, because the restaurant probably won't care)

* Go visit a museum in your area which you've never been to. Even if it's a museum devoted to, like, stamp collections from Patagonia.

* Spend a night at a really stank dive bar. Even if you just have one drink you nurse the whole time. (Of course if it starts feeling creepy, leave, but there are plenty that don't get creepy.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:36 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm long past 40, but I would have found this kind of list quite stressful. I think this might work better if you re-framed it as 40 things we can do together this year. Obviously, how you actually get through the list would depend a lot on how often you see each other, but if you're going for small things it should be possible to do quite a few in one day. A bonus of this approach is that your own enthusiasm level for the different items would be a help in gauging how much your friend can handle.
posted by Azara at 4:37 AM on January 20, 2015 [9 favorites]

Going with the silly theme:
Write a really bad poem about the local mayor.
Play board games.
Call a friend just to tell them a joke.
Go for a walk.
Get a small pack of crayons and draw.
Pet a dog.
Get a pedicure.
Bake bread.
Read a free comic.
Take a buzzfeed quiz.
posted by bunderful at 4:40 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

nthing please do not add to your friend's stress by giving her a list of things to do.

I have a milestone birthday coming up after what seems like a lifetime of stress, and I am training to do the Tough Mudder in June with a team of friends and colleagues. It already means more exercise, better sleep, better diet, less anti-social-ness, and more fresh air, and it's going to mean a lot more of the same. It will test my mental and physical limits and I have no doubt it will make me a better, stronger, and much happier person.

However, if any one of those friends or colleagues had said "you should do Tough Mudder" I would absolutely not be doing it. The same would go for "you should stop and smell the roses" or you should "live juicy" (whateverTF that means) or you should phone a friend. No matter your intentions, please don't tell me what I should do. I am doing all I can.
posted by headnsouth at 4:49 AM on January 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think rather than give her a list of things to do, that you do a list of 40 things she's accomplished.

Talk about how kind and helpful and sweet and smart and wonderful she is.

Maybe a list of 40 Things that are AWESOME about you!

1. You always put a dollar in the guitar case.
2. Your lasagna is amazing.
3. You make me laugh
4. You show me how to budget

You get the idea. Tell her how special she is, exactly as she is right now.

Then give her a gift certificate for a mani/pedi. Or offer to host a girls night where you do homemade spa treatments.

A to-do list, while kindly intentioned...may not be appreciated in the spirit that was meant.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:17 AM on January 20, 2015 [20 favorites]

A list of things to do or accomplish would really really stress me out. It would make me feel crappy upon receipt and then guilty every time I saw the list and hadn't done any of them.

Unless she has specifically asked you to compile a list of these things for her, please rethink. Saying she is having trouble doing the little things - even if they keep her going- is not about not knowing which little things to do. The lack of things isn't the problem and I'd wager she has enough on her plate.

What about reversing it instead? So it's not what she has to do, but a reminder that she is awesome and has gotten through so much already!

For a friend's 30th birthday I asked our friends (and her family, through Facebook) to provide a joke, great memory, funny story, song lyric or something they admired about her. I typed them up on a typewriter, folded them and placed them in a wooden box with her initial on it. The focus was on why we all loved, admired and liked to laugh with her, and why she was already awesome. She has said she goes through that box regularly for a pick-me-up, especially now that we all live in different places.
posted by barnone at 5:46 AM on January 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

Or perhaps, give her a list of 40 things that you will do for/with her. Bring her a cupcake, give her a new bottle of nail polish, take her out for a swank drink, make her a paper flower. If it feels like too much for you, it might feel like too much for her.
posted by instamatic at 5:48 AM on January 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Nth the "40 ways you're awesome" list. Fabulous idea!
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:10 AM on January 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I love the "40 things I love about you" idea. I think a lot of people are getting stuck on the idea of this as a "to-do" list... instead, you could frame it as a bunch of ideas for when she needs something to cheer her up. You could have a book and write an idea on each page, and she can flip through it when she needs a boost and pick something she feels like doing. You could even include "reasons you're awesome" along with "things to do." And the things to do could include some things like "grow a plant," but also other, much easier things like "Call a friend you haven't talked to in a while," "Take a walk," "Read a poem," "Learn a new way to tie a scarf," "Draw a picture of something in your house," "Dance around in your underwear for five minutes," "Get a cookbook from the library and pick one thing to cook."
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:04 AM on January 20, 2015

Yeah, definitely the "40 Things That Make You Awesome," thing. I would have LOVED to receive a gift like that back when I was struggling. Hell, I'd love to get something like that now! Your friend is doing something very right, as witnessed by the fact that she has a caring friend like yourself who wants to make her happy.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:13 AM on January 20, 2015

I'm going to go against the grain here and say I think it's a lovely idea :)
I'm sure she knows you won't have a gun to her head... more that you've thought about her and sometimes, here in my late 30's, I do struggle of new things to try cos I've tried quite a lot.

She could..
watch a film she loved as a kid?
make a 'tool box' of stuff - dunno what else to call it, but something I've been planning to do.. like list things I could do every day of the week if I am struggling emotionally eg - tuesday yoga/a support group etc, monday blah blah
have a candle lit bath with a face pack and hair mask?
try one thing out of her comfort zone.

I once bought 16 things for a 16 year old.. that seemed quite a lot to do!
posted by tanktop at 7:38 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm sure it depends a lot on your friend's specific personality. I'm sure there are people who would much rather be left alone entirely. But, if it were me, I'd much rather get a list of small absurd tasks than a list of compliments. The weirder and more specific, the better.

Also, I'd lean toward forcing her to interact with the world in very slightly uncomfortable ways, e.g., rather than "buy yourself flowers," how about "buy flowers and give them to a bus driver?"

There are several hundred examples here, many of which are simple, cheap, and interesting without context.

Setting up some way to share the results with friends seems important to making the whole thing worth doing. A private blog where she's required to document each task with a photo? Once she's earned all 40 task tokens, she can exchange them for a plane ticket to a smashing birthday party in a personally relevant place?
posted by eotvos at 8:57 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't mean to stomp on your idea, which clearly comes from a place of creativity and great care for your friend, but I echo others in warning you this might play out counter to its intent. I haven't had a shitty year but it would still stress me out, particularly if phrased as things "to do" by a deadline. Must you stick with the 40 theme? She is NOT turning 40, after all. Why remind her of a milestone birthday that's a year away when you say she's sad about aging? Why not celebrate 39?

It may also come off trite--since you are already having trouble coming up with 40 things on your own, you're basically forcing it, and it may well end up sounding forced.

I can only speak for myself, and you know your friend better than I, but truly, I can't see myself following these sorts of suggestions, so all this effort could be for naught. Would you do them? (Particularly the contrived-quirky ones like you read in those awful patronizing women's magazines. When I read those I'm always like, no, you go dance in the rain in your underwear while eating a piece of lo-cal dark chocolate and bringing a bouquet to a puppy, you goddamn loon.)

I agree that a list of the top 39 (NOT 40!) qualities you admire, fun moments you've had together, times she's impressed you, things you appreciate about her, reasons you know she'll have a great year, etc. would probably lift her spirits, because it's 100% personalized.
posted by kapers at 10:33 AM on January 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm also so stressed by this idea! There are so many things you're "supposed" to do by 40, 30, etc...I'm 38 and I'm sure I haven't gotten half-way through the list of what most of America thinks a woman should do by 25. Plus it's like having your friend write you a women's magazine article. Um...thanks? Are you also going to tell me five exercises I can do at my desk?

I love the idea of 39 things you like about her. Or you could do 39 great quotes, silly drawings, poems, anything like that. Like small gifts, not a to-do list.

If you do go with a list of activities, my suggestion would be to make them really fun and mindlessly easy. Watch a video of kittens, dance to a 90's song, etc. Nothing requiring money, planning, things she might not have, other people, or more than a few minutes of time. Less of a "bucket list" (UGGHHH sorry I hate that term) than a list of things she can look at at any time throughout the year and pick one that will be enjoyable to do.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:54 AM on January 20, 2015

My friend has mentioned that it is the little things that are helping her get through things at the moment

I missed this. I can totally understand how your friend feels, and I think it's so nice you're trying to help - most people really don't care! However, I'd interpret this in a gift-giving sense as you providing her with some "little things." Sure, get her a small b-day present or card, but throughout the year send her a funny note randomly, or email a link to something she'd like. Invite her out for coffee/drinks/pedicures. If you have the money, send her flowers just because. Or, if she lives far away, go visit her. Compliment her. Support her when she mentions wanting to try something new. Those are the sort of little things that she probably means, imho.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:05 AM on January 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

I can see how this could be fun or stressful depending. But assuming you know your audience, you might find some ideas on Go Mighty. I think it's designed for "life lists" but many of the things could be scaled down for a year, some ideas which are probably from there:
- try 5 new fruits
- try 5 new cocktails/beers/wines
- listen to 100 new songs
- visit a new park in your city (test the swings)
- go to an author talk at the library

What might be nice is rather than have this be a list for her to do, you propose it as a list of things you guys can do together. What I'm thinking is a list of as many fun or silly things you can think of, with some text like "Gift certificate for your choice of 5 (I'm getting stuck on 5 aren't I?) friend organized activities", and maybe some blank certificates she can fill in the activity on.

This way you are not giving her a todo list, you are giving her her choice of experience activities without her having to organize or pay for anything. Annnd, you are also giving her a long list of possible ideas that she can draw on whenever she wants, unencumbered by the sense of obligation or guilt that a "to do" list might give.
posted by pennypiper at 1:22 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like this idea a lot (and would love if a friend did this for me!). So, I think it's going to be personal taste given the "this will be stressful" comments above...but, assuming you know your friend and sounds like you guys have chatted about this somewhat, here are some thoughts:

--take a bubble bath
--pull out an old bottle of expensive perfume and wear it for no reason
--paint your toenails
--take an hour off of looking for freelance work and sit in a park or another busy place and people watch
--have a mini-dance party to Christina Aguilera's Fighter
--cash in a "ladies night with girlgenius" coupon
--browse the public library and pick out a book on a new topic and/or a trashy novel
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:34 PM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Another way to get away from the anxiety of a list might be to give your friend a little box of surprises. Take the ideas that would have been listed, but write each on a piece of paper, fold them over, and put them in the box. Once a week, she can pick one out. Or not, if she doesn't feel like it. But seriously.... who doesn't like a box of surprises??
posted by switcheroo at 2:18 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, what Mizu said. Whimsy is a great thing for anyone, but especially adults. We forget how to let go and stop being serious. Here are some more ideas along that line...
- Anagram your name
- Send someone an un-packaged coconut
- Write an ode to your houseplant
- Write a dirty limerick
- Find the tallest place you can and throw a paper airplane
posted by switcheroo at 2:56 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another idea - get a blank book and get several friends and family members to write in it, so that every page has a positive memory. You could also incorporate photos and drawings if you and/or any of her other friends have an artistic bent.

It would be really nice to open a book and see 39 happy memories you share with your friends.
posted by bunderful at 9:25 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

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