Kelly Jensen, 39, has hiked up mountains while pregnant, wrestled in the mud with her children, and surprised her family with a trip to Disney. These exciting adventures (and more!) are all thanks to their family’s “Live List” — a list of fun, seasonal activities that her husband, Mark, and their five children come up with every year.
The Live List, first started by (and for) Jensen when she was 18-years-old, is a guidebook to living your life more intentionally — namely, more fun. And for so many moms like myself who feel like they are largely living a reactionary life in response to the mayhem and messes of parenting, it’s refreshing to hear what is possible.
Jensen came up with the list when she was in college as a way to challenge herself with new experiences. Her list back then included things like learning how to bake her grandmother’s bread, going sky-diving and scuba-diving, writing ten letters to people who influenced her life, doing a service mission, and going to Africa. Everything but the trip to Africa has been fulfilled so far, but Jensen shared that it just may happen this year for her 40th birthday.
Keeping a running itinerary of 10 items on her personal list at all times, Jensen only adds another item to her own list after one is crossed off. “It’s just sort of like, who do I want to be and what do I want my life to be like?” Jensen says of her own list. “And it’s the same idea for our family list, too.”
Jensen’s personal list gave birth to a family list when her then 3-year-old son, Jack, declared that he wanted his own. And thus, a family tradition was born. The way the list is formed is pretty simple. The family gets together to brainstorm about 3-4 times a year and they write down anything and everything that comes to mind. “No idea is too big or small,” Jensen says.
The range of ideas include putting up roller coasters in the backyard, a video-game marathon session, and eating the same meal all day. The family then decides which items will make the final cut (sadly, the backyard roller coaster has yet to come to fruition). They walk away from the pow wows with four seasonal lists featuring 20-30 activities (both big and small) for each.
Jensen recalls the time that her daughter, Olive, wanted the entire family to jump in the pool with their clothes on. “It turned out to be one of our family’s favorite things,” says Jensen. “We laughed our heads off.”
Other notable memories that originated from the family’s Live List have included making cucumber boats, watching cloud animals float by on the trampoline, star-gazing, camping in the great outdoors, getting a family band together, going fishing, eating a meal without using their hands, planting a garden, hosting a root beer taste-testing event, and of course, one epic mud fight.
The family is also mindful to include service into their fun. They focus all of their fall activities on helping others like raking their neighbors’ leaves or baking goodies for the community. At the moment, their current list includes two special items that will make all the difference in the world: “Random acts of kindness” and “Do something using your courage.” Each family member has a box next to their name to mark off when they have completed both of these tasks, and Jensen explains that the latest list has prompted her children to discuss what it means to be courageous as well as look for new opportunities to exhibit courage.
“We talk about how to be courageous at school, like watching when someone needs a friend or how sometimes it’s a form of courage to be happy when you’re feeling sad,” says Jensen. “You can put anything on your list that you think will help your family be guided in the right direction. You hang it in your kitchen and you look at it every day and there’s just something really wonderful about crossing something off a list in life, in general.”
Jensen runs a popular Instagram account showcasing her beautiful family and their life in the mountains of Utah. Their Live List adventures are documented with the hashtag #jensenfamilylivelist. While it may appear from all their smiley shots that this is all about fun, they stress that the list has a deeper purpose. It’s a way to remind themselves through life’s ebbs and flows that life can be good if you’re willing to seek it out and work towards it together.
Jensen and her husband are no strangers to struggles of their own, enduring a total of seven heartbreaking miscarriages, medical challenges with their son, Sam, who has special needs, and the recent and unexpected death of Mark’s beloved mother, Pia.
For their family, it’s not so much about crossing off an item on their list, but forging an unbreakable bond through their experiences together. “It’s not about the activity, it’s about bonding as a family and creating the life you want to live,” says Jensen.