Happy New Year ! January 1st happens to be one of my favorite days of the year. This isn’t simply because it’s a holiday. I happen to love new beginnings. I love starting a new calendar. I adore taking down last year’s calendar and putting up my new one, in ceremonial fashion. There is something magical about the morphing between December and January. It’s not the same as the transition between June and July. There is a newness, a freshness and a way to think about the direction in which you wish to head. I love the idea that we can recreate our lives with a whole year ahead to accomplish our goals.
Because of my love for new beginnings, as well as books, it’s no wonder that I adore books that talk about new beginnings that flow over the course of a year. Two incredible books, that both examine this idea, are “The Year of Living Biblically” by A.J. Jacobs and “Simple Abundance: A daybook of Comfort & Joy” by Sarah Ban Breathnach. The authors of these books have extremely different goals. The former examines a secular Jewish man’s goal of following every single biblical tenet for one year; especially those little known ones that are far removed from the Ten Commandments. The latter is a day by day plan to, obviously, simplify one’s life and connect with a deeper sense of self in doing so. While these books are intrinsically dissimilar in their approach to looking the year ahead, they are remarkably symbiotic in the way the theme is “radical change in a year”. I recommend both; one for laughs and the other for inspiration.
Both of these books have inspired me to make some radical changes in my own life. My own area is that of finances: the way I look at our income, the way I spend our income and the way I picture needs vs. wants. Like many families, our spending has exceeded our income. This isn’t because we have lived like Kings. Nor, is it because we’ve consistently made foolish decisions. We, like many other Americans, have watched our expenses rise, our income fall, and our investments plummet. We have lived ‘just’ above our means. We have failed to plan for the unexpected, like new brakes for the truck, or major dental work. We have shopped recreationally, and if we’ve seen something we liked, and it seemed to be ‘not expensive’, we bought it. We had meals out, at places like “The Olive Garden”, believing “it’s not too expensive”. We have failed to plan and been impulsive, rather than planners. We haven’t gone to Las Vegas and gambled. We haven’t sent our checking account number overseas in a scam. We’ve just bought when we didn’t need to, and spent when we didn’t have to. We said “But, it’s on sale !” as justification for a purchase.
I am looking at the year ahead as the “the Year of No Spending”. This doesn’t mean we’re going to go without groceries or car repair. This also doesn’t mean that, if one of the children has a cavity, we’ll fail to take them to the dentist. What it does mean is that I don’t need that cute skirt at Banana Republic, that Jeff doesn’t need the latest drill at Home Depot, and our kids will be just fine without going to the mall. We will replace things that are actually necessary and broken. But, we are going to investigate “Making Do” rather than immediately replacing the non-essentials. Shopping will be out of need, and not a form of entertainment. I’m going to stop watching shows like “What not to wear”, no matter how much I love them…because it instills in me a sense that what I have, and what I look like, is simply not good enough. I’m going to “Shop in my closet”, and create new from old. Caroline and I are fortunate in that we can wear each other‘s clothes…which means we can share items back and forth. This is going to be our year of counting our blessings about what we already have, rather than feeling as our current possessions are inadequate. I am learning to rediscover the library, rather than ordering from Amazon, and am happy to rent movies rather than go to the theatre.
I don’t expect this will be easy. It’s simple for me to say today that I have all I need. I imagine that, by March, this is going to get very old. But, it’s a goal is also a necessity. We need to learn to find more create ways to stay on top of our budget, especially with one child in private school, and the other beginning college soon. It is also about more than finances: it’s about appreciation of what we already have, materially and emotionally. Our culture is often sending us the message to look for ‘more’. I believe, for my own life, this is the year to look for ‘less is more’.
I’ll post updates monthly on this topic. I wish each of you well in 2009 and hope I will have the willpower to talk myself out of those great sales at Macy’s. And, Ann Taylor. And the Gap. And Pottery Barn. And Anthropologie. And Crate & Barrel. Not to mention all the good food in restaurants I love. This is going to be harder than I thought, but I know it will be worth it. Just keep reminding me.
Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man. ~Benjamin Franklin