I used to be a New Year’s Resolution person but slowly came to the realisation that I’m not terribly good at keeping a list of instructions over a twelve month period. I was a little like going to confession as a child – I always had the same things on the list and I probably thought about them to the same extent.
A few years ago, I began my devotion to Gretchen Rubin and her Happiness Project. I followed the blog and then ate her books whole. She’s very true to herself – one of her commandments is “Be Gretchen” – as well as practical and descriptive in her books. She explains what she actually does rather than encouraging you to find your own way without concrete examples.
Gretchen isn’t one for resolutions either, but a new motto for each year. A guiding principle to the year. Ideally just a word. Previously I used YES or BRAVE or BETTER and found them very helpful.
This year, having thought about it quite hard, my motto is three words: Less Is More
This came about over Christmas. I was on a bus in Belfast on my way to do some Christmas shopping. The bus was filled with women on their way into Belfast to do some Christmas shopping and we were all contributing to the general conversation (this is quite a Belfast thing. I didn’t know any of these women) and we were all saying that we were going into town to “get some bits.”
We’d all bought presents, but were about to buy more things to put into the pile of presents for people. We were buying MORE. I am not physically capable of purchasing ONE thing for a person. Not entirely sure what that’s about, but if I buy an expensive thing for someone, I will add “silly little things” alongside. My friends and I exchange piles of gifts – this year we either scratched gifts or instigated a budget and it was supremely helpful – all lovely things, but not always necessary. If you took one of the things away from the pile, it wouldn’t detract from the joy of receiving the gift.
Last year, doing my accountability project with Fee I noticed that I spend a good chunk of change on “little things” for people. Growing up my mom demonstrated her affection through gifts and I’ve clearly absorbed that. The more things I give you, the more I love you. And yet it’s also a little bit sneaky. Socially, it’s a lot harder – or less acceptable, perhaps – to be annoyed by someone who has given you a gift. It’s one of the reasons why a bunch of flowers tends to fast-track the acceptance of an apology. You look ungrateful if you stay angry despite them and the emotional weight in that situation shifts. I’d like to not feel like I’m bribing friends to like me, which they would be horrified to think.
Anyway, I thought about spending less to better demonstrate my love for people. If I give you a CD that I think you will love, it makes more impact than if I give you a CD, a pair of socks, a bar of chocolate and five lipbalms. I will spend less to give more.
This extrapolated outwards to more things. I would do less to achieve more – both in my social life, my work life and my home life. I would eat less to enjoy more. I would buy fewer things to appreciate what I have or did buy. I would spend better time with friends by not rushing around and trying to cram everything in. I would eat less junk to appreciate the deliciousness of it when I did (mmm, pork scratchings!). I would do less in my day so that I could sleep more.
I have a whole issue with being busy constantly and then crashing when I just can’t take on any more. When I don’t have enough sleep I get a migraine and my anxiety shoots through the roof. I feel hassled and annoyed even though I am doing interesting things and spending time with my favourite people. That is a ridiculous luxury problem to have and one I know I am lucky to be able to have at all. But it’s still a problem, and one only I can solve for myself.
And so, this January I have made many many To Do lists. And I have made a point of taking two things off each list. Things I am not going to do and won’t feel badly about. I want very much to send thank you cards to my ski instructors, but I have accepted this is something a crazy person would do and taken those off the list. They know I was grateful because I told them at the time. sending them post would be weird.
I’ve also made lists of my stockpiles and come up with alternate plans for them:
– the many moisturisers and toiletries I bought (on offer!) over the last few months have been donated to a women’s refuge. Now I don’t feel hassled by them languishing unused and someone else benefits.
– the Christmas chocolates I hoarded for a “fun night in with a box set” have been shared at work because there simply aren’t enough nights available to munch them before they expire (plus, the amount of candy I hoard is verging on criminal).
– the to-watch list on my iPlayer list has been decimated when I deleted McMafia and Hard Sun. I didn’t actively enjoy or look forward to watching either and life is TOO short. Silent Witness stays because I genuinely want to know what happens next, rather than feeling I should watch it because it’s a cultural touchstone.
I’m trying to fill my days with shorter bursts of things that are worthwhile – to me – now. I don’t watch two episodes of House of Cards, barely paying attention because I’m on Instagram, having dinner and sorting my calendar – I’ll watch one episode, thoroughly enjoy it and then either go to bed so I can have more energy for the next day or spend twenty minutes organising myself so I am less stressed later. If I can’t walk five miles in a day, have dinner and get enough sleep, I’ll walk around the park at lunch time and listen to a podcast. It’s an hour, it’ll do. It’s plenty. It’s more because it’s less.
It’s not particularly startling, but I find that it works for me. I can’t do or be everything. I can only do what I actually can. I’m doing less, but I’m doing more.