Your own personal science projects.

In theory, I’m into the concept of New Year’s Resolutions. A few years ago I decided to embrace the idea of new chapters, fresh starts, and healthy changes as best I could. Let's use all the chances we get, right? But what I’ve realized this year is that the word ‘resolution' itself doesn’t imply much more than, well, resolving to do a thing — which is basically just a thought, an idea, an intention. And look: intentions are a greeaaat first step. But resolutions don’t also imply action—which is what must come next.

So I’m jumping to step two this year and calling them New Year’s Experiments. Why? Because experiments need to be run. And you cannot run experiments without taking some form of action. ‘Experiment’ also implies that you don’t necessarily have to succeed at the thing you’re trying. It becomes impossible to fail. Because the only thing you have to do is to commit to the experiment and see what happens.

Here are the experiments I'm running…

1. Minimalism: get at me.

Minimalism kinda snuck up on me. Sure, I’ve been dreaming of tiny houses for the past few years, building capsule wardrobes now and then, and—you know—authoring a decluttering book. But I actually didn’t think that the minimalism label might be right for me until pretty recently. Why? Because a person can be highly organized, know where everything is with easy access, live a largely decluttered (and imperfect) life, and still have a fair amount of stuff.

Lately, though, a lot’s been bubbling up for me about what, how, and why I consume. I’ve been getting hit pretty hard in the face with just how much my own self-worth / wanting to be liked / keeping up appearances plays into my purchases—from clothes to gifts to car leases. And how much happier I am when I fight back, practice self-love in those areas, and get the added bonus of less and less clutter.

The smart folks in the Minimalism documentary on Netflix can explain this whole movement better than I can. If you haven’t already checked it out, I highly suggest watching — no matter where you are on your decluttering journey. It even has a minimalist running time of only 78 minutes.

What goes hand-in-hand with a desire to live a more minimal life?

2. Spending Rest.

You’re on a what now? If you’re a New Order reader, you may remember that part where I wrote in big letters that “you probably shouldn't take financial advice from me” (page 147!). Um, yeah, that’s very true. Look: a person can be extremely organized about tracking income/expenses, and still be a numbnut when it comes to budgeting and overspending. (Sensing a theme here? There is always room for better.) Thus: it’s time to make some fundamental changes to my adulthood money habits.

I read The Spender's Guide to Debt-Free Living: How a Spending Fast Helped Me Get from Broke to Badass in Record Time by Anna Newell Jones and I knew within the first few pages: this fast is for me. (Except I'll be calling it a "spending rest,”, because of Newell Jones' trademark rules. Props.) How does it work? Well, in short, we’ve each got needs and wants, right? For a whole year, I will buy my needs and not buy my wants. A few examples from my lists: Groceries, gas, travel to see family? Needs. Reasonable, right? Meals/coffees/drinks out, new clothes, baby shower gifts? Wants. Not happening for a year. (Sorries to all the babies.)

It’s been a real wake-up call to realize that: The amount of debt and/or savings I have are not—ultimately—a result of the income I earn. They are the result of my spending habits. We don’t always have control over what we make. But we do have control over what we spend.

And PS: I’ve lots and lots more to say about this money stuff — including the app YNAB* (You Need A Budget), which completely changed my financial body and soul a few months ago. It set me up to feel ten times more confident going into my spending rest.

*[I’m a part of YNAB’s referral program, which means if you click on my referral link and sign up, you get a free month, and I do too (this kicks in if you continue your subscription after the free trial period). The subscription price stays the same for you whether or not you sign up through my link. Thanks for your support, and know that I only recommended apps + products I personally use and think are cool.]

One of the many benefits of the Spending Rest? Being forced to prepare my own meals. Which plays riiiight into my slow-and-steady path to better health...

3. Healing my body. Which includes no refined sugar all year long.

Are you starting to think I’m a crazy person yet?

So I've got a few health issues to figure out. (Most of us do at this point, right?) My most pressing ailment means dietary restrictions that include two of the big ones: No gluten and no sugar (except honey). Oof and oooooof. But get this: not eating out because of the spending rest makes these restrictions about 10,000 times easier to avoid. (It also avoids the eye rolls I get when I ask if something is gluten-free and folks think I’m following a trend when I’m really just healing my gut. Yay, adulthood!)

I’ve spent my entire life being able to cook only scrambled eggs and PBJs, and it is only in the past year that I’ve gone beyond that in any kind of sustainable way. So this whole diet change / cooking thing? Scary as hell. Shout-outs to Blue Apron and Sun Basket—they were both a big help in getting me to take the meal prep plunge. I only had subscriptions for a short time, but they were a tremendous help in building my kitchen confidence. (…while also confirming the theory that it’s the first steps—in this case, choosing recipes and shopping for food—that are the hardest, scariest parts. Not the actual doing of the thing.) So—except for travel and special occasions—I’ll be cooking and learning and messing up and laughing about it all year long, while I prepare all! of! my! meals!

Accountability, in any form, is key. So I’m also lucky to be supported on a weekly basis by a dear friend who is designing a brilliant new health program. Plus I’ll be choosing new doctors, making sure I understand and trust them--and then actually following their advice. (Btw, I keep all medical documentation in an Evernote notebook, pulled up in a heartbeat whenever I need.)

And how will I be better-manned, organizationally speaking, to attack these and a zillion other creative experiments?

4. I’m stepping up my weekly-appointments-with-myself game.

Do I get most things done? Sure. I swear by a trusted task list—one place to count on for every project, no matter how big or small, and every action step it requires. (See Chapter 6 of New Order for more.) But sometimes I still get stuck in planning out the when of it all. (Life is busy! You get it!) I’m a huge advocate of scheduling appointments with yourself to get everything from creative projects to phone calls done. But I haven’t yet mastered the macro weekly planning (sometimes called time maps), where I schedule certain types of tasks for the same time every week. What does this mean? It means that instead of stopping by the grocery store because you happen to be nearby, you decide that Thursdays at 6pm are for groceries and that’s the end of it. And instead of saying yes to coffee dates in the middle of a Wednesday, you can say ‘No, thank you. That’s a make-my-art day. But I schedule drinks dates for Monday evenings.' Boom.

For many freelancer/creative/entrepreneur types, whose schedules and projects are always changing, an attempt at a set weekly schedule can be challenging. But having an unpredictable life is exactly why we need to stick to as many constants as we can. (And we’re allowed to change the weekly schedule when our big projects change. Suddenly you’re needed every Thursday evening for an art show collaboration or a PTA meeting, so you simply change which day is grocery day.) When it works, it really works. This practice is laced with inherent accountability for yourself. And even when it doesn’t work, being able to return to a personally-designed template and try again…well, that’s really something special.

Even if you don't use the calendar for the long term, it's an incredible exercise to plot out your life and see what you truly have time for in any given week. I already got the hard truth that there simply aren't enough hours in the day for me to attack every project I desire right now. But what I'm left with is strong intention and renewed commitment for what I can fit.

I’m gonna leave you with my favorite quote of the Minimalism documentary, from A.J. Leon (I think I got this 99% right from transcribing): "When you recognize that this life is yours and that it is your one and only; and when that ceases to be esoteric bullshit, when that’s not hippie poetry anymore; when the pragmatism of that statement seeps directly in your bones and you recognize that this is it—everything changes.

We only got one. And it’s yours. Let the experiments begin.

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    Fay Wolf