I’m a a New Year’s Resoluter, I’ll admit it. Some years I’ve really stuck to my resolutions, some years I have not. But it will come as no surprise to anyone in the PF community that, like many of you, I like setting goals for my personal and professional development and I find satisfaction in attaining those goals.
This year, I decided to try something a little different from the standard New Year’s Resolution. I’ve had good luck with 30-day challenges in the past, from money related (Uber Frugal Month, not eating out for a month), to health or fitness related (30 Days of Biking, Dry January), or house related (January Cure). In late December, I stumbled upon a post from Wantless Blog about how she planned to do a whole year of 30-day challenges. This seemed like a great thing for me, a person with a short attention span. I would still feel like I accomplished something if I put my energy towards one goal for a month instead of failing at 87 self-improvement goals all at once. She also linked to this great (short!) video about the power of 30-day challenges.
Just after the New Year, I sketched out the first 6 months of 30 day challenges on Twitter:
I had already been talking about doing the January Cure again “with a gusto” (some years I have really half-assed it), and I have also done Dry January for the last several years and planned to do it again. I thought about some other goals I have for 2018 (with health and self-care being high on the list), and decided to revisit some challenges that I have attempted in the past.
What Is the January Cure?
To me, the January Cure is about more than just cleaning and decluttering. Although those are important, it’s also about resetting your house after the holidays, and establishing or restarting cleaning routines to keep your house tidy and clean-ish most of the time. I’ve done the challenge before, so I mostly knew what to expect. To summarize, the January Cure includes lots of short, weeknight tasks from cleaning out a drawer to doing a digital detox. Then, each weekend, you undertake a larger project such as deep-cleaning your floors, kitchen, or bathroom. You also choose a long-term project that you can complete in January (maybe hanging some art or replacing a light fixture), and make a plan to have guests over sometime in February to show off your clean and clutter-free home (I usually skip this, but we might try to have a party this year!).
The thing I like about both January Cure and my favorite cleaning/decluttering blog, Unf*ck Your Habitat, is that they both encourage routines and systems to keep your house uncluttered and to prevent yourself from “binge cleaning.” The January Cure has small tasks that you fit in to your evening routine, and Unf*ck Your Habitat uses its 20/10 system (20 minutes of cleaning followed by a 10 minutes break). I recently started reading the Unf*ck Your Habitat book, and I learned a little bit more about the psychology of the 20/10 system that is touted on the blog. A lot of people complain that the system encourages “too many breaks,” but the whole point is to trick yourself into realizing that cleaning isn’t that difficult and it is something that should be done in short spurts on a regular basis. It’s a really great system for anyone who struggles with completing unenjoyable household chores or staying focused on arduous tasks at work. (I’m also a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique and associated apps on my browser to keep me focused on work tasks.)
Wait, I Thought This Was a Personal Finance Blog?
I think at this point, most of us recognize that we all have different paths to financial freedom. Some people practice extreme frugality, some people practice minimalism, some people earn more through side hustles or real estate investment. To me, my decluttering and cleaning efforts are absolutely part of my personal finance journey. Just a few examples:
- After Mr. G and I combined households, we had a storage unit for several years. It wasn’t until I discovered the FI/RE community that I decided that a half empty storage unit full of forgotten junk was a terrible way to waste $65 a month, and decided to get rid of most of the remaining items in the unit.
- This month I’ve found probably half a dozen items that I’ve 1) been trying to find for a long time or, 2) were on my shopping list, but we had extras hiding in the clutter that I wasn’t aware of. Decluttering and staying organized prevents me from buying stuff we don’t actually need.
- Helping my Surviving Parent downsize and declutter after the death of my other parent this summer has helped me realize that I don’t want to spend all of my precious time on this earth tending to my junk and I don’t want to have to pay for a huge house or storage unit to store it all.
- Cleaning and maintaining my home on a regular basis means catching minor issues before they become costly repairs. Maintaining appliances, furniture and flooring ensures that they stay in good condition for a long time.
- Decluttering also helps me appreciate what we have and what we use. For example, we have a lot of kitchen gadgets, and we love to cook. (Fancy rice cooker, sous vide, Instant Pot, immersion blender, stand mixer, food processor, etc. etc. etc.) But if the kitchen is cluttered with a ton of junk we never use, we’re more likely to say “eff it, this space is unusable,” and go out to eat. Culling rarely used or duplicate kitchen gadgets makes our kitchen a more functional and usable space.
So there you have it, folks – cleaning and decluttering are verifiable personal finance endeavors. If you’re going to live the Uber Frugal life (or even a medium frugal life), you’re probably going to be spending a fair bit of time at home engaging in frugal activities, and your home should be a functional, beautiful, and enjoyable space that supports your lifestyle.
Reflections on a Dry January
This is at least the 4th (5th?) year I have done a Dry January. The rules are simple: no alcohol in January! Although the movement started in the UK, I read an article some years ago (probably on the now-defunct Hairpin or Awl, 😭) about the benefits of periodic abstinence from your vices, and decided to give it a go. What started out as a very difficult challenge for me has turned into something that is totally achievable and very good for my post-holiday health goals. There have been many times where January has totally gone off the rails and I’d love nothing more than a beer or cocktail to take the edge off. But Dry January teaches me that alcohol doesn’t have to be a crutch. That there are other ways to reduce my anxiety – deep breaths, a text to a friend, going for a short walk, cleaning up around the house, etc. My biggest personal growth accomplishment in this past year of never-ending personal dumpster fires has been learning to control my emotions and anxiety (most of the time), and I am happier and healthier because of it. Sometimes, that means taking a month to remind yourself that you don’t need alcohol to soothe your anxiety.
The first Friday of January, we went out with friends and I ordered my usual Dry January cocktail, a Diet Coke. (Sometimes, if I’m feeling fancy or don’t want the caffeine, I’ll have a soda water with lime.) I didn’t really say anything about Dry January (because I don’t want it to seem like I’m shaming my friends for not joining me), until a friend walked in and noticed my Diet Coke. “You’re doing it again, eh?” he said, having remembered years past. That sparked a lot of curiosity and I had to explain to several other friends that yes, I was actually going an entire month without alcohol. Then, of course, as a temporary teetotaler, you become the sounding board for everyone’s personal anxieties about their alcohol consumption and how they feel they could never achieve this level of self control. It’s very weird. I don’t personally see myself with a ton of self control, but maybe I am? Maybe this month is good for training my self control muscles? But there are other benefits, as well: not drinking, in combination with a lower-carb diet and eating a ton of veggies for lunch and dinner means I am down almost 10 lbs this month. 🎉 Plus, we don’t really drink at home very often, so we’ve saved a lot of money this month with me not drinking at bars and restaurants (although Mr. G still indulges).
Looking Forward to February
I won’t deny that I’m losing steam on my January Cure tasks, but I’ve accomplished a lot, and I’m very proud of my progress. There are also a few habits I’d like to bring forward with me into the next few months (or forever!):
- Prepping at least 3 lunch salads for the workweek and meal planning at least 5 nights of dinners (usually Sunday through Thursday).
- Creating and maintaining systems for healthier work snacks and beverages (see also: my new tea doodad).
- “Bussing” our end tables at the end of each day for any dishes that haven’t made it to the kitchen.
- Adding back alcohol on a limited basis, and sticking to one night a week for alcohol consumption (mainly for weight loss reasons).
With the January Cure, I’ve accomplished:
- Decluttered the kitchen drawers, socks & underwear drawers, my half of the closet, top of my dresser + night stand, pantry + spice cupboard, breakfast nook, dining room table, living room bookshelves, under the sink, the mail table, etc. etc.
- Managed to fill two large boxes for a spring rummage.
- Cleaned (CLEANED) our fridge, cleaned behind couch, cleaned behind dining room furniture, cleaned and dusted a lot of surfaces that had not been touched…in a while.
- Re-envisioned our dining room and bought a shelf (which helped with some storage issues) and a few strategic accessories to make it more functional and inviting.
- Hung some art that we have had FOREVER, but were too lazy or indecisive to hang.
January was freaking long, y’all. And, at times, not all that enjoyable. But as Mrs. Frugalwoods said in her recent post on decluttering, “while re-organizing a house is not exactly a life-altering event, it was a soothing balm for me in this time of chaos.” Liz’s personal chaos is related to the arrival of their second child and a flurry of activity surrounding her book release. My personal chaos is stemming from family health issues and uncertainty surrounding Mr. G’s job and the university funding climate. Fun! Thus, having a productive outlet for my nervous energy over this past month, especially during the brutally cold days where going outside was seriously unpleasant (or downright dangerous), has resulted in a cleaner, more streamlined home and a slightly saner me.
We’ve (almost) made it through the longest and most austere month of the year. Spring is coming. We’ve got this. 💪
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