The first month of 2021 is almost over. While it hasn’t been the idyllic departure to 2020 that many of us hoped for (how about those three consecutive Wednesdays in January, my fellow Americans?), there are some positive signs that 2021 might shape up to be better than the tremendous chaos of last year. I hope and pray that we’ll see shifts that will change the difficult trajectory of 2020 as we navigate this new year.
There’s only so much we can do to impact the macro, but we can make a lot of progress in the micro world of our own experience. One of the practices that I’ve taken on in this regard for over a decade is to select a word/theme for each new year. While I’ve already been incorporating my 2021 theme into various areas of my life throughout January, I have yet to introduce it on the blog, so now’s the time!
As you probably guessed from the title above, my word/theme for 2021 is “less.” In today’s post, I’ll highlight my reasons for selecting this word, as well as two of the key areas of my life that I’d like to see impacted by “less” during 2021 and beyond. In part two of this series, which will go live within the next week or so, I’ll round out the rest of the areas that I’d like to apply “less” to. Splitting this essay into two parts is part of my effort to publish shorter and more frequent posts on the blog. Hopefully this will be a welcome change for you!
Why I Chose “Less” as My Theme for 2021
I often feel like my words for the year are extensions of each other. Usually, my word for any given year is a great follow-on from the one that governed the previous year. This year is no exception… My 2020 word was “enough,” and I debriefed my “year of enough” in my last post. I was pleased to conclude that I had made more progress on “enough” than I thought I had, even in the midst of a very chaotic year that resulted in less direct focus on my 2020 theme. My biggest wins related to enough were in regards to feeling good enough and showing more compassion toward myself. Although I also wanted to experience big wins related to enough in my closet and home, I didn’t place as much attention on those areas, as the country and world navigated the pandemic and intense political and social unrest.
By selecting “less” as my theme for 2021, I’ll be able to carry on some of my original intentions with “enough,” while also expanding upon the wins I experienced last year in my relationships with myself and others. I also intend to take great strides toward cultivating a simpler and more peaceful life. Below, I highlight two key ways I see “less” unfolding for me this year (more in my next post…).
Less in the Home
When the word “less” is mentioned, the first thing we often think about is stuff. Since my many years of being a “pack rat,” I’ve made profound improvements in downsizing my possessions. Fortunately, my husband has been on board with this effort, so I’ve had a partner when it comes to decluttering. Although we released a lot of our possessions prior to our move in June 2018, we also acquired a plethora of items following my mother-in-law’s passing in August 2019. It was a huge undertaking to clear out her large home, and many of her belongings found their way into our garage and other storage areas within our house. While we have continued to declutter in a piecemeal fashion, we decided to step things up a notch this year.
On January 1st, my husband and I watched the new Netflix documentary from The Minimalists called “Less is Now.” This film inspired my word for this year, although “less” was already one of the themes I’d been considering. At the end of “Less is Now,” the suggestion is made to play what is known as “The 30-Day Minimalism Game.” Before the credits for the documentary were done rolling, my husband and I had agreed to play this game in January 2021, starting that very evening! There’s no time like the present, right?
About “The 30-Day Minimalism Game”
If you’re curious about “The 30-Day Minimalism Game,” you can click on this link to learn more and view a short video on how to play. The gist of it is that game players agree to let go of one item on the first day of the month, two items on the second day, three items on the third day, and so on. By the end of the month, close to 500 items will be passed on, which is a lot! And since January has 31 days in it, we decided to extend the game an additional day, for that much more of a downsizing achievement.
As I write this, there are only three more days in January. We have quite a few boxes and bags piled up in our garage to donate to charity. It feels great to clear out excess items that aren’t serving a clear purpose or bringing us joy (The Minimalists’ two criteria for holding on to things). It’s amazing how much we still found to get rid of despite our diligence in passing things on during our move and following my mother-in-law’s death.
We’re going to finish the job of going through all of our belongings, even though the home stretch of “The 30-Day Minimalism Game” is upon us. When all is said and done, we’ll probably release at least 750 items! When decluttering, it’s helpful to remember a key saying from The Minimalists that is all too true:
“Our memories aren’t in things. They’re in us.”
Less in the Closet
One of the key areas that I intended to address last year with “enough” was my closet. For that objective, I set a few wardrobe-related goals, including paring down my “out-and-about” wardrobe to a specific level and adhering to an item limit for purchases in that area of my wardrobe. While I was able to achieve both of those goals, it was by the skin of my teeth, despite the fact that the pandemic meant that I rarely wore out-and-about ensembles. I also went over my clothing budget for the year, which I wasn’t happy about, even though it wasn’t by a huge amount. There was just no good reason to have purchased as many items and spent as much money as I did during a pandemic year.
I considered setting some strict goals around clothing purchases and wardrobe size for 2021, but I’ve decided that “less” is also going to apply to my goals for this year. I’m not going create a “21 for 2021” list like I did for the previous two years or set any concrete goals for myself. Instead, I’m going to incorporate the “open goal” concept that was shared by one of my loyal readers, Sally (who always shares wonderful insights and resources), late last year.
For years, I adhered to the practice of setting a series of “SMART goals” each January. But this often led to my feeling like a failure if I didn’t reach a specific benchmark that I had set for myself, even if I hadn’t missed the mark by all that much. Setting open goals can help to avoid this type of effect, as the focus in on progress rather than perfection. Whereas SMART goals tend to be an all-or-nothing proposition, open goals are often phrased as aiming to “see how well you can do” in a particular area of your life.
An Open Goal Example…
An example will probably help here… Lots of people set goals around exercise. With the popularity of the Fitbit and similar devices, a popular objective is to log at least 10,000 steps per day. Some days, it may be easy to get in that many steps, but we all have days when we’re either especially busy or aren’t feeling up to too much activity. On such occasions, it may be a great achievement to log 5,000 steps (or even fewer than that).
If instead of having the specific goal of “I will walk at least 10,000 steps every day this year,” you chose the open goal of “I will see how high I can get my average daily step count over the course of the year,” you’ll be more likely to feel encouraged by whatever progress you can make. Open goals allow us to build upon our starting points, which leads to both progress and a feeling of accomplishment along the way. They also make it less likely that we’ll beat ourselves up, get discouraged, and give up.
My Wardrobe Open Goals
So, how does this all relate to my wardrobe and closet? I’m not going to set any numbers-based goals for myself this year. Instead, I have set the following open goals related to clothes and shopping:
- I want to see how much I can reduce the size of my “out-and-about” wardrobe this year.
- I want to see how few out-and-about items, including shoes, I can purchase during 2021.
- I want to see how few overall wardrobe-related items I can purchase during 2021.
My focus with these goals is still on “less,” but it’s more about challenging myself to make progress in the right direction, rather than needing to adhere to a particular benchmark. This approach feels lighter and evokes more self-compassion than my previous method of setting SMART goals. We’ll see how it goes as the year progresses. I’ll definitely check in and let you know how I’m doing with all three of the open goals above.
Now that I’ve shared my “less” theme for 2021 and let you in on how I’d like this word to impact my home and my closet this year, I’d love to hear from you. You’re welcome to weigh in however you’d like, but here are some questions to help spark your thoughts:
- What do you think of the concept of “open goals”?
- What is your word/theme for 2021?
- If you don’t have a specific theme for the year, what would you like to accomplish before the dawn of 2022?
- What would you like to do this year – and how would you like to feel?
I look forward to reading your thoughts! I’ll be back soon with part two about my 2021 theme. In that post, I’ll share a few other aspects of my life experience that I’d like to see impacted by “less.” Have a wonderful weekend and Happy February!