Full Life Reflections

Striving for happiness, peace, and fulfillment in a chaotic world

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!

less is more

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:

  1. I want to see how much I can reduce the size of my “out-and-about” wardrobe this year.
  2. I want to see how few out-and-about items, including shoes, I can purchase during 2021.
  3. 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.

Your Thoughts?

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!

hello February

19 thoughts on “Less is More in 2021: Part One

  1. Di Collins says:

    Amother great post I think you have chosen a word that will help you achieve your goals.. I think that last year was a time of reflection for a lot of us. I too have been moving towards a more minimalist lifestyle. Last year i brought less into my house, including clothes, then I have ever done. A lot has also left my house but unfortunately my husbamnd is not quite so onboard with his items, so I am just ploughing ahead with my items and hoping he wil get inspired. I love the idea of open goals as well. Less pressure for me usally means better results as well. My word for the year is appreciation. That word really encompasses a lot and hopefully I am up for the challenge. As always you know I will cheering you on towards you goals.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Great to hear from you, Di, and thanks for your comment! That’s wonderful that you’re moving towards a more minimalist lifestyle and that you brought a lot less into your house last year. I know it must be hard that your husband is not on board (yet), but maybe he will be inspired by your example (fingers crossed!). Appreciation is a wonderful word for this year! Yes, it’s a word with a lot of layers and I hope it will serve you well in the coming months. I will be cheering you on, too!

  2. Jenn says:

    I think “less” is a brilliant choice, Debbie, and I look forward to hearing all the ways you intend to apply it.

    My mom, my sister, and I “played” The Minimalist Game in October, and each of us eliminated 496 items. Mom and I are playing this month, but I’m only on the 18th. I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made and will likely play again, but I’m not determined to “win” this time. During this go-round, my husband and I donated all of our CDs and our stereo. I already owned a Bose Sound Dock and have an account with Spotify, and we are listening to more music than ever. Very happy about that decision. A decision I would not have yet made if not for the game.

    I’m also way more comfortable with open goals than the methods I’ve used in the past. I feel so much lighter in 2021, for lots of reasons, but my approach to goals is one of them.

    Participating in the 21 for 21 reading challenge from the Happier Podcast is pure joy for me, as I love to read. Now that I’m more “intentional”—my word for 2021—I start each day with that 21 minutes of reading, something I’ve never done before. I often read at night, but the morning reading feels luxurious and is such a fantastic way to start the day.

    I discovered another way to get a handle on my wardrobe. I created a spreadsheet, with a column for each bottom piece and dress, and a row for each top, topper, and pair of shoes. I tried on each bottom with each top that might possibly go with that bottom. In the corresponding cell, I put an X or “NO.” After I finished all my try-ons, I checked to see which pieces I wouldn’t wear at least three ways. Unless I LOVED that piece or could wear it around the house, I’m getting rid of it. I also paid attention to comfort. Like the three pair of jeans that look nice, but don’t feel nice. I put them in “holding.” The process took a lot of time (and a lot of steps according to my Fitbit!), but as a result, I got rid of at least ten things, and I’m sure I’ll rule out more as I actually try to wear the combinations that made the first cut. Also, now it’s easy to see what tops might go with a particular pair of jeans I want to wear. As time goes on, I’ll get the shoes figured out too. As someone who has too many clothes, it’s easier for me to “see” what items are worth holding on to, which are most versatile, and which are just taking up space.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Congrats on completing The Minimalist Game in October, Jenn! I can see playing again in the future, too, but I don’t know if we have THAT much more to get rid of… We could be surprised, though. That’s great that you let go of your CDs and stereo. I can see not needing those anymore. We still have our CDs, but we got rid of all of the jewel cases a few years ago and they’re stored in a relatively small case. Maybe we can pass them on soon, though (but I don’t know about donating them without the jewel cases…).

      I love the idea of reading for 21 minutes each day. It’s a very manageable amount and I agree that it’s a fantastic way to start the day. Maybe I will consider that one… I would prefer that over the 21 for 2021 goals list.

      What you’re doing with your wardrobe is genius! I can see how it would be very helpful. I can imagine that it took a while to set up the spreadsheet, but what an amazing resource to have! I may have to “borrow” this idea for myself… I know it would take a while since I still have a lot of stuff, but it would be worth it. As it is, I’m doing “the hanger trick” and trying to wear everything to at least test it out and see how I feel about it. I’m always paring down my wardrobe, but I enjoy that type of stuff. Good luck with this challenge and with the shoes (let me know how that part goes). I agree that it’s easier to “see” what works, and you have come up with an excellent way of doing that.

  3. Katie says:

    Great post, Debbie. I always learn so much from you. 🙂

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you, Katie! I’m so glad you find my posts helpful.

  4. Murphy says:

    Great post! I like the concept of open goals. I didn’t put any number or dollar limits on my clothes purchases last year – I just decided to see how much I would buy if I only bought things I love. Turns out I bought fewer items and spent less money than any year in recent memory. And I’m so much more peaceful now that I’m not beating myself up all the time! I’m enjoying what I have, too. I hope your open goals bring you similar good things this year!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Murphy. Your experience from last year just might affirm that I’m on the right track with my open wardrobe goals for 2021. Congrats on buying fewer items, spending less money, beating yourself up less often, and enjoying what you have! Those are all such powerful wins and I’m happy for you 🙂

      1. Murphy says:

        Thanks Debbie ❣️

  5. Katrina B says:

    This is very interesting and helpful in many ways. I look forward to your updates throughout the year. I definitely like the idea of open goals, especially the “I want to see how much more/less/better I can do” part. I have always loathed competition with other people, but I habitually compete with myself. In terms of the word for this year, I am still leaning toward the concepts of simplicity, basics, enough, but I haven’t found the precise word I want yet. I have noticed that I tend to shortchange myself if I get too focused on need vs. want, so I need to find a happy medium between either buying everything or forswearing any kind of pleasure because it’s not a necessity.

    Your mention of your mother-in-law’s things reminded me of something I’ve been pondering on and off over the last decade or so. I think that dealing with the aftermath of a death, and the difficulty of disposing of that person’s belongings, is a major contributor to minimalist urges. My mom, who died recently, had suffered serious illnesses and experienced several tragedies, and I think this contributed to her accumulating things at an increasing rate. By last year my parent’s house was stuffed to the point of not being able to walk through many of the rooms. That image and the discomfort of being in that house was one of the things that prompted me to start selling and giving away all nonessential things in my own house. Now we are dealing with division of my mom’s good stuff and disposal of the not so good stuff and it looks like it could take years to go through it all. I feel like this has inoculated me against any acquisitive impulses for life.

    I love the Minimalists, having first read their essay on how solutions don’t solve problems. It made me laugh and was so true. I will never be a true minimalist, but I can definitely continue to reduce my number of things, and also my fixation on things. This might be a good month for me to start the Minimalism Game – I’ll make it the 28-day version! Ha!

    1. Sally says:

      Hi Katrina,

      I have been through that process myself. I had far too much stuff that I had kept over the years and had paid to move from one house to the next.

      I wouldn’t want someone to have to deal with all that if I died.

      Anything that I hadn’t used or looked at for years, or would have no use for in the future, I got rid of and my load is much lighter now.

      Regards Sally

    2. Debbie Roes says:

      It can be hard to find the precise word we want sometimes, Katrina. I’m sure it will come to you soon, as you seem to have the IDEA of what you want pretty firmly in mind. I agree that it can be hard to find a happy medium when it comes to buying things vs. thinking that virtually nothing is a necessity.

      My condolences on the loss of your mom. It’s hard enough to lose a parent, but then to have to deal with their belongings can add another layer of difficulty. It sounds like you have a very challenging situation to deal with in terms of dealing with your mom’s possessions. It’s recent enough for me to remember very clearly regarding my mother-in-law’s things. It definitely motivated me to pare down even further because I don’t want anyone else to have to go through such difficulty with my stuff (even though I don’t have kids, I do have a stepson and a niece and nephew). Plus, I feel so much better owning less and not having clutter around.

      I love The Minimalists, too, and have been following them for many years, but this was my first go-around with “the Minimalism Game.” I highly recommend it, as it starts out very easy and builds. It allows you to get rid of a lot in a short period of time while still being manageable. Yes, February is an easier month to do it, but it will still be over 400 items!

      1. Katrina B says:

        I thought I would come back to this since February is over. I did not manage to do the 1 + 2 + 3… approach because I tend to get rid of entire collections of things all at once – some days 2 items and other days 53 items. From the bags and boxes stacked up everywhere, I thought it was going to add up to at least 500, but I see that it was only 310 items all together. Still pretty good I guess, and I did have fun with it. But there is soooo much stuff still to go.

        1. Debbie Roes says:

          Thanks for reporting back, Katrina. I always like to read how people are doing with their goals. You did an AMAZING job with letting go of excess items during February! Yes, the “Minimalism Game” approach doesn’t work well for everyone. We even “worked ahead” on some days, as we got on a roll with decluttering. The methodology isn’t really what’s most important anyway; what matters is that we make progress on downsizing – which you did! As for the rest of the stuff, one step at a time. I find it’s like peeling an onion, with lots of layers along the way. You’ll get there!

  6. Sally says:

    Hi Debbie

    I’m glad that you and your readers have embraced the concept of Open Goals that I shared at the end of last year and that you are using them for your 2021 goals.

    This way you can feel a sense of achievement in any progress that you make, which is a much better way to feel.

    One of the things I have been doing since the start of this year is reaching out to people who I had lost contact with, to see how they are doing during these challenging COVID times. The death rate is so high in some areas that I don’t want to regret not having contacted them.

    Your life isn’t judged on what you have, but on the connections you have made and the memories that they have of you.

    Take care
    Sally x

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I and many others are grateful to you for sharing the “open goals” concept, Sally! I had never heard of it before, but it’s the perfect approach for those of us who can be all too hard on ourselves. I think I will set some open goals for other areas of my life, too, including blog posts (I’ll see how many blog posts I can publish this year…).

      Great idea to reach out to people with whom you’ve lost contact. My mom has been doing the same thing and it’s been a win-win, as it helps her to feel less lonely and allows her to catch up with lots of people. I’ve done SOME of this, but there are definitely more people I could reconnect with. I love the last sentence you wrote – very true! I need to remember that!

  7. wjgravity says:

    Long-time reader, but first time commenter! As an extrovert self-isolating alone, I’m trying to get more involved with communities on the internet.

    2021 has been deemed my “Quest for Growth”. I worked with a life coach last year and one of the exercises we did was to identify my goals. The word “quest” haunted me throughout the whole process, it wasn’t a value, but it was… *something*. As we talked about what 2021 would hold, the “Quest for Growth” came out as a theme for this year.

    I actually did the opposite of you with my goals! I had SMART goals in 2019 but more fluid intentions/ideas for 2020. Through the chaos of the pandemic, the lack of directions and metrics made me feel very lost and very stressed. So I started 2021 with a new set of SMART goals, and a plan to share them on Youtube.

    The one area that open goals may be helpful is for my health. I spent most of 2020 very, very sick and entered 2021 still without a diagnosis, I didn’t know how to make goals for my health when my health seems so far out of my control. So maybe an open goal of wanting to improve my health in 2021 will work better. It doesn’t matter if I’m targeting my mental health, stress reduction, physical health, or just drinking more water, there are little things I can do each day to improve my overall health.

    I’m looking forward to seeing more of your year of less!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks so much for your long-term readership and for submitting your first comment! “Quest for Growth” is an excellent theme for this year (or any year, really). I hope that having SMART goals for this year will be helpful for you, but I think all of us should cut ourselves some slack for not getting as much done as we hoped in 2020. I felt lost and stressed last year even with the SMART goals that I created (which I actually had to revise mid-way through the year and towards the end of the year as well). I think it’s great that you’re going to share your goals on YouTube. I’ve found that making my goals public has helped me to achieve more of them.

      I think keeping health goals more open is a good idea, especially when one is dealing with chronic and unexplained illness. I have definitely been there, too (and still am), so I can appreciate how challenging it is to try to make goals when it’s hard to know how one will feel as the days, weeks, and months progress. Having an open goal of improving the various areas of your health this year sounds both doable and inspiring. Maybe I will “steal” this open goal from you 😉 Best wishes to you during 2021 and I hope you will comment again.

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