Reward Yourself with Time and Creativity in the New Year

It’s that time of year! A lot of people can’t stand New Year’s resolutions, but I enjoy thinking about all the possibilities when a fresh year lies ahead. Nothing has been delayed, tarnished, or spoiled, and it’s a time to reflect, dream, and plan. Below are my ideas for indulging myself with both time and creativity in the new year:

Quieting the mind

My father used to spend months at a time in silent meditative retreat. Yes, that’s correct—months at a time. So you’d think I might be able to meditate for a mere 15 minutes a few mornings a week. But so far, this has been an elusive goal for me, which is why it’s back on my list this year. After all, meditation changes your brain, and I think it’s important to press "pause" on the busyness of our minds.

The idea of contemplation or reflection (how can you not like those words?) seems like such an important part of being truly conscious in your day-to-day life. But it’s not easy to meditate—at least for me! Yet I’ve also come to realize that I find meditative peace in other ways than just sitting still. Running for long periods or finding uninterrupted time to draw can take me to a space that truly quiets the mind. Perhaps social support would help me if I joined a weekly meditation group.

Embracing the local

I find that a great way to newly appreciate where you live is by putting on a visitor’s hat with full gusto and doing the activities you’d do if your best friend was in town for a week—like going to that art museum you’ve been meaning to visit, taking that buggy ride around town, or using the new outdoor skating rink. Then, put on your “insider’s” hat and go do the things that might seem slightly intimidating but have always intrigued you, such as exploring your local art and musical talents.

I just went to a $15 one-woman show by Denise Stewart, Dirty Barbie and Other Childhood Tales, at our local theater in Charlottesville, VA. It was wonderful and inspired me to commit to seeing more live shows in 2012. Why not go to the open mike night you’ve always heard about? Or see what the city is offering. We recently stumbled across free rollerskating every weekend afternoon and became regulars for a few months—our kids loved it!

Finding time

We talk about time a lot at New Dream, especially about the importance of getting off the overwork-overspend-overconsume treadmill (as well as advocating for a shorter work week, flexible schedules, and more vacation and paid leave). It’s a topic I’m constantly drawn to because it’s something that everyone can relate to and that can dramatically affect your quality of life. Recently, I found more inspiration on this issue from an unusual source.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I picked up the 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (it seemed like such a marketing ploy, which it is), but there were plenty of useful tips in the book. And I found a lot of common ground with the themes of New Dream. For example, Ferriss is all about ways to live more, work less, and follow your passion. I appreciated this quote in particular: “One cannot be free from the stresses of a speed-and-size obsessed culture until you are free from the materialistic addictions, time-famine mindset and comparative impulses that created it in the first place.“

Ferriss talks about the need to replace the perception of time famine with an appreciation of time abundance. He observes that a lack of time is often actually a lack of priorities, and that doing less (i.e., being selective) is the path to more productivity and enjoyment. Two recommendations that I’ll be spending more time on next year are reducing the time I spend on e-mail, checking it only at certain times of the day to reduce distraction and enable longer periods of focus, and going on periodic “media fasts” to recognize and limit how much time I’m spending consuming TV, Internet, and other media.


Sometimes there are little things that just feel like a triumph and tiny protest against cheap mass production, like learning how to make bread, knit a hat, or darn a sock. It’s almost a daily occurrence in our house that my daughter and I search in vain for a sock without a hole (not to mention one with a match, but luckily she still doesn’t mind wearing mismatched socks). My first thought usually is, my daughter needs new socks, but really, she just needs mended socks!

Yes, it’s a teeny tiny step but it will feel so good! So in the new year, I’m going to set aside one night or so a month to do these small things. It’ll be the night when, instead of seeking out my book for relaxation, I’ll take out that box of holey socks and put on a podcast of David Sedaris or Terri Gross or This American Life and darn a sock for the first time in my life.


I like the idea of getting outside your comfort zone and experimenting with new things that may be wildly impractical to your daily life. Think of Steve Jobs’s experience of taking a calligraphy class at Reed College—at first glance, not a lot of real-life application, but what he learned in that class ended up having a huge impact on how the Mac was developed. A new class or workshop, especially if it’s outside your normal realm, can make you see things differently and may tap into excitement to learn again, or open your eyes to entire mini-systems orbiting in your backyard that you knew nothing about. Maybe it’s a huge DIY community of homebrewers, or perhaps an improv class or even a trapeze class (yes, in a few big cities you can do this). Just find something that tickles your fancy or scares the hell out of you! Hmm…what am I going to sign up for? Still thinking about it!

Taking a stand

Tired of politics, corporate dominance, awful school food, bottled water, littering, mountaintop removal—or whatever really irks you? Then do something about it! Take a small step, but do something that matters. Do more than just write an e-mail—go to your next city council meeting, go to a creek cleanup, organize a trash pickup, give a screening on mountaintop removal, join or create a city food council, join an Occupy protest, create a buy-local campaign, start an energy savings club. Get together with your neighbors and talk about what’s possible. (See our Collaborative Communities program for ideas and keep a look out for our new toolkit on Sharing Resources—the first chapter of our Community Action Kit coming out in early spring.)

Reconnecting to nature

You know how good it feels when you’re out on a walk or hike and the sun is streaming through the leaves, and the air is clear and sharp and you’re just so glad to be outside—and you think, why don’t I do this more often? Indeed, why not? I want to take more frequent walks at parks closer to home, but then also plan for longer hikes. Schedule that time—a day a month where you go on a longer hike and get farther away from the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life. Go with friends, take a family hike—put it on the calendar now before it gets too busy. Nature reawakens your spirit like nothing else can. And it’s only when we step outside our everyday lives that we can see what’s really important and what’s not. 

Resisting over-shopping

There are three strategies I employ when I feel like I want to buy things that I don’t need but just really want. First, I tell myself I can’t buy anything new until I clean out/re-organize my closet—well, that usually kills the desire right there, since I don’t often have the time or energy to do this. But then when I do clean out or organize my closet, I realize I have plenty of clothing, and I’m so happy I’ve cleaned my closet that I no longer feel a desire to buy new items. 

My second strategy is to get off as many catalog lists as possible so they don’t pile up by the door (we use Catalog Choice, but there are other ways to take action). But when I do get a catalog that I like, I look through it and rip out whatever it is I want to buy and put the ripped pages in a folder in my office marked “Shopping.” For some reason, this is satisfying in-and-of-itself. Then, if I still really want the items weeks or months later, I can look in the folder and reassess—although at that point I usually don’t want them. And if I do, then I tell myself I can’t order those things until I clean out my closet...and so it goes!

My third strategy is to organize a swap, most often a book swap. I really like to buy books—there’s nothing I like better than a stack of new books. So when I’m feeling drawn to the bookstore, I e-mail a bunch of friends that I’m having a book swap the following week, and to come on over. Everyone brings books and leaves with books, without a penny dropped. I also realized recently that I can check out magazines at my local library. I’m a magazine junkie, so this was a big discovery for me! Now, I can get a huge pile of magazines—from Harpers and The New Yorker to People and Vanity Fair (no guilt—they’re free!)—so I can sit with my cup of tea and bowl of popcorn and feel incredibly indulgent with my comforting stack of new reads next to me. 

All in all, not a bad way to start off the new year.

Wendy Philleo is Executive Director of the Center for a New American Dream.

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I think that all of these recommendations are solid steps toward becoming a more holistic individual. Dominator Western culture has taken a lot from us by getting us to chase things that don’t actually matter and aren’t beneficial, but in fact are burdens. Most people don’t realize the control they have over their own life and doing little things like the ones listed above can help reclaim that control and gain an understanding of the concept.

Posted by Tim Fisher at March 27, 2012 at 6:00pm

I like this blog because it puts emphasis that we need to look into our lives and take a step back. It seems that this world is moving so quickly that we tend to lose track of who we are and what state of consciousness we’d enjoy being in. Meditation brings forth a great form for reflect on one’s daily life, and also enables the brain to take control of emotions whether they are harmful or not. In considering certain techniques to find time for myself I have realized that I need to be the difference I want to see in this world. As the years go by as long as I can stick to that then my new years resolution can stick to me forever.

Posted by Joseph T at March 27, 2012 at 2:21am

I really enjoyed your blog. It mentioned a lot of the things that I have been thinking and worrying about. I’ve always wanted to take a step back, do less and enjoy more, since I usually commit to too many things at one time and finding myself unable to step down because I don’t like to quit things half way. Seeing live shows, meditating, reading, shopping less, doing DIY projects and more are all things I am looking forward to doing more of.

Posted by Christine at March 27, 2012 at 12:25am

I really enjoyed reading this blog because I am a firm believer in new year resolutions. I am always trying to improve and better myself everyday, every month, every year. What is the point of living if you are not trying to make changes for the better regardless it be for yourself or for the better of of our society/country/world.
      In particular, I enjoyed the section on “quieting the mind.” I am personally really trying to incorporate mediation into my daily lifestyle. I think it is a great way to escape the stress of everyday life. At the end of the day if you don’t have a peaceful state of mind, life will only be harder. I have learned that it all starts with positivity and a clear peaceful state of mind when approaching the ups and downs of life.

Posted by Lila Nair at March 26, 2012 at 10:53pm

I also agree that it is very important to rest or “pause” our minds sometimes. From the second that we are awake we are constantly thinking or stressing about something and theres only so much your brain can take.

Posted by Ryan W at March 26, 2012 at 8:07pm

After reading your post I have to say that I really admire you for coming up with creative ideas to reinvent yourself this year. I enjoyed reading about the things you hope to accomplish this year and although the New Year celebrations have gone by I’m still willing to apply some of your ideas to my own life. I have never been hiking and I have been dyeing to go especially because there is a place to hike ten minutes away from my house. I think that there’s no better way to stick with your plan than to jot it down in your calendar. Reading your blog has further inspired me to experiment with the world around me and find new skills within me. For instance, for a few months now I have been thinking about joining art classes to help me clear my mind. I think that joining an art class in the city would be a great addition to my summer and relaxation routine which also includes yoga on the beach. Thank you for sharing your lovely new year’s resolutions with us.

Posted by Jacqueline E. Morales at March 26, 2012 at 5:15pm

I might be in the minority here, but to me, keeping up with New Year’s resolutions hasn’t been a very big challenge throughout my life. I tend to be very serious about the commitment, and mostly tend to keep my yearly promises.

Either way, I cannot agree more with the part under the topic “Reconnecting with nature”. In fact, this was my resolution for the year 2012, and so far I’ve really made an effort to go out to the woods for runs (rather than using treadmills), I’ve gone hiking to nearby hills and scenic spots a few times, and I’ve been trying to clean up my diet by using only the most natural and organic food I can afford.

Posted by Shuvam Rizal at March 26, 2012 at 12:44pm

A new year is great reason to make certain changes in life. I wish I had come up with this list three months ago, but it is never too late to start. I specifically like the idea of going local and really connecting with your hometown and going out of your comfort zone to do things you would not normally do. It really does help open ones eyes. I also have a small reskilling story: My jeans recently ripped because they had been worn so much, but instead of buying a whole new pair (which would be expensive and unnecessary) I juts borrowed my roommates sewing kit and the jeans were good as new! These ideas are awesome and I will definitely be stealing some from you!

Posted by Amy at March 25, 2012 at 9:37pm

I totally agree with using nature to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Take that one Saturday afternoon, even if it is only once a month or every other month, and breathe in some fresh air at a local park. I know there are plenty around where I live so hopefully as the weather continues to get nicer I will smarten up and take advantage of them. It would certainly help to give me a good relaxed feeling, something I lack (and I am sure many people do) during the hectic work week.

Posted by Will at March 23, 2012 at 12:20pm

I need to embrace the local more. I have been living in a town rich with artistic and cultural history for more than 5 years, but have only been downtown a couple of times. Sometimes I glance at all the stores, cafes, and museums when the buss goes through downtown, and they just seem so foreign. It should not be foreign-this is my town. I will try to go out and explore my town from now on.

Posted by Hira Butt at March 22, 2012 at 8:55pm

I find my resolution very difficult because it was to resist the shopping and that I do not have to buy something i do not need. But I still keep buying, just make myself feel good. So i guess my resolution failed and it is time to find a different one, maybe buying things for people i care about instead for me.
So I understand your feeling on resisting over-shopping and the good thing is we are not giving on this goal…so whenever it does not work out, we come up with a better solution. I really like your idea of re-orgazing the closet…it will remind me how much stuff I actually have in my closet! LOL.

Posted by Mariam Paracha at March 22, 2012 at 8:41pm

I always enjoy entering a New Year as it brings a fresh start. It gives everyone a chance to change their lifestyle while also allowing people to venture out and try new things in life. I try to set up a New Years Resolution every year and this year it is to try and become more open to new ideas.

Posted by Jugert at March 21, 2012 at 1:57pm

I feel a new year is a great opportunity to begin great things in ones life. This year i made a resolution to spend less money. I don’t buy anything that i don’t need. My way of resisting shopping is by reminding myself of the key reasons i am not spending whenever i get tempted. I remind myself i am doing this to be sustainable, and to help my family save, which are both very important things to me.

Posted by MariaElena Terzis at March 15, 2012 at 10:15pm

The comment I resonated with the most was the one about the catalogues. 2 years ago, I took all the catalogues I had saved and cut out the things I wanted. So far, I have only bought 3 of them!! Thanks to you, the next time I want to throw a catalogue away, I’ll call and get off the list.

Posted by Dale S. Brown (A blogger on this site) at January 24, 2012 at 12:00pm

I’ll add a note to the post by Amy from Revy: magazine and book sales are essential not only to supporting writers and artists but also to encouraging an essential exchange of ideas. Once you view the purchase of books and magazines — particularly from independent, locally-owned bookstores and other local retailers — as a gesture of support rather than a guilty pleasure, the guilt can be transformed into another meaningful action. Of course, sharing magazines and books is always a good idea, too, because that will guarantee a greater return on the investment in writing, editing, design, and printing.

Posted by Chas Lohrmann, Texas Highways magazine at January 3, 2012 at 10:30am

Isobel, I agree wholeheartedly with supporting artists, which is why I mention supporting your local arts in this blog and in other blogs. In my town we also have a festival of books which is another lovely way to support writers. But book swapping is just like using your local library but without late fees, and is another way to stay out of debt. I was also sharing my strategies for countering the desire to consume because many of us in this country are facing bigger worries yet we all are pressured by relentless advertising to buy more and more and go into debt.

Posted by Wendy at December 23, 2011 at 6:20am

To Isobel,

  In the town where I live we have a festival every year called the “O+ Festival” where doctors, massage therapists, dentists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, etc… exchange health and complimentary care to regional artists, musicians, and poets in exchange for their talents in the festival. The festival lasts for three days and during that time artists can get free teeth cleanings and check ups, chiropractic adjustments, massages, reiki, physicals and blood work, etc..I believe they work out reduced (if not free) follow up care with the practitioners. Maybe you could start something like that for writers where you live. It’s such a beautiful time here. The artwork shows up on outdoor walls all over the city in the weeks proceeding it. It kind of builds the excitment. Then we have an crazy opening day parade with old time jazz bands playing and everyone dressing up crazy. Then it’s three days of music and art at different venues all over town from morning till the wee hours. It’s great exposer for the artists and a way for us local health care providers to give back to the under insured artists who give so much to our community.

Posted by Michele at December 21, 2011 at 10:07pm

That about sums up my plans for the New Year. First plan of action, organize a monthly book / magazine swap. Mindless magazine purchases are my biggest downfall.

Posted by Amy from Revy at December 20, 2011 at 11:08pm

About that book swap—as a writer, teacher of writers, and friend of writers, I don’t think that one’s so cool. Alone among developed countries we don’t support artists with our tax dollars. So the only way we can do it is by buying their books, paying for tickets to their plays and concerts. Let me tell you, most people I know in the arts have no worries whatsoever about “over-shopping”! They do have other worries though—food, rent, and usually uninsured medical care…

Posted by Isobel at December 20, 2011 at 9:18pm


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