It’s time for another 2018 wrap-up post! This one focuses on reviewing my theme for the year, “essential,” and reflecting on the various ways that it has impacted my life. I will also share the key word/theme I have selected for 2019 and my reasons for choosing it.
Since 2014, I have been selecting yearly themes that encapsulate primary focus areas for improving my life experience. These overarching themes often also highlight what I’m hoping to create in my emotional landscape. Choosing a word or theme for the year is generally a lot less overwhelming than writing out a long list of goals, but it can still be highly effective at moving our lives forward in a positive direction. If you’d like to read more about the practice of choosing a yearly word or would like guidance on selecting your 2019 word, the following articles can help:
- “My One Word: Change Your Life with Just One Word” (Oneword.org)
- “Tips for Choosing Your Word of the Year” (Mountain Modern Life)
- “Choosing a Word to Define & Guide Your Year – 2019 Edition” (A Pair & a Spare)
- “Find Your Word for 2019: 5-Day Course” (Susannah Conway)
Of course, you don’t need an e-course or to follow a specific process in order to find your word, but I’m including these resources for those who feel they could benefit from them. It’s perfectly fine to just go with whatever word intuitively stands out for you. That’s pretty much what I did this year, as I will share later in this post.
Recognizing What’s Essential in 2018
As 2018 began, I realized that I was feeling disjointed and overwhelmed. I was unsure as to my priorities and the best way to spend my time. All too often, I found myself creating lengthy to-do lists and then beating myself up for not getting everything done. I tried too hard to be all things to all people and my health and well-being were suffering as a result. I felt burned out and unfulfilled and I knew that I needed to make some changes.
Choosing “essential” as my word for last year pushed me to look at quite a few areas of my life, including the information I consumed, the people I interacted with and how often, how I spent my time, and my possessions, including my wardrobe. Below are all of the posts I did in 2018 that centered on the theme of “essential,” beginning with the essay that introduced that yearly focus area:
- “Striving for Peace and Recognizing What’s Essential” (January 24)
- “What Information is Essential?” (February 1)
- “Lessons from a Power Failure” (February 10)
- “Essential Information Part Two: Digital Detox” (February 25)
- “To Be More Productive, Aim for Efficacy Over Efficiency” (March 9)
- “Working Toward an Essential Wardrobe – An April Challenge (April 6)
- “Spring Essential Wardrobe Challenge Recap” (May 18)
- “When Connection Becomes Too Much of a Good Thing” (May 31)
- “Applying the Goldilocks Principle to Your Life” (August 21)
- “Musings on Wardrobe Size and Closet Churn” (September 1)
- “Applying the Goldilocks Principle to Your Wardrobe” (September 19)
- “The Plate Exercise and NAS Shopping Update” (September 29)
- “Lessons from My Late 2018 Closet KonMari” (October 26)
- “Essential Wardrobe Fall Challenge” (November 23)
- “Essentials for Happiness and Peace, Part One” (November 30)
- “Insights from My Fall Essential Wardrobe Challenge” (December 21)
Clearly, I examined what is and isn’t essential in my life quite a bit last year, and I also gained a lot of valuable insights that I’m taking forward with me into 2019 and beyond. As is always the case, I still have work to do on the concept of essential, so my 2018 word will continue to help me to examine my life and will work in tandem with my 2019 theme. It’s not like I’m just going to forget all about “essential” now that I have a new theme on board for this year.
Key Insights on “Essential”
Before I introduce my 2019 theme, I would like to summarize what I learned about “essential” through my focus and exploration last year. I will divide this recap into the key areas of information, communication, time, and wardrobe.
Consumption of Information:
In one of my earlier articles of the year, I wrote about the information overload and fear of missing out (FOMO) that I was experiencing. I committed to decreasing the number of articles I saved in a “to read” folder and to not carrying articles forward from month to month. I kept this practice up into the summer, but then I stopped paring down the queue at the end of each month. However, even though my “to read” folder grew in size, I stopped feeling a lot of angst about it. Instead of fretting about how many articles I needed to read, I instead shifted to periodically reading articles when I was so inclined and deleting other titles that no longer held my interest. I’ve also gotten better at limiting how many articles I bookmark for later reading, as I realize that devoting time to this activity cuts into the time I spend on other types of reading. As a result, I now read more books, which is something I have wanted to do for a long time.
I still struggle sometimes with spending too much time on my phone, but I started using an app called Digital Wellbeing (for Android, a similar one for IOS is called Screen Time – this article compares the two) that tracks how much time I spend on various apps and allows me to set time limits for programs that I feel are occupying too much of my attention. This app has been a major eye-opener, as I had no idea how much time I was dedicating to surfing the internet and browsing entertainment information on my phone. I removed the Instagram, Facebook, and Messenger apps a while back and now only access those programs from my computer. Smart phones and tablets can be highly addictive and I’m not immune to this situation, so I have to be proactive about how I use my devices. I’m considering getting rid of the Gmail and Reddit apps, too, but I may just use time limits to control how much I use these programs. Either way, I will be more deliberate with how I use my devices, which is a lot of what I was looking for in terms of “essential information.”
The Minimalists have started doing something they call Screenless Saturdays, which is a form of “digital detox” that has three different levels from which one can choose. I think it can be very helpful to avoid screens and the internet one day per week and this is something I often do, although not always on the same day of the week and not every single week. I may opt to become more rigorous with this in 2019, although I will likely choose Sunday as my screenless day, as that works better for me (it’s usually a day on which my husband and I spend the entire day together).
Relationships and Communication:
I used to spend hours each day on Facebook but failed to respond to my emails in a timely fashion and keep in touch with friends and family offline. Social media has long been a challenge for me as strong introvert, as I wrote about in this May post. Over the course of 2018, I made important shifts to the way I communicate and I’m now much better at staying in contact with people. I still don’t keep in touch with some people as often as I (or they) would like, but my current approach is much more balanced than it used to be.
I’m trying to aim for quality over quantity, which is hard to do on social media, which seems to be focused more on the latter. After all, these programs make money by having as many eyeballs on the screen as possible for as long as possible. But just because there is a sort of “culture” around how to participate in social media, it doesn’t mean we need to adhere to those norms. I still experience pangs of guilt if I go days or even a week without checking my Facebook groups and notifications, but it’s getting easier to do what’s right and best for me. As we make shifts to how we interact, others will usually adjust and if they don’t, maybe those friendships aren’t a good fit for us anyway. It’s still hard for me to feel like I’m disappointing others by my lack of engagement, but I’m working on letting go of these worries. This is something I will continue to strive to improve upon this year.
How I Spend My Time:
Time management has long been my Achilles Heel. It’s exceedingly rare for me to feel satisfied with what I accomplish on any given day. I beat myself up all the time for not doing enough, but I’ve learned that it’s not about doing the most things, it’s about doing those things that will add the most value to our lives. Back in March, I shared Tim Ferriss’s practice of selecting one key item to work on for two to three hours of uninterrupted time each day. On the days when I implemented this strategy, I definitely felt calmer and more accomplished, but I let the practice fall by the wayside. Now that I’m revisiting my “essential” posts from last year, I’m going to recommit to focusing on maximizing efficacy over efficiency.
Daily routines can make or break how we feel about the way we spend our time. In July, I wrote about how I tracked my daily rhythms for a week while trying out various routines in order to best take advantage of my optimal work patterns. Although I identified two routines that were most in line with my natural rhythms, I didn’t usually follow those schedules in the later months of the year. As a result, I continued to struggle with either feeling unproductive or out of balance (and sometimes both).
Recently, however, I started to experiment with different daily routines once again. I have found that what I do in the morning sets the tone for the entire day and needs to be attended to appropriately. If I get up late and lollygag around, I end up feeling unhappy and unproductive. There are always trade-offs in terms of how we spend our time, but it makes sense to structure our days in ways that will lead us to feel better about ourselves. It’s also helpful to look at what’s on our plates and what we’d like to do more or less of, as I wrote about back in August. Although I did well at increasing many of the activities I value (e.g. reading books, watching movies, keeping in touch with people, and meditation), I still need to work on decreasing time-wasters and improving bad habits (e.g. staying up too late, internet surfing on my phone, and buying and returning things).
I took on two essential wardrobe challenges during 2018 (I will be recapping my fall challenge next week as part of my 2018 wardrobe wrap-up). These challenges involved limiting what I wore by means of spring and fall “out and about” and at-home capsules. Working with these limitations helped me to better identify what was and wasn’t working with my wardrobe. I came to better understand the pieces that add the most value to my life and those that I need to minimize and deprioritize in the future. I learned that although I love wearing neutrals, I also crave color, especially on the top half of my body. Likewise, I discovered that I needed more bottom pieces that are looser and more “forgiving” to increase my comfort level and accommodate menopausal weight shifts.
I also came to realize the degree to which “closet churn” is an issue in my wardrobe and that it is where I need to focus rather than on the number of items I own. I also defined what a “just right” wardrobe is for me and outlined a few exercises that will help me (and anyone else who does them) get there. Doing one of these exercises – the “plate exercise” – showed me that I would purchase roughly two-thirds of the pieces I own again today. Although I would like to improve upon this number, I know it represents great progress over previous years, which is a testament to the hard work I’ve done on identifying what I love, wear, and need. I will share more of my wardrobe insights in next week’s wardrobe wrap-up post.
My 2019 Theme, “Freedom”
When it came time to select my theme for 2019, I originally chose the word “healing,” as I definitely want to heal my health, as well as other aspects of my life. However, it soon became clear that this wasn’t my best choice and that “freedom” was a far better option. Freedom is one of my top values (along with love, growth, contribution, and spirituality, as I wrote about back in 2013). I am fortunate in that I have a lot of freedom in my life, but I don’t always embrace it. I would like to turn this around such that I appreciate and celebrate my freedom far more in terms of the way I spend my time. I want to spend more time in nature and doing the things that bring me joy and less time and energy on being a “taskmaster” and beating myself up.
Freedom isn’t just about the way we spend our time; it’s also about the way we think and what occupies our minds. I spend far too much energy on worrying about what other people think and being concerned about their opinions towards me. I often fret about whether or not people like and approve of me, even if I don’t particularly like and approve of them! I want this to stop! I really admire free-spirited people who march to the beat of their own drums and I would like to emulate such individuals.
I also would like to be free of pain and suffering, both physical and emotional. I know it’s not realistic to aim for a completely pain-free life, as pain is inherent in being human, but I can definitely improve upon my current level of discomfort. I know that I can’t control all of my health issues, but I also know that the way I think, my daily practices, and the people with whom I regularly associate can help to decrease my suffering. I have been meditating and journaling on a regular basis lately and that has been helpful in terms of calming my mind, improving my sleep, and decreasing stress-related symptoms. I will share more about this when I finally write the second half of my series on essentials for happiness and peace.
Conclusion and Your Thoughts
I don’t know how much time I have left to live on this earth, but it’s highly likely that my life is more than half over (not too many people live to be 104!). I don’t want to continue living in other people’s minds, being a slave to my to-do list, feeling frustrated with myself and my life, and suffering from myriad symptoms day after day after day. This is no way to live and I want to be free of all of this B.S! This is why I know that “freedom” is the right and best theme for me in 2019. I look forward to writing essays related to this theme in the coming months and reading your thoughts and insights on what I have to share.
But now I would like to hear about how you fared with your 2018 themes and goals and what’s in store for you in 2019. It doesn’t matter whether or not you selected a theme for last year or have outlined one for this year. I always like to read about what you’ve learned and what you’re up to in life.
- If we fast-forward to December 31, 2019, what would you like to be able to say about the way you’ve lived this year?
- What would you like to have changed?
- What would you like to have experienced?
I invite you to share your thoughts with me and your fellow readers. I’ll be back next week with the last of my 2018 recap posts (read the first one here), which will be focused on my wardrobe and will also summarize my fall wardrobe challenge. Until then, I wish you a wonderful weekend!