Some people might call them New Years resolutions. But I’ve never been one for New Years resolutions. I find the idea of resolutions to be rigid and oppressive. There’s the implication that if you take one wrong step that your resolution is ruined, you have failed, and you should just quit. Maybe you accidentally managed to gain instead of lose a few pounds in January – may as well give up on trying to eat healthier the rest of the year and try again next year. Did you learn that your veggie fried rice was actually made with chicken broth? Game over, may as well scrap vegetarianism and become a carnivore. Only read gossip blogs this month? Time to return Infinite Jest to its 2018 role as a doorstop. This is then followed by emotionally beating yourself up for having failed, and you are certainly no better off than when you started.
In the latest episode of Pod Save America, Erin Ryan of Crooked Media argues that she prefers to think of intentions as an alternative to resolutions. If you don’t achieve a resolution, you fail it. However, intentions you can sustain. The why is just as important as the what. So my resolution for 2019 is more of an intention. In 2019, I intend to be more conscientious.
If being conscientious seems like a broad and ambiguous goal, that’s because I actually mean for it to encompass two separate, more specific goals. My first intention is to be a more conscientious consumer, which means buying less and buying differently. Buying less is partly a matter of practicality. I expect to be moving (possibly across the country) in about six months, and it would benefit me to accumulate less stuff that I will need to pack up and transport. Saving money would also be nice. But buying differently is also important for me.
In 2018, I tried to shop more ethically. I enjoy buying clothes, and the temptation to buy more has only increased with the accessibility of online shopping. However, in the past year, I’ve tried to steer away from buying fast fashion (H&M, Forever 21, but also big box brands in general) because these brands are known to have questionable practices concerning the environment and labor ethics. While I understand the allure of owning new things and buying trendy, disposable items, I now find it hard to justify. Especially when there are so many brands that emphasize ethical consumption. I’ve slowly transitioned to mostly buying to replace items when they become shabby or unwearable, and making sure that the replacements are better quality and either second-hand or from brands that used recycled fabric or pay their workers a fair wage. I like the idea of buy-it-for-life, and items that can be repaired before they need to be replaced.
While clothes/shoes/accessories probably make up the bulk of my non-essential purchases, I’d like to apply the same general guidelines to purchases of electronics (I definitely don’t need a GPS watch even though they’re cool), cosmetics (no one needs 15 colors of nail polish), kitchen appliances (I’d love to own a Kitchen-Aid…. someday), and hobby items (I’m looking at you, unused yoga mat and climbing gear). My exception is books. While I have been reading more on my Kindle, I love reading from a physical book.
My second goal is to be more conscientious of my role in my personal relationships. More than five years after graduating from college and leaving my hometown, I’ve learned the lesson that good personal chemistry and shared history are not enough to sustain a relationship, especially when distance is involved. I had close friends from childhood and college who I have all but lost contact with. While it has taken great geographical distance for me to realize that some relationships were only strong because of shared circumstances, and that it’s ok to let those friendships fade, others wither due to lack of attention. With some people, all it takes to maintain a connection is catching up over beers when we’re in the same town, and we can pick up as if time hasn’t passed at all. With others, it can take more work – scheduling a regular exchange of texts, emails, calls, and video chats on a monthly or even weekly basis. Remembering birthdays and important details about friends, co-workers, and family members. Sometimes it’s beyond my control, and someone gets too busy, or loses interest, or their priorities shift, but other times it’s my fault. I failed to answer one too many texts. Or I initially waited too long to reply, and now it definitely feels like it’s been too long and I don’t want to seem awkward. Or I’m avoiding the possibility of getting ignored or rejected. But in many instances, I’ve watched valued friendships fade knowing I could have reached out and done more. And this makes me sad.
But even with my more geographically immediate relationships, the people who I get to see and spend time with on a more regular basis, I think it will help to be more conscientious. To ask myself whether I’ve been neglectful, and if I’m ever taking my friends for granted. It seems obvious when stated aloud, but I’d like to occasionally remind myself that relationships take work, and like many things in life, that you can only get out as much as you put in.
Both of these intentions that I’ve just shared are more abstract, and in that sense lack the concrete accountability many people want from their New Years resolutions, but they also leave room for both growth and mistakes which I think is maybe more important. Here’s to the never-ending quest for self-improvement and a better 2019!