Starting 2018 with a clean slate

[Full disclosure: I started this post three years ago and recently found it in my Medium drafts. I thought there was a decent idea here so I decided to finish it. Some of the specifics are… from December 2014.]

In a former life, I was the board liaison for a major performing arts nonprofit. I realized recently that one of things I miss most about that job is the feeling of closing out a year. Each summer, as the fiscal year came to an end, I’d wrap up every task related to that year and start the new fiscal year with a clean slate. In my current career as a content marketer, I’m unlikely to experience such a clear break between one year and the next. Projects, plans, and deals often span years, without the possibility of being able to tie everything up neatly at one time. At times, this has left me feeling burnt out and like there’s no end in sight.

As such, I started thinking about ways I could recreate the clean-slate feeling despite murkier circumstances. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Make a year-end punch list.

Figure out what you’re unwilling to carry into 2018 and take care of it ASAP. Is it a protracted negotiation? A closet filled with clothing you should have donated months (or years) ago? Boxes of collector’s edition Barbie dolls you insisted your father ship to you that remain under your desk at work? Write it down and check it off. Let the new year serve as motivation to tackle the difficult, uncomfortable, or even just mildly-inconvenient things you’ve been putting off.

2. Locate external motivation.

My brother gave me an iTunes gift card for Christmas, so I picked up a couple of iBooks to read over the remainder of my holiday time off as year-end inspiration. I’d read about Bergdorf personal shopper Betty Halbreich in a magazine a few months back and had been meaning to pick up her autobiography I’ll Drink to That, which details her suicide attempt and recovery, and the role finding her purpose in a new career played in the latter. Betty’s honesty, tenacity, and passion for her work was exactly the inspiration I was looking for.

Oddly, I chose my second book after reading an unfavorable review of it on Laura Vanderkam’s blog. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is by Marie Kondo, a Japanese cleaning consultant who advocates getting rid of things you don’t need through a unique system she calls the KonMari method. KonMari is different from other cleaning processes in that your ultimate goal is to retain only things that spark joy. You get to this point by deciding not what to get rid of, but what to hold onto, and then disposing of everything else.

3. Get rid of stuff.

Even if you’re not ready to commit to the full KonMari, the end of the year is still a great time to unload things you don’t need. Start with paperwork. For two years, I had a large cardboard box filled with what I’d thought was important paperwork sitting under my TV console . A couple of weeks ago, I dragged the box out and went through everything in it, to find that I only needed three pieces of paper. The rest I shredded and recycled. After going through paperwork throughout the rest of my house, I had three large bags filled with stuff I’d been holding onto unnecessarily.

This is also a good time to get rid of clothing. Be ruthless. I struggle with this, especially as I’ve been known to keep certain items for years (such as the accordion-pleat skirt my grandmother bought me in 1998, which I still wear regularly). My bedroom has three closets, yet I often find myself with a floordrobe situation because there’s more stuff than there is space. Donate or resell anything in decent condition, and throw away anything that has fallen into disrepair. Feeling guilty about getting rid of things you’ve never used? Kondo’s book says that every item you own has served a purpose in your life — even if it’s just to show you what you don’t need. Do as she suggests and thank the item before sending it on its way.

4. Take inventory of the past year — and plan for the next.

Think about what your hopes were for 2017. Did reality measure up? If not, what can you do to change this in 2018?

A resource I use and recommend is Get Bullish’s Design Your 2018. Bullish founder Jen Dziura releases an update to this each year, and at $4 it’s a pretty insignificant financial investment for something that will help you figure out your priorities (not just what you think they are or wish they were), identify your goals for next year, and develop a tactical plan for reaching said goals.

5. Use the second half of December to set yourself up for success.

As you’re winding down work before the holidays, think about small ways you can prepare yourself for January 1. If you’re planning to launch a new creative project, spend some time breaking it down into smaller tasks and adding them to a project-management platform with deadlines. If you want to keep a journal, buy yourself a brand-new notebook. If you’re starting a podcast, create a calendar of recording dates and potential topics.

Taking a step back, think about how you want your life to look, day to day, hour by hour, in 2018. Consider a time makeover, as Laura Vanderkam suggests in 168 Hours. Spend some time figuring out what your ideal life would look like, and how you can reorganize your time to match this vision. One key is identifying the obstacles preventing you from doing this, and then figuring out which of them are movable. Once you’ve done that, remove whatever obstacles you can during December; with them out of the way, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running come January.

How are you creating a break between 2017 and 2018?

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