January Challenge explained

Why buy nothing new?  At first blush it sounds like an odd challenge to start off a year centered all around wellness.  After all, what does material consumption have to do with anything related to wellness?

Everything, it turns out.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start closer to home.  As I type this I’m sitting at a desk in a one-bedroom apartment overlooking bare trees and snow.  It is the second time I’ve started over in a new city thousands of miles from friends and family, my first time in school in over three years.  When faced with the continual reworking of self-identity and future aspirations that has defined my life from college through my mid twenties, my first reaction has been not to tackle the large challenges but the small ones first.  As my best friend said the summer before we both started grad school, “It’s too much to figure out what I’m going to do with my life once this program is over, so I’m planning out my room instead!”  For both of us a comfortable home environment – our safe harbors – is important to tackle the uncertainties of a new world outside.  As such, each room I’ve lived in has had a distinctive décor to fill this need, at turns whimsical, nostalgic, bright, quirky or all of the above, filled with mementos and faces of loved ones, past lifetimes that peek through in the person that I am today.

I’ve also noticed that in times like this I have a tendency to shop for clothing.  This is not “retail therapy” in the popular sense of the phrase, for normally I find shopping far from calming.  Rather I’m coping with the new environment, new people, and new challenges by redefining myself through the clothes I wear.  New pieces are incorporated into the daily rotation just as the self readjusts the composition of pieces of my personality, even if the core elements remain the same.

The danger, of course, is to linger too much in the material adjustment phase to the detriment of addressing underlying concerns, and that is where January’s challenge comes in to play.  Although I do not want to deny myself these coping mechanisms that have carried me through the past eight years I also do not want them to become a crutch to avoid facing the larger questions at hand.  My place is cozy, inviting and unique to the version of myself that exists at this very moment in time.  I have enough warm clothing to make it through a New England winter.  It is time to move on to the next stage.

With this pledge I am deliberately shifting focus.  As I mentioned earlier, I want realign my day-to-day life to better adhere to the wellness values I hold dear to my heart.  More than that, there are some larger dreams and goals that have been lurking in my peripheral vision, shuttered into the cobwebbed recesses of my mind by the incessant demands of daily life.  The challenge in January is to buy nothing new so that I can turn my focus away from the little details of the external trappings, to the big picture of my internal world, full of hopes and dreams and roads left unexplored.

Maybe this is the beginnings of of, or reaction to, a quarter-life crisis, though I don’t feel in crisis mode at the moment.  At any rate, at the cusp of the last year of the first decade of the new millennium, it feels like a good place to be.

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