We need to prepare for January. In fact, at least half of the energy we put into preparing for the end of December could be spent preparing for January. I’m talking to those living in countries that turn dreary and wet and grey for what seems like the whole of the month. This New Yorker Magazine front cover memorably depicted a mock advent calendar for the month of January, which just about sums it up.
January supposedly contains the year’s most depressing day (the third Monday of the month) – we’re far enough away from the festive celebrations for the afterglow to have worn off, it probably isn’t payday yet, and the reality of going back to work has kicked in, hard. Plus, the weather is (most likely) awful, and everyone around you is feeling similar. The whole month can see like a slog.
Just like those advertising campaigns urging us to save money for next December, I reckon we have to start preparing for January a year in advance, not least because, if you start preparing in January, you can’t kid yourself about how awful it actually is.
Do this a year in advance
What can you do about it? Well, first of all buy crackers, cards and wrapping paper in January and stick them all somewhere dry and mouse-proof. In fact, any festive paraphernalia that i) isn’t perishable and ii) you would usually buy in December, can go in your mouse-proof bottom drawer (or loft). As you put away the festive decorations from last year (traditionally on 6th January, surely also a contender for most depressing day), make a list of what you actually used. Stick this in Evernote so it’s available next year, or write it on a bit of paper. Use this as a shopping list in the sales. You can put a paper version in with the decorations to revisit when you get them out again. What’s the point of doing this? It’s meant to go a little way towards avoiding extra December debt next year, which in turn, makes January a slightly happier place to be.
Throughout the year
Here are some things you can do throughout the year, which I have only ever managed partially myself, so I offer them without being about to fully verify whether they work. Let me know if they work for you.
Make a list of people you buy presents for each year, again in Evernote or similar if you can to keep it handy, and give yourself a budget. These presents could be for birthdays, Hanukkah, Christmas, Valentine’s Day; it doesn’t matter what they are for. When you visit anywhere interesting during the year, buy a present. This is supposed to unhook the present buying from the emotion surrounding the event itself, and you’re more likely to stick to your budget. Also, if you tend to buy souvenirs anyway, you’ll save money – buy the presents instead. Again, this helps you not to get into debt at the end of the year.
Consider January when you are working on home improvement projects. Often we focus on how we’ll use the house and garden in the summer, but what about the winter? For example, in the Spring, get a quotation for getting the chimney swept and lined, so you can snuggle up by the fire with a good book come January. Or: will you spend more time on expensive new garden furniture, or a cosy new sofa?
Save money for January
If you’ve got time, do something (anything legal!) in the preceding year that will mean you have slightly more money in January, and not slightly less. Yes, ok, buy a lottery ticket if you like, but that’s not what I mean. This is a tricky one, because it depends on your circumstances. Cut out vouchers for January. Leave the £2.50 on your nectar card for January. Do some overtime that will pay out in January. Run a workshop. Take up mystery shopping. Host a Tupperware or Ann Summers party. (Do they still do those?) Get paid for writing a blog post. If you can manage it, and your bank allows it, overpay your mortgage earlier in the year so you could take January off. Babysit for others so you can call in the favour in January! Conversely, you could cancel stuff you could do without in January. And do a household audit in advance – could you save money by switching to a different provider for any of your current services? A website like MoneySavingExpert could help, as I’m (obviously) not a financial expert.
Use November and December
Use November and December to prepare for January. Food is one way – see below. Another is to ask for gifts that will see you through January. Keep your gift list updated during the year, that way you won’t forget, and you’ll have a reference if you’re given vouchers. For example, I am into murder mysteries. The books I got for Christmas this year just about saw me through January. I still have a voucher left to buy some more. You could ask for a good book on using left overs or some foil food savers. You could ask for a big jumper, PJs, a mug, a pot of organic hot chocolate, and a few DVDs. You could ask for some seeds and a pair of gardening gloves. You could ask for a declutter session. You could ask for a massage, a promise of a meal out, a make-your-own cocktail evening, or a self-defence class, whatever you’re into, you get the idea. Book them for January.
You can also make meals for January in advance, using the extra cooking and baking power (and extra food) that some of us acquire in December. Get yourself prepared with the foil food savers that can go in the freezer. Make stuff out of the left overs and freeze it, then return to it in January when you need something nice. Do this with treats, too. Get a good book on freezing or using left overs, or bookmark a website or two to help. When you plan food for December, plan it with January in mind. Going a bit further back, you may need to do a freezer audit in November and use stuff up, so you’ve got room.
Fun with friends
Plan fun things to do with friends in January that don’t cost too much – invite them round for a coffee, challenge each other to a declutter session, or a recipe swap, or volunteer to walk their dog, or make marmalade together. If you’ve got kids, plan some playdates. Put these in the diary in advance, because actually arranging stuff in January will probably feel like a drag. When it comes to it, people will most likely be glad to have something to do for the price of a packet of biscuits and a bus ticket.
No friends? Again, use November and December – or the whole of the autumn term – to prepare. Sign up for something – life drawing, a cordon vert course in vegetarian cookery, singing, journaling, D.I.Y. for Beginners, Mandarin, French poetry, coding. Chat about what you’re into (cats, chickens, dinosaurs, 1920s crime novels) and at least someone will share your interest. Pluck up the courage to join people for a drink after class. Whatever it is you sign up for, come January, you should know at least a couple of other singing D.I.Y.ers or vegetarian coders enough to invite them for a cuppa to welcome in the New Year. If you’re really strapped, look for free courses in your local library, and offers of free coffee (my phone provider gives me a free coffee every Tuesday, I’m not sure why!).
Plan to celebrate something in January, and spend at least some of the money you would have spent on December festivities on that celebration. Birthdays, Twelfth Night, Imbolc, a Blue Moon, or you could even plan a great big Sunday roast (although perhaps not during week one!).
This is kind of the opposite, and it’s a tricky one, and probably aspirational: don’t blow out so much over the festive season that January is a come down. I’ve never managed to do this, by the way, and I don’t consider myself a full-on party goer, so maybe it’s impossible. I would like to install a bit of mindfulness, kindness and meditation into December in future, though.
Plan your January viewing
If you are into films, and have one of those boxes that can record stuff off the TV, then there are loads on over the festive season. Get a TV listings magazine and record judiciously. The same thing goes for TV shows. No need to pay to stream stuff in January – you’ve got it prepared.
Once January has kicked in
What about January itself? Once you’re in it, how can you make it better? Here are my top tips, not drawn from academic knowledge of the human psyche, rather they’re based on my own experience of over 40 UK Januaries, and observation of my friends’ Januaries. These aren’t for everyone (i.e. some people are infinitely more sensible and have more willpower than me) but I offer them in the spirit of sharing.
Top ten tips for surviving January
- Decisions, decisions. Don’t make any important decisions if you can possibly help it. Almost any decision can either be made before the festive season kicks in, or after January is done with. It’s like trying to make a decision without much sleep. The January blues can make things seem worse.
- Go out for walks. Unless you’re snowed in, at least walk around the block. Stay safe, but if you fancy going further afield, there’s bound to be some kind of walking group near to you. In London, go on a London Walk. Down here on the south coast we’ve got the beach on our doorstep. Find some people to walk with. Here’s a website from Country Walking magazine that might inspire you to walk more.
- Make January Special. Do things you can only do in January. Make marmalade with Seville oranges. Snuggle under a blanket and watch a silly film while the wind is howling outside. Take photographs of your garden or local park in the cold. Test your jumpers quasi-scientifically and find out which is warmest. Have a post-Christmas dejunk of your house or bedroom. Make these things into a tradition. Do them with your family or friends if you like. Come up with four or five and you’ve got enough to celebrate a January tradition every weekend.
- Resolution revolution. Don’t make resolutions. Or rather, make them if you want, but don’t try to do them until February or March. This is because January is possibly the worst month to stay motivated, meaning it’s easy to give up. Instead, spend time planning your whole year (while under blanket with hot chocolate) and writing down your goals. This will make you feel better, and you can grab a diary and add some small steps you can take to start turning your goals into a habit, once January is over. For example, I tracked my eating this January using an Ap called ‘Lose It!’ – which gave me some good insights – but I’m not starting up the 5:2 again until February. Quite literally, the diet starts next month.
- Do a ‘to do list’ audit. Have you got to do lists in various forms? On Evernote, in notebooks, on the backs on envelopes? Make a master list (this is where you try to capture everything, including ‘maybe one day’ stuff) and then break it down into small steps. Make a niggles list – what small things could make your life better? A new pillow? A better alarm clock? A new bulb in the hall light? While you’re at it, make a gratitude list – what are you grateful for? – these are proven to make you feel better about life.
- Read some good motivational books. Here are some examples: Your Best Year Yet by Jinny Ditzler, 18 Minutes by Peter Bregman, Deep Work by Cal Newport, Living Forward by Michael Hyatt, or Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. [These are Amazon affiliate links.]
- Prepare for February. Come up with some February traditions. OK, so you’ve probably already got Shrove Tuesday and Valentine’s Day in the diary. What about a potluck? (All your guests bring something to share.) What about a cake sale in aid of a local charity?
- Prepare for Spring. Whether we’re talking a window box, a few pots, or several acres, plan to plant something. Get some seeds, look up some gardening advice online, find out what you need to do now to prepare. Enlist some help. Yes, this is a year round project, as there’s something you could be doing most months. Use January to plan for it.
- Organise your photos. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got photos saved in various places. Now’s a good time to back them up, choose some to print to decorate with, and you could buy frames in the sales. If you’re feeling creative, make thank you cards, calendars, or mugs to give as presents. You can always hit the ‘add to cart’ button after payday.
- Look after yourself. If money is tight, find free ways to do this. Do something every day to be kind to yourself.
Happy (next) January.
Top Ten Tips for Increasing Your Productivity
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