Starting Fresh

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It’s almost the new year and it’s almost a new decade. So it’s time to leave some baggage behind. I know everyone loves spring cleaning, but I find the end of the year to be an incredibly satisfying time of the year to kick anything that isn’t sparking joy to the curb.

First things first: emails. I hate having notifications for emails. So I’m clearing my inbox. Anything that needs responding to, gets a response. Any ads or coupon codes are get marked as read – if I need them, I can always search for the brand or store later. Anything that sends me hourly emails, unsubscribe. I will not start the year with a little red bubble next to my email app.

Then on to social media. Almost yearly, I go through my social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and clear out the people I just don’t care about. Maybe it’s someone who I was friendly with years and years ago or a comedian I followed and have regretted following ever since or a friend’s ex. Whoever it is, if I don’t love seeing their posts, they’re gone. If they aren’t sparking joy with their content, unfollowed. No more hate-liking or skipping through three hours worth of concert video posted to their stories. If I don’t know them, they’re gone. (And anyone I can’t avoid – i.e. coworkers, family members – gets muted. They don’t have to know.)

Next up, moving on to more physical things. My car becomes a dumping ground for bits and bobs. I’ll be starting the year off with no receipts waded up in my cup holders. Nothing in my trunk. And a full tank of gas. Because I’ll be moving in January, I’ll also be stealing my parents’ shop vac to clean up the evidence of many a fast food stop.

My apartment stays relatively uncluttered and will end up being cleaned and organized when I start packing, but I’ve got a couple of things that need sorting.

It’s so easy to fill a kitchen with half-eaten bits and bobs and then still have nothing to eat. So the last few meals of 2019 will be sourced from what I already have. That bag of chips from that party two months ago will be eaten (or tossed once I realize they’re stale). Anything in the fridge that’s past expiration date will be dealt with. The freezer will be explored and it will reveal whatever I’ve stuffed in there. Basically, I’ll have to come to terms with all my impulse Safeway purchases.

Like most proper adults, I receive mail. This mail usually relates to bills, information about my work benefits, catalogs I’ll never read, and cards from my mother that I never dealt with. Fortunately, I’ve only been adulting for about a year, so it hasn’t accumulated to an unreasonable pile. Yet. So I will be sitting down to sort through what can be recycled, what can be shredded, and what should be nicely filed. Because most of this paper lives on my bedside table, once it’s clear, I’ll actually be able to keep important things next to my bedside like my phone, my glasses, and a candle (or three!).

Speaking of candles, I’ve been burning candles for about a year now and I’ve gone through quite a few. At some point, I considered dealing with the empty candles, getting all the wax out, and reusing the containers. But I’m lazy and they’re in the way. So I will instead just be recycling the containers and moving on. Once those have been cleared of my shelf, I can justify my purchases of more candles!

If you’re like me, you went a little crazy during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales and you bought new clothes. Unfortunately, my closet isn’t big enough (and currently has a hole in the ceiling from my upstairs neighbors’ water leak! Yay adulting!). So I’ll be downsizing. I’ve done this many times before but I’m excited to clear out the things that don’t fit or that I haven’t worn in a year or that just aren’t my faves anymore. Don’t worry – they’ll be donated (first to friends and then to a local charity shop).

Lastly, I’ll be clearing my head. (Yes, I went there.) It’s one thing to get rid of physical clutter (the piles of unread mail) or the electronic clutter (the unfriendly “friends”), but emotional clutter is draining too. Especially in the middle of the most exhausting time of the year. An hour or two of journaling. A yoga class or a run in nature. A mediation session surrounded by candles. A hike in the wilderness. A mental reminder to let it go.

It’s a new year, a new decade. Why carry shit with you that you can leave behind?

Christmas in London

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Most of my visits to London had been quick trips made in the summer or spring. It wasn’t until I moved there for grad school that I truly experienced their winter. And I learned very quickly that London loves Christmas. And they’re right to… There is something truly magical about London between the months of November and January. The city lights up in the most unexpected and lovely ways despite the dark and dreary weather. It gets cold, but not freezing most days. There’s occasionally snow but only enough for you to appreciate it before it’s gone.

What I love the most is the festive feelings everywhere.

A wander down Oxford Street and Regent Street will show you storefront after storefront with holiday-themed displays perfect for a bit of window shopping, with strings of lights reaching from building to building. Carnaby Street and Covent Garden also get all dressed up for the occasion with giant ornaments, lights, wreaths, and general festive cheer.

Trafalgar Square hosts a massive Christmas tree, while Somerset House and the Natural History Museum fill their courtyards to create skating rinks.

The U.S. has still not adopted the Christmas market to nearly the extent Europe has, which is a bit of a disappointment in my opinion. Hyde Park turns into Winter Wonderland, filled with rides, hot cider and wine, food, games – and entrance to the experience is free. So you can wander the crowds and take in the sights and sounds on the cheap. Leicester Square also hosts a smaller Christmas market with little booths to shop at. It’s much easier to pop in and out of than the Hyde Park situation.

Though it gets dark early and the weather is not ideal, there’s nothing quite like wandering past a pub and seeing everyone wrapped up inside enjoying their evening, or passing by a window display of a man dressed as a tree or only in brussel sprouts, or seeing lights flicker on overhead as you drive by on your double-decker bus.

Winter is a magical time to be in London.

Dark and Dreary Days

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The first time I experienced some form of seasonal depression was when I moved to Indianapolis. I think the onset was from a series of factors: suddenly experiencing “real winters”, stresses from being far from home and on my own, and a lack of structure in my day to day life. Whatever the causes, it hit me hard.

So when I went to Sweden and lived through only a few hours of cloudy sunshine a day, I had to start finding small ways to elevate the symptoms of my seasonal depression. With the days getting shorter and the nights getting longer and my toes now being permenantly frozen, I’ve started to reintegrate some of those seasonal cures into my daily life.

First thing: getting up. The hardest thing for me when facing long dark cold days was getting out of bed. Wrapped up in my warm blankets, tucked away from the world, I was (and am) happy to wallow. Up and out of bed, and I have a better chance at a good day.

Next thing: comfy and cozy. If I’m planning to leave the house for the day, I make sure I’m wearing my comfy and coziest clothing. It’s hard to be happy when you’re freezing and you can’t feel your toes. It’s time for all the warm sweaters and tights and scarfs. If I don’t need to leave the house, I pull on my fuzzy socks and a nice sweatshirt and grab a nice blanket to wrap around myself. (I can also recommend a humidifier and plenty of moisturizer – dry skin is no fun.)

Let there be light. The bridge between comfy and cozy and this next step is hygge. Maybe you were part of the craze a few years ago when everyone jumped on the idea, but the general gist of the Danish hygge is you wrap yourself in the comfiest thing you’ve got and plant yourself next to some candles or the fireplace and it makes everyone better. The Scandanavians know what they’re doing. Light a couple candles, stick your toes near a fire, and light up your space.

If the sun can’t do its job, artificial light will just have to do. My mom gave me a Happy Light last winter and in using it every morning while I put on my makeup, not only am I able to actually see all the wrinkles and zits on my face, but it wakes me up and genuinely puts me in a better mood. Rather than sitting in a dark room staring at a computer or phone screen, I’ve now got multiple string lights and lamps throughout the space and have become fond of mixing my candle scents. Basically, anything I can do to bring light into my room during the dark and dreary months, I do.

Seek the sun. I’ll admit there’s few things like sitting inside of a library or an office and seeing a beautiful day outside. Maybe you don’t have the ability to skip work and soak up the sun all day, but I like to force myself outside on sunny days, regardless of the chill. I treat myself to a purchased lunch if it means I get a few blocks worth of sunshine at its peak. I’m also trying (and sometimes failing) to catch those last few rays on my way home. Rather than racing towards my bed, I go to the next metro stop over or I go grocery shopping right away – essentially holding on to the sun for as long as I can.

Force some friendships. One of the hardest parts about living in Sweden those first few months was saying goodnight to everyone at 3 p.m. and then sitting alone in the dark for hours. The winter is a great time to visit museums (I tell myself and yet we shall see) or encourage friends (and/or your mother) to do silly seasonal activities for the ‘gram. Anything I can do to get out of bed and see other faces means I’m spending less time alone in my own head.

And lastly, acceptance. It is okay to not be okay. Some days are good. Some days suck. It’s okay to accept that not every day will be amazing. But I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad I’m here. And I’m glad summer is just around the corner, right?

(Disclaimer: I’m no doctor. Everyone is different and this is simply my approach. If you need help, talk to your doctor or call 1-800-662-4357.)