6 Little Resolutions for a Better New Year

Resolutions for 2021 shouldn't be grandiose. Focus on what you can control.

snowy laundry on line
Snowy laundry on the line.

K Martinko

New Year's resolutions for 2021 look drastically different than they have in the past. It's hard to care about workout routines, skin care regimens, and Dry January challenges when all you want is to survive and get through the year relatively unscathed. As a recent Instagram meme said about the start of 2021, "Don't. Touch. Anything."

And yet, the instinct to establish new habits in January remains strong. Fortunately there are still many things that do fall within our personal spheres of influence. When the rest of the world feels unpredictable, you can make satisfying behavioral changes that not only improve yourself, but also improve the world around you. Here are some Treehugger-friendly suggestions for New Year's resolutions that aren't too daunting, but can make a difference. 

1. Learn to Cook a Few Great Recipes

Rather than deciding vaguely that you're going to cook more or become a better cook, choose 4-5 recipes that you like and double down on those. Make them over and over again until they're memorized and turn out predictably well every time. As you learn about the variations that can occur in a single recipe when it's repeated, you'll gain knowledge and confidence and it will boost your overall performance in the kitchen. You'll be more inclined to make dinner on those nights when you would have ordered takeout in the past. Plus, you'll have something great to whip out when entertaining resumes.

2. Wear Natural-Fiber Clothing

Ever since Rebecca Burgess, director of Fibershed, explained in a podcast interview that "your clothes are an agricultural act," and a choice between the biosphere and the lithosphere, my view of clothes has shifted dramatically. Most people realize that synthetic fabrics shed microfibers, but it's not as common to think of clothing purchases as a decision to buy plants versus fossil fuels. Say no to wearing plastic in 2021, at least as much as you can. 

3. Buy a Menstrual Cup

For anyone who menstruates, this is a total gamechanger. Do yourself a favor and buy one for the new year. You'll save money on disposable tampons and pads, and reduce your own exposure to the numerous toxic chemicals and plastic contained in those conventionally-produced products. Tampon and pad manufacturers do not want customers to know what's in them – carbon disulfide (a reproductive toxin), methylene chloride (a.k.a. paint stripper and occupational carcinogen), and volatile organic compounds such as toluene and xylene, to name a few. If you don't feel comfortable inserting a menstrual cup, switch to reusable cloth pads.

4. Hang Laundry to Dry

A small but interesting resolution to make: Commit to hang-drying your laundry throughout 2021. It's a slow process, but it can be a meditative one. Over the years I have learned to enjoy the act of shaking out clumped-up laundry and hanging it on an indoor rack or outdoor line. (This is a good chore for children.) It has major environmental benefits, too. Dryers emit more than a ton of carbon dioxide every year, and there are 88 million of them across the US. Dryers shorten clothing's life span, ruining elasticity over time and wearing down fabrics.

5. Consider an Electric Bike

As a very recent convert to the e-bike movement, I can't speak about this in great detail, other than having an e-bike since November has opened my eyes to the wonders of the technology. There's good reason why e-bikes are marketed as an alternative to cars, rather than an upgrade to bicycles. Especially when equipped with cargo-carrying capacity and used in an urban setting, they make a car pretty much pointless. Could you sell a car in 2021 and replace it with a fabulous e-bike? Or start by committing to making all trips under 5 miles on an e-bike (or a regular bike, for that matter), leaving the car at home.

6. Take Kids Outdoors

Kids don't spend nearly enough time outdoors these days, and they're suffering as a result. Perhaps 2021 could be the year you sign up for the 1,000 Hour Challenge, when your child spends a total of a thousand hours outdoors over the course of the year. This works out to roughly 2.7 hours daily – seemingly a lot, but likely a fraction of the time spent on screens.

Outdoor time has been linked to better academic performance and emotional wellbeing. It counteracts the physical inactivity that accompanies hours spent online. And it familiarizes children with a natural world in desperate need of defenders. Unless children learn to love the outdoors, they won't understand why it needs to be protected. 

This is a short list, but hopefully it illustrates the many options for meaningful New Year's resolutions that exist, COVID regulations notwithstanding. Together we can make 2021 better than its predecessor, and making more sustainable, environmental choices is always a good place to start.