My Uncle Matt was a professional drunk. He wasn’t really my uncle, just a family friend who’d crash with us in between jobs opening nightclubs around the country. Back in the ‘90s, this as close as a man could get to being paid to drink every night, and he was pretty good at it. Just before he moved in he’d gotten sober, and like any twelve year old with a skewed sense of hero worship I thought the world of him. His wisdom was gospel- everything from the importance of Joe Bob Briggs (both Drive-In Theater and MonsterVision) to the finer points about filing down a firing pin (specifically, don’t let other people do it for you, and if you have to, test it with a dry chamber so you don’t blow your face off.) I vividly recall walking upstairs with him one afternoon. Easily winded by a three pack a day habit, he’d have to stop halfway. This time, he coughed up what looked like a singed piece of well worn kitchen sponge the size of a die, covered in blood, tar, and mucus. He turned to show it to me. Laughing, he said, “that’s what clean living will get you.” With that in mind, I present to you my Blank Month.
It all starts January 1. Or rather, it can be broken down into January 1 and the next thirty days. Nineteen years ago, Maxim published an article in their January 2001 issue about improving your life, complete with tips for all the common New Year’s resolutions. Years on, the article is, well, disappointing, and not just because it was published in Maxim. But contained within the idiocy that was the style at the time was a section entitled “12 Hours to Glory!” about all the things you can do New Year’s Day to set yourself up for success in the new year.
Some of the advice is outdated. While I still adhere to the belief that I should check my clothes to see if anything needs to be repaired, replaced, or tossed outright, subscription services and internet-based, mail-order haberdashery make it less concerning you’ll run out of new shirts. Still, worth it to dig through your dresser and toss old underwear and socks. The same holds true for toiletries. Since I’ve been using Quip, I don’t find the need to buy enough replacement toothbrushes to last me the year, though it’s still good to check levels on things like shampoo, soap, floss, and moisturizer. (A brief aside: I’m 36. I’ve looked 36 since I was 15. The goal is to keep looking 36 for as long as possible. If you don’t use moisturizer, start.)
In a roundabout way, this section also suggests accumulating information you’re going to need moving forward. If you don’t already get credit alerts, you can order a credit report. In lieu of programming your universal remote (remember those?) I’d suggest checking all the electronics you use regularly for wear and tear, testing batteries, and updating apps and firmware. Check your alerts and notifications. I’ll be taking a hiatus as best I can from social media in January (more on that later) so I probably don’t need Twitter dinging every time it feels I need dopamine.
It’s also a good chance to check your subscriptions, be they digital or otherwise. Cancel automatic reorders for things you don’t use or are redundant. Then start planning. Go out and buy all the birthday and anniversary cards you’ll need for the year. Get a Valentine’s Day dinner reservation six weeks early, so there’s no questions. Likewise for reservations for special occasions, assuming they’re not too far in the future. If you want to plan a trip, the first is as good a time as any to plan it, and I’m loathe to quote this article, it does give you something to save and work towards.
Check your car out. Get it inspected. Get the oil and fluids topped off. If you can, get it washed. Walk around your home, check for projects that need doing, stuff that needs to get cleaned (maybe get in a little vacuuming, or wash the clothes you are planning on keeping.) Handle all the stuff you’d otherwise put off because you have the day to do it (and you’re not nursing a pointless hangover. You’re not, right?)
The other 30 days is the aforementioned Blank Month, which is a bit more difficult. I haven’t resolved to do anything in the new year for years. New Year’s resolutions are slipshod and ill-conceived because people make amorphous promises to themselves and don’t bother with the legwork of actually getting it done. Or they shell out money for a gym membership, or for classes, and assume that’s the majority of the work. The follow through falls by the wayside. To quote Bre Pettis’ Cult of Done Manifesto, “If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.” Resolutions are a ghost of done. Make a plan. Beyond that, start removing stuff from your life that stops you from accomplishing your resolution.
I try to reset in January, hence the Blank Month. In years past, it’s been abstaining from vices- alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. This year, in an attempt to get back to losing weight (I had been making progress,) no more sugar. I’m also cutting out as much TV and social media as I can. TV because it’s become a crutch, and has eaten into time better spent reading, and social media because with the exception of posting dumb movie pitches and pictures of cute dogs I meet at farmers markets, it’s an echo chamber from which I derive little new information.
What will I do with all this new found time and clean living you definitely didn’t ask? Well, I already go to the gym regularly (I’m not a paragon, I’m just stubborn.) But I’ve been meaning to find a new martial art. I got a black belt in Tae Kwon Do as a kid, and did a fair amount of Aikido, but I’ve always been curious about Judo and everyone’s favorite mixed martial art go-to, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’m going to try both and see which I like more. I usually do one sprint triathlon a year, and I’m torn between adding a second one to my schedule or just trying a longer triathlon. And I’m going to read. I used to finish at least a book a week. Now, I start books and never finish them. That ends this coming month, in all the time I’m not out at bars or mindlessly rewatching season six of the Simpsons.
Is cold turkey followed by abstention healthy? For many of these, yes. Is it a good idea? Probably not. Do I need to take an extended break to reset? I think so. Should you join me? No, at least, not yet. I’ll report back and you can judge for yourself.
January 1, I get things done. January 2, I stop doing stuff.