Many people spend New Year’s Eve surrounded by lots of people, drinking and cheering and anxiously anticipating the stroke of midnight. That’s alright, but it’s not the only way to spend this night, which feels meaningful because it promises a fresh start yet often ends up leaving us drained, with an incurable hangover—and barely able to muster the resolve to make it to brunch, let alone ready to implement ambitious resolutions.
Another option is to do it your way, making this a night of preparation and contemplation. While it may not seem glamorous to pass your evening on chores while friends are popping bubbly and doing shots, chances are good that you’ll feel fantastic afterward, refreshed and ready for the year ahead. The revelers will already be nursing new regrets.
Perform these rites to start the year right:
Lighten your material load to create space for the great new things the new year will bring you. The more you love stuff, the more likely it is you’ve got too much. Take it from Marie Kondo, a woman with a mania for organization who sold the world on the life-changing magic of tidying up, clearing up space makes for a home that “sparks joy.”
By decluttering, you’ll feel less burdened by your goods, and can do some good. Get rid of the books you have read, the clothes you no longer wear, the gadgets and tchotchkes you don’t use and figure out where to donate them. Books can go to a local little free library, clothes and home items to a Goodwill drop-off or thrift shop. Junk can just be trashed.
Pour some wine if you like, play music, and start scrubbing—tackle the pile of junk on your desk, wash the dishes, sweep the floor, take out the garbage, bleach, polish, do the laundry, and change your sheets. Cleaning your house for the new year is a perfect way to start 2019.
It’s both a practical and contemplative practice. In the words of the Japanese Zen Buddhist monk Shoukei Matsumoto, “We sweep dust to remove our worldly desires. We scrub dirt to free ourselves of attachments.”
If you’re feeling particularly ambitious and witchy, consider moving some of your furniture around and burning sage, an ancient spiritual ritual and medicinal practice that dates back to ancient Egypt for cleansing a space.
This way, your place will look, smell, and feel healthy and fresh.
Now it’s time to relax. Take a home vacation that doubles as a meditation. Draw a bath or get in the shower, delighting in your sparkly clean space, the clean clothes that await you, and the sensation of being in the water.
“The shower is a proxy for the…ocean,” according to marine biologist and author of the 2014 book Blue Mind, Wallace Nichols. “You step in the shower, and you remove a lot of the visual stimulation of your day…it’s a steady stream of ‘blue noise.’ You’re not hearing voices or processing ideas. You step into the shower and it’s like a mini-vacation.”
Grab a pen and paper and start scribbling. Think about the year that has just passed, the highs and lows, the surprises, what you didn’t know or couldn’t have anticipated, and what you wish you’d done differently. This isn’t a work of literature. It’s a stream of consciousness so don’t worry about formulating great sentences or sticking to a chronology. Just let your thoughts flow freely for about 30 minutes as a kind of meditation. Write about what you’d like to improve in the next year, what you fear and loathe, where you want to go and hope will happen, who you’d like to be, what you want to see, how you’d like to treat other people and yourself.
The act of writing, particularly by hand, frees up your mind, helps you process emotions, and turns abstract thoughts into concrete words. It’s therapeutic.
You and your space are totally clean, you’ve scribbled your thoughts and are ready to release them. Now, you can step out for New Year’s Eve and perform the final rite while getting some gentle exercise. Before you go, grab some matches or a lighter and the pages you wrote.
Whatever the weather, go for a contemplative stroll. Gaze at the stars, talk to the moon, wonder about what the year ahead will bring, formulate your resolutions or a life thesis, or empty your mind altogether. The physical activity will lift your mood and start your year off on the right foot, literally.
When you get to a safe and quiet space, set your cone of pages aflame. Watch as the words turn to ash and make sure to stamp out any burning embers (starting the year with an arson charge would suck).
Breathe deep, look up at the sky, and feel free.
Burning the pages liberates your thoughts, releases your hopes, dreams, and regrets, and is a potent symbol of detachment. It’s a reminder that everything is fleeting and that next year will disappear just like this last one.
So it’s worth making the most of these moments.