Liadán Hynes on setting the bar low and enjoying the month ahead
I’m desperately trying not to sound too smug here. Or deluded – given we’re in the soft end of January, at the end of, for many of us, a two day week where things haven’t really cranked back up again properly, it might be considered easy to be pro the first month of the year. This is not the same January as the January of say, the 15th of this month, when we’re really in the depths, the benefits of whatever downtime was gained over Christmas a distant memory, the next pay date far off in the future.
And this is not a paean to the new year new you potential of this time of year. I am a woman who has failed on day four of Adriene, you will find no turning over of new leaves here.
This is also not a December-bashing piece. Loving one need not mean hating the other. I in fact also relish December. The sense of anticipation, the all round cosiness of it, the, admittedly at times slightly stressful sense that you must and will meet up with every friend you’ve ever had for pints before 25th December. Just the sheer prettiness of it; my daughter’s first word was baubles, she obviously felt compelled to remark upon them. And I get it. Come the first of December, I feel I’d quite happily drape our entire house (insides only) in baubles and fairy lights.
December, the run up to The Christmas, has always been my favourite time of year. But I also love January.
This hasn’t always been the case. In my twenties and early thirties I viewed January as a thing to be gotten through, grim faced, determined, head down. I think part of this was because I worked in an office then, rather than being self-employed and working from home, as I do now.
January is a time for cocooning, for moving slowly, maybe doing the bare minimum. This doesn’t mean not working, not an option available, but it means a sort of go slow. You’re sort of shuffling through. Expecting very little of yourself. Not making too many plans, sometimes counting the hours until you can get back into bed with your book.
Open plan, baldly lit, hierarchically run offices that require you to be at your desk at a specific time do not lend themselves to any of the above. In fact, colleagues and I would often find ourselves back at our desks in January scrolling the sidebar of shame for pictures of celebrities on sun holidays, thereby making ourselves feel even worse. Does a home-made lunch which has sat in the office fridge for several hours in Tupperware ever feel more depressing than when eaten on a dark January day, as you and your colleagues huddle around in a collective come down after Christmas?
It was Helen James, the artist and fashion designer, who first suggested to me that January could be anything other than a cross to be borne – endured, but never enjoyed. We were talking about the colours she uses in her clothes to represent different feelings and moods, and how, for her, different times of the year required different approaches. Different paces. Rather like different times of the monthly cycle. That there were times of the year, as well as of the menstrual cycle, which suited hibernation, taking things slowly, eating things like stews while sitting around reading. Leaning into the quieter, more gently paced days. Wrapping yourself in a blanket.
It was the first time it struck me that instead of fighting it, of resenting January for not being December, which, surely, in hindsight, can seem a little garish when you think of it, not somewhere you’d want to linger indefinitely, you could take January as it comes. Set the bar for yourself extremely low, and then lean into that.
I saw a story on Instagram the other day where the person said their New Year’s resolutions were to have a gentle, cosy January. Genius, I thought. What perfect aspirations for this month.
My daughter is finally of age where we can watch things we both enjoy, which are not always animated. Like me, it turns out she also loves Modern Family. So our January is going to be full of early nights at the weekend, with a big fire, a box of Ferrero Rocher (because some December habits should be retained), and several episodes of the Dunphys. I’ve got a new Fitbit I’m mildly obsessed with, I’ve admitted to myself that I hate running and instead the Fitbit gets us out for pottering walks around the neighbourhood. She holds my phone to take pictures, her new obsession. This weekend our plans are limited to a walk with friends and their dog, and some friends coming over for a takeaway.
Every night, we both love getting into bed with hot water bottles, our two cats take an end-of- bed each, Mavis prefers mine, Rose hers. This is the key to January; set your bar for pleasure to the lowest possible setting, and then enjoy the tiniest things.