How to start off a new year (when you want to live simply)

Of course, this will be the week where you’ll see a thousand posts about how to make new year’s resolutions, why they work or don’t work, and why you should make it a goal to get in shape, or get more sleep, or drink more water, or whatever.

I’m not going to tell you those things. Quite honestly, I’m kinda on the fence about making resolutions on January 1—I appreciate the sentiment, but I know how seldom those resolutions are actually resolved. Sometimes, they merely serve as a catalyst for frustration when January 7 rolls along, and you’re already back to your Dr. Pepper-drinking, staying-up-too-late ways.

But I am in to: fresh starts, and I relish the bright-eyed, clean-feeling-in-the-air about a new year. I’ll take any excuse to spend time mulling over thoughts with a mug in one hand and a pen in the other.

Here’s what I’m about—easing in to things. There’s nothing magical about January 1, no matter how good it feels to tear away the December page on a calendar. I dig goals that are actually reachable, ideas that make sense for my stage of life and my circumstances, and covering all my plans with a smothering of grace.

There’s no reason to make a blithe resolution by January 1, as though there’s a due date for making your life better. This is also why I’m a big advocate for taking time to reflect on the old year before barging headfirst into the new one: you have a better idea of where you’re at in the whole journey of things. You’re clearer-headed about what particular goals (or resolutions, or whatever you want to call them) are best for you, right now.

Simple, do-able questions for journaling as you plan a new year. Don't make random resolutions that don't make sense or are unreachable. Think though your dreams and make a workable plan!

I’m all for making goals—even big ones, the ones that seem insurmountable. But I’d rather spend the first few weeks of January recalibrating my compass to make sure I’m headed in the right direction, and THEN decide where I’d like to be by January of next year. I barely had a chance to wrap all my Christmas presents in December, let alone spend quality time in prayerful contemplation about the upcoming 365 days.

A bunch of well-intended, but ultimately meaningless, resolutions only complicates your life, and it sets you up for failure. You’ll burn out in no time. Your head will feel cluttered, and it may feel like you’re trying to live someone else’s life, aiming for someone else’s goals. Who wants to start off the year cluttered and complicated? Not me.

Download a free PDF of goal-setting questions for the new year.

Start this year simply. Use these questions to reflect on last year, if you want, and then use these questions to make plans for this next year. Take your time. Sleep on your thoughts. Pray over them. Chat about big life stuff with friends or with your spouse.

And then, in a few weeks’ time, make a few goals. Maybe pick a word for the year. Or? Don’t. Simply relish in the clean slate of a new year, and see what it brings. There’s no one right way to start a year.

But don’t stress out over having big, lofty resolutions by January 1. Let’s start this year simply. Start it by listening, by reflecting, and by waiting patiently to find the right goals for your new year.

Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet? -Anne of Green Gables

How are you celebrating New Year’s Eve? (We’re joining some friends for wine and live music, and then joining all our kids for a family-friendly countdown.)

Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. Gina :: Listening in the Litany

    Yes! So much wisdom here. For us, January is a time to evaluate what is and what isn’t working in our home. I often find myself ridding the to-do list of excess rather than adding more to it. I look forward to looking over your list of questions as I evaluate my roles and responsibilities for 2014. Thank you! Happy New Year!

  2. Colletta

    Excellent! This is exactly how I have come to feel as well. Love it!


  3. Jill

    I shall download your questions for contemplation. New Year’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. Lucky us as we have been invited to a neighborhood get together with game playing. No driving, just walk across the street.

  4. Claire @ Lemon Jelly Cake

    Wonderful words, Tsh! I have never been much of a New Year resolution-maker and it does feel a bit unrealistic to set high expectations for myself just now. As the new year starts, I am slowing down, not speeding up. 🙂

  5. Maggie

    This is why you will not find any exercise/get in shape type goals on my list for this year. I can’t bear to write something down that I already feel wishy-washy about. It’s a goal list, not a grin and bear it list. However, when I write down stuff I feel energized about, it changes my mind set and gives me a new happier outlook, which is ultimately what I want!

  6. Leanne

    I love this post! I am barely done finding my house after Christmas came and went. I will not put unrealistic expectations on myself. I am looking forward to simplifying my environment first and then I can look at the rest of the year. Thanks for the perspective.

  7. Steph

    We are celebrating Christmas with my extended family on New Year’s Day so I won’t even be thinking about my goals for the new year until January is well under way. I’m also a big fan of starting slowly with goals…taking my time to see what we can actually accomplish.

  8. Tanya

    I always have some kind of a goal but I don’t tend to make them on new years day.

  9. Andee Zomerman

    Wow. You put a lot of work into that pdf! What a great resource.

    Normally I agree with you about the Jan 1 resolutions. However, a couple of years ago I needed that “date” as a starting point. I’m not sure why…I just did. For me, it was the best resolution I ever made (and kept). Interesting how our culture has put such importance on it though, huh?

  10. Alissa

    Ilove the structure of this year’s reflections and goals. We actually talked through the 2013 reflections last night. I was thinking we would talk throuh 2014 goals tonight, but your words have encouraged me to take it slower. We’ve been setting aside one evening a week to have intentional conversations about… whatever. I think going through one of these pages each week will be perfect!

  11. Margarita

    This post is brilliant. I am a little “bah humbug” about New Years, for the past 30 years I’ve made resolutions and then failed on them within a month, so I know that there is no special magic in January 1st.

  12. Tragic Sandwich

    I’m looking forward to going through the questions–they look great. As for our New Year’s Eve plans, we’ve invited Baguette’s best friend and her parents over for an early dinner and some as-yet-to-be-determine festivities. Good times!

  13. Mary

    We’re not really into celebrating New Year’s Eve…it has a distinctly “un-holiday” feeling to me. I am not really big into Jan. 1 resolutions either, but I love reading about forming and eliminating habits. I think of January 1st as a mental trigger to pause and reflect, which is especially great after a busy, family-oriented season.

    The only thing that ever resembled a full-blown, effective resolution was registering for a 5K training class at the beginning of January 2010. The women I met are some of my dearest friends now, and although I may run about the same pace as a brisk walker, it was a wonderful feeling to run my first 5K that March (and two half marathons in 2012 and 2013. What made the difference for me is that it was a relatively short-term goal, it had some public/fiscal accountability (I’d *paid* for the course), and the reward was social and emotional support.

    Thank you for the reflection PDF…I think I’ll put on some tea and look it over this afternoon.

  14. Gay Idle

    This is just what I need to slow me down and help me to assess my goals for this year. Thanks for the pdf…it’s exactly what I needed to think through each area of my life before I move forward!
    Gay Idle/CaptiveHeart

  15. Jeanette

    Thanks for this great resource! I totally agree with taking stock of 2013 and slowly spending time over the next weeks contemplating the priorities in our lives. I would add a spiritual journey page to the questionnaire. How are you growing in holiness? What steps can you take to grow closer to God and take on an eternal perspective.

  16. Christi

    Thank you so much for the pdf! Looking forward to thinking about and answering these questions.

  17. Christine

    The snow is falling, the children are in bed, and it is a quiet mommy time for reflections–thank you for your excellent reflecting questions:)

  18. Mal

    Thank you for this. We’ve spent time with these questions for 3 New Years in a row.

  19. Erin

    Loved this exercise, Tsh! Using these questions, my husband and I had a great conversation on New Year’s Day about where we are today and where we want to be at this time next year. Thank you for this helpful tool!

  20. Caitlin

    Thank you for these again, Tsh. I used these last year and plan to keep a binder now to keep the all in one place and see how things have changed or stayed the same come New Year’s. We’ve already started talking about the 2013 questions you posted for NYE. Thank you! Here’s to a reflect-ful January!

  21. Natalie

    Thank you so much for this. Reflecting on last year and planning for the new year felt like an overwhelming task to me. Even just finding the time to look at the questions seemed difficult. But yesterday my husband and I sat down with hot drinks and the 20 questions for reflection and just talked through them. Our kids wandered in and listened and joined in with their own opinions. Now we are navigating our way through the questions for the new year, and it’s so helpful as we set goals and plan the direction in which we’d like to steer our family ship in 2014. The process of reflection and goal-setting is not nearly as overwhelming or draining as I’d made it out to be when it was just a thing on my to-do list. It’s actually energizing and kind of fun! So thank you again for the encouragement, inspiration and tools you have provided to make it a simple and low-stress process!

  22. Tessa

    After unknowingly pondering some of the questions on your handout over the last couple months, I came up with a phrase for myself for the new year: “minimize possessions. seek experiences. deepen relationships.” While it’s accompanied by quite a few concrete goals, it will remind me that the goal really is to simplify and focus my life over the next year and beyond. I’m ready for the fresh start!

  23. Elizabeth

    Thank you for sharing the pdf, it will be packed to ponder as we travel from our home in the midwest to the east coast for my husband’s work.
    I appreciate your blog.

  24. Missy Robinson

    I do love that January often has more open time for contemplating what is and what is not working. I rarely set totally new goals, but use it as a time to tweak was is and isn’t working in our lives. If there is a new habit that I want to start, I often wait until my birthday in February. That six weeks gives me time to evaluate, gather information, seek support and be ready to begin.

  25. Jeffrey

    We found your new year’s post of simplicity helpful. Full of the necessary and often overlooked questions that need to be asked and addressed at the beginning of each new year. I did however find it difficult to read them enjoyably as many were missing words that made complete sentences. Call it a pet peeve of mine or the fact that my father drove me nearly insane as he was a professional sign painter and improper grammar and bad spelling were punishable by flogging.
    Hope you have a great 2016!

  26. Noreen

    Tsh, I have used your reflective questions for the past few years and I look forward
    to going over them again. Life has enough complications and expectations, that this simple
    approach to A New Year sits well with me and at my speed. I don’t need to place on myself
    unnecessary extra’s that are doomed to leaving me feel like I failed.

  27. Hayley

    Just found your site today, really love it and have bookmarked.

    I totally agree about the importance of reflecting before coming up with plans for a new start. I have just been busy doing that myself for 2015, although not got as far as looking at plans for this year yet. Although, in a way reflecting on 2015 has actually given me an outline for 2016! Love the PDF, will print out.

    All the best for 2016, Hayley

  28. Rhonda F

    Hi Tsh, just wanted to give you a heads up that the pdf file you posted the link to appears to have some problems. 🙂 When I printed it up, it was too big for the normal size paper and when I shrink it to %90, it replaces the letter “i” with an exclamation point! 🙂 I can work around it, but I thought you might like to know what’s going on.
    Thanks so much for this! I look forward to working through the questions 🙂

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