While the hedonism and self-indulgence of the holidays are a lot of fun, I almost prefer the balancing period of self-discipline and asceticism that naturally follows. Whether it's eating simply and cheaply after weeks of parties, restaurants, and a fridge filled with yule logs, or swapping endless entertainment for exercise, the dark, cold days of January and February lend themselves nicely to self-examination.
One habit I've gotten into post-New Year's is a tune-up of my domestic situation. God knows I have little desire to leave the house, after weeks on the town.
It starts with the incorporation of any gifts I've gotten into the household: clothes into closets, books onto shelves etc. What a perfect time to cull old clothes and books, and take them to Housing Works, or sort out sheets and towels and take the frayed and tattered to the nearest animal shelter for bedding. Too many canned goods? Weird condiments from your Christmas stocking? Make a bag for your local food pantry (Greenpoint Reformed Church is a great place) Whatever you do, don't throw perfectly good stuff away.
With a little space made, now's the time for a midwinter clean. If you're like me the holidays were a time of slapdash tidying and under-the-bed stashing as guests and relatives descended. Green cleaning products are multiplying like rabbits: on a recent trip to megastore Lowe's I found the cleaning aisle chockablock with less toxic, biodegradeable, naturally scented options. Stock up! (Though I recommend hitting the 4th Street Co-op with your own bottles in hand, for bulk cleaning products, or shopping at Sustainable NYC on Ave. A, if you can.)
If you're ready for fresh cleaning implements, swap your sponge and scrubber for eco versions: no need for a plastic scrubber when you can get loofah versions at the health food store, or an entire loofah at the nearest Middle-Eastern grocery. A company called Casabella has a beautiful mop/bucket system made out of 100 percent recycled soda bottles and an aluminum handle that works for other cleaning tools, too.
In the bathroom consider switching to products from one of my new favorite stores, Lush. The Canadian company makes great natural skincare products, packages them in recycled plastic tubs, and takes the tubs back themselves for recycling—take five tubs in and they give you another product. Their greatest eco innovations are an assortment of really great bar shampoos, and several bar deodorants, sold by the pound. Sounds crazy, but the stuff is amazing, and the total packaging for either is a whisper of recyclable paper. No more plastic bottles and boxes, hallelujah!
Speaking of no more plastic, now's the time to get rid of all those takeout boxes you've been hoarding—if your freezer has a lot of room in it, fill it with takeout tubs filled with water: it will reduce the energy needed to keep your fridge running, and reduce your electric bill. Recycle what you can from the rest (the Park Slope Co-op has days when it takes yogurt tubs and many other kinds of plastic not recyclable in the city system) and invest in a couple of glass or stainless containers (or use spaghetti-sauce or jam jars) instead—no creepy leaching.
As long as you're in the kitchen, one of the greenest (and healthiest) things you can do is cook (and eat) more at home, with a little less meat. Whip up a simple vegan soup, with lentils say, some onions, garlic, potatoes, olive oil and spices, and you'll save money, reduce your carbon footprint, and give yourself a wildly healthy treat. Or resolve to go meat-free one day a week: there's a cool group called Meatless Mondays, which will send you great recipes, and guide you if you'll commit to one meat-free day a week (Meatlessmonday.com).
Whatever you do, make a couple of changes, and have a happier, greener New Year.