What do you plan to gift yourself for 2020. What would make your year better. Photo of a young woman in a white shirt and dark overalls, holding out a wrapped present towards the camera.

I hope you’ve been having a satisfying holiday season, however you choose to celebrate it. In this season of giving, I encourage giving not only to others, but to ourselves. I think this is especially important for people who tend to give of themselves to others year-round, whether by nature or vocation. Remember, self-care isn’t selfish.

In 2020, I’m giving myself the gift of space—in both a physical and a mental sense.

A room of one’s own

In the physical realm, I will be giving myself space to be alone. One of the things I most looked forward to when I made the leap just over a year ago to working for myself was that I get to see my husband more. (He has his own website design business and has works from home.)

While I do love that neither of us has to wave “good-bye” and head off on a commute each morning, I’ve learned that I don’t love sharing a home office. Frankly, I’m much more productive when he’s out of town or off on a day hike. Sitting at adjoining desks makes it far too easy for one of us (yes, I’m “guilty” of this, too) to say, “Hey, do you have a second?” Even if the other person says, “Um, actually, no,” it’s too late—our concentration has already been broken.

Gift yourself with space to yourself this year. Photo of a book with a white and gray faux marble cover, a pair or tortoiseshell eyeglasses, and a small succulent plant in a black pot on a brown lacquered plank table top.
From physical space to mental space

When we finally can move into our new house in March (fingers crossed!) I’ll have my own office and studio space. This gift of physical space will also give me the gift of mental space (fewer interruptions), making it easier to meditate and do yoga—something I’m currently doing in our shared office, as well. As a natural introvert, I need alone time to recharge my batteries!

Taking this one step further, I’m continuing the decluttering I began when I returned home from Ecuador in October. Clutter has a major impact on our stress levels…and not just because it makes it harder to find things. Of course, clutter isn’t always about “things.”

I recently started listening to a new (to me) podcast, “Hurry Slowly,” about how to be more productive, creative and resilient by simply slowing down. One concept in the first few episodes that resonated with me is how problematic it is that modern work culture expects us to be always available and instantly responsive to emails, texts and so on. (I find this feels true for me, even though I work for myself, since I do interact with editors and others via email.)

Another concept is how the digital world is constantly pulling our attention away from things that are more important. Think not just emails and texts, but social media and notifications on our phones and tablets. Every time we get a notification that someone “liked” one of our social media posts, we get a hit of dopamine (the “pleasure” hormone in the brain). This is one thing that keeps us checking our phones constantly…or thinking about checking our phones if they are even in the same room with us.

Gift yourself with more time by reducing your dependence of your smart phone and all of its alerts and notifications. Photo of a woman wearing a black top and gray cardigan sitting at a brown wooden desk with a silver-toned laptop, holding and looking at a silver smartphone.
From servant to master

So this week, I decided, “No more.” Email, texts and even social media are tools that provide me with value in many ways, and can certainly make aspects of my life easier, but to paraphrase an old Francis Bacon quote, “Technology is a great servant but a bad master.” Time to embrace some digital minimalism!

The other day, I went into the notification settings on my phone and seriously cleaned house.

  • Social media notifications will quietly sit in my phone’s notification center until I choose to check them (no more pop-up banners).
  • The only notifications that have sounds or badges (those little red numbers on the upper right corner of the app icon) will be phone and texts.
  • All other notifications stay turned off unless I need them for a specific reason (such as airline notifications when I’m traveling).
  • I’m setting limits on how often I check email—in other words not simply every time I glance at my phone.

I’ve already broken the habit of taking my phone with me on walks, and it no longer rests on my bedside table at night. If I’m relaxing in the living room, the phone stays in my office, unless I’m expecting a call. Continuing to cut the (phone) cord will help me gain the mental space and uninterrupted stretches of time I crave to do productive work, then fully relax. What a gift!

Setting boundaries

I’m doing more than setting digital boundaries—I’m setting real-world boundaries, too, by saying, “No” more often. (I have a tendency to say “yes” to any interesting opportunity, and this came back to bite me a few times in 2019.) You’ve probably heard the saying, “When one door closes another opens,” and this applies to setting boundaries. When I close the door to something by saying, “No,” I leave a door open to other opportunities—even if it’s simply the opportunity to do nothing.

Ask me now many work-free vacations I took in 2019? Zero…even when camping. I don’t ever want to spend another vacation in the woods stressing out when I can’t get an internet connection on my phone. If I have to work a little harder the week before, and let some people know I won’t be accessible for a few days or a week, then it’s worth it to have the space to swim or hike or roast a marshmallow without thinking, “I should be working.”

Gift yourself with activities you enjoy, such as reading. Photo of young girl laying on her back on a bed with a gray comforter, surrounded with open books, her face hidden by a book she's holding above her head.
What to do with all that space?

Clearing out the nonessential in your life and setting boundaries that protect your time are gifts that will keep on giving. Clearing that space for yourself lets you bring in the truly essential things that nourish you—and I’m not talking about food, here.

For me, one of those essentials is reading. I have been a ravenous reader since I was 3 years old (seriously…I was what’s called a “precocious reader”). I love both non-fiction and fiction, but my fiction reading sharply dropped off 10 years ago when I traded novels for science textbooks in preparation for grad school. I’ve yet to fully rebound, but when I do carve out a bit of time to read for pleasure (I just finished reading the awesome book “Conviction,” by Denise Mina), I happily sigh and think, “Yes…THIS!”

So here are some questions for you:

  • What hobbies or activities would you welcome back into your life if you could find the time?
  • What activities are taking up time while giving you nothing of substance in return?
  • What space can you create in your own life to shift the balance from the meaningless to the meaningful?

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Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health. This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute individualized nutrition or medical advice.

Seeking 1-on-1 nutrition counseling? Carrie offers a 6-month Food & Body program (intuitive eating, body image, mindfulness, self-compassion) and a 4-month IBS management program (low-FODMAP diet coaching with an emphasis on increasing food freedom). Visit the links to learn more and book a free intro call to see if the program is a good fit, and if we’re a good fit!