I don’t really like traditional goals or resolutions. Sometimes they are too difficult to fulfill, leaving me frustrated or disappointed. Other times, I do accomplish a goal only to be left with a feeling of, “Now what?”.

So instead, I created a list of 21 words to live by for a better 2021. 21 words that will improve my life, and hopefully yours, too! These are the words I would like to use and utilize more. As you go through the post, think about your words to live by as well.

1. Create

There is something so satisfying about creating things. Sometimes it’s something complex like a woodworking project or a personalized gift for a relative. But it can also be simple things like creating a new meal or creating that great lesson plan for one of my classes. Either way, creating something new gives us that feeling of accomplishment.

2. Save

Money is in the title of our website after all, isn’t it? Of course this would be one of our 21 words to live by!

We aim to save a lot more this year simply because of some big, upcoming changes. First, we are finishing up daycare for our youngest child, which means an extra $348/week for us! Additionally, we have managed to pay off our student loans!

We have been aggressively attacking this for the past two years, so it means a lot more money is now available to us. Now that those major expenses are gone, our focus is shifting to saving money. We plan to beef up our savings account first and then contribute to 403(b) plans we both have at work, IRAs, and 529 plans for C and B.

3. Reuse

Over the last few years, I have found myself becoming much more aware of my impact on the environment. One of the easiest ways to do my part is through reusing whatever I can. I used to buy an iced coffee each and every day from Dunkin Donuts. That’s 365 plastic cups and 365 straws wasted each year. Now, I make my coffee at home and use a stainless steel tumbler and straw. I normally pack a lunch, but I would almost always grab a plastic fork or spoon at lunchtime. Now, Ashley and I bring our own silverware from home and simply throw it in the dishwasher each night. We rarely use plastic baggies for sandwiches or snacks, instead packing our food in Tupperware containers. Even with the progress we have made, there is still a lot more that can be done.

4. Recycle

Along the same lines, recycling is something I really want to learn more about. Maybe you know that plastic straws can’t be recycled. But did you know that while most plastic cups can be recycled, many of the plastic tops cannot? Or were you aware that only certain yogurt containers are recyclable in most parts of the US? The major issue: Too many misplaced items can actually ruin the entire recycling batch, rendering the whole process useless. I’m hoping to be more diligent about my recycling and change my mindset. I used to question whether an item was recyclable or not, and just throw it in and hope for the best. Instead, we should be doing the opposite. If you’re not sure about an item, don’t recycle it.

5. Compost

Continuing our environmental trend, we are finally getting into composting. Fortunately, our town offers free compost pick up for all residents. We don’t have access to any of the compost from the town anymore, but it is still worthwhile because of the impact on the environment. All leftover food plus paper towels and napkins, paper bags, eggshells, potted plants, coffee grounds, and much, much more can be composted. Instead of all of that waste going to a landfill (or worse, ending up in our waterways and oceans), it is turned into compost. “What’s the difference?” you may ask. Composting provides oxygen to decomposing material. Conversely, in a landfill, the material has very little oxygen and thus produces methane, one of the worst greenhouse gases.

C and B bringing home our new compost bin!

Also, if you’re interested in composting and don’t have a local program, you can do it yourself! Check out how here.

6. Plant-Based

I am planning to adopt a more plant-based diet for a couple of different reasons. Animal products place a major strain on the environment. Livestock alone accounts for 14% of the greenhouse gases emitted and that number continues to rise. Additionally, a plant-based diet is much healthier for our bodies. There have been numerous studies that have shown a link between meat-eating and cancer and other diseases. I love burgers, buffalo chicken and steak tips as much as anyone else, but I’m really trying to limit how much meat I eat. I will probably never be a full-on vegetarian, nor do I necessarily want to be, but I definitely see myself consuming significantly fewer meat products. Want to try? Start with something simple like “Meatless Mondays” and go from there.

7. Exercise

Ashley and I have been on a pretty steady routine of exercise over the last few months. We get up early together most mornings and do a workout in our basement. Working out with your partner is fun, it really is. We have both commented throughout these last few months that it’s much easier when both of us are involved. We motivate each other and hold each other accountable. Those mornings when one of us is having a tough time getting out of bed, the other gets up so we know we have to follow.

I feel so much better over these last few months. I’ve seen improvements in how I look and have lost weight, but more importantly, I just feel healthier. I dealt with some serious back pain over the last two years that is now nonexistent. Waking up to do a workout can be rough some mornings, but I feel much better the rest of the day. Gone is the sluggishness I used to feel each day around 11 and then again at 2 or 3.

8. Outdoors

Those of you who follow the blog know how important getting outside is to me. You may also remember the 100 Hour Outdoor Challenge that we successfully finished. There is just something special about being outside. Sure, it’s easy to be outside on those days when it is 75 degrees and sunny, but I find it even more important during the cold, winter months here in New England. Take a walk in the brisk cold – it’s invigorating!

As a teacher, I’m usually stuck inside the school all day. I’m trying to get outside, even if it’s just for a minute during my (22-minute!) lunch break to get a breath of fresh air. Lately, I’ve left a bag in my car that I know I will need later in the day just to give myself an excuse to walk out into the parking lot. If you have a job with a bit more flexibility, take advantage and get outside!

9. Play

I want to play more. Remember when you were a kid? Remember all of those great times riding bikes with your friends, playing make-believe, or playing sports? For most of us, our childhoods probably bring back a lot of good memories. It’s certainly the case for me. I’ve written before about how we should all act like kids more often in adulthood.

So what does play look like as an adult? I want to play with my kids, whether that’s board games, catch outside, or hide and seek. I still manage to play basketball three times a week, which is great exercise and also a great stress reliever. I’d like to do more fun things with friends like playing cornhole in the backyard or playing cards and having a few drinks.

It’s easy to forget how short life can be. Prepare for the future, but have fun in the present.

10. Mindful

Mindfulness is nothing new to me, but rather a skill that I am constantly aiming to improve. It is one of my words to live by currently, but I would like to improve. We all need breaks and distractions at times, but I am happiest with myself when I am in the moment and fully invested in the present. I’ve tried meditation as a means of becoming more mindful and it wasn’t for me. Maybe it could be for you. Either way, one of my goals is to continue to be more mindful and present at home with my wife and kids and in school with my students and co-workers.

11. Charity

When I was in college, I randomly volunteered to help out at a place called My Brother’s Keeper, an organization that delivers food and furniture to those in need. Driving to people’s homes to deliver items was always an emotional experience. Hearing their stories and seeing how thankful they were for what we were doing left a lasting imprint upon me. Since that time in college, I have volunteered for many things, but I would like to do more. As our financial situation has improved, it’s made donating money easier. On the other hand, having two young kids has made it much harder to donate time. Now that C and B are getting a bit older, I’d like to involve them in some charitable causes with the hopes that they will be as impacted by volunteer work as I was.

12. Attentive

I aim to be more attentive. This one connects with many of the other words on here. I’d like to be more attentive toward my wife and my kids, but also to friends, students, and acquaintances. I strongly believe that there’s a lot to be learned from all of those around you. My kids remind me how to have fun. I’ve learned to be a more patient and compassionate person from being with my wife. My students have taught me patience and curiosity over and over and over again. The lists go on and on, you just have to pay attention.

13. Risk

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not much of a risk-taker. Never have been and probably never will be. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t strive to take more chances – to put myself out there a bit more. Yes, you might fail, and that’s okay. (Believe me, that last sentence is as much a reminder to myself as anything else). My goal is to step outside my comfort zone more in my professional and personal life.

Staying in the middle lane is safest, but the fast lane is worth the exhilaration and the right lane allows you to detour off whenever you want. Don’t get stuck living your whole life in the middle lane.

14. Gratitude

I’ve heard many people talking about keeping a gratitude journal, especially around Thanksgiving and the New Year. While I haven’t taken this step (although I might give it a shot), I have realized how important it is to be grateful for what we have. I am so incredibly fortunate to have the life that I do. I have a wonderful, healthy family, both immediate and extended, a solid job, and a nice house in a great neighborhood. Taking a moment to be thankful for these things makes me happier.

15. Travel

I recently remarked on Twitter that I felt like we were a bit addicted to travel. Once that travel bug hits, it’s hard to stop it or slow it down. And honestly, I don’t mind this addiction in the least. In the last three years, we have traveled as a family to San Antonio, San Diego, and Florida four times (my parents live down there half of the year). Within that same timeframe, Ashley and I have been fortunate enough to travel without kids to Puerto Rico and Cancun.

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Obviously, with Covid-19, our travel plans were completely derailed in 2020. Hopefully, travel will once again become one of my words to live by in 2021!

B trying his hand at bocce with his grandparents.

As much as we’ve done, I’m hopeful we will do even more. My kids love exploring new places and it’s such a great way for all of us to spend lots of time together, forming great memories. Ashley and I constantly remark how great our trips sans kids have been and how much that has helped our relationship. In my mind, happiness comes from experiences not possessions. Yes, save money, but don’t be afraid to spend some money on the things that truly make you happy. For us, that’s travel.

16. Learn

There’s so much to learn in life. Every day, I learn so much from my kids, my wife, my students, other bloggers, books. As we get older, I think we get more set in our ways. I want to keep as open a mind as possible and learn new things each day. Because of that, I feel like learning had to be in my top 21 words to live by.

17. Listen

Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t really listen to what others are saying. We’ve all done it at some point. You’re involved in a conversation but you’re not really listening. You’re not truly invested and immersed in the conversation. I want to listen more intently — it will make me a better friend, a better family member, and a better teacher.

18. Balance

I’m fairly well-balanced in my life, but I’m always aiming to become more balanced. At times, I get too caught up in one aspect of my life. I hyperfocus on a certain class in school or I spend too much time planning my finances when I should be spending that time enjoying myself. Recently, I wrote about my experiences blogging and the lessons I have learned after getting burnt out. This blog was a source of imbalance for me last year, so I am focusing on not letting that happen again.

Find that work-life balance. We get pulled in lots of different directions, but we need to match our time and energy with our priorities.

19. Minimalism

Well, you knew this one would be a part of my 21 words to live by!

It’s what started this whole journey for me, yet I still strive to become more of a minimalist. At this point, it’s not about getting rid of additional possessions (I’ve already done that) but it’s more about ditching unnecessary distractions so I can focus on the important things in my life.

“Less is more” has become a phrase that I find constantly running through my head. Less on my to-do list and fewer distractions let me focus on my priorities and be a lot happier.

20. Resilient

As of this posting, we are in the midst of Covid-19, but there is an end in sight. Hopefully, the second half of 2021 will be much better than 2020 was or the first half of 2021 is shaping up to be.

One of the most difficult tasks over the past year has been to remain resilient. This year has sucked, plain and simple. We’ve lost loved ones, we have missed out on spending time with friends and family, and we have had our lives uprooted by this virus. But if you’re reading this, you’ve made it this far. Hold on for a few more months. Be safe, be smart, be resilient to the obstacles that have continuously been thrown at us.

21. Happy

That’s really what all of this is about. I created this list of 21 words to live by, but really it all comes down to happiness, doesn’t it?

I’ve said this multiple times, but the entire message behind this blog is to do whatever you can to improve happiness. Does minimalism or having money make you happy? Not necessarily. But for me, having less gives me more time and energy to focus on what’s important to me, and being smart with my money gives me peace of mind about the present and my future. Out of all of these words to live by, happy is number one.

Wrapping It Up – What are Your Words to Live By?

These are the twenty words I’m trying to incorporate into my life more often. It’s important to consider your goals from time and time and reassess. Where are you now? Where do you want to be?

So, I’m curious. What are your goals? What would be some of your 21 words to live by?

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