Well, it’s that time of year.  A time for reflection and thought.  This year we went to the Dominican Republic for NYE and spent a week in the sun with our daughters and a few friends and their family.  It was quite nice to get away for a little time, which I spent thinking about the next year and what’s next.  Every year I try to build resolutions and change my personal behavior to improve the life of myself and my family.  Most years that means tangible outcomes, and this although this year isn’t completely different, I’m going to practice abstraction.

The key themes for 2020 are pretty simple:  consume less and maintain more.

Consume Less:  It took my taking a new job in renewables to really understand what is happening today with the human race in regard to using resources of the planet.  We are using too much, too fast, and having a potentially irreversible effect on our environment due to emissions increasing the global temperatures.  I could go in depth on this but will not as it’s not the point here.  The concept of consuming less is primarily driven by the fact that we need to do so collectively in order to maintain our way of life.

Consuming less isn’t solely about environmental impact, though.  Excess in life isn’t really an advantage.  I find that most humans in the US believe the path to happiness is paved with the newest gadgets, clothing, vehicles, domiciles and whatnot all increasing in expense and scale over time.  It isn’t completely their fault of course, our society is predicated on economic stimulus that teaches all of us to want those things.  Sadly there is no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, only more stuff and a bigger boat to buy.

It’s interesting to think about sources and uses, stock and flow, of all the things in your life.  Ultimately it’s similar to a business with cash flow, you have to optimize it based on objectives.  Most folks like to focus on the uses of consumption.  From a dietary perspective this might look like setting goals to do more exercise in order to lose more weight.  Yet the best possible thing to do is to limit the amount of your intake initially, as opposed to solving the issue after the fact.  You see this in all facets of life.  The doctor doing an interventional procedure for a heart attack, instead of the patient eating healthy and exercising their entire lives.  The mechanic replacing an engine instead of routine oil changes to prevent wear.

Limiting consumption is about optimizing what you actually need.  There are many levels to what you actually need.  Physical needs, mental needs, social needs, spiritual needs, etc.  It’s not just heading for the hills and living an ascetic lifestyle.  It is considering what’s really of value to you and acting on that, while limiting the superfluous waste in your life.  How do you practice that?  I don’t have that figured out, but I do have a plan which I’ll cover off on at the end.

Maintain More:  I’ve never been good at maintenance.  It’s always been an after thought.  Part of it is that I’ve always been in the position as an adult to purchase new or better goods when something wore out.  And our culture encourages buying new things for fashion as well as for fun.  As a kid I once pulled by 1992 Taurus into the local hospital where my mother worked due to the grinding sound coming from the engine.  One of her coworkers came out, popped the hood and pulled out the dipstick, “This thing is bone dry!”  It’s not that my father hadn’t already explained to me to change the oil, it’s that I was too stupid too listen.  Thankfully the car kept on keeping on but probably should have been dead at that point.

Some of this lack of focus on maintaining my lot is due to a lack of formal training of course.  With no formal training in practical trades like plumbing, electric, carpentry, computing, and so on makes it difficult to dive in, at least when I was growing up.  Today of course there’s a Youtube listing for anything and everything to do it yourself.  So there’s some nature and some nurture to my former life of not keeping things ship shape.  This is a societal concern, we are raising a lot kids (not all of them) without much practical understanding of how things actually work in their homes and society.  It would be great to see more focus on this in education.  Ultimately I fall on the side that individuals are responsible to learn and apply these things but it’d be great to see our education system nudging them too.

Why maintain more?  There are a number of reasons.  First off, it will limit surplus consumption of new goods and services by extending the life of those you’ve already purchased.  It’s also financially rewarding for obvious reasons.  For every day items, the cost savings may not be immense, but for the largest items in your life (houses, cars, insurance, education) purchasing something once and making it last can drastically lower costs via eliminating transactional fees, as well as lowering overall costs of ownership.  I find that assessing mobility (vehicles) is the easiest way to showcase that.  For some simply taking an Uber somewhere and biking or walking the rest of the time is a huge boone financially.  For others that’s not feasible and finding a reliable vehicle that can be used upwards of 200,000 miles will reduce their cost of ownership and mobility costs incredibly.  Yet many people still choose to buy brand new vehicles, or lease them, every few years.  For them, the value of that new vehicle or prestige is worth it.  At that point however the value is derived from prestige and has changed from a purely rational, dollars and cents economic argument.

There is also a very real psychological value to understanding the value derived from the goods you purchase and their longevity.  In Walden, a favorite of mine, Henry David Thoreau catalogs the costs to purchase materials and build his small shack near Walden Pond.  You can sense his delight in the line items for building it, and the value he will derive from it.  Understanding what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how well its working is in itself an enjoyable aspect of life.  Plan your work, work your plan.  Also keeping things tidy is in itself a great way to do work and live your life.  Maintenance includes living in a clean home, having a tidy work space, and generally living the way you want to.

The first thing to do is buy high quality items that will last.  That isn’t always easy, but there are some resources that help find the best items, best meaning value based, you may not need the absolute pinnacle of something to make it last a lifetime.

Next is actually planning to maintain things.  I’ve failed miserably here in the past, but hope to instill a new system where I’m actually keeping things up to snuff.  You do this by categorizing the different aspects of your life that need maintaining and scheduling a routine.  Since my early life failure, I learned to get an oil change by 4,000 miles with my vehicle.  My current vehicle just hit 150,000 miles and I’m hoping I can get to 200,000.  But it’s always dirty because I neglect to clean it.  I’m planning to remedy that in 2020.

My resolutions for 2020 are that simple.  There’s more work to be done for both of these concepts, but I believe if done properly they’ll have a big effect on my life and the way our family lives.  All the best to you and yours in 2020, I hope you have an excellent year.