Our lives are frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify. – Henry David Thoreau

A new year has begun and so, for me, the annual purging begins.

As much as I love the holidays, they are exhausting. I eat too much, spend too much, rush around too much.

It’s all too crazy, at least for my sensitive nature. I step into January feeling the need to shift into lower gear.

And so I put away the decorations, take down the lights, and crawl into the dark, comforting cave of winter.

Call me crazy, but I love winters in Pennsylvania – the first few months, at least. By March I’m feeling the itch for spring and warmth.

But spring also means work. Putting down mulch. Mowing the lawn. Trimming bushes.

Now, in January, the outside world is sleeping and I have a few months to follow Thoreau’s call to simplify, simplify.

That means de-cluttering. Get rid of stuff I no longer need or use. Organize my finances. Straighten up the garage. Unsubscribe to email lists I never signed up for.

It feels good. With every item that I toss off, I feel my spirit getting lighter and freer like a horse shaking off its saddlebags.

I’m able to think more clearly. Ideas and inspiration come to me more readily. Unremembered lines of once-loved poetry come back to me.

I wander’d lonely as a cloud / that floats on high o’er hills and dales.

How we approach winter is, like anything else, a matter of perspective. We can see it as something to be suffered through until we get to April. Or we can embrace it for all of the riches and beauty it offers us.

And it offers us many.

I love, for instance, taking walks during the winter months. Stripped of their leaves, the woods in winter are beautiful in a raw, elemental way. Summer’s multi-colored robes are thrown off and the landscape is drawn in a pencil canvas of black and white. Then all at once a cardinal or bluejay appears and you see its bold colors in a way that gets lost amidst the lushness of summer.

And the snow – I love the snow. It’s a hassle for driving, yes. But is there anything more beautiful than stepping outside into a new-fallen snow that has covered the earth in a blanket of glistening white? It’s magical.

I think human beings, no less than trees and bushes, need a winter period every year to purge and renew. Winter is a time for us to shed some of the thoughts, habits, and possessions that are weighing us down, often without us even realizing it.

Like the trees, we can do so with faith that spring and warmth will come again.

All of the commercials we see during the holidays tell us that we need to get more, more, more in order to be happy.

Nature teaches a different lesson. Only by letting go of the old can we build the reserves needed to grow even bigger and stronger in the year ahead.

Happy January!

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Photo by Mike Heck