So here we are, our first week in the shiny New Year, and I find myself surrounded by the ubiquitous symbols of hope and renewal. I’m sure you’ve seen them too—Weightwatcher commercials, sales on workout equipment and gym memberships, displays of plastic bins and organizers (which were nudging the Christmas products aside even in mid-December).  And then there are the articles, both in print and online—how to organize your life, de-clutter your house, improve your finances, revamp your diet and resolve to make this your best year yet.

If you’re anything like me, this resolution stuff is overwhelming, and I feel defeated before I even begin. If I had a weekend to tackle my paperwork, it wouldn’t have piled up in the first place.  And the thought of making the transition from endless Christmas cookies to salads and sit-ups makes me want to collapse on the couch and turn on a Hallmark movie.

So why not enter this New Year with a new attitude? We can throw out the idea of resolutions, which seem so rigid and unforgiving.  Instead, why not make some small adjustments that hopefully will become good habits and part of a “new improved” lifestyle? I’ve decided to implement some relatively easy changes to my own life and routine, ones that should be fairly painless.  Some require action, others simply require a bit of discipline or better choices.  I’ll share a few with you here, and I bet you will add a few of your own.

Easy diet changes—if you’ve been unhappy with your weight or health but daunted by the idea of drastic diets, why not start small? Introduce some healthy alternatives a little at a time, without depriving yourself. Once you begin to see results you’ll want to keep the momentum or make even bigger changes.   Swap your sandwich bread for low-carb, high fiber flat bread. Empty your shelves of junk food, and enjoy berries, frozen yogurt or rice cakes. That change alone will shave hundreds of calories from your weekly diet. Eliminate aspartame (yes, that means your beloved Diet Coke) and drink more water. You’ll look AND feel better!

On the same note, try brown-bagging just once a week. Healthy leftovers, a salad…just prepare something on Sunday evening that’s easy to grab and go in the morning. You’ll eat healthier on Mondays, and if you put the money you save into a little fund, at year’s end you’ll have some extra Christmas cash!

Go paperless! I have selected electronic delivery for most of my utilities, bills, and financial records. I still have more accounts to convert, but I love not having my mailbox flooded with envelopes. Some accounts may take a bit of time to set up online, so perhaps you can set aside some time once a week to make the switch. And while you’re at it, why not sign up for automatic payment if your budget allows? Not only will you eliminate the paper pile on your kitchen counter, you’ll avoid late payments and maybe even get a reduced interest rate.

Do good, but think outside the box, as in donation box. It’s wonderful that so many people are generous during the holiday season, and agencies like Goodwill and Salvation Army, along with food pantries and shelters, certainly appreciate the surge of donations. But those and many other worthy charities could use some help year-round. Your generosity will help others in need, and you can benefit when it’s time to file your tax return.If you’d like to support the local food pantries, why not add an extra can or two each time you buy groceries? Keep a box in your car, and when it’s full just make a quick stop to donate.  The Zonta Club of Marietta works to empower females and eliminate violence against women.  They collect gently worn clothing for their huge fund-raising sales.  Domestic violence shelters collect used cell phones; a young teacher would probably love your outgrown children’s books for the classroom.  Does the sight of a man holding a “need food” sign tug at your heartstrings, but you wonder if he might be a panhandler? One kind young man I know keeps coupon booklets for fast food restaurants in his car.  When he sees someone in need, he can help them enjoy a hot meal and not wonder if his money was ill spent.

We couldn’t have a new year without talking about finances. Here’s a radical suggestion—do nothing! That’s right, just do nothing. If you’ve been wanting a new phone because it has more gizmos and gadgets, but your current phone works just fine, do nothing. If you feel you need a new purse because you are using last season’s style, do nothing. Been craving a fancy latte from the drive-thru instead of taking advantage of the no-frills coffee at work? Do nothing! Each time you resist the urge to upgrade or buy something you “want” instead of “need”, reward yourself by putting that money into a savings system—mutual fund, Christmas club, savings account.   Before long, you will have a nice little nest egg that can be used for something that brings you much more satisfaction than a passing trend or disposable item.

And now the fun part…ready to make some lifestyle changes? Spend a little time thinking of the ways you’d like to brighten your days or broaden your horizons. Pledge to smile at a stranger at least once a day. Once a week, turn off the television and log off the internet. Use the time to read a book or magazine, work a puzzle or coloring book. Take a class –there are many right here in the MOV, from cooking to art to ballroom dancing. Reach out to old friends by sending a card or making a real phone call. Try a new restaurant or browse in a shop you’ve never stopped in before.

Sure, there are countless ways to “improve” your life by reining in your spending, counting your calories or forming good habits through self-discipline. You can consult books and experts or attend seminars to jump start the year and achieve lofty goals.

But if you’re anything like me, you’re pretty okay with most of your life, and would feel pretty good with some minor changes. Certainly I have some goals that will require effort, resources and creativity to achieve.  In the meantime, I’m going to try implementing small steps to add joy and satisfaction to my daily life.  Care to share a few of your own?