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Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe: Readers' wisdom brings resolution success

In early 2017, a handful of our readers told us how they made — and kept — their New Year’s resolutions the year before.

I wrote the story, but I also walked away from the assignment with newfound wisdom. I got to ask questions and hear the entire, inspiring answers. Maybe I could keep a challenging New Year's resolution after all. 

I wanted to not buy stuff for a whole year.

I’ve never been much of a shopper, so that part of the resolution wasn’t going to be a big change. But as the kids moved out and I downsized, the changes felt like a series of pay raises.  I was getting a little lax with the extra cash.  

Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

Our family usually focused on big-money purchases. The house is small and energy-efficient. I drive a 17-year-old pickup. The kids’ college loans are paid off and the credit card balance gets paid each month.  

But financial experts caution that the small stuff can add up over time, too.  

I applied the first lesson from our readers’ success by setting some reasonable expectations. We have a garden, but we needed to buy food. If something broke, we’d fix it. Because I’d already booked a bicycling vacation in western Ireland, I budgeted for those famous sweaters for souvenirs. But any other purchase was off the table.   

Then came the second lesson: making small, achievable goals along the way.

For example, I had to plan ahead for birthdays and other gift-giving. The additional thought and care required became its own reward. It meant the most on my visits with an elderly aunt. She certainly didn’t need more stuff in her room at the nursing home. We played games, discussed family recipes, laughed over old photographs and read magazine stories together. I was grateful for my New Year's resolution after she died. I’m not sure flowers or trinkets would have sparked the same conversations.

When I got to Ireland, I wasn't able to use my credit card. I didn’t want to spend my vacation time wrestling with a bank problem. I had enough euros to get around and to eat. Why not try keeping the resolution in Ireland, too?

Our first innkeeper left delicious shortbread in our room each evening. She shared the recipe as a souvenir. One of our rides took us to a beautiful beach. I filled a pocket with delicate seashells that now hang over my desk. Another innkeeper made jams and smoked salmon. If we wanted some as a souvenir, all we had to do was ask, she said. I asked for a jar of blackcurrant jam. Along the way, I grabbed free pens and the occasional pad of paper. I remember that trip every time I use them to write a grocery or to-do list.

Back at home, we started making repairs when problems were still small. We glued sandals and running shoes. I stitched fraying dish rags.

That led to another surprising payoff: Things lasted longer, and upcycling became part of the routine instead of a novelty. Old T-shirts got stitched into grocery bags. Worn sheets got reworked as sleep bottoms. Cashmere sweaters became super-soft beanies.

In late summer, I had to make an exception. The plastic housing on my 15-year-old vacuum cleaner was hopelessly brittle. With each use, some portion broke and fell away, revealing the mechanical innards like the Terminator. We've had old appliances catch fire before.  I bought a factory-reconditioned vacuum cleaner.

By the end of the year, I wasn’t surprised that I had more money in my bank account, but I was surprised how much more.

At Christmas, I made one more exception for gifts for the kids. I had picked up a business card with the website information from one tiny shop on Inishmore in Ireland. Knitting and selling sweaters remains a source of income for women on the Aran Islands. I picked out several sweaters from the website. When I opened the shipping bag, the sweet smell inside reminded me of Ireland.

In years past, I sometimes could not remember in December what resolution I’d made the January before. This time, a resolution stayed with me for the entire year. It sparked the changes I’d hoped, and more. I’m ready to try again in 2018, thanks to our readers. 

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881.