The top 10 new year’s resolutions for your home


When New Year’s Day rolls around, a few things are certain. There will be hangovers. People who are freezing back East will watch the sun-drenched Rose Parade with envy. And New Year’s resolutions will be made. 

But this year, instead of vowing to change ourselves, let’s promise to make some improvements in our homes. Believe me, taking care of things around the house can be a lot more fun than eating more broccoli or going to the gym. 

So what should we resolve to do? According to research from Nielsen, these are America’s top 10 New Year’s resolutions. Let’s take a look at each one and apply it to the home. 

No. 1: Stay fit and healthy

Home variation: Keep up with home maintenance

Sometimes we take our homes for granted and forget to keep them in optimum condition. Our homes need annual checkups, just like we do. For example, getting the roof and plumbing inspected now can save on costly repairs later. But home maintenance doesn’t have to mean big projects. Start small with simple tasks, such as oiling squeaky door hinges or tightening the cabinet pulls in the kitchen. 

No. 2: Lose weight

Home variation: Get rid of clutter

January is the perfect month to clear out your closets and storage spaces. Donate any clothes you haven’t worn in the past year. Ditto for all the tchotchkes you’ve stashed away thinking you’ll use or display them at some point. Give used books and CDs new life by letting someone else enjoy them. Or sell your stuff in a yard sale and make a little extra cash. And the best thing about going on a clutter diet is you still get to eat doughnuts. 

No. 3: Enjoy life to the fullest

Home variation: Make your home more comfortable

This was a resolution of mine last year. My home was stylish, but it wasn’t all that comfortable. Like, seriously, there was no comfy place to sit while watching television. So I bought a cushy sectional, and now I get to be a bona fide couch potato while binge-watching “Orphan Black.” What part of your home could raise its comfort quotient? Perhaps it’s a living room that could use some throw pillows, a bedroom that can benefit from a new set of soft sheets or a kitchen that needs a comfort foam mat in front of the sink. 

No. 4: Spend less, save more

Home variation: Use less energy

Most of us are already conserving water because of the California drought, so it might seem a little miserly to suggest conserving energy as well. But there are painless ways to do it. Concentrate on the biggest energy hogs in the house. I’m talking about your appliances, not your kids. Turn down the thermostat on your heating unit and your water heater. Do only full loads of laundry or dishes. And gradually change your appliances to energy-efficient models. The energy savings can be substantial. This year, I replaced all my home appliances with Energy Star models, and I’ve definitely seen a difference in my energy bill. (No, I did not win on “The Price Is Right.”)

No. 5: Spend more time with family and friends

Home variation: Entertain more

Many people never entertain in their home. The main reason is not that they’re cheap or antisocial, but they are afraid their house isn’t good enough. The furniture is not up to date. The walls have fingerprints all over them. The bathroom could use a remodel. But you know what? Guests do not care. Your home is just fine. Friends and family come over to spend time with you, not judge you. Have a party! People often remark to me that they are nervous to have me over because I am a fancy-shmancy designer. Let me tell you, I’m too busy chowing down on the hummus appetizer to be judgmental. 

No. 6: Get organized

Home variation: Make the most of storage space

We all want to be more organized, but often don’t know where to start. The key is to make the most of the space you already have. After all, your house isn’t going to magically grow storage space. Besides getting rid of clutter, use every inch of space in closets and cabinets. Remember, you can go vertical with the help of stackable containers and multilevel organizers. And get furniture pieces that can do double duty, such as ottomans or beds that have hidden storage areas.

No. 7: Don’t make any resolutions

Home variation: Be mindful all year long

My guess is that the people who refuse to make New Year’s resolutions believe that self-reflection should happen throughout the year, not just at the beginning of it. And sprucing up your home should happen all year as well. Home decorating and maintenance can feel unwieldy, but if we spread projects out across the months, it feels more manageable. 

No. 8: Learn something new

Home variation: Sharpen your do-it-yourself skills 

These days, you can learn how to do anything around the house by doing a Google search or watching a YouTube video. But don’t limit your DIY learning to home repairs. Stretch your creative muscles by learning how to cook, garden or sew. Creativity is what turns a house into a home.

No. 9: Travel more

Home variation: Turn your home into a staycation spot

I once had an interior design colleague who specialized in decorating homes like African safaris — animal prints, zebra rugs, banana trees — you get the idea. But you don’t have to go to such extremes to make your home feel like a high-end resort. It can take as little as pampering yourself with hotel-quality bedding, or making time for a bubble bath surrounded by candles. For the outdoors enthusiast, it can mean getting new patio furniture, along with a volleyball net or croquet set. 

No. 10: Read more

Home variation: Get inspiration from magazines

Shelter magazines are a great source of inspiration. I always recommend that people keep a file folder of magazine clippings that spark their interest so when the time comes to decorate, they can consult the pictures for ideas. It’s similar to having a Pinterest board, but nothing beats having it all in print. You can also take your inspiration folder with you to the store when you shop. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Young Professionals Learn to Lead Pack


 

Not long ago, Tali Pressman, 24, found herself sitting in a room full of civically minded young Jews in Los Angeles — that elusive demographic of 20- to 30-somethings targeted by so many religious and political recruiters.

The goal: How to better collaborate and organize their diverse work for nonprofits and Jewish communal services in the city.

“Our first meeting turned into a five-hour kvetch session, saying it would be great to collaborate but that there’s not enough supervision, there’s no mentoring, there’s no ladder,” she said.

Now Pressman and others like her are at the forefront of a new leadership movement in Southern California created by Jewish youth, for Jewish youth.

Pressman at the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and David Cygielman at the Forest Foundation are both spearheading brand-new programs, which recognize that new leaders do not emerge out of thin air — they must be cultivated.

Interpreted broadly, there are numerous programs designed to reach young Jews and connect them to their heritage through service. From leadership-building trips to Israel offered by Birthright Israel and Hillel to career-building programs offered by the Professional Leadership Program (PLP), options exist.

Marcia and Eugene Applebaum, part-funders of PLP, put it succinctly: “We are facing an impending crisis in Jewish professional leadership due in large part to our failure to attract enough highly qualified people in their 20s and 30s to work in the Jewish communal world.”

But what emerged at PJA, called the Jeremiah Fellowship, is unique in a significant way. The fellowship is about using Jewish ethics to solve societywide problems, both within and outside the Jewish community. This is more about the fire of progressive activism than about replacing the previous generation of graying leaders in Jewish organizations.

The name, not incidentally, is biblical: “And seek the well-being of the city in which you dwell … for in its peace you shall find peace” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Starting in January, the 16 fellows will generally meet twice a month. Half the meetings will be field visits. In one case, the fellows will go to a mushroom farm, meet with workers, and speak to United Farm Workers Vice President Irv Hershenbaum. He’ll explain the personal Jewish ethic that he believes underlies his work.

Other notable field trips include speaking with Southern California ACLU Director Ramona Ripston and City Councilman Eric Garcetti.

The other monthly meeting will connect fellows with a scholar such as Aryeh Cohen, University of Judaism chair of rabbinic studies, to discuss what Jewish tradition says about the developments they saw in the field.

“This is an unabashedly progressive fellowship,” Pressman said. In Los Angeles in 2005, that encompasses a significant number of labor issues, including the ongoing hotel worker dispute in Los Angeles and a review of Jewish involvement in labor, she said.

“We have a Jewish and progressive obligation not only to volunteer at the soup kitchen, but also to address why people are hungry, because it’s not an accident. There are political, economic and social structures in place that need to be examined,” Sokatch said. While combating anti-Semitism and supporting Israel are critical issues for American Jews that many organizations deal with, Sokatch said, there are other concerns that need to be addressed.

In this vein, the fellows could well decide that Jewish precepts impel them to pursue careers working on behalf of non-Jews in fields like labor, economic equity and civil rights — thus the biblical allusion.

“So much of my social activism I feel comes from Judaism,” said Natalie Stern, one of the recently admitted fellows and a graduate of Northeastern School of Law. “I really want to learn why I feel [that way]. Where does it come from textually?”

Therein lies the second half of Jeremiah: To explore the origins of compassion and service to the entire city in Jewish tradition.

And as for Stern’s career goals, networking with big organizations like the ACLU won’t hurt either.

“I think the fact that this came out of a young person is the most important part about it,” Jeremiah fellow Matthew Loebman said.

That’s especially important when considering whether a program like this has broad appeal, Loebman said. And he should know. Loebman works for a company that does marketing for nonprofit organizations.

“There are tons of Jewish young people who are self-identified progressives and activists; they’re not working in a Jewish vein because no one’s given them that opportunity,” Loebman told The Journal. “But when I look back to see where this sort of morality was built into me, it was from Jewish sources, Hebrew school and summer camp,” he said.

At least in Los Angeles, the Jeremiah Fellowship aims to bridge that gap. The success or failure of Jeremiah in Los Angeles may shed light on the power of liberal values in the next generation of Jewish leadership.

Meanwhile, the Forest Foundation is offering its own version of Jewish youth empowerment in both Santa Barbara and Berkeley. The program, helmed by a 23-year-old, connects college-age Jews to local Jewish organizations that need help.

Again, there is something unique about Forest as compared to other Jewish leadership training. Instead of paying to attend conferences or seminars, the students actually get paid by the foundation for their work within various agencies.

Even more impressively, if the participants have an original idea that will benefit the Jewish community, Forest will both help them organize it and pay them to make it happen. So instead of a concentrated political imperative, the Forest Foundation provides a powerful incentive for college-aged Jews, many of whom must find part-time work during their studies anyway.

“The basic idea is to empower these students so they become Jewish leaders and are inside Jewish organizations now rather than after they graduate or have held a job for while,” Forest Director David Cygielman said.

“We went to every local organization and asked the question, ‘What is it that you can’t do because you don’t have enough time or money?'” Cygielman said.

After Forest filled those gaps, it began to fund students’ individual projects: Cooking and activities with senior citizens, a Jewish Business League, a young women’s society or recruitment efforts for Hillel at UCSB, to name a few.

Now organizations routinely call Forest when they need an extra body, whenever they need to alleviate the most common nonprofit conditions of being understaffed and underfunded. Forest, in the meantime, is looking to actually expand its existing roster of 21 participants up to 60. Young Jews not in school can apply as well, and even college grads can continue to work if their projects are successful.

Both PJA’s fellowship in Los Angeles and Forest’s programs in Santa Barbara and Berkeley are in their early stages to say the least.

Richard Gunther, who with his wife funded PJA’s Jeremiah Fellowship, clearly sees what they are both trying to accomplish: “I think one of the universal problems that the Jewish community has, certainly in Los Angeles, is how do you keep young members of the Jewish community really concerned and involved?”

Whether the focus is on incentives to keep them working on behalf of the Jewish community or simply infusing them with Jewish ethics to do good work outside of it, the battle to prevent their drift from Jewish tradition is the same: Recall all the dire predictions you’ve heard from rabbis about Jewish youth as the most religiously unaffiliated. Recall the frantic postulations about the unknown politics of that same group in the run-up to the 2004 elections.

If programs like Jeremiah and Forest succeed and spread, then perhaps in the future finding the civic or social pulse of American Jewish youth won’t require polling or statistics — the proof will be in the boardrooms, the courtrooms and the demonstrations.