Reboot for the New Year!
Once you've gathered your unwanted belongings, hook up with reputable charities and services to figure out where to send your stuff: Excessaccess.com matches your giveaways with nonprofits in your area that not only need them but can pick them up; careergear.org is looking for suits and ties to distribute to disadvantaged men trying to get jobs; soles4souls.org sends gently used shoes to those in need, including people in disaster zones; and Lions Clubs International volunteers (lionsclubs.org) collect, clean, repair, and redistribute old eyeglasses.
2. Go back to bed.
Jan. 3 is Festival of Sleep Day, and, boy, do we all need a solid night of rest! Scientists now know that sleep is essential to memory — your brain uses those hours to arrange memories so you can better recall key emotional moments. Other good reasons to put in the pillow time: People who skimp on sleep show elevated levels of inflammation (a risk factor for heart disease and stroke) and crave higher-calorie foods because of hormone imbalances. "Good sleep equals good health," says Dr. Stuart Quan of Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine.
3. Track down your forefathers.
After seeing our families over the holidays and hearing stories of long ago, some of us want to learn more. That's why January is such a popular month for researching relatives on ancestry.com, the largest source of online family histories, with 6 billion records. "Everybody wants to know whose shoulders they stand on and where they came from," says Anastasia Harman, an ancestry.com genealogist. Among its newest offerings are over 2000 oral histories from immigrants who entered the U.S. via Ellis Island; written applications to West Point from 1805 to 1908; and World War II draft cards for the "old man's registration" — the 230,000 men between the ages of 45 and 64 who joined up in 1942.
4. Trivialize your time.
Thirty-one years after the invention of Trivial Pursuit, games that revolve around knowledge of minutiae are hotter than ever. According to the Toy Industry Association, grown-ups are going mad for board games like Bezzerwizzer (from the German besserwisser, which means "know-it-all"). The game has 20 categories and combines trivia with tactics. Another way to keep your mind sharp and forget about that office inbox: Head to a local bar or restaurant for a game of Team Trivia, a live-points game waged by rival groups. Typically, teams are given the time it takes to play a song to come up with their answers. Never has your knowledge of the cast of Eight Is Enough or the '86 New York Mets lineup been more useful. (For participating locations, go to teamtrivia.com.)
Think you and your spouse are just too busy to hang out with other couples? A new study has found that those who go on regular double dates with another pair feel much better about their own relationship, according to Richard Slatcher, assistant professor of psychology at Wayne State University and co-author of the study. "One thing that drives commitment is how much the lives of husbands and wives intersect. When you have a good experience with another couple, it makes you happier, adds something fresh, and reinforces the healthy aspect of being a twosome." The more time you clock with other couples, the better. "You're rooting for the other relationship to succeed — and by extension, yours, too," Slatcher says.
6. Look to the stars.
There's been a worldwide spike of interest in astronomy, thanks in part to the spectacular photos of distant galaxies coming in from the Hubble Space Telescope. People are flocking to observatories in Hawaii, New Mexico, Arizona, and California — or taking advantage of free stargazing nights at local colleges and planetariums. But really, "you don't have to drive anywhere to stargaze," says Rick Fienberg of the American Astronomical Society. "There is plenty you can see from your front yard with a pair of binoculars: Jupiter's moons, craters on our moon, and star clusters." (To get started, go to space.com/nightsky.)
7. Catch up with high school pals.
More and more people are having virtual high school reunions on Facebook. All it takes is one person to scan in all those 30-year-old yearbook photos, create a group, and send invites. In no time, word will spread, and people who've been out of touch since graduation will be sharing updates on kids and jobs — and admitting to some long-ago crush on that quiet girl in trigonometry. Using the photo-uploading and note-writing functions on the group page, you can enjoy the pleasures of catching up with high school buddies without the cost and hassle of attending a real-life reunion. Let's face it: Who wants to slow-dance to "Always and Forever" again?
8. Create your own life coach.
New phone and computer apps can help you get on top of what most needs doing. There are great ones for going on a diet (Lose It!); organizing your bills (Pageonce); getting nutritional info (My Family Food); avoiding rush-hour delays (Beat the Traffic); finding the freshest local produce (locavore); and getting the best coupon deals (GeoQpons).
9. Work out like a grunt.
Atten-shun! Fitness boot camp is the new exercise of choice for people wary of gimmicks and expensive gym fees. Led by certified trainers, boot-camp groups meet (anywhere from 55 to 90 minutes) in gyms, parks, or on basketball courts for a mixture of cardio and strength-training moves. For best results, "campers" work out three times a week for six weeks (total cost: $99 to $499). You may remember many of the exercises — jumping jacks, push-ups, running drills, climbing ladders — from P.E., but that doesn't mean they're easy. "There's a sense of pride for people in these camps because you're doing the same things as athletes," says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). To find a boot camp near you, ACE suggests going to ideafit.com/fitness-boot-camps.
10. Plan a getaway.
In recent years, taking a "staycation" seemed to many of us like a smart (and frugal) way to use vacation time. Now another trend is gaining traction: the "togethering" trip, a convening of extended family or old friends in one spot. Meet up with your favorite cousins for a week of shows in Branson, Mo.; book a long weekend with your softball league in Cooperstown, N.Y., to tour the National Baseball Hall of Fame; or recruit your college sorority sisters to join you at a yoga retreat. Have little ones? Indoor-water-park hotels are a popular winter destination.