James Lileks
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Perhaps we say New Year’s “resolution” because it’s less binding than the word “promise.” No one wants to break their promise. Everyone’s pretty much OK with sundering their resolutions.

A better word would be “intention,” but it carries no weight. Say you got married. Now imagine being asked if you “intended” to “love, honor and obey, until death do you part.”

“Well, yeah, sure, that’s my intention. But, you know, stuff happens.”

It wouldn’t work.

“Promise” has weight. “Resolution,” particularly when it comes at the end of a period of sloth and gluttony, is the equivalent of setting your alarm earlier than usual but knowing you can hit the snooze button.

Still, some of us are full of resolve this time of year, intent on crafting a better version of ourselves. It’s a laudable idea. Sure, we could all stand some improvement. But what you think needs changing might not be high on other people’s lists.

You: “I’m going to set aside time every day to read a book and engage with the issues of the day, so I can make informed choices in my life going forward.”

Your loved ones: “When you put a fork in the dishwasher, could you resolve to put it in the back part of the basket first so the basket fills up back to front?”

Utter strangers: “How about you resolve to signal your turn, pal?”

So, what are my resolutions? Why, thanks for asking.

Main goal for 2020 is to clean out the storage closet.

There’s only one way this will happen, and requires some explanation of how my resolutions work. To wit:

1. Some people resolve to quit smoking. I resolve to stop smoldering. I gave up cigarettes decades ago, but I still smolder.

I walk around with a furrowed brow that suggests an internal fire still burns, and sometimes those smoldering expressions are mistaken for awesome personal magnetism — you know, the smoldering looks you see on romance-novel paperbacks.

Where I work, you can’t smolder within 30 feet of the building’s entrance, so I have to go to a designated spot, where I can look troubled, fascinating and irresistibly charismatic. There are usually a half-dozen other smolderers, tragic and poetic, one of whom inevitably comes up to say, “Hey, can I borrow a deep, private personal grievance” so he can smolder, too.

2. I resolve to cut down on alcohol, specifically, methanol. This is the stuff you use to clean your car windows. I always use about five squirts when I know two or three will do it. My doctor asked me about it.

“How much alcohol do you consume, while driving, on a daily basis?” he asked, and of course I lied.

“One squirt of windshield washer a day? Two, sometimes, but only if the first one didn’t do the trick.”

3. Lose 40 pounds.

As the years go on you tend to accumulate excess pounds, and they get more and more difficult to shed. I have about 40 pounds I’d like to divest. I’d go to the bank, but they don’t take coins.

Every year I come back from England with another pound of coins, which I take back the following year, thinking I’ll use the coins during a merrie-olde-England-style conversation at the pub.

“What’s that you say, my hearty fellow? The ale costs two pounds, nine groats, six perrywithers and one demipence? I have it right here. Just let me count it out from this pocketful of confusing metal discs. Ah, to heck with that. Here’s my card.”

4. Join a gym. New year, new me, new long-term recurring financial obligation.

It’s been a long time since I signed up to pay money for something I rarely use, but can’t cancel because doing so seems like a personal failing.

There has to be a gym out there that meets my needs: It would be open 24/7 through January, the machines would be easy, the weights light, everyone in the locker room would be guaranteed to be in worse shape than me and I’d have to drive past it every day.

In February, it would be closed a lot. In March it would be closed entirely, which is OK because I’m super busy and I used that ab roller thing I bought at Target nine years ago once or twice.

My ideal gym changes its hours in April. It’s only open from 6 to 10 a.m. for the rest of the year. That’s fine. I’ve been meaning to get up early and work out. But then I’d lose my key card, which would mean I don’t have to work out until I get a new one.

By May, I change my route home so I don’t go past the gym and feel guilty. By August, I cancel the credit card I used to join. By September, the gym starts calling me to rejoin. The calls never stop, so I have to move.

That’s what’ll force me to clean out the storage closet.

It’s a roundabout method, but I think it’ll work. Promising to do it certainly hasn’t.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks