We’re Spending 1,000 Hours Outside in 2021 (maybe, we’ll see how it goes)
I don’t think I’ve ever kept a New Year’s resolution. Ever.
In my frittered youth, I made impossible, vague and numerous resolutions. I’d resolve to “lose weight, achieve inner peace and volunteer more,” all in the same year, with no specifics, no action plan and no accountability. I think we can all see why this approach failed. And it didn’t fail just once. It failed every single one of my resolution-making years, which was probably a contiguous 20 years.
Based on this enviable track record, I decided to be ultra-specific and action-oriented for 2021. Will this work? I HAVE NO IDEA. But the opposite never did.
Here are my two goals for 2021:
- I will hike every single day.
- I know I’ll miss days here or there, but saying ‘every day’ makes it WAY more likely I’ll get out on the trail on the regular. My husband and I both started daily hiking this past fall and we are not sucking at it (yet).
- I will say that this goal is aided by the fact that we live in the woods and that my husband built hiking trails through our 66 acres of forest.
- I will spend 1,000 hours outside with my kids.
- Not all at once, but over the course of 2021.
- I did not come up with this on my own, it’s from the 1,000 Hours Outside website/movement/good idea.
What Do You Mean “1,000 Hours Outside?”
The concept is simple to remember, tough to implement: spend 1,000 hours outside every single year. This averages out to 2.7 hours a day, which I think (THINK?) is doable. It’s totally possible we did this last year, it’s equally possible we didn’t because I didn’t track it. I like the idea of being intentional. I like the idea of tracking our outside time because it feels like something we might actually accomplish.
Why am I doing this? My kids are happier when they’ve spent a lot of time in nature. I’m happier when I’ve spent a lot of time in nature. Both kids and I are less annoying to selves and others post-nature. All in all, seems like a good plan.
How’s This Working So Far?
Well, I waited until March to tell you about it because I wanted to see how it went. So far? Not too bad! Especially considering we started during the coldest stretch of the year. Here’s what we’ve done:
- I’ve hiked every single day (so has Mr. Frugalwoods!)
- The kids and I have been outside every single day!
I’m tracking our outside time with a highly technical system of coloring in the dots on a tracking worksheet. Each dot = one hour and as of this publication (Monday, March 8, 2021), the kids and I are at 77 hours total, which averages out to 1.15 hours outside per day, seeing as we’re 67 days into 2021.
We’re well under the 2.7 hours average, but it’s the bitter coldest part of the year. I’m optimistic we’ll up our time as the weather thaws out. I mean, even a degree above freezing would be an improvement. I also feel like just getting out there–in blizzards and subzero temps some days–is pretty darn good (at least, this is what I’m telling myself).
What I find, 67 days in, is that having this 1,000 Hours Outside goal encourages me to take the kids out on days when I’d normally look out the window, shrug and not bother. Same goes for my daily hike goal. Having these two simple, easy to remember goals prompt me to just do it. I like to hike, but there’ve been quite a few days where it’s snowing or really cold or I’m kinda tired and, in the past, I would’ve skipped it. But something about setting this intention goads me into doing it. And I am ALWAYS, always, always glad I did.
Some Outside Days Are Short
Some days, we do the minimum viable product. If it’s snowing or raining or ten degrees below zero, I do a brisk 30-minute hike. Same goes for the kids: 30 minutes outside is better than no minutes. BONUS: putting on our snow gear also takes 30 minutes, so it’s an hour-long activity–hey hey hey, pandemic parenting success! Only 97 more hours to fill in the day!
Some Outside Days Are Long
When it’s “nicer” outside, I hike for closer to an hour. When it’s really “nice,” the kids’ll stay out for close to three hours. I will say that those days are rare right now but when it warms up, we’ll be out for much longer stretches of time.
What My Hike Does For Me
My solo hike is definitely the easier of these two goals because, well, I really enjoy it. Hiking accomplishes four things for me:
- Really good exercise.
- There’s lots of elevation; plus, right now I’m snowshoeing, which is more aerobic than plain old hiking.
- Time alone in the woods.
- Solitude is vital to my mental health; well, that and my SSRI.
- Fresh air in nature.
- This might sound sacrilegious, but, I listen to podcasts while I hike. I used to hike in silence, but I found my mind continually looped through my to-do lists and I’d end up feeling stressed about how much I needed to get done when I got home. Listening to podcasts allows my mind to rest and focus on the story I’m hearing. I catch up on the news, I learn new things and I just plain relax. Letting the podcast dominate allows my brain to take a time-out.
- Since I’m going to ask YOU for YOUR favorite podcasts, here are mine: NPR’s Up First, The New York Times Daily, Terrible Thanks For Asking, The Dream (all seasons), Hidden Brain, Even the Rich (pop culture glory), WNYC’s Death Sex & Money, Dear Sugars, Janet Lansbury’s Unruffled Parenting, Motherhood Sessions and Money Confidential. I also highly recommend the two miniseries 1619 (from the New York Times) and Floodlines (from The Atlantic).
Ok wow, I listen to a lot of podcasts….. ANYWHOoooooo….
What Do The Kids and I Do Outside?
The better question would be, “what don’t we do outside?” because we definitely do the Toddler Ennui’s favorite rota: tantrums, pushing one’s sister, and saying we’re hungry. Good times! Listen, they’re going to do this stuff anyway, might as well do it out in nature.
In all seriousness, we do exactly what you probably think we do:
- We go on “hikes”
- We collect rocks, sticks, moss, bird feathers, tree bark, icicles, an unfortunate incident involving turkey poop…
- We go sledding
- We climb on big rocks and piles of snow
- We go “snowshoeing” (this is a SUPER unsuccessful event for a three-year-old, let me tell you)
- I put food coloring and water in little spray bottles and they spray the snow
- We slip on ice
- We build snowpeople
- They throw snow at each other until someone gets snow in the face and then they cry at me for 10 minutes
- They try to ride their bikes in the snow
- They climb up the giant snow pile next to the barn and then onto the barn roof while I try not to panic
Right now, because it’s so cold, we have to be moving in order to not freeze ourselves. But in the summer, we’ll be able to do everything outside: eat meals, read books, etc. Last summer, we were outside almost all day every day. I LOVE doing lunch and dinner outside with the kids because clean up is top-notch: THERE IS NONE.
I tried to do winter lunches outside and that failed real bad. It’s too cold to be still for that long, plus removing one’s mittens in order to maneuver one’s carrot sticks is a bad move if you don’t want purple fingers. My homeschool pod mom and I also tried reading books and doing crafts outside in the winter and uh, that’s another NOPE. Too cold to be still. So for now, our outside time is active time.
Isn’t It, Like, Really Cold Right Now?
Yes, yes it is. I bring this up because there’s a misconception that you can’t play outside in the cold, that teensy kids shouldn’t be outside in the cold, that people in general shouldn’t be out in the cold. FALSE! They can! You can! The key is the gear. Don’t be going outside in subpar gear, you will then fear. TLDR: invest in cold weather gear. For reference, our current temps (in Fahrenheit) range from -10 to 40 above. Usually, it’s around 20 degrees when we’re outside in the middle of the day.
You will not be surprised to hear that I got all of the kids’ winter gear from garage sales and as hand-me-downs. Good, legit winter gear is expensive, which is why it’s my #1, top, chief, preeminent priority for yard sales. When I see decent snow pants, coats or boots in ANY size, in ANY color, you better believe I buy them. My friends and I then swap and trade to ensure everyone’s kids has the sizes they need. My friend’s son is wearing a pair of winter boots I bought and Littlewoods is wearing the winter boots she bought. Kismet abounds when you shop second-hand and share with frugal friends.
I actually wrote an entire post on how I do this: How to Thrift Like a Rockstar: Plan Ahead, Buy Ahead and Focus on Depreciation
And I have another post on winter gear and outdoor play, which is especially relevant if you have an infant or not-yet-walking baby: How We Recreate In Winter: The Gear, The Mindset, and The Baby Sled
Kid Snow Gear
For kids, I’m an evangelist of the full-body, zip-up snow suit because my children act like frenetic otters in the snow. The two-piece snowpant-and-coat combo is fine, but my kids ALWAYS manage to get piles of snow down their pants (see: frenetic otters in snow). My friend spotted the fabulous, ’80’s style suits my kids are wearing this winter at a yard sale and scooped them up for me (you have my eternal gratitude for this, RG). These things are super expensive new, but cost me $5 for both at the yard sale. WIN!
Next up, you need mega mittens. I bought these things new because I’ve never found used mittens. Probably because children decimate them (again, see: frenetic otters). I swear by SnowStoppers and bought them for both kids (affiliate link).
Put these suckers on before putting on the snowsuit/coat and voila, your children cannot remove them because they go up almost to their elbows. Whoever invented these was clearly a parent sick of their children whining that their hands were cold because they’d ripped off their mittens.
Waterproof, insulated snow boots: also important. Kidwoods loves the pair I found on the free table at the dump and Littlewoods sports a pair my friend bought for $1 at a yard sale this summer.
Hats: they are needed. My kids usually wear two hats because it is that cold.
Scarves: are you kidding me? Have you ever tried to put a scarf on a rabid raccoon? Because that would be more successful than putting one on a toddler. Kidwoods asked to wear one earlier this year and I later found it on a snow man in our yard, so, that was the end of our relationship with scarves.
I bought most of my gear new, but since I don’t change sizes every six months, this wasn’t a problem. I wear the same gear outside every single day and have done so for the last ten years or so. I’m a firm believer in having an “outdoor uniform.” My kids wear the same snowsuits every day and I wear the same gear. You don’t need more than one set of stuff. I put everything by the woodstove to dry overnight and wash it once a week (or a lot less if I’m honest…. ).
Here’s what I wear:
- A good base layer. I wear a synthetic top and leggings because I’m allergic to wool. My friends who are not allergic to wool swear by a wool base layer. I do wear wool socks, even though they itch so bad! And yes, I have the fancy Vermont Darn Tough “non itchy” socks, but still…
- Insulated snow bib overalls. Love me the bib since it keeps both tum and bum covered and warm at all times, even during questionable sledding excursions.
- A fleece zip-up
- A down-filled coat (oh yeah, it’s the one I found in the trash six years ago). I don’t wear the coat when I’m hiking as I build up too much heat, but I do love it for my time with the kids.
- A fleece-lined hat. The brand is Mountain Hardware and I bought it at REI 10+ years ago.
- Ski mittens with liner. Unknown brand, also purchased at REI 10+ years ago.
- A ski facemask. Unknown brand, also purchased at REI 10+ years ago.
- These insulated Muck boots (affiliate link). I bought these four years ago and they’ve held up well. They’re the only boots I’ve ever owned that are comfortable enough to hike in every day AND warm enough in sub-zero temps. Love them.
With all of this on, I am good to go for hours outside in very cold temps. The only issue I ever have is cold toes. If I’m still for too long, my toes start to freeze up (yes, even with wearing two pairs of wool socks). But as long as I keep moving, I’m set.
Mr. FW wears essentially the exact same arrangement. We own the exact same hat, mittens, face mask, snow bibs…. listen, they were a good price!
Is This Related to Money?
No. Well actually, yeah it kinda is. Outside time is FREE. Hiking is FREE. Enjoying the outdoors as a family is FREE. Enshrining a love of nature in your kids (hopefully, maybe?) ensures they’ll have access to this FREE form of recreation and entertainment for the rest of their lives.
Also, I think the model of my past litany of failed new year’s resolutions provides some insight into how we approach managing our money. Setting vague, complicated, numerous financial goals for ourselves is probably doomed to fail. Conversely, if we set actionable, straightforward financial goals, such as “pay off my student loan by the year 2022,” we’re much more likely to succeed.
Want to get started with a super simple, straightforward financial goal? Take my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge. Or, read through my Reader Case Studies and copy the format to do your own personal Case Study on yourself.
I Have No to Low Expectations
I’d say the biggest determinant of our outside time “success” is my lack of expectations. I don’t have a curriculum or a plan or a goal or a destination for our outside time. Being outside is the end goal in itself.
Whatever the kids want to do is fine, which releases me from feeling the need to direct their play or make a plan or even say much. I let them lead and I only intervene when something really dangerous seems about to happen. This doesn’t mean we have perfect outside time, nay, there’s a ton of screaming because that’s what little kids do. But it does mean that our outside time is unstructured and open-ended.
They come up with all sorts of (often questionable) things to do, such as jumping off the roof of the playhouse into a pile of snow, and I follow along trying to keep everyone alive.
When they’re engaged in an activity OTHER than screaming at me, I do my PT exercises in the snow. I do my yoga in the snow, my crunches, my lunges, my squats, my whatever I can think of. This helps ease the boredom and incessant sameness of being outside in the wintertime with two small people who are trying to figure out the world.. at a GLACIAL pace. Sometimes I pop my earbuds in under my hat and zone out to a podcast while they roll down a hill over and over and over and over again (reference again: otters).
So no, it’s not some idyllic, halcyon dancing around the forest together time, it’s just a normal parenting, child-ing time together where they’re able to direct their play, test their physical abilities, be in nature and have few rules other than “don’t damage yourself or your sister, thank you.”
I also want people to know that you don’t have to be an ulta-outdoorsy person to do this. You don’t need to live rurally. You could be outside in city parks, in suburban yards or anywhere else. Other than weather-appropriate clothing, you don’t need a bunch of stuff in order to enjoy time outside. You just need to step out and explore.
I also think–and might be able to prove–that my kids are better behaved when we go back inside because they’re so grateful to no longer be in sub-freezing temps. Studies pending.
What are your 2021 resolutions? What’s your secret to keeping them? Have you done the 1,000 Hours Outside Challenge? What advice do you have for a newbie like me? Also, what are your favorite podcasts? Ok I’ll stop asking questions now.
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