Yesterday marked the first day of Lent — the 40-day Christian season of fasting and prayer leading up to Easter. Traditionally, this is a time of penitence and self-denial commemorating the 40 days Jesus is said to have spent in the desert being tempted by Satan.

It may seem strange for some who’s Jewish — or, a Jew-in-process, still — to be concerned with Lent. But as I listened to National Public Radio yesterday and heard what other listeners were giving up for Lent this year — gossiping, unhealthy foods or unnecessary driving when walking is an option — I realized this was a great opportunity to examine what’s not working in my life, and in my world.

Why not give up bad habits for Lent?

Three areas come immediately to mind, impacting both myself and my larger environment.

The first is clutter.

I inherited my Depression-era grandparents’ pack-rat ways, to the point that I’m sharing space with very-likely-completely-useless-but-not-exactly-trash items like ribbon remnants and reusable paper scraps. Granted, I’m not nearly as bad as I used to be, but the mentality of “I might be able to use that someday” has been a hard one to shake off.

Clutter keeps me from being productive — it’s difficult to truly relaxed in the midst of it. Clutter stagnates energy in the home, keeps air from flowing efficiently (think heating and cooling bills), prevents still useful items from being used by people who might actually need them now and for some even necessitates rented storage space — not the best use of personal or global resources.

Next on the list: unnecessary television viewing.

Some will argue that no television viewing is actually necessary, but what I’m talking about here is what happens when you’re tired, bored, whatever, and just plop down on the couch and turn on the television…. You’re not really watching anything you’d planned to view, but you’re just surfing the scores of channels available, and before you know it, three hours have gone by — eaten up by bad movies and re-runs you’ve seen seven times already.

I kept a TV viewing log for several weeks last summer — what I watched, when I watched and why I’d turned on the tube to begin with. My TV habits aren’t that bad — not anywhere close to the more than eight hours daily a 2008 Nielsen study says U.S. households watch, all contributing to our collective electricity consumption, and to obesity, depression and a host of other problems. I DVR new episodes of Chuck, Medium and Battlestar Galactica and old episodes of The West Wing, and I watch college basketball and professional hockey on occasion. Still, I sometimes find myself slumping on the couch…. There’s room for improvement.

Third, negative thinking.

Negative self-talk — all the reasons we give ourselves for why we can’t do something — has always been an obstacle for me. It gets in the way of my happiness and prevents me from getting more involved in areas and projects that are important to me.

This kind of pessimistic thinking can become a stubborn, immovable attitude for lots of people when it comes to undertaking green projects. “It’s too much work to build a rain garden.” “I’m not in good enough shape to bike to work, so I have to drive.” “I don’t know enough to help rebuild my community’s nature trails, so I might as well stay home.”

Suffice it to say, this is unconstructive at best. I am reminded of two particular pieces of wisdom:

Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right.
— Henry Ford

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
— Arthur Ashe

There you have it. Clutter. TV. Pessimism.

What are you giving up this year for Lent?

I did have to laugh at the NPR caller who said that this year what he’s giving up for Lent is giving up things for Lent.