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The New Year’s resolution is dead and replaced by the ‘ins and outs’ list

Is it actually better than the New Year’s resolution? 

Illustration: Ariel Davis for Polygon
Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

The New Year’s resolution is out. Typing up detailed lists in a notes app is in.

Instead of opting for traditional New Year’s resolutions, people on platforms like TikTok and Instagram are making lists of what they want to embrace or leave behind in the upcoming year and calling them “ins and outs” lists. The trending videos can take the form of written text on a video or a screenshot from a notes app. The range of what can be “in” and what can be “out” seems to have no limits. Anything from new habits, like “being on time,” to more abstract values, like “taking care of my inner child,” can be in for 2024.

What can or cannot be “in” or “out” seemingly has no constraint — it’s a massive trend where people add whatever they want. That said, many of the videos embody a certain “soft girl” or “gentle living” aesthetic or ethos. Videos are often set to a gentle piano and items on the “ins” lists seem to lean into counterculture or anti-consumerist values and embody an ethic of deinfluencing. Rather than listing any specific product recommendations like skin care or trendy clothing, TikTokers are pushing back against consumption and listing “fast fashion” in the out section.

Trends like this leave a mixed taste in my mouth. On one hand, the lists seem like a very “online” trend that takes something very personal, like your mindset for approaching the new year, and turns it into content. In this sense, TikTok effectively commodifies a list of personal goals and turns it into yet another consumable piece of content that can reap as many as one million views and 170,000 likes.

And while these lists don’t focus on specific product recommendations, they still are trying to “sell” you on a particular lifestyle. In this way of living, habits like “overworking yourself” or “being self critical” are out. I can support these traits in theory, but goals like these don’t pay much due to the socioeconomic or cultural context many people find themselves in right now. You might say “overworking” is out, but working long hours makes sense as many of us recover from wage stagnation, inflation, and lack of regulation in gig work. In this sense, these lists still sell a certain kind of life that might not be attainable for many people.

On the other hand, this change appears to embody a generational shift among millennials and Gen Z in their approach to the ethic of New Year’s resolutions. Instead of focusing on goals that maintain strict beauty standards like going to the gym or buying new clothes, many young women and girls seem to support changes like “rewearing the same outfit,” or “rejecting diet culture.” In this context, these trends come across as a direct response to current socioeconomic conditions. People are more aware than ever of the devastating environmental impacts of fast fashion and more people understand that someone’s weight falls to a complex set of factors that might not be in a person’s control. These lists emphasize changes that reject diet culture and fast fashion.

As someone who is unfortunately too online (and who maybe has a resolution to spend a little less time on social media in the upcoming year), I think both points are true. This new way of doing resolutions can both push back against a consumerist culture while also commoditizing that very idea. This is, perhaps, just another way the endless churn of trending content turns countercultural ideas like buying less into aspirations that are hard to achieve.

In times like this, it’s helpful to be mindful about how social media captures our attention. I scroll through TikTok and its algorithm serves me video after video that’s just the same template of ins and outs. I appreciate people want to share their lists, but I also remind myself that it’s just one single way to approach the new year. At the end of the day, sometimes it’s just best to mark a video as something you aren’t “interested in,” kick yet another giant trend off your social media feed, and go back to the niche nerd shit that brought you there.