Are you slowly…cautiously…emerging from social distancing? My partner and I are vaccinated recently (yay!) though I don’t feel comfortable about resuming most of our social activities just yet. It feels like we are living through this weird period of limbo where some of us are ready and eager for life to return to “normalcy” (whatever that means), and some of us simply find the idea unsettling. I say this well aware that we can even have this conversation only because of the increasing availability of vaccines here, so it really breaks my heart seeing so much vaccine hesitancy in the US while much of the developing world awaits.
Like many workplaces, ours is starting to discuss potential plans of returning to the office, so in parallel – I’ve been reflecting on what’s transpired in my personal life in the last year or so. While I certainly missed the travels, hugs, and the general freedom of wandering around the city sans mask, there are some parts of quarantine I plan to keep.
Less food waste
I consider our household quite good at keeping food waste to a minimum even before COVID, but in the last year, we’ve gotten even smarter and more mindful of this issue in an effort to reduce the frequency of grocery shopping. My partner and I met working in a restaurant together, so we had always had a bit of trouble cooking “normal” dinner portions. Now, we’ve gotten “cooking for two” down to a science, and I’m really loving the game that is “making a meal out of any leftovers or random finds from the freezer/pantry”! This is both environmental friendly and wallet friendly – a habit I will most definitely keep!
Less makeup and unfussy dressing
The number of times I wore makeup in the last year could probably be counted with my two hands, and I have zero problem with that. I know people who genuinely enjoy the routine and creativity in dressing up, and I have learned that I am just not…one of those people. It’s ok though – because I learned that nobody. cares! (This article about “returning to society after a year of going braless” made me chuckle. Same sister, same.)
Despite having lived in pretty walkable places most of my life, I have never, ever appreciated being able to simply sit outside in a semi-private place (like my deck) or take a leisurely walk in my neighborhood until this pandemic, and these are simple pleasures I will never take for granted again. Especially last spring when we tried our best to never leave the house unless we had to, every opportunity to be outside, take in some fresh air, and gaze at the spring blooms felt so very precious!
Reach out, and check in
My family and friends can attest that I’m not very good about keeping in touch with people virtually. I am all for catching up in person, but I don’t like broadcasting details about my personal life on social media, and I’m not big on texts and calls. Of course, a lot of that had to change during COVID, and I have learned that not every electronic communication needs to be made up of lengthy small talks over texts. Saying “How are you? I’m thinking of you” or sharing a funny meme you saw online is all you need to check in with loved ones sometimes, and I want to remind myself to do this more often in life post-pandemic.
In the past year, I’ve also discovered new ways to reach out and offer help to my community. Throughout this pandemic, my local Buy Nothing and mutual aid groups have showed me that help comes in many forms: financial surely, but also in time, physical goods, labor, knowledge (e.g. language), skills (e.g. sewing), emotional support, and companionship. For example, I started offering to help people with their general health insurance questions after learning that many people are losing their employer-sponsored coverage, and this experience has pushed me to explore becoming a certified health plan navigator so I can reach even more people in the future.
Permission to tune out
I’ve always been a bit of a news junkie, filling every possible minute of the day reading newsletters and listening to podcasts (on my bike, in the shower, in the garden, when I’m stretching, you name it…) In the early months of quarantine, scrolling on my phone and reading the news sometimes became all that I did, and it was decidedly not good for my mental health. (It didn’t help that I was already plugged into COVID news every single day at work as a health policy analyst.) If you are at all like me, I hope we have all discovered this year that “doomscrolling” is neither healthy or productive, and give ourselves permission to tune out every once in a while!
A broader outlook on environmental work
I have written here that I hope COVID will open more people’s eyes that zero waste is so much more than recycling, composting, and reducing single use plastic. The pandemic has widened the divide between the haves and have-nots everywhere in the world, including our own backyards.
In the summer, a community member posted on Facebook that because her return to work schedule got pushed back in the last minute, she and her partner suddenly found themselves without any money for groceries in the coming days and they were desperate after having misremembered the hours at the local food bank. Many people including myself put together some groceries for her, but I think of this anecdote often – which gave me a glimpse into just how close many of our fellow neighbors are on the brink of poverty, even in a relatively wealthy and progressive city. Individual-based environmental actions often require a premium – whether it’s renewable energy, regeneratively grown food, or clothing made by fairly-paid workers, and none of this is remotely fathomable when you have to worry about how to put food on the table tomorrow. A environmentally sustainable society has to be an equitable and just one – a lesson that I hope we’ll all remember for a long, long time to come.