COVID-19 Row House Survival Guide: Re-evaluating Your Relationship to Your Material Goods

It’s the beginning of week five of staying at home. The only reasons I leave are to go running in the morning before anyone else is out and food shopping, per the CDC guidelines.

Before COVID-19, I would have been uneasy running entirely alone. Now, it’s comforting to be the only one out. It’s spring so I’m thankful to have that time in the early morning sun to enjoy the cherry trees which are in full blossom. It’s beautiful!

Food shopping is a process but I’m thankful we still have access to food. If think if we had installed distance and spacing measures six weeks ago, we’d be in much better shape. Trader Joe’s was the first store in Philadelphia to limit the number of people inside and limit quantities. That was six weeks ago. Now everyone’s doing it. That’s the thing about pandemic response; taking small steps only prolongs the inevitable. Might as well hit it hard and reduce the length of impact. A successful example of this is San Francisco, where they are flattening the curve, as they say – https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/04/coronavirus-san-francisco-london-breed/609808/.

Meanwhile, I am home as directed. Being home means I am more aware of the things that surround me and the things I bring home. Over the last year, we’ve developed an estate sale habit which could lead to serious material goods overload but we always set a strict budget before every sale and we try to get things that are useful. Because everything is second-hand and purchased at a discount it becomes OK to use things you love all the time instead of being afraid of breakage. There are always new (old) things right around the corner. So we use our things, which is really the point, right? And, with so few amusements, these interactions with our favorite things provide ongoing happy little moments. That funny tiki statue we picked up two months ago? He’s lifting our spirits as we cook at home exclusively now.

I wouldn’t have considered myself a shopper but being home has actually boosted our budget. I didn’t think we were carelessly spending our money before but we’re definitely spending less now. No one wants to go to a store more than absolutely necessary so it becomes a game of seeing how long you can make things stretch for. How little shampoo can I use? Can I ration the food out better? Can we make do? So far, we’re doing pretty well except for tissues because we are all suffering from an awful allergy season.

I often wonder how much of the typical American shopping process is impulse versus mindful acquisition. With fewer options and opportunity for impulsivity lasting for weeks will habits change? Will we emerge from this more thoughtful about what we buy, where we go, and what we physically touch? Perhaps this forced pause will actually be a good thing. A needed reset and refocus on priorities.

In another week or two, as soon as the weather is steadily warm and dry, I will be tackling my row home to-do list. Some big projects, like replacing the windows and renovating the kitchen are on the back burner as we don’t want to spend a lot of money right now. However, there are a lot of smaller maintenance things that we are looking forward to doing and should be able to get supplies for while observing distancing. I look forward to sharing our adventures in maintenance with you!

Stay well!

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