Our New Normal

Do you find that our current situation is putting things into perspective for you?

I don't want to disrespect the very real suffering that is occurring for many reasons:  COVID-19 illnesses and deaths, loss of income causing desperate financial difficulties for many families and businesses, and feelings of fear and isolation felt by so many, especially the elderly and parents who are struggling to engage and entertain their young children without the park, the library, school, sports, or play dates.


What's changed

But has quarantine changed your level of busyness and consumption?  It has for my husband and I.

  • We're driving much less.  That isn't because we're not working, but because he's working from home and I'm not making any unnecessary shopping trips for books or spring clothes (my favorite stores are all more than 30 miles away).  And we haven't driven out of town to visit our kids or grandkids – video chats are filling in for physical get-togethers.
  • We're cooking dinner more often.  We still order take-out a couple of nights a week, but most restaurants near us are offering a limited take-out menu, and it's not nearly as pleasant to bring home and reheat food in throw-away containers as it is to eat in the restaurant dining room.
  • We're buying less entertainment.  Whether we take an evening walk, read a library e-book, stream a movie, play online chess, write, listen to music, or simply have an old-fashioned conversation, we aren't paying anything extra for recreation.  We're not going to movies or concerts or planning a weekend getaway.

It's not that we don't miss these things.  We do miss them, and at this point going to our favorite restaurant, to a new movie, or even to choir rehearsal would be a special treat.  After more than a month without a lot of options, we'd enjoy having even one or two new places to go.

I know you can relate.

The problem for many of us is that in the past, we never limited ourselves to one or two places.  If we could afford to pay for it (or if we had a credit card), we rarely hesitated to go where we wanted when we wanted to.  We bought what we wanted when we wanted it (even if it turned out to be a passing whim).  We said yes to every desire of our hearts, even if the result was a house full of stuff we didn't need, a calendar full of activities that kept us in a frantic rush, and a mailbox full of bills we struggled to pay.

Clutter, fatigue, and debt never seemed to stop us from wanting and doing more.

The question that gets to the heart of minimalism

But in the middle of this pandemic, we might be starting to ask ourselves a question we may not have bothered with before:  What is essential?

The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, have a theory that everything we own can be put into one of three piles:

  • Essentials.  These are the necessities we can't live without:  food, shelter, clothing.  A diabetic, a family with five children, or a construction worker might have specific requirements that differ from mine, but we are alike in our need for these basics.
  • Nonessentials.  These are things we choose to own, not because they're necessary to sustain life, but because they add value to our lives.  As Millburn says, "Strictly speaking, I don't need a couch, a bookshelf, or a dining table in my living room, but these items enhance, amplify, or augment my experience of life."
  • Junk.  Unfortunately, most of what we own belongs in this pile.  This stuff is neither necessary to life, nor does it serve a purpose or bring us joy.  At one time we may have thought we wanted or needed it, but now it gathers dust or adds to a pile in a closet.

Right now, some of us are discovering that we can't afford more junk, and that we may need to do without a few nonessentials as well.  New books, new clothes, regular professional manicures, or a second car may add value to our lives most of the time, but they aren't necessary in a crisis.

Now is our chance to figure out what is truly essential, to become very thoughtful about which nonessentials contribute the most to our lives, and to rid ourselves of junk.

A new roadmap

Life is constantly changing.  Whatever our "new normal" turns out to be, we can remind ourselves that we were always going to have to adapt to change.  My life today is very different than it was five or ten years ago, and whatever I'd like to think,  I really have no idea what the next five or ten years will bring.  It may be good, it may be bad, it may be a gradual shift or a sudden shock, it may come by choice or be completely out of my control.  I might attempt to cling to the past, but that's a recipe for failure and regret.

Meanwhile, we have an opportunity to evaluate everything.  We can change.  We can emerge from this crisis with thoughtfulness, intention, and a renewed appreciation for community and relationships.

Updated March 2023


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