Old Habits Die Hard

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Simon in the window enjoying fresh air.

In times of stress, it is common to fall back on our coping skills. Some coping skills are positive and some coping skills are negative. As we age, we gradually replace negative coping skills with positive coping skills. When you know better, you do better.

Some coping skills are not necessarily negative, but there comes a point when a particular coping skill is no longer needed because you have overcome the problem. Either the life situation has changed so that you do not have that problem anymore to require a coping skill, or you have adapted to the situation in such a way that it is no longer a crisis which prompts coping skills.

This coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything we have ever lived through before. It is prompting all types of coping skills in people, myself included. 

I keep trying to find something to equate to our current situation. After all, the beauty of coping skills is that if they work for one crisis, they will probably work for another.

I spoke earlier how the pandemic is worse than when I was in New York City on September 11. I stand by that statement. At least in 2001, one could leave the City and escape somewhere else where life was still relatively normal. In this pandemic, there is no escape. It is pervasive. It alters our daily routines, habits, and life. It even alters our homes, which is the place of sanctuary for many. Your home is like your lair where you can freely be yourself, and now your place of refuge is being invaded by “working from home.” 

In trying to somehow wrap my brain around this pandemic and what it is doing to life, the only situation with which I can equate the current situation is when I was homeless. Even that is not completely accurate. The only parallel between homelessness and the pandemic is the stress and the scarcity. Trying to figure out how to get food and basic supplies. Other than that, the comparison is an oversimplification. I have someplace safe to live with my family. The only challenge is how to get supplies safely.

Below I am going to outline three coping skills that have made a resurgence for me in the current crisis. I honestly never thought I would have use for these coping skills again. I thought I had finally gotten to a point in life where they are no longer needed. I thought wrong. 

Old Habit # 1 

Toilet paper. Oh, yes, you knew I was going there, didn’t you? Toilet paper is the story of my life. When I was growing up, I would have to make one roll of toilet paper last 4-6 weeks. Now, due to the coronavirus, I have decided I am going to do the same.

I am going to make a 12-pack of toilet paper last for an entire year. I am probably going to be doing this until I die. 

Buying one 12-pack of toilet paper each year saves money. By using less toilet paper, I can take the $5 or $10 I would have spent on toilet paper and use it instead to purchase food. Yes, our economy is that decimated. Food shortages are pervasive and real.

I am supplementing my one roll of toilet paper per month with cloth baby wipes. Some people may complain that this creates more laundry. They are small. I do not think it creates more laundry. Plus, now that I am wearing pajamas twice instead of once, there is “space” for the cloth baby wipes because I am going through less pajamas.

In fact, I am actually saving water by using cloth baby wipes for pee. I flush my toilet less. When I use paper toilet paper, I typically flush the toilet every 2-3 uses so that the toilet does not get clogged with the paper. Using cloth baby wipes, I only flush the toilet once or twice per day. There is no paper in it, unless there is # 2, which gets flushed immediately. 

Old habits die hard: I am only using one roll of toilet paper per month, similar to when I was growing up and would have to save the nickel change from food stamp purchases to be able to afford one roll.

Old Habit # 2

When I was in grad school, I would work Tuesdays through Saturdays instead of Monday through Friday like all of the other executives in my office. My grad classes were on Mondays, so this worked well for me. Weekends were Sundays and Mondays. I loved it. 

It was also nice having a weekday off, because if I need to schedule a doctor or some other appointment, I could do so without having to take off of work. The only challenge was that some places are not open on Mondays. For example, I remember I could never get my hair appointment on a Monday because the salon was closed on Mondays.

Trying to work from home during coronavirus has been a challenge due to little to no internet service. I type things into google docs so that I can copy and paste into an email when I do have internet service. I hope that I can get things in fast enough to be able to send the message before I lose service.

Also, being that I am in the high risk group, I am extremely apprehensive at returning to the office and being surrounded by my coworkers who have many many more exposures than me. I do not feel that is a safe situation. I can only control myself. I cannot control people around me.

I have asked to change my current work schedule from the Monday through Friday back to the Tuesday through Saturday format, and it is going great! I actually get decent internet service on Fridays and Saturdays so I am able to get more work done. This is in contrast to Mondays, where I spend all day waiting for one web page to load, and it may not even be the web page I need. 

Also, if I do have to go into the office, which I did this past weekend, I have the entire place to myself. I can get things done with minimal exposure. I have always worked well independently.

Tuesday – Saturday work reminds me of when I was in grad school. Summer 2015 was one of the best summers of my life, so there are good memories of this work schedule. I feel good.

Old Habit # 3

 Make do or go without. This was the mantra of the Great Depression and it is again the mantra of the Great Depression part 2. It was also what got me through the 4 months of hell when I found out my rent on my apartment doubled (with 2 weeks notice) and I was trying to buy the house.

I have spent so much money on trying to get food these past two months that I have completely blown my budget. It’s different when you have to have other people shop for you and then reimburse them. It’s also hard when you are trying to keep a week’s worth of extra food on hand in case people can’t get to you right away. I am dependent on when other people go to the store.

I do not want to ask people to go to the store for me because then they are putting themselves at risk for me. So I’ve been telling people to let me know when they are going to the store for themselves and I will just add to their list. 

Throw in multiple food allergies to that mix and the food shortages of food allergy specialty items … well, it’s been rough.

So my mantra is to make do or go without. I literally have no extra money to spend on anything. If you are expecting me to “stimulate” the economy, forget it. The only thing I am doing is paying my essential bills and food.

To this end, I have cut out all non-essentials. That includes hair cuts. Hair salons are still closed right now anyways, and even when they do reopen, I do not feel safe enough to go back. 

I am going to isolate and socially distance myself for a very long time until I am sure this is over. It could be years, and I am okay with that.

This means I will be cutting my own hair. 

Previously, “make do or go without” meant that I only had my hair cut twice a year. My hair was really long – down to my butt. What I learned was that only getting it cut twice a year saved me money but was horrible for my hair. My hair ended up so damaged that I ended up having to get it cut into a bob. 

Many people have said that I should grow out my pixie and that I can save money on haircuts by just letting it grow long again. The problem is, that is not healthy. Plus, long hair is a major pain. Now that I have had a pixie, I am not going back to long hair again.

I finally got a pair of clippers and buzzed it off. The clippers were $60. Since I usually pay $50 for a haircut, it will only take two hair cuts for the clippers to pay for themselves. If I do not go back to the salon and continue to do my hair myself, that is money saved I can use for food.

It is going to be a very long time, possibly even years before I will feel safe enough to go back to a salon, to be honest. Make do or go without. I am making do by cutting my own hair. I will go without the salon. 

Another way in which I am making do or going without is air conditioning. I still do not have enough money to get air conditioning for my house, even though it is medically necessary. Heat exacerbates my neuro symptoms. I have to go without, so I am making do.

We are supposed to get a heat wave later this week. I do not have money to buy any more black-out curtains for the windows, so I am going to go ghetto and tape towels and blankets over windows in addition to the curtains I do have. The more I can block the light, the cooler it will be in the house. Or, at least, I hope so. We will see how bad my neuro symptoms get. 

I am making do and going without air conditioning because I can’t afford it, no matter how medically necessary it may be.

What old habits do you have that have come back to help you cope with the pandemic?  

 

The Toilet Paper Chronicles, Part 3

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Daffodils finally came up that I planted last year

Ok, ok. I am starting to have melt down over toilet paper. Can you blame me? Do you know how I grew up? (homeless and without toilet paper – read the Toilet Paper Chronicles, Part 1). 

I think I held up pretty well under the circumstances. I typically have one open package of toilet paper and one unopened package of toilet paper for back-up. When the doctor told me I am no longer allowed to go to a grocery store or pharmacy last month, I had one open package of toilet paper that was about halfway gone with no back-up.

When the toilet paper that I had ordered online 4 weeks ago arrived today, I was down to 2 rolls. 

Granted, I did have back-up. I have a box of kleenex. I have been saving my newspapers instead of recycling them. I also took one of our fleece blankets and cut it up into squares. I even went so far as to order cloth baby wipes off of Etsy last week. They arrived way quicker than my toilet paper and feel like heaven.

Yes, I have gone to the dark side of using cloth toilet paper for pee.

Yes, it sounds gross. But my mother, and many other mothers out there, cloth diapered their babies. If you can use a cloth wipe on a baby, why can’t you use one on an adult? I was reserving the rolls of toilet paper I had left for # 2. That’s what toilet paper was used for when I was homeless as a child. It was the only way to make one roll last a whole month (or for as long as you could). 

The toilet paper that I had ordered online was actually commercial toilet paper. All household toilet paper is out of stock both in stores and online and has been out of stock for the past 4 weeks. So when I was on the internet a few weeks ago, I ordered the large 9-inch commercial rolls from a website that services places like restaurants and gyms. It was the only toilet paper I could find.

I don’t care that the large 9-inch rolls will not fit on my little dispenser. Toilet paper is toilet paper. It works no matter what size the roll. 

I am still going to be conservative with my toilet paper and ration it for # 2, just like how we used to do when homeless. I am going to use my cloth baby wipes for # 1. It’s just like camping, really. I mean, have you ever peed outside? What do you do then? 

My goal is to make the 12 rolls of toilet paper I have last for  6 months or more. Or, at least until the world stops losing its collective mind over toilet paper. I get it. I really do. There is not much we can control right now. We can control the numbers of toilet paper squares we use. 

I guess I have now officially switched almost all of my paper products to cloth. First it was cloth handkerchiefs, then cloth napkins, then cloth cleaning rags. Now it’s cloth baby wipes. Anyone else have experience using cloth toilet paper / cloth baby wipes for pee? 

 

The Fourth R

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The last of the grapes I ate the other day. I am pretty sure those are the last grapes I am going to have for a very long time due to scarcity and price gouging.

We all know the three R’s. We grew up with reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, the three R’s are typically reduce, reuse, recycle. To the three modern R’s, there is a fourth R in our COVID-19 world, ration.

At first blush, there does not seem to be much difference between reduce and ration. They both indicate a decrease of some kind. However, when I sat down and thought about it, I realized that the difference between the two concepts is macro and micro.

When I think of reduce, I think of concepts like minimalism. Minimalism typically involves reducing the total number of items in your home. It also involved purchasing less things. Not only are you bringing less items into your home, but you are paring down items that are in your home so that overall, you have less. This is on the macro scale.

When I think of ration, I think on the micro scale. We take the items that we have and use less of them. We are not reducing – getting rid of the item – because it is an essential item. However, we are using less of that essential item so that it lasts longer.

The reason why I am focusing on rationing during this period of time is that I am trying to reduce my expenses. Mass layoffs are real now, people.

If we can make what we have last longer, then that is less money we have to spend in replenishing essential items. We are also leaving essential items on the shelf for someone else to have in this time of scarcity.

It is not just about toilet paper anymore. People are hoarding all types of things. If you run out of an item, you may not be able to get another one, either in-store or online.

Items that I have had difficulty obtaining include: feminine hygiene products (this is a REAL problem, people – bigger than toilet paper), fresh foods, pet products, and canned goods.

I did not realize how wasteful I am as a person until I started thinking of this idea of rationing. I am trying to reduce my water, gas, and electric bills. I am trying to reduce how often I use things inside my house to delay when I need to purchase more.

Some ways I am trying to be more mindful:

  • I am now actually paying attention to how much laundry soap I am using. Those little lines inside the cap mean something. Laundry soap is one of the “specialty items” I have to get due to my multiple food allergies. Most commercial laundry soap contains almond oil, which means my clothes could send me into anaphylactic shock if I did not have “special” laundry soap. I am trying to be conservative with how much of my “specialty” laundry soap I am using since it is now almost impossible to obtain.
  • To that end, I am trying to wear clothing items more than once before washing. I am also getting more uses out of items such as towels before washing them.
  • Toilet paper. Yes, I am now counting sheets of toilet paper used. Look, toilet paper scarcity was a real problem in my childhood. This situation is not helping.
  • I am using my crock pot more. This week, I have used it every other day. I am literally using all of the fresh food in my house. I am not throwing anything away. If something looks like it is starting to go bad before I can “use” it, I am throwing it in the crock pot with anything I can to make a soup, stew, whatever just so I do not “lose” that item.
  • I made chicken breast with vegetables in my crock pot. It was the best piece of chicken I have ever had in my entire life. I will not bake or grill chicken again. Any time I have chicken in the future, I am going to cook it in the crock pot. Crock pot chicken is amazing.
  • My dish soap is also a “specialty” item due to multiple food allergies. I am very conscious of how much dish soap I am putting in the sink to wash dishes now.
  • I am unplugging everything when I am not actively using it. This includes the microwave and coffee pot. If they are unplugged, they are not drawing power.
  • Since I got my pixie haircut a year or so ago, I use less soap and shampoo. Again, all my soap and shampoo are specialty allergy-friendly items that come from one company in California. I am serious that if this goes on much longer and I cannot get a haircut, I may shave my head.
  • Kitty litter and trash bags. I use trash bags to line my cat pans for easier clean up. I am trying to reduce both the amount of kitty litter I use and the trash bags I am using for liners by scooping their cat pans more often. My trash hauler requires us to use 13-gallon clear trash bags, and those are difficult to obtain right now, both in-person and online. 

Anyone have any other suggestions for rationing or ways to reduce expenses when stuck at home?

Stay safe and well. 

The Toilet Paper Chronicles, Part 2

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We all know from the Toilet Paper Chronicles, Part 1, that people who have experienced homelessness or scarcity in life typically fall into one of two camps. You either end up as a minimalist or as  hoarder. For me, I am mostly a minimalist, but have a tendency to hoard toilet paper. I know what it is like to have to go without toilet paper for long periods of time. 

I was very surprised when I went to the grocery store this week and all of the toilet paper was gone. The shelves were bare. Now, I have enough toilet paper at home already to last me a few weeks. Yet I found the lack of toilet paper on store shelves to be downright alarming.

I still do not completely understand – why are people hoarding toilet paper? 

There were three things on my grocery list this week that I was unable to obtain because the shelf was empty. One of those items is a can of pineapple chunks. When I stood in the canned goods aisle, there was plenty of food on the shelves. The only hole in the entire row was the pineapple area. There was not a single can of pineapple at the grocery store. 

What gives? Why are people hoarding pineapple of all things? Don’t you want peaches or green beans or something? Why pineapple? I just wanted one can for a ham dish I am making this week. It does not make sense for me to buy an entire pineapple for one person, so I figured one can of pineapple chunks would be sufficient. Now, I can live without that can of pineapple. I am just amazed at what people are hoarding during this health crisis.

Emergency preparedness officials have been telling us for years that we should be prepared to shelter in place in the event of an emergency for 7-10 days. This would be for a snowstorm, hurricane, some sort of crisis. If the current health scare is requiring people to shelter in place for 14 days, then we should not need much extra to go from a 7-10 day supply to a 14 day supply.

The problem is, most people, myself included, never prepared to shelter in place for 7-10 days to begin with. Quite honestly, my home emergency kit was only stocked for us to shelter in place for 3-5 days, which is the average length of time we are typically home bound due to snowstorms in central New York. 

With multiple food allergies, I thought I was ahead of the game being prepped for 5 days in case the specialty items I need become hard to obtain in an emergency. 

That said, the second item on my grocery list that I was unable to obtain this week is flour. With duhring disease, I can’t just have “flour.” I use a special 1:1 gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free flour. There was none on the shelf.

I can live without flour. I was going to make some apple muffins. I have plenty of other things to eat without muffins. I was just surprised there was no flour. Now, if I did not have multiple food allergies, I would have been able to get a sack of traditional flour with no problems. 

However, in an emergency, living life with multiple food allergies is even more challenging when all of my specialty items are gone and I am physically unable to eat what is there unless I have a death wish.

Luckily, I have enough food to accommodate my food allergies. I can always order online if need be.

Which brings me to the next point – this health scare is highlighting people who have and people who have not. There are some people who need to shelter in place for 14 days. Yet these people are in the comfort of their homes, with electricity and running water. You can order food and other supplies to be delivered to your door. However, this means that there are people out there who are still working and unable to shelter in place because they are delivering supplies to your home.

Just something to think about how interdependent we are as a society.

This brings me back to toilet paper. Not only are all the shelves bare. But when I just checked Amazon, you cannot even order toilet paper online. It is out of stock.

I guess people are going to find out what it was like for me growing up with no toilet paper. When you scrimp to save a quarter to buy a roll or go without. Of course, a roll of toilet paper today is generally $1. I’ve heard that with the empty store shelves, some people are selling toilet paper for $20 a roll.

There are alternatives to toilet paper. I am going to start hanging onto my newspapers instead of recycling them. Is it ideal? No, but in a pinch, newspapers make great toilet paper. It’s better than nothing. I do not anticipate having to use the newspaper, but with my childhood history of toilet paper scarcity, lack of toilet paper is what makes me the most antsy. I’m sure I will be fine. 

I wonder if we go into a hardware store if all of the bidet toilet seats will be gone as well? Bidets are an alternative to toilet paper. I’ve never used one and the idea does freak me out a little, but I hear they are popular in Europe. Maybe it’s time for the bidet to catch on here. 

Being able to stock up on supplies is an economic privilege. There are many people on fixed incomes who are unable to buy an extra week or two of groceries. Sure, they may buy an extra can or item here or there. But if you have been to the store this week and come out with a full cart, consider yourself privileged. If you have 2 packages of toilet paper in your house, think of people who are going just for their weekly groceries hoping to buy a few rolls. We need to be sure that we are taking care of everyone in this health crisis.

For every person buying enough toilet paper to last a year right now, there is someone going without because they can only afford to buy one 4-roll package per month, and that package just ran out.

I will say that I am glad I made the transition back to cloth handkerchiefs and to microfiber cleaning cloths. I do not need to buy facial tissue or paper towels.

But if you see me next in the hardware store buying a bidet seat, you’ll all know why.