Friday, March 27, 2020

Our Year of Buying Nothing: The Quarantine Edition

Living just outside Seattle, Washington, our community buckled down early due to the novel Coronavirus. We've now been homebound for several weeks. While others around us were lining up early outside stores to buy all the hand sanitizer and toilet paper, we found our own rhythm at home, relearning ways of using less and still buying nothing. (Click here to read more about our decision to buy nothing for one year.)


How are we getting by without going to the store? I wrote an article years ago, You Don't Have to go to the Store, during a time when we also didn't go grocery shopping at all. In it I describe how we got by without needing to shop. Some things have changed since I wrote the article; most notably we don't have a farm/garden anymore, so buying fresh veggies is a must. We now have a weekly produce delivery service, Freggies, which delivers a good variety of high quality fresh fruits & veggies. We also have our weekly dairy & egg delivery, using Smith Brothers local dairy delivery service. If you live in their delivery area, here is a referral code, which will save you $20 off your first order. Wherever you live, it's worth looking into your local farmer or producer delivery options. Many businesses that didn't use to deliver are now providing that option, as a means of staying in business during the quarantine.

We are also making use of our own food storage, taking stock of our freezer and pantry, and making the best use of the items we've been stocking away. As my son said this morning over canned peaches on our pancakes, you know it's the apocalypse when we start eating canned food. I maintain a food inventory spreadsheet, with different tabs for freezer, fridge, cabinets, and pantry, where I itemize our foods on hand. It's great for meal planning. I normally check it before going shopping, to make sure I don't overbuy something I already have in the pantry or freezer. I try to update it after getting groceries, or when I use something up. It's a good reminder of how much we already (or still) have. As the weeks go by, our diet is getting different from the usual (we are out of meat, for example) but because of my spreadsheet I know we won't go hungry anytime soon.


Separate from groceries but along the same lines, I'm preparing all our meals from scratch, using items from our freezer, pantry, and produce delivery. Like you I'm sure, I've been reading a ton about how coronavirus is transmitted, and what activities are safe. Lots of people are ordering from local restaurants, which is a wonderful way of supporting struggling businesses right now. However, every time you bring something into your home that someone else touched or potentially sneezed or coughed on, you have to disinfect it or risk spreading the virus. I just don't think I'm ready to enjoy a meal that comes with that kind of potential. Maybe after a few more weeks, when I'm desperate to eat something other than lentils, we'll re-explore that idea... For now, I'm having fun being creative with what we already have. Make it a game: What can we make today that the kids won't hate?

Toilet Paper

I'm not sure there has ever been such a storm on toilet paper. At least in our area, every store that carries TP has had lines outside before they open, and is sold out very soon after the mobs enter. Stores are now setting limits on how much toilet paper each customer can buy, and they are still selling out every day.

I normally buy toilet paper at Costco, and one of their giant packs lasts us a good part of the year. However, since we are all home constantly now, I knew we'd be going through it about twice as fast as usual, so I've taken measures to reduce use: I have switched back to using cloth for pee. I keep a wash cloth on the back of each toilet, and refold as necessary before tossing it in the laundry. As the only lady in the house, and one who drinks a lot of tea, this measure is likely to vastly reduce our family's TP use. You can also use smaller cloths, and toss them into a small bucket or bin after each use, for later washing. We did this for years, back when my kids were in cloth diapers, and just washed the wipes along with the diapers. I made them out of small squares of old flannel baby blankets, hand stitched around the edges to prevent fraying. Pee cloths can be thrown right in with the normal laundry.

I may yet have to venture out to a store to get more toilet paper, depending on how long this quarantine lasts, but for now I'm happy to avoid the additional risk of an airborne virus. With online toilet paper costing as much as $2 per roll, I'd also like to avoid getting price-gauged if possible.


Use soap instead. Soap kills viruses effectively. We wash hands every time we come home from anywhere that we have touched anything others might have touched. I keep lotion at every sink and in my purse, so it's easy to apply after every hand washing. It's important to keep your skin from drying out and cracking, a common affliction during the arid winter months but especially now with all the increased washing. Dry, cracked skin is open to infection and feels yucky besides.

If you still need hand sanitizer, you can make your own using alcohol and aloe vera gel. The CDC recommends a 70% alcohol solution. When we were still coming and going from our house daily, we would wipe down our phones and keys each time we came home with alcohol wipes. You can simply apply rubbing alcohol to a cloth to make your own wipes, but this would be harmful to bare skin if you do it frequently.

Now that we are home nearly constantly, there is much less to worry about sanitizing. On our daily walks, we just don't touch anything except occasionally the mail. I process the mail right after bringing it inside, and then wash my hands. You can of course toss most of it in the outdoor recycle bin instead of bringing it inside at all. And then wash your hands.


This is a very real need, with so many kids suddenly out of school, and adults out of work. Many people resort to buying stuff out of boredom. It's easy to desire the novelty of new items to fill our time and space, but our family is still committed to a year of buying nothing (as I've said, this doesn't include food & TP). So how are we keeping ourselves sane, fulfilled, and busy during the weeks and potentially months stuck at home?

  • I make a list of things for us to do each day. This includes all activities we do as a family, chores each kid needs to do, and meals I plan to make. I also write the day of the week at the top of the list, or else I would have no idea.
  • Daily family activities include card and board games, walks around the neighborhood, exercise time, reading aloud with my younger son, and asking each other trivia questions. 
  • Homeschooling, for our kids, includes the above activities, as well as alternating between two hours of online learning (we use Khan Academy) and workbook time, or two hours of video games.
  • My older son and his friends have managed to organize online D&D games, as well as other games that can be played via video chat. He does this for two hours at a time, three days a week. It's helped him to feel connected to his peers during this socially isolating time. While he meets with his friends online, my younger son and I often work on an art project together.
  • Netflix, Hulu, DVDs, etc. Every evening after dinner we've been watching episodes of The Office together, or other funny shows (last night was Netflix's Pandemic, but I personally recommend generally ending the day with something a little more uplifting). I can't bear the idea of "binge-watching" anything, so we always limit the amount of episodes to 2-3, depending on length of the episodes. After watching shows, we end screen time and read books until bedtime.
  • Between episodes, we always do "family exercise time". Using a timer, we take turns choosing an exercise to do for one minute. We do this for two full rounds, then two minutes of stretching, for a total of around 10 minutes. It's quick but challenging, and there's always a nice variety this way.


We've found a nice balance of spending time together but also giving each other space. It can be easy to get on each other's nerves when cooped up together endlessly. Be patient, keep it light, see the good in people and be forgiving.

I wake up every morning and meditate for a comfortable 15 minutes. A regular practice keeps me from catastrophizing, or making mountains out of molehills. We also meditate as a family every evening before bed, for just 5 minutes. It's just a nice time to sit together, breath and relax. Here is my article on meditation basics, the how & why.

Get outside every single day. Don't let a day pass when you have been inside all day, unless you are bedridden. I struggled with insomnia for years, and one of the keys to better sleep was a long morning walk; daylight, fresh air, and exercise all help to regulate our circadian rhythms. Also, being cooped up can make you feel crazy. Getting outside will remind you that your world is still all there, you have space, and best of all: it's springtime! Enjoy the animals, the birds singing and the squirrels acting crazy, the flowers starting to cover the trees, and animals generally getting bolder as they meet with less human interference.

Keep your immune system strong by doing the following:

  • Limit sugar, which has a hazardous effect on immune function.
  • Supplement with vitamins C & D, and Zinc lozenges, which all help prevent respiratory illness.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Try to turn the lights out at 10, and allow enough time in a darkened room to wake up naturally in the morning.
  • Move your body daily. The immune system requires muscular movement for optimal circulation of lymphatic fluids. Sitting around all day is not good for anyone.

Find comfort in your people, pets, or your online community. My cat has been such a blessing through this. He is always there for us, always happy to love and be loved, so soft and warm. He doesn't care that the world as we know it may have ended, as long as we still have some kibble.

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