Annus horribilis. Before 2020, I had never heard the phrase, but these days, it crops up a fair amount in news recapping the fallout of the pandemic. It translates to “horrible year.” 2020 has certainly dealt more than its share of wild and difficult cards. But has the year been horrible? I don’t think so.
I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t want to diminish the hardships I know people have faced during this year and will continue to face for as long as the pandemic lasts. You’ll find no toxic positivity here. This year has been hard. We have all experienced challenges or made sacrifices, and many people’s lives have been turned upside down. It’s changed my life too for sure, but as the weeks of sheltering in place have stretched into months I’ve learned a lot and found a degree of gratitude I didn’t expect.
Of course, things didn’t start out that way. March 2020 was, more or less, chaos. I was packing up to go on a cruise, and my husband and my daughter were on a SCUBA diving trip when the shelter-in-place order for my community came. Because of their recent travels, my husband and teenage daughter began the pandemic by quarantining for two weeks away from the rest of our family to make sure they had not been exposed during their travels. Like everyone else, we experienced a lot of fear and anxiety. I had the fear of exposure—had I been exposed before it was clear how widely spread the virus was? Could I get it? What about my family and friends?
Even as, thankfully, my family and I realized we were safe from exposure, I went through a period of disorientation as everything just came to a screeching halt. There was the grief of canceling all of those plans we were looking forward to and the total loss of normalcy. But in the face of all of that emotional unrest, I remembered what a friend once told me: “If your life feels out of control, clean out your closet.” I don’t know if you can relate to this or not, but I’ve found that it helps me have control over something small and manageable.
So as the days of sheltering in place at home—a home we are very thankful to have during this pandemic—became weeks, I started cleaning out cabinets, closets and drawers. If there was clutter that I could control, I got after it. And as the weeks became months, my home was transformed, even upgraded. My husband and I both work. We have two kids. Before the pandemic, there was clutter everywhere. Clutter we just didn’t need. But during the pandemic, I became one of the many people you’ve seen getting interested in home improvement. Today, my home feels more comfortable, more peaceful and more useful, and I’m so thankful that I had the time to really focus on shedding the things that were distracting us from enjoying our living space.
My home isn’t the only thing I’ve spruced up with de-cluttering. Before Covid-19, I was over-committed. I had Broadway and Astros season tickets. I was in a book club. I coached a kickball for our work league. I taught fantasy football for beginners. I’m a runner, and I was training for the Houston Half Marathon. I have a senior who plays varsity baseball and a sophomore who plays lacrosse, and I was front row at every game. I’m an extrovert. My calendar was always booked. But as the world slowed down this spring, all of those commitments—social gatherings, sporting events—started disappearing.
Like I said, it was disorienting at first. I went through weeks of feeling this phantom urge to go somewhere or do something—weren’t we supposed to be somewhere right now? I don’t even remember how all of the busyness started, but I had created a never-ending obstacle course of activity for myself. Suddenly it was over, and I was relieved. I went through the motions of some of those Zoom happy hours and virtual get-togethers at first, but these days, I’m much happier to enjoy the peace and quiet. I’m a lot choosier about how I will commit my time. I’m a lot choosier about everything I commit my energy to, in fact. Before the pandemic, I would say “yes” to everything. These days, I’m more of a hard “maybe.”
There are things I miss, sure. And I know that we’ll be back to a more normal life someday. I hope that when a vaccine becomes available, though, I remember this peace and continue to actively choose to live a less hectic life.
As tough as this year has been in some ways, I’m grateful for the opportunity to pump the brakes, spend more time at home and shed some of the things I just don’t need in my life anymore. I didn’t realize I had let myself fill my home and my life with so much clutter. But now, I’m way more at peace. I’m a much calmer person, and I have a different perspective now. It might not have been the year I planned, but I’ll remember with extreme gratitude the lessons this season of life taught me.
As the holidays approach and 2020 comes to an end, the way my family traditionally celebrates Thanksgiving and Christmas will actually be largely unchanged. It will be simple and quiet. We’re taking our kids to a national park in the RV we’ve started using for socially distant excursions. Even when the years were packed, we’ve always celebrated just the four of us. It turns out quiet, intimate holidays suit me far better than I ever realized.