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Basic Life Lessons Isolation has made me Come to Terms With (Woman Child Edition)

by Emma Nygard 2 years ago in advice
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A few life lessons that have been taught the hard way and will be taking out of lock-down with me

2020 has not been friendly. I welcomed in the New year on the snowy French slopes, filled up on bread and wine and the company of old friends- lulled into a short-lived contentedness and drunk on mulled wine and the sneaking suspicion that this year would be better than the last.

I should have seen the heaving into the toilet bowl and the breaking of my 3-year devout vegetarian diet for chicken nuggets on January 1st as an omen for things to come.

I didn’t.

I took my flight back home to Melbourne on the 7th January into hazy clouds of smoke, and air quality that resembled Revolver smokers section most weekends. I sat for 40 minutes at the conveyor belt, waiting for my bag, which never arrived.

A lost bag and bushfires too, what a weird start to the year I thought.

As a naturally, and perhaps naively positive person I thought that would be the worst of it. A rocky start to a defining year where I would travel more, find a job I actually enjoyed, go out on dates, talk to strangers in dingy clubs and spend weekends away with friends.

It’s now August and it has been 5 months since I last stepped foot into the office that I work, I’m only allowed to leave the house for exercise and food (for the second time this year), and I haven’t dined in at a restaurant, or been to a bar, since March, there are friends that live 15 minutes away from me that I haven’t seen in person for almost half a year.

We went into our first lock down on the coattails of summer, just as the leaves started to dry but the days were still long and warm enough to enjoy the fading sunlight after work. I would sit in my courtyard enjoying talking with friends over zoom, nervously making predictions of how long this would all last. Next month we reach the end of winter.

A winter that has well and truly been one of hibernation, not just for me, but for everyone.

I’m not someone who is used to being cooped up, or who enjoys spending elongated periods of time with the same people. I’m someone that enjoys distraction, spontaneity and leaving the house on Friday and coming back Sunday night. My lifestyle before lock-down was certainly not a healthy one. I drank too much, smoked too much and spent more money than I earned.

There are so many aspects of my life that I miss, but this long hibernation has encouraged me to recognise the imperfections in my life. No doubt the first thing I will be doing once this is all over is heading to the pub, and I will forever be bitter about wasting my 25th year (the last year before the dreaded LATE twenties) inside. But there’s a few lessons I want to take with me.

1. It’s important to have a savings account

This is probably not new information to most people; in my heart of hearts I always knew it was important too. But I’m someone with a messy, woman-child lifestyle, a trait that’s endearing when you’re watching it play out on a TV screen but not so much when you’re having to ask your friend to borrow rent money in real life.

The realisation that most of what I was spending my money on was unnecessary came when, through no active attempt, I managed to have money from my pay check left over the first month of living in isolation, and not just $10 or $20, a significant amount of money was still sitting in my spending account, untouched.

I was still paying the same amount for my rent, my phone bill, utilities, heck- I was still even buying about the same number of things online. What I wasn’t doing was buying my lunch every day, going out for dinner or drinks 4 times a week, catching unnecessary Ubers, replacing packs of cigarettes I had left drunkenly at bars or impulse buying at stores just for the hell of it- I’m looking at you overpriced scented candles.

Coming out of this pandemic my bank account is looking healthier than ever and I plan on keeping it that way. I get excited depositing money into my savings account and watching it grow. Before all this, I would live in my overdraft if it meant not missing out on a social event, I’d spend $20 on lunch every day because I couldn’t be bothered preparing it at home and I’d keep drinking past happy hour even if it was a Tuesday. I’ve realised the importance of having some kind of security outweighs another night at the pub and that savings accounts aren’t some kind of myth that only people that are really good with money have. Moving forward I will be a lot smarter with how I often I am acting frivolous but will certainly still leave some room for a little bit of frivolity. Shop smarter, not harder.

2. It’s important to have a hobby

The question I dread the most while on a first date is potentially the simplest, and probably, for most satisfied people, a very easy one: “What are your interests?” Or any other variation that encourages talking about hobbies.

I like to blame (and I can hear my straight male friend’s shuddering) my star sign for why I am the way that I am with picking up a new interest. As a Sagittarius everything sounds fun and exciting, and it very well is for a couple of weeks at least. But you can ask my dusty keyboard or dried up paint set how good I am at keeping a hobby (about as good as I am at keeping a guy ha ha ha).

Usually I am very good at distracting myself with other kinds of activities, meaning I don’t need to dwell on the fact too long. But of course, being stuck inside with only myself for entertainment it has become increasingly clear that I am lacking a sense of purpose outside of work and social interaction. I say I love music, by that I mean listening to it and going to gigs, which is fine but a bit of stretch if you were going to call music a hobby.

I had always used writing as my answer whenever anybody would ask the dreaded question. It seemed like a safety net, it was (arguably) believable, didn’t require extensive knowledge to back up the claim and shrouded me in this kind of cool, creative veil that I very much liked wearing. Only problem was, I was lying, while I did enjoy writing, and had done it a lot at earlier stages in my life, I barely wrote anything (outside of my journal) anymore. Instead, I’d spent the pockets of free time watching whatever formulaic rom-com was on Netflix, predicting the ending and feeling completely dissatisfied or lounging around on the couch waiting for a message from somebody asking me to coffee or drinks or to a gig of an artist I had never heard of. Wasting time until something popped up.

Being faced with the same bare walls every day and a constant sense of not knowing what to do next with no ‘Get out of Boredom free’ card, has made me pick up writing again- while I may be a little dusty, it’s given me a sense of achievement while stuck inside, it’s helped reduce my stress and anxieties and is certainly more productive than getting drunk alone while listening to Kate Bush (although I do recommend this every once in a while).

It’s nice to have something to fill the time, not just something to kill time.

3. It’s important to know more than two recipes

Growing up we weren’t a particularly sophisticated household; my mum was a single mum who worked long hours and dinners usually consisted of some kind of meat and frozen vegetables- my contribution was remembering to pull the chicken out to thaw. We would only eat out for birthdays or special occasions- and when we did it was usually to some buffet chain, or a gimmicky American style joint with too big portions and mocktails with mini paper umbrellas. Fancy. Occasionally we would hit a greasy, Chinese smorgasbord or mum would order us a couple of mild butter chickens at the dodgy food court in our town mall. That was about the height of my food culture.

Since moving from small town New Zealand to the food capital of Australia I have discovered new cuisines and expanded my (albeit limited) palette and spent a lot of time and money eating out, with no desire to learn how to cook the food I enjoy.

I began reflecting on the sad reality of being 25 and only rotating between cooking two meals (both pasta dishes) before lock-down, but it really hit home once all my favourite places weren’t available to dine at. Learning to cook ties into the previous two lessons quite nicely. Learning to cook means spending less money eating out and impressing your friends with your culinary prowess, it is also another one of those fun hobbies you can talk about to co-workers or potential love interests.

With more time than ever I figured it was time to get a little more experimental in the kitchen. Cooking isn’t necessarily hard (baking on the other hand I cannot hack, that shit is a science) it’s just knowing your ingredients working out what goes together and getting to know your oven (genuinely did not know which setting each picture represented). I’m excited by the idea of hosting a very adult dinner party, drinking wine from actual wine glasses and serving food that wasn’t wrapped in plastic and heated in the microwave.

I’ve included a few Instagram accounts that are great for easy to follow recipes below:

@foodminimalist

@halfbakedharvest

@alexskitchenstory

@deliciouslyella

@eat_figs_not_pigs

@ambitiouskitchen

4. It’s important to have a clean room

My personal philosophy has always been that there is no point in making a bed. You will only end up back in it at the end of the day, and if you work 9-5 like I do, you spend very little time looking at it anyway.

I would only ever make my bed on a weekend, usually a form hopeful precaution, should I bring a lucky somebody back to my place. My room was a mess of scattered clothes and forgotten cups, and I didn’t think much of it.

Now I wake up every morning, rearrange my pillows and straighten up my duvet, I put my underwear in the washing basket and hang my clean clothes back up. I realised; it takes very little effort to tidy as you go. I used to scour my wardrobe for hours trying to find the right outfit while flinging mini-skirts, and different variations of the same crop top around my room then leaving once I thought I looked alright, only to arrive home the next day hungover and unwilling to deal with the mess I had created the night before.

I’ve realised it’s much easier to simply pick up the mess as you create it, don’t let it become overwhelming, because once it becomes overwhelming it stays overwhelming.

My mum used to tell me: ‘messy room, messy mind’ and I have finally, after many years, found some accuracy in that statement. While, I’m still someone that hoards a couple of mugs in their room at any given time and is more of a ‘cluttered-tidy’ than a Marie Kondo I have found my mind a lot clearer. I can work in my room without getting stressed, I can light up a scented candle and feel some kind of Zen.

Working from home has certainly made is easier (and a lot more necessary) but I have found the tidy lifestyle fits, a few extra minutes in the morning is all it takes to straighten up a duvet and put things back in their place.

So that's the list- a few fairly basic life lessons that most people likely have engrained into them that I have learned the hard way (thank God!) I can't wait for the day life returns to normal, but normal looks a little different now.

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Emma Nygard

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