How to Live Sustainably During the COVID-19 Quarantine and Beyond

Or in other words, how full quarantine status under a mandatory lockdown order and empty store shelves made us finally start better habits. Now we have to live sustainably, whether we like it or not.

live sustainably during a COVID quarantine

Now that we’re facing real concerns about not being able to get food and household items the minute we need them, we’ve been forced to get creative. We have to use what we’ve got, repurpose and make things last….and toilet paper is just one of those problems.

Stores are restocking, so there’s good news on the food front. We may need to wait in lines or go at different times of the day, but food is available. It may be worth a Costco membership, as they seem to be doing pretty well at maintaining a decent selection of food. We’re encouraged not to hoard, but I also know how scary it is to try to do the math on TP and to plan meals far ahead enough yet without running out of produce or kids’ snacks…or adult snacks, for that matter. Cheese sticks, anyone?

I’ve joked that we’re living in a bad version of an Oregon Trail game. I’m seeing a lot of good out there — including people dropping off much-needed flour and eggs. People are shopping for those who can’t, sewing masks to substitute for personal protective equipment, and businesses and celebrities alike offering services and entertainment online for free. But that doesn’t make it much less scary. I don’t yet know anyone personally who has tested positive for the virus, but I imagine that it’s just a matter of time.

There are a lot of cases out there of people that get the virus and survive without having to leave home, but the idea of being one who has to go to the hospital — as a midlifer with asthma — terrifies me. To be sure I minimize my chances of contracting it, or spreading it, I’m happily staying at home.

If we’re learning anything during all of this, it’s a new appreciation for how easy it is to get things we need on a regular basis AND how much we need to enjoy time with our family. We also may be realizing about now that we overspend on restaurant food and take-out, we waste food by letting spoil, and we, in general, shop too much for things we don’t really need. By the time that we’re in a budget crunch, we don’t have enough in savings, but we do have all those pairs of shoes! (Guilty. I have 100+ pairs of shoes. I do, however, have a savings…but it wasn’t always that way!)

While we’re stuck at home, we have a lot of options on how to both find productive ways to spend our time while finding fun things to do. We can combine those with things that have us live sustainably both now and in the future.

What changes can we make to make that happen?

  • Plant your own garden. Before you say “but wait, I don’t have what I need…,” let me tell you how you can change that without leaving your house. Seeds. They turn into seedlings in a couple of weeks, and a couple weeks later, you can plant them. You can purchase seeds online (I bought mine on and plant them in dirt, even from your backyard future garden space if need be, indoors or out, depending on your weather. Here in California, we’re having an unusually long cold season, so I started mine indoors. I used cardboard egg cartons. You can also use a plastic tub. When the seedlings are big enough, take the entirety of each egg section or the chunk of surrounding dirt in the tub. Boom, garden. I spent less than $10 on seeds for tomatoes, jalapenos, arugula and zucchini. If you have vegetables around right now, save the seeds. Dry them out and use them. Even easier!
  • Can’t go to the gym? Exercise at home! YouTube and Instagram have thousands of free workouts. If you have weights and resistance bands, great, but if not, try Amazon. If that doesn’t work, due to budget or delivery time issues, there are plenty of workouts using solely your body weight. Yoga can be done on a beach towel in your living room! There are a lot of free apps, or even if you just use the trial periods, you’ll still get a week or two of free killer workouts. Dance — to music in your head or from your Alexa. Play video games like boxing or skiing or Zumba. Take walks, but follow the social distancing guidelines and stay at least 6′ from anyone you run into. You may not want to go back to your gym again! (Okay, you probably will, but maybe only for big gym equipment you can’t buy at home.)
  • Save on consumables! I use a package of reusable microfiber cloths. The package came in several colors, so to ensure cleanliness and safety, I assign a color to each type of things. Pink cleans our bathroom counters and sinks. Blue cleans our kitchen tables and counters. Yellow cleans the toilets. (Get it? Yellow? I know….) Orange cleans the rest of odds and ends. I use a cleaning gel that doesn’t require scrubbing, but IF I do need to scrub, I use a green scrubby pad, Ajax and rubber gloves. My consumables are low and I clean with Mrs. Meyers’ products from Grove, so we aren’t overrun with chemicals either. This helps our immune system stay more functional, as it should be. Cloth napkins are another option. I also keep one blue reusable cloth where our paper towels used to it. The paper towel dispenser is pushed backwards, more out of view, which encourages us to use the cloth for small spills and wipes. We’re all much more cognizant of how many paper towels we use each day.
  • Bake your own bread! Yes, this does require flour (unless you want to get creative and make gluten-free products) but you can find flour if you either get creative or are willing to wait a week or two. The no-knead dough can be used in so many ways, from rolls to bread loaves to pizza crust and the cost is minimal. (Yeast can be hard to find right now, but it is out there.) Baking cookies and other snacks not only gives you something to do — as a family or on your own — but it feeds the snack need for less and you won’t have to worry as much about how to find that next replacement snack at some store.
  • Find ways to use the last little bit of your food. Lots of little portions of fresh veggies? Make a soup. Tomatoes going soft? Make a pasta sauce. Lemons or limes starting to go bad? Zest them and freeze in small plastic bags, then juice and freeze in ice cube trays, then in plastic bags after frozen. (These make great additions to a glass of bourbon!) Challenge yourself to look at every leftover bit with a fresh eye and see what you can come up with!

Living sustainably is so much more, yet so much more less. It’s a mindset. Live with intention towards using less, wasting less and buying less. You save money while helping the world and your family. When we’re finally back to a sense of normalcy, we will probably have a new budget and better habits. We will live sustainably without even trying.

Before COVID-19 came around, if you’d asked me what time period I wanted to live in, I’d have said prairie days. I grew up fascinated with Little House on the Prairie. Sewing, baking, farming, growing your own, I loved it all. Now that we’re living it — in an age where we can do everything via an electronic device from our livingroom — it’s surreal. We can order groceries from the couch but we can’t find toilet paper. We can talk to our friends and families — but only on our phone or via Zoom or some other electronic app. We can work, but not within 6′ of each other, and that’s only if we’re considered essential; if not, we can work at home or there are layoffs and furloughs.

People are sewing instead of buying. Baking because they can’t find it at a store. Growing our own because we are unsure of the future. We’ve gone back to the basics and we’re in a position to appreciate those we live with more. The reasoning for this is bad, but the results can be really, really good.

We can get through this quarantine period but we need to do it together. Be safe. Make good choices. Live sustainably to strengthen your budget and your household. Feed your family for less. And stay well.

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