Pandemic Diaries: Waste Not, Want Not or, the Return of Cloth Napkins

He lifted it high over his head, as he would the Stanley Cup if he were one of his beloved Boston Bruins celebrating victory, it being a 6-pack of cheap paper towels. Clapping my hands in excitement, visions of all the many spills wiped and cleanings achieved with such treasure danced in my head.

But then a funny thing happened; just as with the suddenly precious toilet paper, which has me thinking, every time I visit the loo, Is this square really necessary? the Pandemic has revealed me as ridiculously profligate with paper products of every kind.

We ran out of paper napkins first, so used paper towels as inelegant table linen until they, too ran out, a couple of weeks before Paul found the paper towel treasure. Out came the cloth napkins, at least at dinner. They’re so much nicer. Softer. Bigger, and that’s good on Taco Tuesdays. Why do I only put them out at Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Laziness. Carelessness. Thoughtlessness. I’m the perfect exemplar of a thoughtless, disposable society.

Is that square really necessary?

Fear will focus one’s thoughts, especially regarding self-preservation, and when going to the grocery store might kill one, one adapts. Limiting our trips out means we’ve been good about eating our leftovers and using cloth napkins at dinner, even after we found not only paper towels, but paper napkins. These are behaviors which will be easy to lose once we feel safe to dine out again, to shop at whim rather than necessity. I have no idea when such a magical time might be, as current measures and ever-increasing infections and death counts have me perfectly happy inside our small home, eating leftovers.

At some point, a new life begins. One day, I will walk into the grocery store and not be afraid, the shelves will be full and the glaring gaps where things used to be won’t leave me anxious. We will have established a new routine to meet the new normal, and it will be blessedly boring. It’s easy to quit a good habit, not so easy to make a new one, but I hope I am not alone in thinking, I don’t want to go back to the “old” ways. Oh, I want to go out to lunch with my friends, see something explosion-y on a big movie screen, and I really want to hug people I love. Here’s hoping I don’t break down and cry, or go all Alien on John Hurt on them. But I don’t want to go back to the wasteful old ways.

Use it up, wear it out, make it last – it’s a saying I heard once a long time ago, and it feels appropriate now. We have big problems to fix once the Pandemic fire is put out, or abated; we’re gonna need discipline for the work ahead, and self-sacrifice. More self-sacrifice than washing cloth napkins. The Pandemic of 2020 has reminded me I do have discipline, specifically self-discipline, when I need it or, when I want to. I want to want to even when the grocery shelves are full again.

What habits have you developed or returned to since we all went inside? What things will you bring with you into the new normal, whenever that is? What will you leave behind?

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