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What we’re leaving behind after the pandemic, from sweatpants to alcohol

Ten Americans on the products and behaviors they won’t bring into the next chapter of their lives.

The next phase is coming.
zf L/Getty Images

Last fall, as I prepared to downsize for a cross-country move, I found myself performing a pandemic-era KonMari ritual of my own.

Sitting on the floor of my room surrounded by a mountain of relics from my past, I tried to imagine myself on the other side of the pandemic. Holding a Kate Spade purse, its leather faded and limp from years of wear, I was overtaken by a feeling of alienation.

In many ways, the girl who’d bought that bag had become a stranger to me. She wore heels to the office and still ascribed to the Gospel of Girl Boss. She’d actually thought the 70-percent-off designer office wear she bought at TJ Maxx would buy her clout in the corporate world. It wasn’t just the purse. Suddenly a closet full of blazers and sheath dresses looked like a hall of artifacts from a bygone era.

Working from home was part of it, of course, but there was also a deeper disillusionment with the kinds of things I’d been taught to want and the kind of society that upheld them. Amid economic recession, vast inequality, and nationwide suffering, items meant to convey status (as impostering as mine ever was) felt more tasteless and wasteful than ever.

The lack of social influence had also distilled my own tastes and desires to become more my own. I didn’t know which style of jeans were in, so I just wore the ones I liked. On weekends, when I was feeling particularly down, I dressed up in outfits for myself alone, noticing they were much bolder and brighter than anything I used to wear in public.

There were other things too. My stack of apocalypse novels, once my preferred genre, seemed redundant if not repulsive against the backdrop of the daily news. I found it hard to believe that I’d once refused to go to the corner store without a coat of mascara. I made a resolution to stop plugging my ears with headphones every time I made an outing, wanting to never take those little daily public interactions for granted again.

As a pinprick of light finally starts to glimmer at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel, items will be jettisoned from our lives as a result of this transformative year, both naturally and by choice. Many people I’ve talked to say they will embrace the mellower, more comfortable norms of the socially distant lifestyle. Others, however, anticipate ricocheting in the opposite direction, choosing maximalism in all aspects of life to get as far away from this traumatic year as possible. But everyone, in one way or another, is leaving something — and some part of themselves — behind.

These responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Foundation

Claire, Los Angeles

Before the pandemic, I did not leave the house without foundation. I couldn’t stand the pinkness of my face, and I had really bad adult acne until a few years ago. Men on the street would often ask me about it or make fun of me. I felt embarrassed to be out in the world without makeup.

For a long time, I refused to have mirrors in my house. Now I’m on Zoom all the time, and before I discovered hide self-view I was constantly seeing my own face. For the first time it was like, “Yeah, I’m a pink person. So what?” It just seemed so insignificant suddenly. My appearance, the idea of having my face perceived by other people, started to feel so much less fragile. We were all just little faces on the screen.

I think there’s still fun to be had with makeup. There’s a big difference between a statement lip or black eyeliner — the kind of makeup that’s about being more expressive — and the kind of makeup that’s meant for hiding your face.

Nonlocal shopping

Patricia, Brooklyn

All this excess that people have been chasing … Now the pandemic has forced us into thinking, “Why do we need all of these things?” Now, less is more. I really believe the pandemic is going to change the way we shop. I want people to start buying locally. All the books and clothes that I sell in my store are recyclables. They’re either from thrift shops or donations or finds. Why do I have to go to the source when there’s so much that’s already out there?

I’ve met a lot of people this year in my shop who probably never would have spoken to me before. People were so self-absorbed that they didn’t really engage. Now people share. We all get to learn about each other, which is something I think we as Americans need to do, because then we’ll see how much we have in common — and how together we can create something better. We need to stop with the “me, me, me” attitude, which has not led to anything good. I really believe that the country is changed, or is about to. I think the days of spend, spend, spend and buy, buy, buy, whether we need it or not, are over. I think it’s time for people to rethink, “Where do we go from here?”

Apple Watch

Tobias, Oakland

I took off my Apple Watch at the beginning of the pandemic, and it seems doubtful that I’ll put it back on. I’m multitasking less. Usually if someone’s texting me, it’s not an urgent, “What time are we meeting up?” and it can wait until I’m done with whatever I’m doing. Overall, I’m responding to people a lot slower, which is sometimes good and sometimes feels rude.

It was also very useful while commuting, which I’m not doing anymore. Even as I’ve gotten back into exercising, I’m less inclined to want the whole gamified, “Good job! You burned X calories every day this week!” aspect. It’s an accessory for a version of me that wanted a faster-paced life, and I think I just want that less now.

Alcohol

Ottavia, Los Angeles

My birthday was on March 16, the day things started to get really serious in Los Angeles last year. My partner and I bought a bottle of wine to celebrate, and that’s when I realized that drinking only made me feel so much worse about an already bad situation. Then everything slowed down, especially socially. There wasn’t that much reason to drink, so I stopped.

It was a completely personal thing for me. I know that for other people it can be a comfort, or a part of their routine they don’t want to give up, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. I just know that I feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically. Saving money is a big part of it, too.

I’ve been to small get-togethers and even then I haven’t really wanted to drink. I can have just as nice a time without it.

Sweatpants

Annie, Providence, Rhode Island

When we were all sent home from college last spring, I wore the same sweatpants and sweatshirt for a week and a half. I just couldn’t bring myself to change my clothes. But then as quarantine kept going, I started to push myself to wear things that would make me feel cute.

Now they have me living in a hotel nearby, so whenever I go up to campus it’s kind of an event. I like to wear funky stuff. Anything with a bit more personality, a print, or bright colors. Walking up the hill is my runway now.

The chance to dress up is something I took for granted when I was at school before the pandemic. I would wear sweats to class. I’ll have higher standards for myself now that my time in college has been cut in half. What’s the point of going out and not fully enjoying yourself? For me, getting dressed up is part of that.

Going to bed late

Tori, Houston

I have never been a morning person. I used to stay up until midnight or 1 am and was always my most creative and energetic at night. Then this year I got a new remote job that started at 6:30 am. I was still staying up until 11, and then I’d be a nonfunctioning human until 9 am, which just wasn’t working. Then I read that article in the Cut that says the best time to go to sleep is 8:45, so I started taking melatonin at 8 and passing out before 9.

I not only got so much more work done, I [also] felt like my days were fuller. I got to see the sunrise. I started making these elaborate breakfasts. And going to bed made me so happy! Now if I go out to eat with a friend, I can be more confident in saying I’m not gonna have another drink and going home. I have a bedtime now, and I really do not see that stopping.

It has actually made me more in control of my behavior during the day. I feel calmer, more at peace. Now I‘m most creative in the morning. I have way more energy, and an hour after I wake up, I’m ready to roll. It’s shifted my entire nature. I look back at my pre-pandemic self and she seems like a child! This year, as horrible as it’s been, has been an opportunity to experiment with things we never would have otherwise. It’s shown me who I want to be and what I want for myself — not on a grand scale, necessarily, but every day.

My gym membership

Charlie, Los Angeles

I am going to leave behind my gym membership, which seems like the opposite of what a lot of people are going to do, but I just realized that gyms are a cesspool of germs and a waste of money. I bought myself a set of parallel bars instead to use at home. If I want to exercise, I shouldn’t hold myself hostage by paying for a membership. I should just get my ass out of bed and work out.

Instagram

Kate, Longmont, Colorado

I used to use Instagram a lot when I was actually doing things — visiting friends, going on work trips, doing things with my spouse. It was like I was telling the world, “Look at what this says about me!” I’ve been asking myself why I never feel inclined to put any part of my life into a semipublic forum anymore.

My last Instagram post was a picture of me and my chicken, the last week of March 2020. Now, it’s like, what am I gonna show you, a picture of the 34 hats I knitted in 2020? This weird cocktail I made up? My dogs? I just didn’t care anymore about broadcasting my life. It made me realize that curating this grid for a bunch of people you don’t know that well was always pretty meaningless.

The moment it really changed for me was during the Black Lives Matter protests in June. So many people used Instagram as this virtue-signaling tool. On one hand, it’s like, yes, every person should be active in this movement. On the other hand, so many of those people were the same people who went on vacation to Mexico in October. They went to one protest and haven’t worked for any significant change since. Then they’re going on this very same app to showcase activities that actively put lives in danger.

I only have so much energy in a day. Now I want to put that energy and effort I used to put into Instagram into actively engaging with the world and the people I care about.

Airport lounge passes

Katharina, Atlanta

If I can, I’ll always travel as much as humanly possible. The pass has always been worth it in the past, especially with a baby in tow. But I suspect prices will go up — the airlines will have to get their lost revenue somehow — and travel now is just weird. Buffets at lounges are questionable, and how quickly will we be comfortable with a packed lounge? Things will be odd for a good while. Plus, several countries will have tight border restrictions for another year minimum, I’m sure. Travel will not be easy, fast, or cheap in the foreseeable future. So I may well give it up for at least a year or two. I remain hopeful it won’t be longer.

In-person first dates

Sarah, New York

There are so many advantages to a remote first date. I can see if they actually look like their pictures, we can see if we have a connection, it requires minimal makeup, I can throw on a cute top with sweatpants, and it takes 45 minutes. You have much more control over the environment and the situation that you don’t feel like you need a drink. There’s no risk involved. When I do decide to leave my house, it’s not for the possibility of something, it’s for something real.

I’ll definitely keep doing things this way post-pandemic. As you get older, carving out time to date takes more of a commitment. It’s about prioritizing my own time, deciding what’s worth the effort and what isn’t.

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