The 5 year plan....
September 3, 2021 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I've come to terms with the fact that Covid isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and rather than planning out how my family is going to survive the next 3 months or 6 months (because going back to "normal" is just around the bend!), we should make a plan for what the next 3-5 years with covid is going to look like for us. We are on the more cautious side, and plan to stay so. Have you done this? What decisions have you made?

I'm thinking about practical everyday things like, we've found the three shops we like to get Instacart from and how to best order our clothing online, but also larger things, like how we have so far transformed our house (including converting our living room into a playground) and could continue to do so. Similarly, my work is never going to go back to in person, so I need to think about what my permanent home office will be like (and how often I should update it) and what boundaries I need to create with work since it is no longer in a different physical space.

If you have done this or are starting to think about these types of things, I'd like to know what you've done.
posted by Toddles to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
Probably the biggest thing we did was to admit that there are certain family/friends we may never see again. Seriously. We do not abide COVID-deniers and antivax people and they are not welcome to come around and fuck up our risk calculus.

Other than that, we reorganized two rooms into multipurpose rooms (original purpose + office, one for each of us to use for WFH). We were fortunate, because we had a couple of small rooms that had mostly nominal purposes. (Goodbye guest room! You are now an office. No one was coming over to stay anyway. And I did leave a sofa bed in there, just in case. Sewing room: you are now a combo craft room/office, via a bunch of used storage stuff we bought online and some crap from IKEA.)

You may not have an extra bedroom around to turn into an office, but you can sure clean up a section of the laundry room or a large closet or the less-often used side of one room. We're even plotting how to help our kid get a more expansive and comfortable desk space for the inevitable return to remote schooling.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:42 AM on September 3, 2021 [14 favorites]

I've realized that I really need social time to be emotionally healthy, and given that doing that outdoors is much safer I moved to a place with great outdoor space and made that space really comfortable (lights, furniture, smokeless fire pit, etc.) for having folks over. If I had kids, I would focus hard on finding 1-2 ideologically aligned families to pod up with so that kids still have access to peers for social development and such.

I know different folks are different in terms of the risk/benefit of socializing, but that's where things fall for me.
posted by mosst at 8:43 AM on September 3, 2021 [9 favorites]

Also, I really think I benefitted a lot from having a dog through all of this (mostly because he ensured I got out of the house regularly). If you're not currently a dog-having person that might want to become a dog-having person, this is as good a time as it gets.
posted by mosst at 8:46 AM on September 3, 2021 [10 favorites]

Final comment, sorry: one thing I haven't done yet but plan to do in the next few months is to kit out a better home exercise setup. I'm strongly considering a rowing machine.
posted by mosst at 8:49 AM on September 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

We turned the basement into a workout space: I bought a gazelle and a total gym. Big fans of both.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 9:01 AM on September 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

Other things (I've commented on these in other threads, too):
- We are making the outdoors better. For us, this means a second hammock so we don't have to take turns, more outdoor seating for fire pits with friends, and allergy shots for me.
- I am getting physical therapy to hopefully make hiking safer and more enjoyable for me.
- I'm planning holidays now: what foods do I want, since Thanksgiving with family probably isn't going to happen? What movies do I want to watch? What presents do I want to give?
posted by Ms Vegetable at 9:03 AM on September 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

Also, I really think I benefitted a lot from having a dog through all of this (mostly because he ensured I got out of the house regularly). If you're not currently a dog-having person that might want to become a dog-having person, this is as good a time as it gets.

Oh god, yes: THE DOG. How could I fail to emphasize how helpful having a dog has been?

We were never "dog people" before, but we saw a rough road ahead for our only child and it was the best decision we made last year. They say a great dog gives everyone in the family what they need and ours definitely does. I get a loyal buddy, who is always happy to see me. My spouse gets a protector who notices when she's sick or feeling down and makes it his business to stay with her, being reassuringly adorable. And best of all, our kid got through months of isolation/remote learning/remote gaming instead of real play by having a goofy buddy around to keep him company all day. He was never really alone, thanks to the dog.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:06 AM on September 3, 2021 [21 favorites]

We moved to a larger place with enough space for both of us to have, as DirtyOldTown says, two rooms that are primarily a home office and something else. We invested in a nice home theater system and couch (previously, the living room was both our home offices), since we can't imagine going to the movies any time soon

We've worked out arrangements with friends who have large back yards (we're in an apartment) to hang out, outside, as time allows. We bring food, they provide space.

My wife, who is much more an extrovert than I am, has sought out group/social activities she can do remotely, including an volunteer organization that provides mentoring for women early in their careers! She has an hour meeting with someone just about every week.
posted by Alterscape at 9:07 AM on September 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

We have the space so are turning a spare bedroom into a dedicated office with a proper ergonomic and nice (double) screen set up. I will be be going back to work 3 days a week soon and that will become full-time (they say) "soon" (I am in Canada). But my spouse will be working from home from now on with perhaps one day a week in the office.
posted by Lescha at 9:14 AM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

First off, it seems like you are already in the right mindset - not "prepper-level-society-is-collapsing-and-I-need-to-be-entirely-self-sufficent", but "okay, a lot of previous external resources/options are not viable, so how do I need to adjust?"

Echoing others and adding some of my own:

- Invest in your immediate surroundings. Depending on budget and your space, that could range from smaller things like external monitor(s), good office chair, plants, better lighting, etc. to larger things like new furniture, exercise equipment, new tech, remodeling spaces, etc.
- Similar to how you've already changed your living room, we cleared out the dining room and set up working spaces for most of the family there.
- Depending on climate, can you better utilize semi-outdoor spaces? Garages, sheds, patios/screened porches/three-season rooms/sunrooms/lanais/etc. could all potentially be more useful spaces with some investments.
- For the kids, having a few other families on the block that you can trust (with regards to being on the same level of cautiousness) really helps keep them interacting socially (while the weather is nice at least). Some of those semi-outdoor spaces could really be helpful if you have moderate winters.
- Accommodate everyone's unique needs as best as possible. Consider levels of social interaction, physical activity, the need for new experiences vs. routine, etc. And at least for us, everyone's emotions/reactions/needs are being amplified. For example, we've worked out that my introversion means by Friday night, I really need space to recharge while my partner and kids need to get out and socialize to do so. So they all go visit and play (outside) with the neighbors while I have a scheduled video game night online with my brother and a small group of regulars. Other nights, we'll set up a card table and play cards/board games in a driveway while the kids play. This weekend, we're setting up a projector outside for a movie night. Mostly trying to replicate "the old normal" things we would do, but at home or in the neighborhood as best we can.
- All of that said, don't over do it for the kids. Let them get bored enough to use their imaginations. We overcompensated getting more stuff for them to play with since they couldn't go do activities, and (other than a gymnastics bar that takes up a big part of our family room) they don't use most of it. Observe where actual gaps and deficiencies are and address them - don't try to proactively solve problems with more stuff.
- Really looking longer term, consider what big expenses are really needed. We are a family of five, but fell into a situation where we only have one vehicle (granted it's a minivan), but that actually seems to be perfectly fine now that we don't go out as much.
posted by hankscorpio83 at 9:26 AM on September 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

My spouse had two favorite additions to her office (which is also a sewing/craft room) other than storage and a desk.
  1. A decorative room divider screen to block her daytime view of the stuff she doesn't use while working from home
  2. An LG ultrawide 25" monitor. We got ours used on eBay for around $100. We added the DisplayFusion application to her Windows laptop and that let us separate the doublewide screen into two virtual ones: one that is just 600 pixels wide (into which she docks her VoIP client); and another that uses the other 3/4 of the screen as a still very wide screen ideal for perusing dense spreadsheets without having to side-scroll.
I also have a multiple screen setup and it's really the best thing I did for myself. Both 22" monitors were bought on FB marketplace, for a combined $90.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:33 AM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Investing in a few key upgrades to quality of life at home things has been really helpful here, as well as replacing things nearing the end of their useful life. The supply chain being so wonky for so many things, "wait until the refrigerator finally *really* dies and get a replacement the same weekend" is no longer viable for us. So we have orders in for an appliance and a piece of furniture that are backordered for weeks or months, but will be a really good upgrade when we do get them.

Medical checkups that got postponed for the first year of the pandemic can't keep getting postponed indefinitely. We do what we can to keep risks low there, but we're back to doctors' offices for necessary care that can't be done remotely. In one case this has meant changing providers to someone close to my home rather than my office, because "easy to get to from work on a lunch break" isn't useful anymore.

I'm a hardcore hermit-introvert who can socialize remotely forever but if I were not, I'd be investing in upgrading the outdoors as hangout space.
posted by Stacey at 9:39 AM on September 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

Come to terms with travel being MUCH more of a pain in the ass than it used to be.

Domestic travel will require more planning and time (tests before and after, quarantine time until test results, and so on) and flight logistics get more complex (where to do layovers given that some states are run by idiots, etc.) as well.

International travel may be effectively impossible for many people due to variable quarantines, different test requirements being imposed on departure and return, can you get a result within the time required by your destination, can you get a result at your destination within the time required for your return flight, and so on.

This may seem like a "luxury impact" only, but if you've got family overseas it suddenly takes on a different tone. Like, maybe you don't get to attend your mothers' funeral because flights from the US are not allowed, or you can't get a test result in time, etc. Even in the US bereavement travel has become even worse than before.

Less "dang, I wanted to see the Grand Canyon" and more "dang, I guess the kids don't get to see grandma in person ever again"
posted by aramaic at 9:50 AM on September 3, 2021 [17 favorites]

Well, I haven't really been able to do much of anything in terms of adapting my space for a perpetual COVID world, because I have no spare rooms, no basements, no laundry rooms, no outdoor space whatsoever (not even a stoop or a staircase), and I don't own my place so I can't really make any significant changes to it.

So all of my changes have had to be mindset changes, which basically amount to training myself not to like the things I like (friends, good food, live music, ever doing anything at all) or hate the things I hate (my fucking apartment, my laptop, my FUCKING APARTMENT, television).

This means that for-real my actual foreverpandemic plan is: Lots of therapy, multiple times per week, indefinitely. And drugs! And honestly, this is probably good advice for anyone.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:58 AM on September 3, 2021 [21 favorites]

I can try to think about my needs in categories that I think are going to stay changed in the long-term: work, social life, health/fitness, finances, etc. Then, take stock of what I was doing about those things in the Before Times, what I've been doing the last 18 months, and what I want to keep or change about my current situation.

So, for work, I'm always going to be a bit of a workaholic, but when I was in the office most of the time, I had a physical separation from my personal life that allowed my downtime to be completely my own. I think what I've learned this past year is that I both need to decrease the total amount of time I spend working, and set really clear mental and temporal boundaries between work and personal, because to the extent I'm going to be home a lot more, I can't let my work invade my personal time. And yes, splurge for the better desk/chair/monitor/file cabinet/whatever fancy equipment you need to be as productive at home as you are at your office, and to keep your work stuff from taking over your house.

For social life, I'm prioritizing time with people I care about and doing things I enjoy to the extent that it feels safe at any given time. So, when case numbers were low this summer, I spent several hundred dollars to rent out a whole movie theater so that I an a few friends could relatively safely see a movie we were all looking forward to on the big screen. I threw myself an outdoor birthday party, and I suspect I'll be trying to do stuff like that any time case numbers are low enough that I feel safe doing it. I've identified a few bars and restaurants close to my home whose safety protocols I feel good about, and I make a point to patronize them, tip well, and be good to the staff so I know I have places I feel comfortable where I can spend time with friends. I've also figured out who among my friends makes me feel safe: both Covid-safe and emotionally safe in tough times. And I'm prioritizing those relationships, even when some of those friends live far away.

For health and fitness, I rolled my eyes at the Peloton people, but now that I've become one of them, it really is helpful for my physical and mental health. I've also invested in really comfortable, weather-appropriate outdoor gear for each season for activities I enjoy, both to make sure I get out of the house, and to allow me to find joy in things I like that I used to think I could only do seasonally (it turns out you really can go hiking in 90 degree weather or in the snow, if you have the right gear). I've stocked up on all my essential medications and supplements and supplies (masks, sanitizer, toilet paper, etc.) so that if I'm sick or if things start becoming scarce again like they were last spring, I won't be worried about that. And I've made sure I have established relationships with doctors I trust, including a dentist with really outstanding hygiene protocols so that I feel more comfortable getting the care I need when I need it.

For finances, I've increased my long and short term savings goals, so that if I or a loved one gets sick, I don't have to worry about being able to afford leave or plane tickets or horse deworming paste (kidding!) that we might need to allow me to care for myself or a loved one in an emergency. My job is very secure, but I'm being more cautious about my spending. And instead of buying stuff, I'm trying to spend money on experiences, both because this year has made me crave doing *something*, and because I don't need to clutter up my house with stuff. I've sold off parts of a large collection I've had for years, because I realized that it wasn't that important to me to have carefully preserved boxes of memorabilia taking up space in my closet. I'd rather have the money and be able to use it to spend time with friends, do something fun, or even just stash away in savings.

I'm not confident that all of this will stick, but that's how I'm thinking about planning for the future. Hope this helps!
posted by decathecting at 10:03 AM on September 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

If you have a house with a yard, discover gardening. Not necessarily growing veggies, but understanding your soil, your drainage, where the sun shines and where it doesn't, which native plants are already there and which ones might do well. Have a household garden budget, and budget time for gardening. Get to know your local garden center people, and local people who are gardening-savvy. Explore garden books, gardening videos and TV shows, visit great gardens near you. Observe the plants and trees in nearby fields and woods. Set reasonable gardening goals for each year, don't overdo it. Don't invest too much in your lawn, focus on the trees, shrubs, and plants. If a big gardening project is too much, start a small one: a rock garden with miniature plants can be done in just a few square feet.

If you're an apartment dweller, apply all of the above to houseplants. Gardening will help you get to sleep better — just visualize your current gardening project and you'll fall asleep in minutes.
posted by beagle at 10:05 AM on September 3, 2021 [6 favorites]

I'm shifting my activism work to fully online, and I just sent in my application to become a Notary Public. It's a nerdy thing that others don't realize is needed, I find *fascinating* in some odd way, and it's something I can do easily.

In Washington State, Remote Online Notarizations are legal now - and I do activism in the LGBTQIA+ space, where often people needs to get documents notarized. I already aligned with one org in WA State to help their clients with any Notarizations that they need. For now, they'll be in person, but I'm going to aim to have an online setup ready by the beginning of next year.

I totally am not planning on turning this into an online hustle or a second career, but also making a few bucks putting my official stamp on things wouldn't hurt.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:31 AM on September 3, 2021 [16 favorites]

Check your internet-access options, and upgrade if possible/useful. I'm lucky -- switching to fiber from cable actually CUT my bill.
posted by humbug at 10:33 AM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

In some ways, I think it's too soon to plan. For example, it's pretty clear that we will continue to move slowly to near-universal vaccination (including boosters), but it's not at all clear what that means about how prevalent the disease will be in the brave new world. In addition to vaccination, there will be disease-specific treatments (think Tamiflu for Covid-19) and monoclonal antibodies. Probably there will still be deaths as there are for ordinary flu.

Covid-19 will certainly put even more pressure on brick and motor retail. Design of stores may change with emphasis on things not easy to evaluate via the internet.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:34 AM on September 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

This is kind of grim, but I also positively maxed the shit out of all of the life insurance options I had through my employer when I enrolled for 2021. It's not my favorite thing to throw money at, but during this awful time, if something were to happen to me, my spouse and our kid could pay off any/all of our debt and would have enough left to buy the house outright with a cushion after or pull up stakes and try a new life somewhere.

There are probably more pragmatic, less pessimistic things I could do with that X amount of dollars per month, but it buys me a lot of comfort, too, and that isn't nothing.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:08 AM on September 3, 2021 [10 favorites]

1. I run a small business in an industry that was seriously impacted by the pandemic. I made significant changes to my company's operating model and services provided that will likely stay in place even once (fingers crossed, pleasseeeee) things get better. Casual business travel in my field appears to no longer be a thing at all, and I'm adjusting the way I find clients as a result.

2. Lifestyle changes. If I'm planning on eating indoors and see that the restaurant is poorly ventilated/tables are too close together, that's a big nope for me. Avoiding supermarket/mall shopping at peak hours until positivity levels get better where I live. My family loves roadtrips, but there are certain nearby counties/areas we're avoiding indoor stuff because very few people take Covid precautions. This has been a big change from our old life of hitting the road anywhere and everywhere.

3. Being creative with finding ways to spend time outdoors/socialize in well-ventilated spaces. We've started spending a lot more time in parks, steering our going out towards bars and restaurants that are well-ventilated and space out seating, and doing outdoor stuff with the kid.
posted by allthethings at 12:01 PM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Re finances, if you are at all considering retiring or transitioning jobs, look carefully at your budget and insurance and work benefits. I revised my benefit levels and stayed in my old job until I felt I had solid other options, and I'm still constantly reviewing long term finances and keeping feelers out for those rare positions with great benefits while still WFH with work-life balance.
posted by beaning at 12:18 PM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yard and porch and dog. I have a four-friends, every-sunday yardwork date that has saved everyone's minds and that we'll probably continue as long as we're ambulatory. Gardening: I suck at it and don't want to throw away money when I know I'm not going to support the plants sufficiently to make the money back, so the only things I buy are fruit trees. If you can manage to not kill them long enough that they establish, they look out for themselves, largely, and they produce. I love my fig and my parson brown orange. For non-tree things, I just put seeds in the ground from stuff I bought at the farmers' market and see what happens. Usually nothing. But I did grow a squash that actually produced a tiny squash. I planted some avocado sprouts (planted three in a hole to kind of bonsai them) that have survived for months and have some mangoes sprouted that I'm about to do the same way. Sweet potatoes, of course. And a single yam that I got from my friend and cut up and planted has now crawled up the fig tree and begun producing bulbils. It should begin dropping yams on my head any month, now. Compost because feeding larvae is for some reason pleasing. All this is sure a lot easier if you have outside space in Zone 9, of course, but if not, you can try to sprout seeds inside and grow herbs and tiny little trees in pots.

Holidays are on someone's porch or in someone's yard, as are parties and just hanging out one on one. Restaurants should all have porches.

If you don't have pets, poach the pets of others. My friend's dog, while she lived, was an enormous source of covid comfort to all who knew her despite being cantankerous and nippy. I hope somebody gets another dog soon or we'll all be declining.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:39 PM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

I already had a small chest freezer (in a one-bedroom apartment!) and a bidet sprayer for years before COVID. Can't recommend both of them highly enough. In Spring 2020 I upgraded a few kitchen items (Vitamix FTW) because the sales were crazy. Last summer, when we realized this would not be over I got a smokeless firepit and nice chairs for the balcony, because the only friends I saw pre-vax were outside.

Have doubled down on keeping my space fresh and nice at all times.

Tentatively, my tribe plans to hold Thanksgiving and Christmas, with everyone (we are all obviously vaxxed) pre-testing and then quarantining until the big days. Last year it was all virtual, and it was sad.

Not a dog person, but my cat has been a gift from the gods. Also upped the houseplants, sourdough starter ... things that need care to stay alive are good for the soul.
posted by cyndigo at 1:49 PM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

We aren’t currently able to move to a bigger house, and we don’t foresee going to the gym again anytime in the foreseeable future, so we’ve changed our workout regimen to “which workouts can we do, together, in the narrow space between the computer desk and the wall?”

YouTube small-space workouts, and running on-the-spot while we watch TV on the computer, have weirdly helped us get in better shape than the gym membership ever did. We plan to continue them indefinitely.

More broadly, our mindset has been “can we adapt our living situation, and if not, can we adapt our approach to the situation that is?”
posted by armeowda at 2:11 PM on September 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

I agree about pets in general... but before you commit to an animal, please find a vet that has the capacity to take you on as a client. I know they've been slammed by COVID adoptions, and it can be hard to find a practice that will take you on. Just make sure you get that sorted before you get a pet; you don't want to stress about it in the event of illness/accident.

You could also, if you have the space/tolerance for cleaning up poopy kittens, foster kittens :) or other animals from a local shelter. Typically their vet care is already accounted for and you wouldn't be charged for it.
posted by snerson at 2:13 PM on September 3, 2021 [6 favorites]

Mostly just chiming in to say, thanks for this question. It clarified that I need to think about what will make this fall/winter better, and apparently that is a smokeless fire pit.

My answer to the question: we spent the past year finishing our detached garage to be a combo WFH office for me and home gym for both of us. Now that we have a possible move on the horizon, our next house selection will account for WFH space for both of us, as well as making sure there’s enough space for both of us to exist together, all the time. It will also have room for gardening because that’s a hobby we’ve both adopted this year+.
posted by bluloo at 4:28 PM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Most of what I've done has been covered, so I'll share what hasn't:

While I'm still being much more cautious than most people outside my immediate bubble, I'm also willing to spend my small risk budget on a few infrequent things that are important to me. So I've built up a trusted network of service providers for physical therapy, other medical care, and personal grooming stuff. These are people I know have been vaccinated, have a clean and well-ventilated space, enforce distancing and separation, and mask appropriately even when not at work. That way I'm able to get a few things taken care of that were very challenging to be without during the height of the pandemic, while also not elevating my risk too much, or being anxious about a new provider or a new space.
posted by rhiannonstone at 5:21 PM on September 3, 2021 [7 favorites]

I’m not saying go out and buy bulk of everything, but given the ripples of supply chain disruptions I have taken to keeping one full backup of most essential supplies in my pantry/medicine cabinet. We have some special dietary/meds needs, and knowing that we always have an extra—and have a large cushion to wait it out if something is backordered—has significantly reduced my stress levels and prevented anyone going without something they really need.

We do live in a small apartment, so once we realized this was going to be our new normal we added a storage cabinet to the bathroom and a “backup pantry” in the living room (just an IKEA bookshelf with opaque doors)—logistically it’s a little weird, but it’s where we could fit it. It wasn’t a huge change, but it’s definitely paid dividends for our health and my peace of mind.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 11:32 AM on September 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

I took my crappy little garage gym setup and completely upgraded it. I wish I had done this 10 years ago. With a little research it’s amazing what you can do with a little bit of space. This included not only very versatile equipment and weights but also a mirror, wall fans, a clock, a television, sonos and painting of the walls. Being able to get a quality workout done without leaving your house is a game changer for me.
posted by jasondigitized at 2:46 PM on September 5, 2021

Post-vaccination I was initially thinking that I had kind of wasted a year and change that I had few distractions and I could have undertaken a couple of large projects which I had never gotten around to. Now I realize that I have more time than I thought to tackle these things. So... silver lining?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:30 AM on September 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

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