Feature

Buy yourself a pandemic anniversary present

You deserve it

You did it. You made it to March.

It probably doesn't feel like a cause for celebration, though. Over half a million Americans are dead, and some 22 million lost their jobs last year. Most of us don't have a heroic story to tell about our experience during the pandemic: We stayed inside, we wore masks, we banged on pots and pans at 7 p.m., and we played a lot of Animal Crossing.

But be gentle: You've now lived through a year of a pandemic. There are worse ways of coping with this anniversary than indulging in a small kindness to yourself. A pandemic anniversary present might sound like a strange idea, but consider looking at this benchmark not as just another grim milestone, but also the accomplishment that it is.

Since the beginning, the pandemic has been a retail story as well as a health one. When lockdown was still crystallizing into a reality around this time last year, the news was crowded with headlines about panic buying, toilet paper scarcity, and if sales of the beer Corona were taking a hit. At the same time, impulse purchases shot up, with "nearly one in four [customers] saying they've bought themselves a treat that they've had their eye on for a while," according to a survey by Slickdeals.

My own self-soothing involved buying a pink "cozy knit" lounge set from the Kim Kardashian brand Skims. It was March 17, 2020, my second full day of quarantine, and I'm not entirely sure I was thinking straight. I don't even especially like Kim Kardashian, or have any sort of attraction to her brands. My reasoning just went something like, if I'm going to be working from home for the next two weeks, I might as well be "cozy."

The lounge set — which I ended up wearing for way more than two weeks — was also my last purely indulgent purchase before, well, you remember. What followed were months of record-breaking layoffs and unemployment, including in my industry. My partner and I battened down our financial hatches. Across the nation, retail sales plummeted, with clothing in particular dropping 79 percent in April 2020 compared to the month prior.

But as people settled into the long haul of life in lockdown, spending by American customers started to recover. "Many people are looking for items that can make their time at home more comfortable or, at the very least, palatable," The Washington Post reported in October, going on to quote Elias Aboujaoude, a professor and expert on impulse control, who explained that "in uncertain times, there's some comfort people can find in the physicality or realness of items they buy, because everything else can feel uncertain and undetermined."

Though it might sound depressing — that we live in such a consumerist society that even in the face of a mortal crisis we can't stop buying rollerblades — these are indeed extraordinary times. There is no inherent moral failing to seeking out the temporary mood-lift of treating yourself to something that will make you happy, assuming it's done within your financial means and in moderation. I recently adored going through this thread of people reporting on the seemingly frivolous but joy-inducing doodads they've bought while coping: a banana-shaped cat bed, a nautical-themed mechanical keyboard, a headstand stool, a rainbow wolf hat with paw pockets.

We know that anxiety and sadness can increase on the anniversary of traumatic events. So as March progresses, acknowledge that, for many of us, the past year was the most difficult of our lives. Even if you aren't a frontline worker, the pandemic has almost certainly taken a toll on your mental, emotional, or physical health, since even basic day-to-day responsibilities like work and parenting have been dramatically disrupted. As one Canadian federal agency summed it up in an oft-repeated quote to their employees: "You are not 'working from home,' you are 'at your home during a crisis trying to work.'"

So take this anniversary as permission to cut yourself some slack. Buy that strawberry stem remover. You deserve it.

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