Lessons from 2020: What to Take Into the New Year

Look back or look forward? It’s an easy choice for most of us as this new year approaches. There are years when we look back fondly on the previous 12 months, grateful for our blessings and almost wary of any changes that might rock the boat as the calendar changes.

Not this year. Most of us are all too eager to put the turmoil and tragedy of 2020 behind us and look ahead to the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. After months of lockdowns, remote work, canceled trips, and the like, we’re eager to get back to normal, even if it takes a while.

But there’s the rub: It’s not like flipping a light switch. Things won’t change back to “the way they were” overnight, if they ever do. That’s why, as painful as it is, it’s important to look back on 2020 for lessons we can learn — and build upon — as the new year approaches. Here are just a few things to keep in mind.

Make a clean sweep.

If you’re really tired of looking back on 2020, consider taking the symbolic step of clearing away the clutter in your life and home. Sure, you’ll want to keep some reminders of better times, but new years are for fresh starts, and this is a fantastic time to take inventory of your belongings (it helps for insurance purposes, too!) and discard what no longer suits you.

Want a new entertainment room? Home office? Guest room? Maybe you’ve been thinking about remodeling to increase your living space, but it’s a lot cheaper (and less hassle) to clear away boxes, clutter, and unused hand-me-downs that are taking up space you already have. If the kids have moved out or you have a finished basement you’re using for storage, you’ve got everything you need for a new home “destination spot.”

All you need to do to start is go through things and create “keep” / “donate” / “discard” piles. Then take everything from the second pile to your nonprofit of choice (or call them for curbside pickup). Next, throw everything in the third category into a rented dumpster that can be delivered and carted off a week later. It’s inexpensive and can be done while maintaining social distancing. 

Keep communication open.

It may seem counterintuitive, but many of us actually communicated better after the virus hit than we did before. It was easy to take in-person meetings for granted and wish to sit through fewer of them, as a result. But when that option was off the table, we suddenly realized how important it was to stay in touch.

We began Skyping, Zooming, and FaceTiming more than ever. We started writing more (and longer) emails to stay in touch with friends and family. Some of us even put old-fashioned paper letters in the mailbox. 

Once we get the chance to start meeting more safely in person again — whenever that is — we shouldn’t discard the new communication skills we’ve acquired. If there’s one thing 2020 has taught us, it’s that things we once took for granted aren’t guaranteed. That’s a lesson we should remember moving forward.

Be prepared for anything.

Disasters can arise when you least expect, and take forms you’d never have imagined. If you live in tornado country, you’re prepared for that; or if you’re in California, you know what an earthquake feels like. But a worldwide pandemic? Who could have predicted that?

It’s hard to forecast when smaller-scale crises can hit, too — and sometimes, they can arise at just the wrong time. If you blow a tire in the middle of nowhere, it’s a good idea to have a jack and a spare (or roadside assistance and a good cellphone signal). If your furnace goes out when it’s below freezing and snowing outside, you could be in for a long, cold night, especially if you don’t have money set aside to fix it.

Your homeowner’s insurance might cover a leaky roof, but it won’t cover a system failure. So consider a home warranty to plan for repairs to your major systems like plumbing and air conditioning, and big appliances like your dishwasher. 

Expand your horizons.

One key takeaway from 2020 is that it’s better to be versatile than rigid, better flexible than stuck in a rut. In addition to all the new safety skills you learned, maybe you had to learn some new professional skills to generate extra income or cover for other workers at your place of employment.

Whether it’s a new computer program, a lifesaving skill like CPR, or learning to drive a stick-shift, you’ll find yourself more marketable and more confident when you acquire new skills. And it’s even more fun doing so because you want to than doing it under pressure to adapt to something like a pandemic or workplace upheaval.

Just because 2020 was a major pain in the neck, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn some valuable lessons from it. It changed us in positive ways, too, and we shouldn’t forget that. Adapting and moving forward with those lessons in our pocket can give us greater peace of mind — and the ability to handle the future curveballs life will doubtless throw our way in 2021 and beyond.

By Jessica Larson

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