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Coping With Coronavirus Downtime

First, I hope you are able to work from home and receive a full paycheck. If not, I hope your employer is paying you, either your full paycheck or at least a partial one.

If you’re in the latter category, I suggest you call your landlord/mortgage company, utilities, and credit card company. Be upfront and explain your situation. Right now, firms are being flexible with their customers, so this is the best time for you to take action. And there are other things you can do to protect your sanity:

Examine your healthcare coverage. If you have coverage through your employer, make sure it’s still active. If you are paying for it in some other way, set aside “untouchable” money to keep your policy in force. Our nation is in a disease crisis, and having health insurance is a top priority in your efforts to stay safe. 

Turn off the television. Limit your news media viewing to no more than one hour or less per day. Much of the news is simply: the number of cases is rising and the stock market is bouncing up and down. Having this repeated constantly throughout the day would put anyone’s nerves on edge.

Now let’s look at some useful activities you can do while you wait to go back to the office, or during your work-at-home break.

Taxes. The IRS April 15 deadline is still in force. If you do your own tax preparation, get it done now. If you expect to receive a refund, there’s no better time to file your taxes and nab that extra cash. If you use an accountant or a tax prep service, make certain they will be able to file your returns by April 15. If you haven’t sent your tax materials to your tax return preparer, hustle up. Many accounting firms have secure online portals for submitting documents. If you’re uncomfortable doing that, use FedEx or UPS for overnight delivery. Good news — for most people who owe taxes, the filing deadline has been pushed back by 90 days to July 15.

Census. Everyone in America received a U.S. Census form recently. Use your downtime to fill it out now. You can complete your Census form online or via the paper form. If you need help completing the form, call the Census Bureau at: 1-844-330-2020.

Online Bill Payments. If you are of a certain age, perhaps you’ve never gotten around to making routine bill payments online from your checking account. This is a good time to make a change. For starters, consider using your bank’s online service for items requiring fixed payments, such as car loans. If you use a paper check register, be sure to include the online payments as you would with a check payment.

Here are more ideas:

Clean up your yard. Raking and pulling weeds are great physical activities to reduce stress. Get the kids involved—make a game out of who can collect the most dead leaves. Trim your shrubs (there are YouTube videos on that). Make a note of any work needed involving trees, and contact your tree service. Don’t try to lop off branches yourself! Your emergency room has all the business it can handle right now; don’t add to their problems.

Plant a garden. It’s early spring—generally a good time to plant. Online nurseries will ship plants to you. Be sure to purchase plants that are appropriate to your region. Warning: don’t go overboard on plantings! Online sites show lush gardens, but when the coronavirus crisis is over, will you have time to do such intense gardening? Be realistic and choose a few low-maintenance plants that are hard to kill.

Small projects. Do you have a stack of pictures waiting to go up on your walls? When was the last time someone vacuumed behind and/or under the sofa? Ditto for the bedroom furniture. Check your floorboards—if some are loose, use a hammer and a thin nail to fix them. 

Fridge and pantry. What’s at the bottom of your freezer and at the back of your pantry? Toss expired food. If food is in cans or jars, dump the contents into your garbage disposal (while running plenty of water so your drainage pipes don’t back up), and recycle containers.

Take the Kondo approach to clutter. You may have heard of Marie Kondo, the Japanese lady who advocates ‘tidying up’. Her basic philosophy is: if a thing does not bring you joy, discard it. This site has lots of suggestions on how to Kondo-tidy, but here are some basics:

Clothing (adult). If you haven’t worn an item in a year, remove it. If the item is clean and undamaged, consider donating it (when donation sites and rummage sales re-open). Take the unwanted item out of the closet and put it in the ‘donation’ box. Or sell it by opening an account at one of these online used clothes retailers (in no particular order):

Clothing (kids). Donate clean clothing only. Toss the rest. Consider selling an item only if it’s from a designer label (see ThredUp and Poshmark above).

Home goods. If you have clean, undamaged items (that do not bring you joy) in your living and dining rooms, put them in the donation box, or see if they’re good candidates for selling on Poshmark. Caution: millennials are not interested in collecting sentimental things like Hummel figurines. If your late aunt left you a collection of Royal Doulton or Wedgwood lady figurines, you might be able to sell them for $40 each. Anything that dates from the 1800s is worth more. 

In short, how someone uses their downtime is their choice. You can watch a 24/7 news channel and munch anti-depressants like candy. Or you can use this time productively, even if you’re working from home already. 

And when the crisis is over, you’ll have a cleaner home, yard and closet. Plus, you’ll have bragging rights for being the recycle champion on your block. Best of all, you will have weathered this crisis with less stress, and that’s a very good thing.

Joanne Butler is a senior economics fellow at the Caesar Rodney Institute of Delaware.

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