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We'll be nice and call it a character-building year.

By Maggie Seaver and Real Simple Editors
February 25, 2021
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There are some things you don't learn about yourself—and life—until everything you know is thrown into relief. Or into a devastating pandemic. It's been a year of loss: loss of life, jobs, interactions, motivation, opportunity, spontaneity, normalcy. But it's also been a year of unexpected gains: new hobbies and skills, more moments with loved ones, a bounty of TikTok videos, extra time to cook, or a fresh sense of purpose or clarity. While no one's asking to do it all over again (please, never again), consider: This version of you never would have existed without the last 12 months' challenges and changes. So it's always worth meditating on the lessons, large and small, that we've learned throughout this unique and universal moment of chaos. 

And what have we learned? That when life gives us lemons, like the doozies we got in 2020, somehow everyone will, at their own pace and in their own way, learn to make a version of lemonade that works for them. 

Here, Real Simple staff members share their biggest takeaways and strokes of insight—both playful and profound—while waiting out the pandemic from home. 

1
The importance of rituals

"I’ve realized the importance of rituals. Daily habits like hot coffee, time spent with a good book, or cooking a simple dinner are all essential. The sanity-saving rituals I’ve adopted throughout the past year remind me that it’s important to slow down and show up for myself in small ways, every single day."

—Rachel Sylvester, Senior Editor

2
Not to take anything for granted

"I learned not to take anything for granted, whether it's spending time with friends and loved ones outside of my household, or watching my kids play soccer early on Sunday mornings—even the me-time I had on my three-hour commute!"

—Jennifer Davidson, Deputy Editor, RealSimple.com

3
How much my dog loves and needs me

"That [my dog] Milo loves and needs me as much as I love and need him. This dog hasn’t left my side in 12 months, and I take his mental health and happiness even more seriously now than I ever did before. I am even happier to walk him, snuggle with him, and play with him knowing how good it is for his health."

—Liz Vaccariello, Editor-in-Chief

4
We don't need all the extra noise

"I’ve learned that we really don’t need all that extra noise in our lives. When you strip away all the tidbits of our normal day-to-day, the things that remain and matter most are friends, family, and self-care. The core of who we are and what we need to achieve happiness is very different when the excess is dissolved."

—Muzam Agha, Photo Director

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5
There's always room for dinner

“I’ve discovered that during the workday, I can eat my weight in Nabisco—and still find room for dinner.”

—Rory Evans, Executive Editor

6
To appreciate small moments of peace

"I used to get so impatient at long red lights. Now I spend so much time at home (and with my kids!) that I revel in the chance to be still and alone in the car. This past year has taught me to grab these precious moments of peace and solo time where I can find them. [Also] I never realized how much I took school for granted—how much of an anchor it was and how much my children and I thrived on our simple routine."

—Maya Kukes, Contributing Senior Research Editor

7
How much going to the movies means

"I never realized how much my AMC Stubs A-List pass meant to me—until I found myself considering renting out a movie theater for $150."

—Hana Hong, Associate Digital Editor

8
To be grateful I'm a homebody

"If anything, I’ve learned to be grateful for my own ability to entertain myself. I used to wish I was inclined to be more social, but my 'homebodiness' and the satisfaction and enjoyment I can get from a night at home reading or watching a favorite show has made being at home all the time a lot easier. (I can’t imagine facing the last 11 months as an extrovert.) I’ll be very ready to socialize once it’s safe, though!"

—Lauren Phillip, SEO Editor

RELATED: The Pandemic Has Taught Us That It’s OK to Not Be OK

9
To find solace and calm in the middle of chaos

"I discovered—and fell in love with—Prospect Park. It’s this gorgeous expanse of green in my Brooklyn neighborhood that’s actually bigger (but less famous) than Central Park in New York City. Once the pandemic hit New York hard last spring, and the city went into lockdown, the park became my escape. I spent hours wandering through it, getting lost on the wooded trails, and finding solace and calm in the middle of an otherwise chaotic and entirely unpredictable time."

—Heather Morgan Shott, Senior Director, Digital Content Strategy, Home

10
I miss my long commute

"I used to constantly complain about my five-hour daily train commute, but now that I’m home, I really miss the quiet time, doing my makeup, listening to music and podcasts, and napping—I never in a million years thought I’d say that."

—Heather Muir Maffei, Beauty Director

11
I own way too much clothing

"Apparently I have way too many clothes. Obviously I haven’t needed any outfit changes for a while, but now I know I can survive pretty happily in two weeks’ worth of basics without missing a thing. (Also, I think I’m allergic to the word 'unprecedented!')"

—Maggie Seaver, Associate Digital Editor