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Pandemic Purchases Range From Sensible to Silly

Some spark delight, others bring buyer’s remorse

By Patricia Corrigan

When travel restrictions curtailed Jan and Jerry Paul's long-awaited trips to Scandinavia and Italy last fall, they bought a secondhand motor home. "Stymied by being unable to fly, we immediately jumped on the road for a two-week tour of the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks," Jan said.  

A middle-aged couple hugging next to a band new RV. Purchases, Next Avenue
Jerry and Jan Paul and their RV  |  Credit: Jerry and Jan Paul

Since then, they have traveled from their home in Colorado to two additional national parks, northern Mexico and Sedona, Ariz. Next, the retirees will head northwest, to explore Washington and Oregon.

"We tent-camped a lot when we were a young couple, and laughed at the old folks in their Winnebagos with TVs," Jan said. "Now we can't get enough of RV travel."

Take that, pandemic!

Motor home sales spiked last year but while stuck at home we also bought air purifiers, weighted blankets, home exercise equipment and tech accessories.

Book sales increased, too. What other pandemic purchases did we make? Friends and friends of friends report buying everything from a battery-operated eyelash curler to spice rack organizers to a fourth of a cow.

Socks, a Reed Diffuser and a (Temporary) Meat Mallet

Obviously, comfort in trying times comes in many forms — and sometimes, in pairs. Not surprisingly, socks have been in great demand.

Friends and friends of friends report buying everything from a battery-operated eyelash a fourth of a cow.

"All summer long, through the holidays and into spring this year, people have loved buying our non-skid slipper socks," said Laura Konner, the buyer at Sockshop Haight Street, in San Francisco.

Patterned socks, sold with markers, have been another top seller. "You color in the design yourself, and the socks fit kids from age 5 up to adult women," Konner said. "These socks have kept kids entertained and helped fill those long lockdown weeks."

Locally and women-owned, the store carries more than 50 brands and thousands of designs. Tourists tend to buy socks with a San Francisco theme or a hippie motif, but the last pair I bought, for a friend, featured hedgehogs.

Like so many small businesses, the Sockshop survived the pandemic through online sales, curbside pickup service and lots of patience and love from loyal customers all over the country, Konner said. She added, "And we're grateful."

Close up of 5 wool dryer balls in an orange netted bag. Purchases, Next Avenue
Dryer Balls  |  Credit: Patricia Corrigan

I'm grateful for two modest purchases: a reed diffuser, which gently perfumes my bedroom, and wool dryer balls, which replace dryer sheets. I can't imagine why I waited so long to buy either product.

Barbara Ballinger, co-author with Margaret Crane of "Suddenly Single after 50" and "Not Dead Yet: Rebooting Your Life after 50," would understand. She procrastinated for years before buying a meat mallet, her favorite pandemic purchase.

"It's fabulous for pounding chicken cutlets ultra-thin," said Ballinger, 72. "Then I coat them in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and then turn them into chicken piccata, chicken Milanese and chicken eggplant Parmesan. These have been my favorite meals of the last twelve months."

Ballinger, who lives in upstate New York, also bought a milk frother, a doughnut mold and a firepit.

What's next? Another meat mallet. Ballinger gave away her favorite kitchen tool in March, when her daughters came to visit after a long separation due to the pandemic. "I bragged about mine so much and then I ended up giving it to my older daughter," she said. "I absolutely will buy another mallet."


Skincare Products, Better Bedding and a Bird Bath

Eve Lynch, 56, will not buy another battery-operated eyelash curler. "It actually works, kind of, with patience, but it's still poorly made junk and not worth twenty-one dollars. I don't use it," said Lynch, a proofreader and copy editor who lives in San Francisco. In contrast, she is pleased about her skincare purchases.

"I've been on a skincare journey for the last year, aided by the algorithms that homed in on me as a sucker for any new moisturizer," Lynch said. "I've tried many different products, and have settled on retinol-containing night creams. My skin looks great, so no regrets there." She also scored some gently used blouses on eBay, to wear for Zoom meetings.

A stand mixer attachment for peeling fruits and vegetables saves her no time, but Dean McDonald, of Chevy Chase, Md., has no regrets.

One friend in suburban St. Louis was excited to buy a gym membership early in 2020 — just before gyms were shut down.

Another optimistically bought Marie Kondo's book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up." A year later, the book sits unopened on the nightstand, she said, "and the house is still not tidy."

Stacy West, also of St. Louis, spent $100 on a ramp to help her aging dog get in the car, but said he wants nothing to do with it. West, 55, spent some money on herself as well, upping her kitchen organization game with new shelves and decking out her bed with a mattress topper and new pillows. She's content.

A stand mixer attachment for peeling fruits and vegetables saves her no time, but Dean McDonald, of Chevy Chase, Md., has no regrets. She also bought a robot vacuum, a bird bath and bird feeders that attach to the deck railing. "Watching birds has been scientifically proven to make people happy," said McDonald, 71. "I'm happy with all these purchases."

A Board Game, Newspaper Subscriptions and 'A Lot of Roasts'

Cheri Sullivan, of Redwood City, Calif., replaced a well-used game of Rummikub. "The yellow numbers were so hard to read, and it bothered us every time we played — and we were playing it a lot," said Sullivan, 69.

Acknowledging that they watch more TV than in the past, the family also subscribed to three streaming services. "We did it one at a time, feeling profligate spending the money at first, but soon realizing how much pleasure we got," Sullivan said.  

Lorilee and Michael Cortopassi of Louisville bought "anything and everything to make our nest more comfy, organized, beautiful or fun, inside and out," said Lorilee, 68.

Purchases include pickle ball paddles and a net, shelves and organizers for the laundry room and hundreds of bulbs, plants and trees for the yard. She added, "And a subscription to The New York Times, to bring the world here."

Cindi Schwartz also popped for a New York Times subscription, and the resident of Hamilton, Mont., said she reads it often. She does regret buying 100 surgical masks, though. "Turns out our entire family got vaccinated about three months before I thought we would, so I have about ninety high-quality, expensive surgical masks I won't use," she said.

Feeling pressure to stock up early on in the pandemic affected many people. One friend bought lots of dried beans and chickpeas. "Those were stupid purchases," she said. "I didn't eat them before the pandemic and I'm not eating them now."

Annette Borghardt, 59, has been eating a lot of beef. When her daughters proposed buying shares in an entire cow, Borghardt, who lives in Jefferson City, Mo., signed up for a fourth of the meat.

"We've eaten almost all the hamburger, but there are a lot of roasts in one-fourth of a cow — a lot," Borghardt said. "We had to buy a freezer."

Photograph of Patricia Corrigan
Patricia Corrigan is a professional journalist, with decades of experience as a reporter and columnist at a metropolitan daily newspaper, and a book author. She now enjoys a lively freelance career, writing for numerous print and on-line publications. Read more from Patricia at Read More
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