Three years after the pandemic began, simple items like masks, disinfecting wipes and toilet paper stir up deep memories. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Three years after the pandemic began, simple items like masks, disinfecting wipes and toilet paper stir up deep memories. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Psychological impact of pandemic lingers three years later

When the words “two-item limit” in supermarkets still strike fear, it’s hard to toss pandemic relics like cloth masks.

I’m not saying I’m a hoarder. But I’m not not a hoarder, especially with toilet paper, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. If the double negatives confuse your brain, you’re in good company because my brain’s confused too. All of those items are readily available in stores now, but three years after the pandemic cleared them from shelves, I still feel a zing of terror when I see the words “two item limit.”

It’s the same with masks. We don’t wear masks regularly anymore unless we are in medical facilities, feel a cold coming on or will be near immunocompromised people. Yet I still have a basket of N-95s ready and waiting in my cupboard just in case. I also have three boxes of N-95s in the garage.

The other day I was deep-cleaning the laundry room, and I found a zippered bag full of cloth masks. I couldn’t bear to throw them away and I don’t know why. They’re not as good as the N-95s so why hold on to them? But those cloth masks are not not good. There’s that double negative again.

We bought a Singer sewing machine during the pandemic, and I taught both kids how to use it. They each made their own quilt. We haven’t touched the sewing machine since. For one thing, sewing clothes is more expensive than buying T-shirts at Old Navy. For another, none of us have the time to sew. The sewing machine is not something we use. But it’s not not useful. It doesn’t take up that much space on my bookshelf and what if one day we really need it?

Some weekends when all four members of my family dart off in different directions to a friend’s house, the climbing gym or the mall, a wave of nostalgia hits me hard. Back in 2020, we had more togetherness than I could ever have imagined. Now that sense of extreme closeness is gone. I’m not saying I miss being shut in with my family 24/7. But I’m not not saying I miss it.

GenXers remember grandparents who lived through the Great Depression and baby boomers were raised by them. The Depression scared many people. When my grandma moved out of her house into assisted living she had a garage full of macaroni noodles and yarn. After living through the pandemic I understand why having a lifetime supply of comfort food and crafting materials is a good idea.

I don’t want my future grandchildren to be cleaning out my house some day, finding a dusty bag of cloth masks and chuckling over their discovery. I will not be that grandma. But I’m not not going to be that grandma. They’ll never run out of toilet paper at Grandma’s house, that’s for sure.

Jennifer Bardsley is the author of “Sweet Bliss,” “Good Catch” and more. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as @JenniferBardsleyAuthor. Email her at

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