In this Nov. 23, 2020, file photo, Sarah Farrugia sits at her working nook at the dining room table in her Falmouth home. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

There’s no doubt that 2020 was a tough year for many Mainers as the COVID-19 pandemic changed how we live, work and learn. But more than that, it forced many to reconsider things previously taken for granted.

In many ways, though, it was also a year that people grew and learned more about being self-sufficient. The obstacles thrown at people became opportunities and the challenges became calls for change.

Here’s what Mainers faced in 2020 at home.

Cleaning everything

In this March 2, 2020, file photo, a worker at Whole Foods in Portland sanitizes a shopping cart. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The novel coronavirus arrived in Maine in March. Without a blueprint for handling it, the advice people received on keeping it at bay evolved throughout the year. At first, there was concern that it might be transmittable by touching contaminated surfaces. That set off a surge of intense cleaning in households throughout Maine and beyond.

As stores ran out of cleaning supplies, Mainers learned how to make their own cleaners. When calls to Maine’s poison control went up (according to a representative from the Northern New England Poison Center, “the calls about fumes seem to stem from homeowners mixing cleaners together”), more people learned what cleaners and chemicals can’t be combined for homemade cleaning supplies. Mainers took care to clean surfaces usually forgotten — including cellphones.

Scientists later learned that it isn’t necessary to deep clean every surface to prevent the spread of the coronavirus because it is transmitted primarily through the air. But hopefully these cleaning skills, knowledge and, perhaps, tendencies to be extra clean will live on.

Toilet paper shortage

In this March 12, 2020, file photo, grocery store shelves are stripped of bathroom tissue. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Soon after the pandemic arrived, people began stocking up to ensure that they could weather a lockdown. Among the things they bought a lot of was toilet paper in bulk. In Maine, and all over the country, panic buying led to the bathroom product flying off shelves until there was nothing left.

The sight of empty store shelves prompted people to look for toilet paper alternatives, from making their own to setting up a do-it-yourself home bidet. Though the pandemic continued, the toilet paper shortages eventually came to an end as people stopped panic buying, stores worked to control inventory better by limiting purchases and the supply chain caught up to demand. But, if you’re still concerned, a pair of enterprising individuals created an online calculator to help people determine just how much toilet paper they need for their household.

Food supply issues

In this July 20, 2020, file photo, volunteer interpreter Faith Garrold of the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport describes a kitchen garden on display there during a guided walking tour. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

It wasn’t just the toilet paper aisle with bare shelves in the early days of the pandemic in Maine. From canned goods to meat, frozen vegetables to pasta, grocery stores couldn’t keep the shelves stocked at first due to Mainers panic shopping and hoarding food items. And while the supply chain eventually rebounded for the most part, Mainers took an interest in other methods of getting the foods they wanted.

Some people started making their own bread. Planting home vegetable gardens was popular this year as well, though it was complicated by the summer’s drought conditions. Local farms and farmers markets were active throughout the growing season, even as how the farmers markets operated shifted and changed.

As fall and winter approached, emergency planning officials warned that another surge in cases could be coming and reminded folks that having enough food, medical supplies and other necessities on hand for two weeks is plenty.

Canning equipment shortages

In this Jan. 29, 2020, file photo, Sam Schipani joins Kate McCarty, food systems professional at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, to learn how to make and can onion jam. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

With more people growing food and thinking about ways to keep their families fed, interest in canning as a way to preserve food also grew. That popularity was a double-edged sword, though, leading to a shortage of canning supplies (of lids especially, according to NPR, though the Washington Post also reported a dearth of canning jars).

So, in addition to learning skills like pressure canning, canning meat, how to have a successful canning season and how to avoid illness from home canned goods, Mainers also learned which canning materials can be used over and over again.

Working from home

In this Sept. 3, 2020, file photo, Shannon Shaw, a third-grade teacher at Bangor’s Abraham Lincoln School, talks about teaching remotely full time in her home workspace. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

For some Mainers, there was a shift from working at an office to working from home. Suddenly dining rooms, kitchen tables or any other available space in the house became an office. College classes taught remotely by instructors were occasionally interrupted by pets or other unexpected disturbances. It was a change all around.

Now, nine months into the pandemic, there is not much certainty when offices will reopen to their employees. Many companies are looking at next July as the earliest when workers will come back, according to the Chicago Tribune. In the meantime, mental health experts recommend sticking to a daily work routine that clearly separates work, school and home time. It’s also a good idea to switch out the sweats and T-shirts for more office appropriate attire to help maintain a sense of normalcy.

There is good news. Workers tend to be more productive working from home, according to a Harvard Business Review study. Among the primary reasons? Reduced stress from not having to commute.

Schooling from home

In this March 20, 2020, file photo, Quinn Worster, a first-grader at McGraw School in Hampden, takes a spelling test that her mom, Katie, was giving her at home. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Early in March, schools began closing their doors to students. As classes rapidly moved to remote learning, parents were faced with managing their children’s academics in a way they hadn’t before. Remote learning proved challenging in many ways, especially for children with special needs and those who lived in areas with less reliable internet service.

Once school let out for summer, many families also found themselves without the usual array of camps for summer. That posed new challenges for parents. Even as school began again, many families found themselves facing new schedules with hybrid learning or remote learning. Only some Maine districts have returned to full time in person learning. That’s led parents to ditch traditional classrooms altogether in favor of homeschooling.

Finding new ways to celebrate

In this April 25, 2020, file photo, a girl holds up a “happy birthday” balloon at James Winslow’s birthday celebration in Mapleton. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

Thanks to social distancing, things like birthday parties, graduation celebrations and even the annual Pride events looked very different. Some high school proms were canceled, while others went virtual with young people dancing on porches, in living rooms or other safe places and sharing the moments online. Large weddings were downsized or postponed in accordance with COVID-19 social gathering mandates and shared via Zoom and other video conferencing applications.

Mainers were willing to go the extra mile — often by car in drive-by parades — or drastically change their plans to celebrate, but most agree those methods are second best and can’t wait to get together with loved ones in person.

Stress and self-care

In this Dec. 11, 2020, file photo, a hiker makes his way down a snow-covered trail at Chick Hill in Clifton. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

The pandemic, the elections, the economy, social unrest. If ever a year created stress, it was 2020. That’s why self-care was crucial for so many people. Mental health professionals urged people to stick to a daily routine to maintain a sense of normalcy. People were also encouraged to take time out of their day to engage in something that relaxed them.

Whether it was baking, heading outside for a hike, taking part in an online yoga class, drawing a hot bath or Zooming with friends, it seemed everyone was looking for ways to spend a few minutes every day destressing.

Lack of access to services

Staff writer Sam Schipani had her boyfriend, Alexander Cole, cut her hair during the coronavirus quarantine. Credit: Sam Schipani / BDN

With gyms, hair salons and other service businesses closed, Mainers had to figure out ways to do it themselves from home.

For fitness, some set up home gyms and integrated physical fitness into our lives, while others spent more time walking and hiking outdoors. With salons shuttered for some time, people also learned how to cut hair, with mixed results. The experience gave folks a new appreciation for the services previously taken for granted.


Staff writer Sam Schipani tries the viral whipped coffee trend currently taking TikTok by storm. Credit: Sam Schipani / BDN

Alongside the pandemic itself came an epidemic of boredom. Mainers learned how to make sourdough bread (and other kitchen challenges), started gardening, attempted viral TikTok trends, learned how to sew and took up Victorian crafts like pressing flowers.

Mainers are naturally resilient, and this year put that to the test. Perhaps these new skills and hobbies will carry beyond the end of this pandemic — at least, we hope they will.

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.