After speaking with a number of architects foretelling how the pandemic might change our homes, and checking in with Dwell readers about the ways they were coping, I’ve now had a moment to reflect on my own life at home, and what we’re all learning to accept as the new normal.
At the beginning of March, things were rocky. Quarantine was a mashup of Groundhog Day and Contagion. Repetition saddled with fear of the unknown often left my wife and I feeling stuck and hopeless, but felt unjust compared to those in real danger. But like how Bill Murray’s weatherman turns a curse into a gift, a new perspective has given way to the virtues of a life mostly between four walls. Here are a few things I’ve learned, and a few things that have changed, over so many weeks at home.
Our Home Is a Ship
Life is a boat at sea, and my wife, dog, and I are its crew. It stays righted by keeping morale high, and that has comes largely from organization, dreaming of plans for the future, and projects around the house that need tending to. Smaller tasks like doing the dishes come with a wink of achievement, and set up more enjoyable after-dinner entertainment. We’ve become better at transitioning between spaces. Interestingly, we’re more tolerant of messiness.
Anxiety Can Be Channeled Into Wellness
Near-abusive levels of alcohol consumption kicked off the first couple weeks of quarantine. My wife and I felt rudderless amidst the initial adjustment, especially as her work as a photographer transitioned from on-site shoots to home studio ones. But with acceptance that working from home may last a long while, our tenacity for booze has recalibrated into a balanced self-care routine. For now at least, we’re trying some tips on boozeless cocktails from master mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr. Lyan.
Meal Planning Is the Main Event
Meals were always something to look forward to, but now they meter each day. There’s a new level of deliberation that’s made them a favorite conversation topic. My wife and I have become better cooks, care more deeply about our food (whether it’s delicious trashy to-go pizza, a new ramen recipe, or spring onions from the farmers’ market). We keep Dominique Crenn’s Metamorphosis of Taste on hand, and the sous vide is seeing a lot of use. We’ve also supported our favorite restaurants by ordering some meals to-go, but it’s hard to tell if that is helping or hurting.
Moving Around Helps Focus at Work
Since Dwell’s San Francisco office operates out of a co-work with multiple spaces—a dedicated office, a lounge, a patio—I’ve adopted those habits of changing up scenery to my own home. Moving from the dining room to the living room, or to my driveway on a sunny day has been a great way to jump start periods of mental fatigue or transition between projects. Connecting with co-workers has taken some extra effort since operations are restricted to the digital sphere. Video conferencing between New York and San Francisco was already part of our workflow, so that has set us up for success in some ways. I look forward to our weekly all-team check-ins where we share both work-related and personal goings-on.
Exercise Has Been Crucial
Stillness compounded by looming uncertainty can gnaw at the mind and soul after sitting still for too long. Exercising is far and away the best outlet to stave off spiraling patterns of thought, and can provide a great mental boost between projects at work. It keeps boredom at bay, too, and can spark some creativity. California weather is accommodating of an outdoors jog now and again, but a living room workout is snappy and doesn’t require the rigmarole of suiting up for public exposure. Maybe we’ll come out of this in great shape.
Architects Were Right
“What will we expect of our homes?” I asked them in a roundup of what home design will look like post-Covid. Access to the outdoors (or at least sight lines to it), efficiency, flexibility, and spaces for privacy were fundamental for mental health during prolonged isolation. These feel essential without a pandemic, but of course now ring truer than ever. I feel lucky to already have many of these elements in my own home.
The News Is a Weather Vane
At first I binged every detail of Covid-19, and it often set the day’s tone. It was addicting, fascinating, and terrifying watching events unfold. I buckled in for the ride, opening my eyes for a peek when I felt capable, and doing what I could to support those near to me. Also, it was feeding an uncertainty that felt extremely taxing. Mostly, it’s been a way to keep tabs on how we can best play our part to get through this. Most mornings now kick off with a news briefing.
I Have a Greater Attention Span for Entertainment
I’ve never been a TV person, but movies and show streaming are engrossing like never before. Seven Worlds, One Planet has been simultaneously exhilarating and calming, Keanu Reeve’s throwbacks like Speed or Point Break provide vicarious thrills from the couch, and Tiger King’s aptly-timed release has made it a zeitgeist unto its own. My wife and I have also never done a single puzzle, but now we’re on our third. Our dog, Lou, is getting lots of practice with new tricks and old, and no longer feels abandoned when we leave for work.
There’s No Replacement for Real Human Connection
Nourishing a sense of belonging has felt extremely difficult. Chit chat with coworkers, friends, and family have helped even though current events dominate conversation. Most of it has been reduced to what we’re cooking, where we walked, or what we watched, but the effects are still beneficial. Sometimes it can be hard to conjure the emotional energy. Zoom fatigue is real, and I dream of the day when a hug isn’t a threat.
Every Day Feels the Same Unless You Make Plans
Though working hours help to maintain a schedule, sheltering in place has turned life into a Möbius strip. The weekends require planned activities to stay oriented, and to break up monotony. Even a long walk or a big dinner on a Friday have mixed things up in a good way.
I Am in Awe of Those Wearing Uniforms
While sitting comfortably in the solace of my home, a friend of mine working long hours at Stanford Health Care texted me a picture of his hands. They were raw from washing and sanitizing, and it felt like a small metaphor for the inten
sity that healthcare workers are facing right now. Limits of the soul are being put the test and the risks for their and their families mental and physical health are unsurmisable.
Tactile Media Is More Enriching
The insane volume of podcasts and streamable music makes it so easy to call up any tune, but being at home has given me time to dive back into those physical records I know so well. Do they sound better than digital formats? Maybe. Notebooks for drawing and sketching are back out on the table, and the books I’ve been wanting to read are all getting read. There is a new found satisfaction in the sense of touch.
Repetition Is Soothing
It’s been hard to celebrate anything while we all weather the storm. With acceptance of an uncertain future, my wife and I have found a soothing stride with a routine that hinges on simplicity—coffee, work, dinner, a show or a book. Without friends texting to meet up or plans on the calendar, we’ve sort of found a cruising altitude. Life’s subtleties, too, are suddenly magnified. Watering a plant is a new thrill.
Mistrust Abounds in Public Settings
The weekly or bi-weekly trips my wife or I take to the grocery store have shown us the fringes of mental fortitude. Some recoil in passing. Others keep CDC recommendations on hand, and generously share, when breached. With masks covering our faces smiles are hard to land. Barriers can be broken down, and there are moments of goodwill and solidarity from complete strangers. It just takes a little more effort to find it.
The Outdoors Are Essential
Going outside has become the best form of reprieve, reinforcing what I already know. Fresh air, trees, and spring flowers on a long walks are common denominators for rejuvenation. Nature is so meditative and irreplaceable. It’s amazing the distance you can cover without distractions or plans, and it’s a fantastic reset for when you get home and start thinking about what’s next—even if what’s next, at least for the unforeseeable future, will remain inside these four walls.
Related Reading: The Shelter Spritz—and Other Cocktail Recipes You Should Definitely Try at Home