The advent of the coronavirus and the steps we are advised to take to control it have thrown into sharp focus the vital but often ignored core of our lives: our homes. “Stay at home,” “Work from home,” “Self- isolate at home” is advice on every website and everyone’s lips.
How this advice is greeted depends very much on the homes involved and our feelings about them. For some of us, this is a dream come true. It offers the chance to jump off the activity-driven treadmill of our working lives and to spend some time back in the “nest.” To finally take down those unread books on our shelves, curl up in a favorite armchair, and make the most of this unplanned holiday from the “normal.” Or perhaps it’s chance to get into the garden, or tidy the attic, write that novel, or phone those old friends we kept promising we would. This response comes from the sense of home as a place of welcome retreat, well-resourced for our needs day by day, and especially in times such as these.
For some of us, though, the thought of having to spend a fortnight—or 40 nights—at home, is one of dread. Or, if not dread, then at least a kind of claustrophobia or “cabin fever.” (It is worth noting here that no one has suggested actual home imprisonment, so driving the car, walking in the park, as long as we are feeling well, remain sensible distractions.) For this group, life is definitely elsewhere—at work, out with friends or colleagues. Home is less a place of sanctuary and more a place we are all too ready to leave each day.
Some of the differences in response come down to our personalities and our personal circumstances. For somebody living alone, self-isolation might feel like a sentence to solitary confinement. For a parent of lively children the prospect of the schools closing and extended “home-time” might not initially make his or her heart leap with joy.
Some of the differences are economic and geographic. If I live in a leafy suburb, close to shops, in a house in good structural and decorative order, I am more likely to see my home as a retreat than if I find myself facing housing challenges in a more deprived or remote area.
What is transformational for both groups is the quality of our relationships inside and outside the home. A person living alone but able to rely on the phone calls and practical support of family, friends, and neighbors can be confident that they will not be forgotten. A family used to their own space and activities may find that semi-enforced time together presents more tensions than usual. For this reason, the evergreen virtues of patience, fortitude, and charity in the home are never more clearly needed than now.
The following 10 tips on how to face being at home are a useful corrective to some of the more gloomy offerings available, however we might feel about “staying at home”:
- Optimism, characterized by good humor and hope.
- Routine. Giving an ordinary pattern to these extraordinary days is both calming and productive.
- Don’t kill time. Use it and avoid the obvious time wasters found online.
- Learn something new. You might not feel like it, but it can be a very welcome distraction to set about learning a new skill.
- Practice hobbies. Now is the time to revisit the things you enjoy but for which you never seem to have the time.
- Take some time for quiet. Turn off the news and the noise and spend some time noticing what is good in your life and what, in spite of all the anxiety, you are grateful for today.
- Good conversations. Take time to have a deeper conversation with loved ones. Maybe some real catching up is needed with those with whom we share our lives.
- Support others. Offering emotional and practical support to those who are struggling is not only helpful to them but also gives us a bigger picture to focus on.
- Keep calm. Easier said than done, but if you are exercising points 1–8 above, it will be easier.
- Forgiveness. Living together in these new conditions is complicated, be ready to offer and accept apologies when things do not run smoothly in our relationships.
Once things return to “normal” it may be that we have developed a stronger understanding of what we want and need our homes to be. In the meantime, let us make the most of this time and the homes we find ourselves spending it in.