In just a couple of weeks, the novel coronavirus has fundamentally altered how we interact with the world and one another. Whole swaths of American culture have closed up shop. Restaurants, arenas, schools, churches, nearly every public space sits empty as we retreat — most of us — to our homes, a four-pack of toilet paper under each arm.
This period of confinement may force us to reimagine the spaces we live in. Not just physically, though that’s happening already. Whether it’s a house, an apartment, or our parents’ basement, the way we inhabit our home is shifting and changing as it serves more functions. Home these days is not just a place to hang up the dry cleaning, stream Netflix, cook dinner, and sleep. It may also be an office. A schoolhouse. A gym. Potentially an infirmary.
Home now is not just a place, it is the place — for those of us lucky enough to have one. But the shelter offered goes far beyond four walls and a roof. In the best of times, home also serves as an emotional refuge where we feel protected and safe. You may have noticed these are not the best of times, but there are still things we can do to make our homes a bit more of a haven.
Make sure you have what you need
This means different things to different people. But in the most basic terms, you want to be stocked up on food, prescriptions, medicines, and whatever else you and your family consider a must-have. That could be batteries, dog food, Sriracha, even reams of construction paper for the kids.
“You want to make sure you have your provisions,” said Aditi Nerurkar, the medical director of the Cheng-Tsui Integrated Health Center at Beth Israel Deaconess. As a doctor watching the progression of COVID-19, she noted, “I had my freak-out in early February.” So she went about getting prepared, mentally as well as physically. “Being prepared helps to relieve anxiety,” Nerurkar said. “Whatever helps you feel a sense of preservation.”
Try to stay on top of the clutter
Yes, this is easier said than done, especially if you have a small space or kids running around — or both. Toys are everywhere. Dishes and laundry can pile up. Computers and cords, phone chargers, and game consoles can crisscross and obstruct passageways. Taking a few minutes a couple of times a day to organize high-traffic areas won’t just help keep you sane, it will also help ensure that surfaces can be cleaned regularly. This is critical. Countertops, doorknobs, light switches, TV remotes, and phones all need to be wiped down and disinfected as often as possible.
Create a tech-free zone in your house
With so many people working from home at this time — or not working but glued to their phones and laptops — it’s important to have a space where family members can be together and leave the news and other distractions behind, if only for the time it takes to gulp down a meal. Karen Schwartz Clover, a social cognitive therapist and an associate with Boston Evening Therapy Associates, suggests making the kitchen and dining area of your home tech-free. Not only is it a common space where everyone gathers for food prep and cooking, but it’s where everyone can sit around the table together and, with any luck, be present.
During the meal, whether it’s with a spouse, kids, or roommates, consider skipping the talk about world events and instead ask one another open-ended questions. Schwartz Clover suggests a conversation card game, like Vertellis. In it are broad questions such as “What place do you dream of going?” or “What was the biggest accomplishment you’ve had this year?”
“It’s an opportunity to get to know each other better and ask each other questions we normally wouldn’t,” she said. “We played it at Thanksgiving — everybody was asked the same question. You learn what are people’s passions and interests.”
Carve out private space if you can
Now that we’re all in the house together day in and day out, we’re going to need someplace to be alone. It might be a bedroom where you can conduct a Zoom meeting with a client or boss and not interrupt your husband’s “Breaking Bad” marathon. Or it might be a corner of the basement where you can set up a yoga mat and finally get through some sun salutations. Not everyone has the luxury of having a home with multiple bedrooms, but if you do, take time to retreat to one and zone out. Put down the phone and read a book for a little while. Write in a journal. Try to recharge. It’s good for you and it’s good for everyone else in the house.
“Set a tone of calmness where it’s OK to slow down, it’s OK to take a break,” Schwartz Clover said.
Use the good china
If the coronavirus outbreak has taught us anything, it’s that all the things we take for granted can disappear at a moment’s notice. And while most any adult would say they know that instinctively, this strange cultural caesura has made it clear in new and profound ways. So make time now to be grateful and present with those you love. Use the good china, the pieces you usually pull out only at Christmas or Passover. Gather everyone in the kitchen to cook a meal together, without phones, with the TV off. Talk. Ask questions. Listen.
Hayley Kaufman can be reached at email@example.com.