The Value of Home Work

During this period of lockdown the internet has been buzzing with the activities that people have found helpful, therapeutic, or at least a welcome distraction at this time. There is no surprise that reading has proved popular,  along with learning new subjects and skills and watching some of the great live-streamed concerts and shows. More surprising, perhaps, has been the number of “quiz nights” taking place. This is possibly because it gives a context and purpose to our virtual social gatherings – or a substitute for all those missing competitive sport.

Most popular of all, though, has been work in the home. This has varied from ambitious DIY projects to long-postponed smaller endeavours, such as finally tidying the cupboard under the stairs.  In the UK, the news that B&Q was to reopen brought queues of householders, keen to buy equipment and materials to complete the home improvements they had embarked upon.

There are many reasons for this. One of the most obvious ones is that we have all been spending so much time at home that we have noticed that the hall really needs painting or that window fixing. It’s the same recognition that firms that sell sofas have when they bombard TV with adverts at Christmas, reckoning that we’ve all been sitting on our old sofas long enough to be persuaded to buy a new one.

In certain gift shops, you can often find a small, circular plate for sale with this message printed on them: “I am a ROUND TUIT – now you can do all those jobs you said you’d do when you got me!” In our homes, during quarantine or lockdown, there are few excuses for not “getting around to it” and hence the burgeoning maintenance activity in our homes.

There is something else too, something less tangible but more important. Janice Turner, a journalist writing in The Times, touched on this last week in her article “Is there a gadget that makes your family clean?”. Aside from some humour about task sharing, Turner notices the satisfaction that comes from really cleaning something properly. Be it the fridge, the windows or the kitchen floor, the drudgery aspect of cleaning that we felt when we had so much else to do, is replaced by a sense of calm and even pleasure.

It is easy to mock this realization and to see it as “what we are reduced to” in lockdown. Whereas, in fact, it is what is raised to our notice – not our dirty windows, but the physical and mental benefits of sorting them out. Anthropologists and psychologists will note the in-built need of humans to create safe spaces for ourselves and our dependents. Maintaining the safety and protective environment of our homes, as we have been forced to as a response to the coronavirus, has made explicit this implicit need.

The pleasure we might get from a clean fridge and mended windows is not just about a passing sense of achievement, but about caring for ourselves  (and many of us do find ourselves on our own at this time) and those we are sharing our homes with. Sharing that care, passing skills on to the next generation, transforms and renews not only these tasks but us in the process.

Amidst all the anxiety and the background “noise” of these strange days let us hope that the connection between our homes and our well-being is recognised – and that this stays with us when our doors open again.

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