It is very early days to try to predict the long-term effects the coronavirus will have on our relationships with our homes. During this crisis, they have been seen as places of safety and security. For many of us, this has definitely been true as we have drawn strength from the solace and sanctuary of our homes and closest relationships.
It has not been the case for everyone though. A time of enforced lockdown in difficult physical or emotional circumstances has taken its toll on physical and mental health. Evidence-based investigation of what has really been happening in our homes is also at a very early stage, but anecdotal evidence suggests a number of factors that affect our experience of lockdown. This article looks at the positive aspects of these factors while recognising the very real implications of the negative ones.
Feeling in control
In a situation where there are so much fear and contradictory information in the wider world, keeping a sense of control in the small areas of domestic life is known to be beneficial. This sense of control or being able to order at least one part of our lives is seen in the increased order we are putting into our daily lives. This might be a more structured day, with regular work, meal and leisure times. It might be tidying and rearranging our home environment for optimal space and calm. It could be something as simple as planning the meals for the week, or sharing out domestic tasks. The key is that an order and a plan bring a sense of control at home that can strengthen us to deal with the things beyond our control. This is especially important in homes with young children or vulnerable family members. Predictable daily patterns are a source of great reassurance in such unpredictable times.
There is no rule that we have to like everyone we live with, but when there is no getting away from them a modus vivendi is less a choice than a necessity. Respectful relationships recognise that people need different things and express themselves in different ways. That we can offend as much as we are offended. That we can praise as much as we need praise. The old adage “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing,” might have led to some quiet homes some days, but on the whole when no one can leave the house to cool off, this has not been the best time for “warts and all” candour.
One of the telling distinctions of this crisis has been between those who have access to private outdoor space and those who do not. Again, anecdotally, there has been much in the press and elsewhere about the value of green spaces to our well-being. Those with gardens, backyards and balconies have had a social advantage at this time over those without. One of the harshest restrictions, after not being able to be with relatives, was the limit of time and activities outdoors. The ability to bring nature into the home has also been limited by the restrictions, but those who have shared this lockdown with pets have spoken of the very positive benefits of this over and above the difficulties. Similarly, even without a garden, schools have encouraged parents of children learning at home to grow plants from seeds, just using a window-ledge for small pots. These may seem tiny actions but the positive effect of tending and sharing space with the natural world bring far larger rewards.
The exercise of order, respect and care – for ourselves, those we live with and our environment – are human choices and disciplines which are largely independent of our personal circumstances. Those already suffering from the effects of poor housing, financial insecurity, ill-health, broken relationships, violence or addiction will have found this period harder to manage.
The next article in this series will look at some lessons for policy-makers from the places we all need to call home.