Words By Inès Bussat
There are many ways in which the Coronavirus crisis has impacted our lives. One huge area impacted by the lockdown experience is how we see, and live in our homes. Lockdown reminded us of the privilege of having a home, and the importance of finding peace and safety within it.
Before the global pandemic, the social norm in most capitalist societies was to go to work from 9 to 5 and to socialise in the time left. Home lovers like me had a bad reputation. Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting up with friends for coffee, eating out and discovering new places, but give me a whole free day that I can spend home alone and I will be happy to spend it daydreaming, reading and watching films on the sofa. You can thus imagine how lockdown felt for me: it was like someone had given to me a massive white canvas and I was free to do whatever I wished to do on it – I could even leave it blank if I wanted to!
For the last six months, we’ve all got to reconnect with our most intimate environment and to (re)discover the simple pleasure of the slow inside life. This phenomenon shed light on new needs to take into consideration for the design of our future cities and homes.
While the privileged ones among us found in lockdown an opportunity to read more books, learn how to make bread and start doing yoga, it was – and still is – for others, a time of despair and of feeling of abandonment from governments. Before writing about the benefits of contemplation and recreation in the comfort of one’s home, I believe it is crucial to insist on the political aspects of the domestic life and the inequalities it involves. With the rise in housing prices and the precariousness of the labour market, access to a decent quality of life is unequally distributed. In 2014, the Guardian quoted that “more than 11m homes lie empty across Europe – enough to house all of the continent’s homeless twice over”.
For people living in dysfunctional households, or worse, violent ones, isolation was the worst thing that could have happened to them. Cases of domestic violence increased by 20% during the lockdown since people are forced to stay at home with their abuser (BBC news). The experience of lockdown is different for everyone, and depends largely on the economic and social status of individuals. Having enough space, with access to a garden, feeling safe and comfortable with the people we isolate with, are privileges among others that affect considerably the effects lockdown can have on someone’s physical and mental health.
It is the essay At home written by Mona Chollet, a French journalist, that inspired me to write this article. In her work, which will be available in English in 2021, she explains how society praises outgoing personalities over indoorsy ones. Yet, according to her, loneliness is a neglected need and the choice of staying at home is too often interpreted as a rejection of others rather than a deliberate wish to enjoy the comfort of one’s own ‘nest’.
Almost a century ago, Virginia Woolf was writing about the necessity of ‘a room of one’s own’, a safe place where we can be free to create and to express our identity. Being a home-lover herself, Chollet writes in 2015 that she dreams of having more time to hang out, sleep, read, create, think, enjoy solitude or the company of loved ones at home. She could not have imagined that five years later, not only she will be granted this time inside, but the whole world will be too.
In the production-driven society we live in, procrastination and idleness are seen as enemies. As a matter of fact, according to social norms, time at home does not count if it’s not productive and/or profitable. It is true that there has been a recent trend, especially on social media, regarding wellbeing and slow-living. Lifestyle blogs and Instagram accounts overflow with content praising the perks of meditation, cooking, and mindful living, but often with the hidden goal of performing and appearing better as a result. Society taught us to feel guilty about doing nothing, or about doing something without any particular purpose in mind: we need to ‘keep ourselves busy’. Besides, we are constantly told to aim outside of our ‘comfort zone’ without ever considering home as a possible field for emancipation.
I was lucky enough to see lockdown as an opportunity to explore space and time outside of the hourly discipline of the usual nine to five. I enjoyed losing track of time and contemplating days as they came, without being able to plan. Again, it is an extremely privileged place to be in and I would probably not have felt the same if I had financial and familial responsibilities, or if I hadn’t had access to an outdoor space. In such circumstances, we realised the importance of home and of its first and main functionality: our home is our shelter.
During lockdown, social media was a window to the rest of the world, and, internet was, using Mona Chollet’s words, a means to bring ‘the crowd in the living room’. So much creativity and generosity arose from across the world, from free online classes, to concerts, and even music festivals. We recognized our need for social interactions, as well as our need for space. It made us question the way in which most of us used to live, in speed polluting dense cities, and think about possible alternatives.
For everyone, lockdown erased the separation that existed between our work space and personal space, forcing us to adapt to a new way of living that might last longer than what we expected.
The Spanish architect Vicente Guallart is already imagining and designing what the post-Coronavirus neighbourhood might look like. According to him, our future home should integrate the family life, with remote working, community life, energetic and food autonomy in a sustainable way. Architects have to take into consideration lockdown as a risk, working from home as a habit and sustainability as an urgent lifestyle shift. They are currently working on self-sufficient districts, which include urban farming, 3D-printing and digital industries, schools, offices, and public gardens.
We are still discovering everyday how this health crisis is impacting our present, and will, inevitably shape our future. One thing we can be certain of, for now, is that we will be spending more time at home. Even though it can feel frustrating at times, I try to see this constraint as an opportunity to give more meaning to my home and my relationship to it. And to be honest, I’m not sure I would have taken as much time to write this article if I had the temptation to go out. Finally, we should also remember that our bodies, our minds (and our hearts) still need movement, air and stimulation so let’s enjoy inside and outside life in a balanced way, while respecting the government guidelines, of course!