Home has changed from a place into the only place we have come to know, where the idea of work and rest blend together. The nuance of home is no longer only a place to unravel, unwind, and rest, but rather a place that has been taken hostage by the busyness of work and uncertainties of the pandemic.
For non-essential employees, students, teachers, and housewives, eight weeks of scrambling for a new normal has bled into eight months, with no immediate end in sight, pushing people to utilize homes in different ways to serve the unfamiliar territory of the pandemic.
After the COVID-19 outbreak, the safest place has become the home, where everything is under watch and control. Residents at nursing home centers long to go home, to the place of comfort, where the familiar smells and sights serve as a reminder of refuge and rest. However, it seems the reach of the disease has spread even to the safest corners of the home.
From city to city, stay-at-home orders were mandated. Curfews were set with consequences if they were not obliged. People were required to quarantine within their homes due to lockdowns and orders from the state. With no end in sight of the work-from-home requirement, the boundaries between work and home have almost entirely disappeared.
“Home was its own entity, a place to shed work and rejoin family. Now, home is family + work + school + fortress. There’s no escape or separation from anything else,” high school English teacher Vanessa Averbach said in an email.
After long hours at work, people returned home to find rest and recharge for the next day. The change in environment provided a clear sense of separation from work and rest. The workplace gave people the mentality to hone their focus on assignments and tasks at hand, while at home, the difference in setting allowed people to feel completely relaxed, unguarded, and rested at the end of the day.
As a result of the pandemic, for many Americans, the home has shifted into a dual place of work and rest during the ongoing coronavirus season. Students are required to sit in front of a computer screen all day for both class and assignments, inevitably leading to unproductiveness. Students have become wired to study and rest according to a bell system, providing enough intervals in between to prevent overexertion. However, students have been thrust into an unregulated schedule with expectations for them to swim, when most are unable to even float.
“Additionally, [the inability to separate a workplace and rest place] has caused me to struggle with taking a break, as my body subconsciously continues to work for hours on end without thinking of rest. Because there is no physical school to indicate to myself that I am ‘studying,’ I can find myself at times having to force myself to take a break,” junior Ryan Jackson said.
Working from home has been shifting into working around the clock for many employees. Though the amount of accomplished goals and assignments may have risen during remote work, the reality of job burnout is unavoidable. Before the pandemic, employees clocked out and managed to leave the majority of their work in the office. Contrarily, employees are now challenged with managing the division of professional and personal life and slowly losing sight of the difference.
Even for people whose lives seem to be the same, the pandemic has drastically affected their day to day schedule. Housewives spend the most time at home, but their lives have been interrupted with other family members now occupying space that was vacant before. Housewives are now juggling multiple tasks at once in order to fulfill the needs of their children at home.
“I feel like I have five jobs: mother, cook, house cleaner, teacher, accountant, and friend,” said Sandra Martinez, a mother of two. “The day feels too short for everything I have to do.”
People have been taking measures to separate areas of work and rest within their home to stay motivated and complete the tasks at hand. The smallest change in environment could make the stay-at-home requirement more normal, allowing people to differentiate the hours of work from rest.
“The guest room became my office. I had to buy some new equipment like a webcam and a second screen. I also bought some hanging folders and hung up a bulletin board to make it more effective. I also had to take over more of the desk,” high school journalism teacher Melissa Spaulding said. “So my office is only for work time and I make sure not to work when I’m in like the living room or the kitchen.”
The pandemic has increased the amount of time people spend at home. The biggest changes in homes come with seeing much more of it. Each corner of the structure itself seems more apparent than before as empty spaces provide areas for different activities to be done, which increases the value of home.
Aspects of life that were not expected to change are evolving, pushing people to adapt during the pandemic. Just as the meaning of home has been altered, the architecture of homes is in line for alterations due to the modification in living habits.
According to Daniel Park, an architect based in San Francisco, the layout of the house would change by adding a restroom immediately by the main door, so guests and residents can wash and sanitize before entering the home. A laundry room would also be near the main door to discard clothing upon immediate entrance.
Life after the pandemic will never be the same. Home is not only a place but also a feeling, so the physical house may not always represent “home.” The new normal emphasizes the importance of adapting to the at-home lifestyle, changing lives overnight. With the home becoming a shelter and weapon in the war against the pandemic, while also taking on roles beyond a safe place and a place of rest, the meaning of home has changed.
Home is only truly a home when there is an option to leave and return, rather than a place to be forced to remain in. The battle of staying indoors until the outdoors is safer to be able to return home is a fight for all.