Next Normal-How COVID has changed our homes

August 30, 2021
  • UPDATED: AUGUST 30,2021
  • ORIGINAL PUBLISH DATE: AUGUST 2020

Unfortunately, the pandemic continues, and the analogy still works, only now, we all realize that our “next normal” will not be the same as our “past normal”. 

As I was researching information for this article, I was trying to think of an analogy that would best describe what we are experiencing.  The idea of Semi-Permanent Hair Dye came to mind! 

Let’s look at the similarities…

Hair Dye:  Color choices range from “normal of brown, black, or red” to “bold colors of green, blue, or purple”.  Covid:  range of symptoms and different experiences.

Hair Dye: Lasts 4 to 8 weeks depending on what color you select and if you take care and use color-enhancing shampoo and conditioner. Covid:  Chances of catching and severity of symptoms depends on if you vaccinate and take other precautions.

Hair Dye:  Claims to be easy to apply, but we all know that our hair never looks as good as when done by a professional.  Covid:  Our healthcare professionals are doing the very best they can under extreme circumstances.

Notice I still think this can be a Semi-Permanent situation.  Unfortunately, we cannot assume that even with a vaccine, we can resume our pre-COVID lifestyles because not everyone will take the vaccine and that will prevent us from defeating it completely. 

Just to give some perspective, the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic lasted for over a year and had several peaks during that time.  Just because our cars are faster, our computers are faster, our flow of information is faster, does not mean we will have a cure to COVID-19 faster.  We need to adjust our expectations. 

Here are some key dates of 2020 I recall: 

Early April talking with a friend, and the thought that schools might not reopen in August seemed “impossible”.  At that point, the school where she taught had extended Spring Break from 1 week to 2 weeks to then the first of May and eventually canceling in school learning for the rest of the year.  Students, teachers, and parents were thrown into the world of virtual learning, and after school, activities stopped.  It was as if everything got dumped on the dining room table and everyone just had to adjust. 

Some adjustments were easier than others!  No one seemed to miss long commutes to work.  No one seemed to miss the alarm going off and everyone rushing around to get baths or showers and put on makeup or shave and get out the door with a Pop-tart in hand. 

But after a couple of weeks, we did realize we were missing some things from before COVID-19.  We missed talking with our child for a few uninterrupted minutes in the car on the way to ball practice.  We missed the feeling of coming home to share news about our day with our spouse because neither of us had left the house.  We missed the excitement of picking out a weeks’ worth of clothes on Sunday night. We missed Sunday feeling any different than Tuesday, or Friday!!! 

We missed transitions!  Going from one place to another.  Seeing different places and people.  Completing one activity and starting another. 

And now it is August 2020 and we don’t know what to expect as the number of cases rises and governments have to decide about reopening schools for classroom learning or continue with virtual learning for the foreseeable future.  August 2021, schools are open and debates continue about mask mandates.

Of course, those decisions affect our daily schedules and how we will work from home.  Changes to bus service, staggering school start times, also affect our schedules and will be part of our adjustments this year.   Many companies have already said their employees can continue to work from home until January and Google just announced it will continue WFH until summer of 2021.  August 2021, companies are struggling with staffing shortages and those that have required staff to return to an office have seen their workforce leave for other companies with WFH policies. 

If COVID-19 did not exist, we would be buying school supplies, getting new school uniforms (if needed) or at least new school clothes, and looking forward to Friday Night lights at high school stadiums.  We would also be looking forward to tailgating at college football games, and planning Sunday night wings and pizza parties to watch the NFL games. 

Unfortunately, COVID-19 does exist, and our world is very different because of it.  I think we need to be planning how we can change our homes for this new Semi-Permanent state of virtual learning, working from home, and greatly restricted social gatherings.

While we may not have control of many things right now, we do have control of our homes. We control what we bring into the house and where we put it.  And we control what happens in the spaces.  According to Better Homes & Garden, there are 7 ways that Corona Virus will change our homes:

https://www.bhg.com/decorating/lessons/expert-advice/coronavirus-interior-design/

Need to re-position some things?   Move some things out of the way that we are not using and make room for the things we NEED to be able to do in our homes!  In other words, we need to do more than just adapt or pivot.  Our new Semi-Permanent Middle of COVID Pandemic world requires us to recreate and redefine our spaces

Research shows we need these 4 distinct spaces within our homes for optimal performance and health.

  • A place to Exercise
  • A place to Sleep
  • A place to Create (Work, Study)
  • A place for Leisure (TV, Movies, Books, Hobbies, Crafts)

We cannot eat, work, sleep, and entertain ourselves in just one space, like the couch.  I suggest watching this 10 minute YouTube Video to learn more and get a visual of this optimal “home”

Lockdown Productivity:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snAhsXyO3Ck

Our homes have always been a place for us to rest, relax, entertain ourselves and others.  Now we must also find space for things like virtual learning, working from home, home gyms, and entertainment options that we enjoyed going out for but instead we must now stay in and create our own.  I hope that this article will give you some practical tips on how to reorganize your space to meet the current demands for yourself and your family.

Let’s start with what didn’t work so well when everyone and everything was just dumped together; around March 11, 2020…

We didn’t follow a schedule. We lost track of the days of the week.  We didn’t plan “special days or moments in the days”. Every day just felt like Tuesday

We lost the sacredness of certain spaces within our home.  Every activity occurred in the same place.  We were eating and working at the kitchen table or working and sleeping in the bedroom, or working, watching TV, and eating on the couch. 

Neither of these situations are sustainable, not for a year or however long our Semi-Permanent new normal requires.  So how can we change?

Steps 1,2,3:

First Step:  Acceptance!  This is not going to last forever, but it is going to be longer than we thought and longer than we wish.  By making physical changes to our homes we can change the way we feel about the situation.  We need to create “transitions” so that every moment of every day doesn’t feel the same.

Second Step:  Identify Needs!  Every family is different—some families had a parent working from home and have a home with a dedicated office space.  Other families have never had to set up “workspace” for both parents and children.  Some families were regularly active and want to continue practicing their favorite sport or dance or music.    

Third Step:  Reduce and Repurpose!  Both your space and your schedule

Reduce:  Identify what you don’t need right now and remove it from your home.  Some suggestions include…

                Work or school clothes (but staying in PJs all day is not okay!!!)-PURGE your closets, and dressers like never before!  Wrong sizes, Uncomfortable, Need Repair, Wrong Climate, any of these are easy indicator that it needs to go.  Evaluate what you are wearing daily now and keep similar items.  If you haven’t worn a pair of slacks since early March, you can probably reduce your pants down to 5 pairs of the best fitting, most flattering.  Same thing with jackets, ties, dress shirts, and dresses-purge and then purge again.  Don’t worry about running out of clean clothes. You are going to be home, you can wash clothes daily if needed. 

                Travel items (extra suitcases, briefcase, computer bags, even travel size toiletries)—if you don’t see yourself getting on an airplane or cruise ship, then why do you have so many suitcases?  Start with the easy ones—really big and really small.  Your pre-teen is not going to want to use the princess suitcase in a couple of years when you finally get to fly again.  And you are not going to need that oversized bag that holds 4 suits, shirts, and ties for a week-long conference.  By the time those start up again, you’ll need new suits anyway so get rid of the suits now too. 

                Commuter Goods like insulated lunch bags, Thermos and cold packs as well as backpacks and computer bags (keep your favorite for when we return to offices and schools, but old, dirty, and worn out ones need to go).  Lunches at home don’t require a bag or cold packs.  If you decide to have a picnic in your backyard, you can always use disposables. 

Extra Items you brought home from office. If you emptied your office cubicle or you aren’t in your car daily for client meetings, PURGE the extra items or at least work them into the family’s normal supply.  Things like office supplies, snacks and treats you may have had in your desk, coffee supplies and any over the counter medications or paper products (tissues).  Put office supplies in one central area that all can access.  

The laptop your company sent you to work from home needs to remain separate from the family pc while both can use the printer. 

                Schedules. Your schedule may have been reduced in some areas for you- no more commutes, no more after school practice, or social commitments.  But also look at reducing time on social media platforms, and news platforms (some people think those are the same thing!) so that you have the time for more cooking, helping with school lessons, anything that is now happening inside the home that didn’t before. 

Once you have emptied spaces, now you can repurpose those spaces.

Repurpose:  A cabinet that once stored thermos bottles, plastic lunch containers, insulated bags can now be repurposed to hold office and school supplies.  Or a closet that has been cleared of extra clothes can be turned into a functional office space or study space. 

Check out YouTube for videos on ideas and inspiration on how to turn a closet into an office.  If all you can do is pull together a folding table, a lamp, and some plastic storage bins then that’s okay—the point isn’t to impress on Pinterest, the point is to create a space that is going to allow you and your family to function better. 

The Better Homes & Garden article mentioned some areas of our homes that will be different in the future.  I want to offer some ideas and suggestions on how you can make these areas possible in your current home.  Please be open to looking at your space differently and realize that your space may not look like what you see on Pinterest.  Again, the point is to make it functional for this Semi-Permanent time without spending a lot of money and with the option of it being changed back at some point when possible. 

Larger Home Office or Study Space:  If your home does not have a separate study you know the challenges of trying to work from the dining room table or your bedroom.  

One solution may be to buy a folding desk and attach it to a wall in your bedroom.  Wayfair and Home Depot both offer desks for under $200. Another option may be to continue to work from the dining room table, and to set up a central supply cabinet (paper, pencils, pens, charging station for computers) and then each member to have a small basket or storage bin where items can be stashed so the family can reclaim the dining room each night for meals.   Storage bins can be found almost anywhere, but colorful and inexpensive ones are easy to find at Dollar Tree and Big Lots.

If you have a home office, you may need to share the space either by designating specific time blocks or by physically sharing the space.  If you are going to be sharing the space, create some “rules” that everyone can live with.  Music allowed?  Eating & Drinking in the space allowed?  Expectations during zoom calls? Just like teachers share Classroom rules with students when they return from summer vacation, your family will need to establish and enforce office rules.

Schedule:

And while we are on the subject of time blocking or scheduling I feel it is important to realize we all have different energy cycles.  Build your schedule around your energy cycles and build breaks into your schedule.  To learn more:  https://blog.trello.com/find-productive-hours

If your best energy is first thing in the morning, maybe you get to be in the office alone while your husband is making breakfast and getting the kids up and settled for their daily lessons.  Then in the afternoon when he is working on a project or deadline, you can check the kid’s lessons, and start making dinner. 

You can find several calendars and schedule templates online that can help you block out your day.  No one can work ALL day EVERY day.  Just like we have different rooms in our house, we need different activities on our schedule, and they need to be defined spaces and times. 

BREAKS:

Breaks you may want to consider building into your schedule –walking and stretching.   Every hour or an hour and a half, get up, stretch your body, and walk around for a few minutes.  Go outside and take a Non Smoking Break.  Refill your water glass. 

If you are concerned about getting “off track”, set a timer for the first couple of weeks.  Your students are familiar with changing rooms between classes and know they only have so many minutes to complete the task.  Build these 5 to 10-minute passing periods into your day. 

MEAL PREP & EATING:

One addition to your schedule may be meal prep and eating time.  Many families ate breakfast in the car on the way to school.  Without the drive to school it can be easy to let breakfast stretch on and on and pretty soon, the kids are hungry again and you’ve lost the entire morning.  I suggest having very easy to prepare items for both breakfast and lunch.  If the preparation takes too long or requires too many dishes or pans, you’ll waste valuable time and lose your focus on work.  Keep lunch hour to an hour total time, just like you did when you went to the office. 

Although I am not a fan of highly processed foods, there are some good frozen options for lunches.  I keep some on hand so that if I don’t have leftovers from dinner, I can quickly have an entrée and add fruit or a salad for a satisfying and fast option.

POWER NAP or QUIET TIME:

Right after lunch can also be a really good time for quiet reading or even a power nap.  If your meal prep is quick, and you eat in 20 to 25 minutes, you will still have time in your lunch break for a quick power nap.  Just like they tell new moms “Nap when the baby naps”, take the advice and find a space for 15-20 minutes of quiet time for yourself.  The extra stress everyone is under right now takes a toll on our immune system and power naps have been shown to help lower our stress hormones and improve our health.  https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/the-secret-and-surprising-power-of-naps#1

Reading Nooks or Private Spaces:

When I saw it mentioned I didn’t understand why but then I started thinking about how common it was to go to Starbucks for coffee and take a book and just read, sip coffee, people watch a little.  I think that is what you can create by setting up a reading nook.  Instead of the open concept where everyone is together all the time, creating spaces where people can go and come back from will help keep us from feeling trapped. 

Move a chair, small table, or bookshelf and lamp to the corner of the room.  Place a tall plant to shield the view.  Now when you need a few minutes to prepare for a conversation or presentation you need to make, you can retreat to this space.

Expanded Outdoor Entertaining Space: 

Of course, there is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19 but it appears that being outside with sunlight, and more fresh air is better for us than staying inside with the AC going.   Outdoor spaces are not only going to be for dining, but also for limited social interactions.  Maybe you have “driveway happy hour”, or maybe you have a “bring you own box dinner” with friends so no cross-contamination occurs.

And don’t worry about buying new patio furniture, the trend is to use old blankets thrown over chairs or benches, old planters turned upside down for tables, and old wooden pallets either leaning against a tree or house to create a very casual setting.  Add a few strings of lights from the Christmas decorations and you’ve instantly got an inviting patio for conversations and cocktails. 

Garages are becoming Home Gyms:

This isn’t a new use for garages.  Many guys have weight sets and machines in their garage.  A few even have a functioning treadmill.  What is new is that with gyms closed, there is added interest in getting to use the equipment more frequently and even expanding the space for cardio like jump rope, and hula hoops.  You don’t have to park your car outside permanently.  But you will have to organize your garage space and keep it organized.  Just like at the gym, weights must go back on the racks. 

If you want to expand your exercise area so that the entire family can exercise together, then other items may need to be relocated.  But first PURGE all the “extras” that have collected in the garage.  Extra yard tools, tools with batteries that don’t stay charged anymore, toys the kids have outgrown, extra lumber, etc. 

Clutter is just postponed decisions.  Make the decision now-either discard it, donate it, or decide to keep it and place it somewhere that doesn’t interfere with the exercise space.  For more help with your garage, check out my previous post Cycles of Decluttering-B Phase where I give details on how to declutter and organize your garage. 

Mudrooms or Entry Areas: 

Instead of bringing everything into the kitchen and dropping it on the countertop, we are now looking for an “unloading zone”.  In the past, it may have just been a basket for the keys to be dropped into, but now we have masks that need to be washed and hung up so we can use the next time we head out.  We want to have a place to wash our hands, and of course to unpack groceries and recycle packaging from items we order online. 

There may not be a lot you need to do to prepare an area in your home for this besides hanging a few hooks on the wall or placing a bin in the garage for recycling mail and cardboard.  You may need to practice not placing grocery bags or your purse on the kitchen counter and of course, washing your hands each time you return home and when you have put the groceries away or opened delivered packages. If you’re not sure, just wash your hands again! 

Now is not the time to give up on our families or our communities.  Instead, as the video says, it is our opportunity to come back better.  Our homes can be better designed for not only now but the future.  Our schedules can be better without long commutes and wasted hours in traffic.  Our physical health can be better with a focus on exercise and good quality sleep.  This time requires both discipline and grace. 

If you need help PURGING or REDESIGNING SPACE for your family to function better, please let us know.  I am happy to give a free consultation and discuss your goals and then present you with an action plan and cost estimate. GCarter@Organized-Occasions.com or Contact Us

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