When you selected your current home, you probably weren’t anticipating that you might one day be self-quarantining. Until now, my house was a place for sleeping and regular post-work activities: cooking, eating dinner, watching Netflix, reading, maybe hanging out with friends once or twice a week.
Now it’s my place for everything.
I’m still figuring out how to make this work. I live in a one-room loft, where the only two doors lead to the bathroom and a tiny closet with no cellphone service. With both my husband and me working from home, this has led me to conduct many interviews from my deck, wrapped in a blanket, downing hot tea, trying not to think about the fact that it is 45 degrees outside.
You probably can’t change where you live right now: Your place is your place. Unless you’re out doing one of the jobs that is keeping us all going, you’ll be spending a whole lot of time in it for the foreseeable future. But you can change up how your living space works for you.
“We’re told we can’t go a lot of places now, we can’t control anything,” said Bianca Perez, a 25-year-old fitness instructor in Houston, who recently reconfigured her one-bedroom apartment with isolation in mind. She threw out boxes she didn’t need and repositioned furniture to maximize open space. “Doing this made me feel like, ‘This is mine, this is my space. I am taking control in this moment.’”
I called up home organization and interior design experts and presented them with a few spatial problems likely to crop up during this time. They proposed solutions that can be easily applied, even in the smallest New York City studio.
Create different sections of your home to fit your routine. Especially in a one-bedroom apartment or a studio, it’s easy to go a little stir-crazy, staring at the same walls all day, every day. The solution is to create “zones,” said Justina Blakeney, founder of the home decor studio Jungalow.
“Think about the rhythms of your life now, and how they’re different from the rhythms of your life before,” she said. Blakeney recommends physically writing out your ideal routine. Decide how you want to spend your new time at home, then create “zones” to support those activities: Maybe it’s a pillow on your front stoop for morning coffee, or a rolled-out yoga mat by your window for a pre-work stretch routine. You might want to create a makeshift bar for cocktails. By creating zones within a room, you “break up the monotony of being in the same place all the time.”
Prioritize open space. “I was feeling like my place was so congested, like I couldn’t move,” said Perez. Her bed used to be in the middle of her room, with her toddler’s bed off to the side. To open up the space, she pushed her bed against the wall, and her son’s bed right up against hers. “Now I have more than half the entire bedroom for moving around,” she said. “I feel like I can breathe.”
Put strict hours on your “work zone.” “If you are working from home and you don’t have a designated work area, work infiltrates every area of your life,” said Blakeney. If you create a special work zone, she said, it’s easier to make the mental switch from home to office. It’s okay if you need to use this area in nonwork hours, she added. “Flex zones” are allowed. But try to make a few changes to the space to signal its transformation. “Say to yourself, ‘Okay, I’m going to start work now. What do I need to do to mark that change?” If you’re set up at a dining room table, maybe you bring over a desk lamp, hook up a monitor or open the windows when you start working. Equally as important: Remember to change the space back to a “home zone” at the end of the day.
Remove the cardboard. With everyone at home all the time, clutter builds up more quickly. And while you might feel inspired to get rid of things, Marie Kondo style, that might prove difficult, with Goodwill stores closed and many donation bins sealed. One thing you can do is throw away all your boxes, said organization consultant Amy Bloomer. “It’s a suck on space: Think about your cereal boxes, all the boxes in your pantry … boxes for feminine hygiene products.” Perez always saves boxes for major appliances — her vacuum, her coffee maker, her water filter. But this week she decided they all had to go.
Use your vertical space. “When I look at a closet, I’m always thinking, there is so much available space,” said Bloomer. People just need to look up. Top shelves in closets are typically empty, she said, because they’re hard to reach. But there’s a simple solution: “If you don’t own an 18-inch folding step-stool, you should.” It’s the perfect place for all those products you might have recently stocked up on: paper towels, toilet paper. “Those are great things to store up high, because they’re both bulky and light,” Bloomer said.
Maximize the light you have. One quick fix is to remove any heavy or dark window coverings, said Blakeney. “It’s amazing how much light you can block out that way.” She also recommends cleaning your windows. “It’s one of those things we never really get around to doing, but the way the sun comes into your home will shift dramatically, going from a dirty window to a clean one.” Another tip is to hang a mirror directly across from a window or a glass door, she said. If you have more than one room, you might also want to move frequently used furniture — like a desk — into the room with more natural light.
Bring in bright colors. If you have a lot of gray and tan furniture, adding a little color can help, said Sarah Hubbell, who flips houses in Phoenix. “We have a yellow sofa, but for people who don’t, you could always drape a bright blanket on the back of your chair or couch.”
If you’ve got the time (and you probably do), paint. With all her extra time at home, Hubbell plans to paint her son’s bedroom. “Paint has the biggest impact. It’s the easiest thing you can do to freshen up a room,” she said. She recommends Clare Paint, which is easy to buy online.
Choose a spot, and stick to it. Perez usually works out in a gym. To keep up her exercise routine, she’s created a workout area in her living room, with free weights and a yoga mat, moving around some of the furniture to make space. Blakeney has done the same, adding a mirror so she can check her form while she exercises. She says, “It’s nice to be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to the gym, even if it’s just a corner of the room.’”