Before the pandemic began, your home may have merely been a place to sleep. Or maybe it was a precious escape from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. But now, a year after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, home has taken on an entirely new meaning. A year of lockdowns and various restrictions have forced millions of people around the world to adapt to their spaces and exist within the confines of four walls. Many could no longer afford to pay rent and subsequently lost their homes, their sense of security.
So we asked readers: How has the pandemic affected your relationship to your home? Nearly 300 people wrote in with a range of perspectives. Here are a few of them, edited and condensed for clarity.
I have been “housebound” for several years with an illness, so Covid was a significant threat for me. When I bought my house 10 years ago, it was a dream come true. I never thought I would own a home, so I started a little ritual each morning: I stand with my coffee and look out at the garden. For a minute or two, I think about all of the good things in my life and how lucky I am to have a home. Since Covid, this ritual has even more significance for me. So many people are struggling to keep their homes. Mine has become a fortress against a dangerous, invisible invader. It has kept me safe.— Susan R., Fallbrook, Calif.
Home feels like both a refuge and a cage. We are lucky to have plenty of room inside and outside, but, like water, we seem to fill it all up. — Chris O’Connor, Ossining, N.Y.
My busy life came to a halt in March 2020. I stopped working three jobs and really started spending time with my three children. We cooked and ate more meals together. We went on daily bike rides. We sewed 900 masks together. We became a “family” again. I was always so busy that I forgot how much I love being with my kids. Home is the center of who we are. My family is stronger and closer. — Carrie Youngren, Mount Vernon, Wash.
Home is a safe harbor, a place of retreat, a place uninhibited by masks and other painful reminders that life isn‘t normal. — Kristen Jung, Augsburg, Germany
As we rushed to work from home last March, I had just given my notice that I’d be retiring in June. Then the stock market dropped and my 401(k) with it. I rescinded my notice and settled in for the long haul. Interestingly, my affection for our 1890s Victorian home grew, and I began to think that retiring wouldn’t be so bad after all. I watched how the sun filled each room over the course of the day, savored the bird songs at the feeder and began to cook daily. Eventually, I gave my retirement notice. Now I’m enjoying this retirement life, even if we don’t go farther than a neighborhood walk each day.— Joanne Reynolds, Barre, Vt.
Home used to be my escape, but now I can’t wait to escape it. — Sarah D., Charleston, S.C.
Living with my grown daughter and working remotely makes me glad to be at my cozy, safe home while also itching to get out and see different places and people. I am aching to see friends who are sheltering in place or even sit in a coffee shop around strangers. Luckily for my sanity, trails out my door lead to the San Francisco Bay. So each day I walk outside and escape to watch the changing tides, shape-shifting clouds, moonrise sprinkled with stars and the city skyline glinting across the bay — things I didn’t notice before. — Diane Stark, Richmond, Calif.
Before the pandemic, I was obsessed with the Danish concept of “hygge,” or coziness and togetherness at home. Now I realize that you can’t have “hygge” without the daily stimulation and discomforts that come with living your life out in the world, and only then returning back to your comfortable home. — Naomi Gendler, Ithaca, N.Y.
At first, I chafed against the isolation of lockdown. But as the year wore on, I actually started to enjoy it. My son and his wife visited a couple of times, and when the weather was warmer, I had friends and family over outdoors. But mostly I’m on my own. I read a lot, watch a lot of TV and spend a lot of time on Zoom. I grew a victory garden with enough tomatoes and carrots to eat all summer. I sank my entire travel budget into home improvements. I am blessed and fortunate for this comfortable little house. Though I’ll be glad to get more out into the world again, I’m in no hurry to leave home. — Charlotte Massey, Royal Oak, Mich.
Home has become a sixth member of our family who has been asked to carry too much, who has repeatedly rebelled against our demands and yet continues to wanly and crustily open its arms to us again every morning. — Meg Freedman, Denver
I was surprised at how closely I began to associate home with our neighbors. We started showing up for one another. Front yard parties, text chains, baked goods. My husband made pies for the whole block during Christmas. After a year of virtual schooling and working at home, we bought a much larger, forever home this February. We’d grown so attached to our neighbors that we bought just down the street. — Ashley Dahlberg, San Antonio
Home has shifted from being a launchpad to being a whole space station. It has become our world on earth: theater, school, restaurant, office, gym, disco. In my state, many things have been open, but we still stay home because it’s safer. The kids “order” food from the kitchen and pay in pretend money. We use every inch of our space now. Appreciation for all the facets of home, for all its nooks and pockets of light, is one of the greatest gifts of the past year. — c, Boston
We took the opportunity to buy our first home in July. It was a welcome change; we doubled our square footage. We spent the summer and fall fixing up small repairs and settling into our new home, which we have come to love so dearly. But it didn’t solve the reality of how being inside four walls slowly eats you alive. As much as I wanted to spend time in the present moment, the future was all I could think about. The present was unchanging, and the monotonous routine of this amazing new home was beginning to wear. I’ve never stopped loving it, but I realized that it alone wasn’t enough to shoulder the pandemic burden of quiet stillness and loneliness. — James Boeding, West Hartford, Conn.
A place that has served as a refuge and safe space for so many years now feels more utilitarian and crowded than before the pandemic. I feel hemmed in by all the bodies constantly here, and it can feel claustrophobic. At the same time, I am more aware of the protections it offers me and my family, especially with the recent weather in Texas. — Bonnie Berry, Austin, Texas
I hope my family and I only remember the good we shared at home this past year — the movie nights, adopting a new dog, playing in the yard, being able to maintain our careers, my daughter excelling in school — and none of the bad or hard stuff: the fear and uncertainty, the frustration, the extreme challenges of working from home and supporting our daughter with remote learning. But mostly, I hope we remember that we got through it together. — Ivette Tirado, Hamden, Conn.
Home, for me, started at a student flat in England and, overnight, became a move back to my family home. I went from having an independent lifestyle to living at home again, sharing and organizing day-to-day life with three other family members (and several animals). I have felt a paradoxical pull in two directions: a yearning for freedom, independence and then a powerful desire to hold tightly onto the family with whom I’ve been in survival mode this year. Home is somewhere I long to be, but also somewhere I am desperately trying to escape from. — Amy Lind Harrison, Ilkley, England
The limitations of being at home were hard at first, but I’ve come to cherish home and the many months here. It gave me the freedom to seek new experiences: learning Spanish, cooking Indian food, planting a garden. I feel like home provided the spark and protection to take on these new endeavors. — Margaret Peisert, St. Paul, Minn.
Our backyard backs up to the woods, but I had spent little time observing it. Suddenly, after buying a patio gazebo and an inflatable hot tub, it became our haven. We spent hours out there looking at the wildlife. The birds and squirrels were constant companions. Christmas brought online birding classes and requests for bird feeders. We now see adventures right from our back door. We’ve extended our knowledge through virtual learning. Far from feeling jailed, we have felt freed from lots of the daily expectations of life, all while sheltered in our home. — Karin Benton, Ocean Pines, Md.
Before Covid, I always placed a lamp near a window so something would welcome me as I drove up to my house on dark winter nights. My lamp is still near my window, but now it greets me as I walk down the hall. A home can be welcoming even if you rarely leave. — Monique Klapperich, Rockford, Ill.
This past year I have become a nomad. My husband and I had sold our home and were living in an apartment in order to intricately plan a one-year move to Mexico. Around this time last year, we were scheduled to fly down. Then the pandemic hit. We needed a Plan B. That became the South Shore area of Massachusetts. We rented a house in the tiny seashore town of Hull. We were very lucky to just buy a quirky, charming little 1725 cottage in Duxbury. We know we are blessed, but we are exhausted and can’t wait to create roots and make new friends again. — Marcy Jackson, Hull, Mass.
The forced isolation actually helped me heal from the grief of losing many people and things important to me. Home became a cozy, messy, safe place to rediscover how happy I am making art of any kind. — Laurie Creasy, Catawissa, Pa.
We built our house with as many natural materials as possible. Due to caring for an elderly family member during Covid, we had to let go of any additional help that we had. I found myself on my hands and knees caring for this beautiful house that we had built. It was then that I realized just how precious it was. My house was alive, it breathed. It changes with each of the seasons; the wood expands and a door becomes more difficult to close and, suddenly, without notice, it closes without a sound. The sun comes in the surrounding windows, dancing each month to a new rhythm. Our garden takes on a new face each week. We find ourselves in a private, little heaven. — Dana Knötgen, Munich
Home has been a place of refuge. I have noticed small things, like how the light changes in the apartment hour by hour. I will miss the moments of stillness. I will not miss the boredom and loneliness. — Annie Piper, Brooklyn, N.Y.
In New York City, home is like a satellite place you return to. “Life” takes place in the public sphere. This past year has forced my partner and me to make all elements of life happen in 520 square feet: work, rest, exercise, intimacy, recreation, socializing. It forced us to live in every inch of our apartment. I will remember slow time, new recipes, lots of television and yoga on YouTube. I will also remember grief, processing the loss. I will remember making the most of a tragic year in this little box of ours. — Dave Yedid, New York City
A home is a place of safety and comfort, but once the pandemic ends, I have no intention of spending time at home. — Teresa Boardman, St. Paul, Minn.