Before the 11th of March, I hadn’t spent much time in my new flat. Like many others, I viewed my home as a list of necessary qualities – it needed to be close enough to work, on good tube lines (not the Northern) and near to my friends. Big windows and good flatmates were a bonus, but I could survive without. In the 11 days since I moved in, I had definitely slept there, probably eaten there, and each morning hurriedly brushed my teeth thereafter knocking back two cups of coffee and before rushing out.
The next day, as I was setting off to work, an email buzzed up on my phone saying we had brought forward our trial day in isolation. The prospect seemed almost fun, so I took off my boots and earrings, put on a familiar jumper and went into the kitchen to boil the kettle again. Working from home felt novel then, and although I sensed even then that this trial day might not be just a trial, I did not then think I would not be coming back into the office for months.
We have had to negotiate the corners and crannies of our homes
For most of us, our home is our biggest expenditure – I lament seeing my rent disappear from my account each month, thinking how rich I would feel if I just didn’t need to pay it. And yet, we often spend so little of our days there. In winter, we leave for work before it gets light, and get back long after it grows dark. We do not know it by day. Between social plans and work, our time within our own walls is pressed and pushed smaller and smaller.
Over the past few weeks, we have had to spend more time at home than ever before. We have had to negotiate its corners and crannies, to learn and understand ourselves in relation to its space and the space we inhabit within it. I watched with new fascination how in late morning the sunlight in my bedroom yawned, spilling across the carpet imprinted in stretched squares from the sash windows; in the afternoon it would spread across my walls like soft butter, growing first golden and then a pink-red before fading.
I learnt how cold the flat could get. I was deeply thankful that a few nights before my best friend had helped me assemble an electric heater hastily bought from Argos. The laughter of two completely-impractical people holding an upside-down tower heater and trying to screw together its tiny bolts using debit cards and earrings in place of screwdrivers felt so far away as I sat for those first long days of working alone listening to its constant whir.
How quickly my mind absorbed the details – tiny details – of each room. I began to properly notice the objects I had collected. Which pictures and trinkets looked odd after seeing them for too long. I noticed books that I had been meaning to read for years and thought I’d lost, some with notes stashed inside from years ago. Understood how thankful to be of our chairs and sofas and beds that welcome us; the nooks we find to curl up in and feel protected.
I savour stillness in a way I never did before
Before London entered lockdown, I took a noticeably empty train home. (What the Irish call “down home”; a phrase that’s still okay when you’re in your early-to-mid-twenties and you haven’t quite yet started calling it your parents’ house.) This time was different to returning occasionally after feeling like packing a bag and getting out of London for a weekend – before realising just a few hours later that a few hours was actually all the time you really needed and wishing you could go straight back. Within days, I felt the regression that I know a lot of friends have felt too – that lack of independence that we felt as teenagers but haven’t known since. Our lives, before so full of constant stimulation, have been put on pause.
The first week was a struggle of competing priorities and family members all vying for space and learning that no matter how much there is it’s not enough. We had all not been around each other since Christmas – and then there weren’t full-time jobs to be done and an uncertain end date to deal with. People have slowly softened into new routines. We began to move with ease again, curling and dancing silently around each other – a cup of tea handed to me wordlessly by my Mum or the nod of a sibling when I took another video call or was typing away furiously meant, ‘I understand, I’ll leave you in peace now.’
I found a good place to set up my desk – next to a window so I could still feel sunlight. I formed a new routine of taking almost a full hour each morning to sit outside with my coffee and warm up my brain before work – listening to a podcast or checking a long-read online felt like luxuries that made the day just that bit better, the world a tiny bit friendlier.
In the evenings, when the laptop closes, I savour that stillness in a way I never did before. Those hours feel both endlessly long and as though they pass in seconds, but each day they are noted; the sun sets and another day winds down. Now that daylight hours are longer, I’m more aware of the sights and sounds of spring. The birdsong I rarely heard in London, the voices of people out for their daily walk. Life is slow, but there is still life. We can see the season come into its own, as the space beyond the window turns greener, flecked with blossom and touches of primrose yellow. We can stop to notice it now.
For those of us who have the luxury to be working from home, it is easy to give in to cabin fever and focus only on the unravelling future. But there is joy to be found in the everyday. We are getting truly and deeply to know the places that we call home, to savour their best qualities and pour time and attention into improving their faults. Because there is a strange beauty to these places we create and curate, and to know them can also mean to know ourselves.
From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK