Feeling stuck at home? Struggling to work there while also supervising your kids’ schooling? Buried under stockpiles of canned goods and toilet paper?
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, most of us are spending a lot more time in our home — dealing with its flaws, along with new challenges now that everyone in the household is doing more at home and vying for space.
“I’m getting a lot of inquiries on living this way,” said Michele Vig, a Marie Kondo-certified professional organizer and owner of Neat Little Nest, Edina. Many of her clients are families with children who are struggling to make room for all the roles their homes now have to play. “We’re an office, a day care, a school. We’re having to rethink the house,” she said.
But even those who are already accustomed to working from home and don’t have school-age kids are seeking ways to make their home a more pleasant place in an unsettled time.
“When you’re spending all this time in your home, you want it to be a refuge, a sanctuary, a happy place to be,” said Bria Hammel, owner of Bria Hammel Interiors, Mendota Heights. Now’s a good time to “clean it out, remove things you don’t love. A simplified space de-stresses people.”
Start with the “functional spaces,” such as your pantry and mudroom, Hammel advised. Cleaning and clearing out the clutter will help your home work for you. Then move on to the “pretty spaces,” such as the living room and bedrooms.
Patty Doyle is glad she got her Bloomington house in order months before anyone was talking about the coronavirus. A geriatric pharmacist who’s currently studying for board recertification while raising four active kids, Doyle needs an organized home to support her busy family. “I worked with Neat Little Nest to create a space we could thrive in,” she said. “It is a neater nest than before. I was fortunate to get this set up before it [the coronavirus] hit.”
Vig, Hammel and other pros shared tips for creating a comfortable, functional home:
All hands on deck
With more meals being eaten at home and more work being done there, there’s more stuff — from food to dirty dishes to paperwork. If you don’t stay on top of it, “clutter will creep in, and everyone will be more stressed,” said Vig. She advocates enlisting the whole family in short, focused bursts throughout the day rather than a marathon session after everything has descended into disarray. “If I preach anything, it’s the Focused 15,” she said. That means setting a timer for 15 minutes and focusing on the task at hand, whether it’s cleaning up after dinner or putting away laundry. Yes, kids will balk. Even Vig’s. “We’re a normal family. They’re not wanting to put stuff away all the time,” she said. Make it part of your family’s daily routine. “We need to Focus 15. Everybody in the kitchen.”
Rethink your home
“You’re trapped in your home, and you feel things aren’t working,” said Cy Winship, Cy Winship Design, Golden Valley. He and his husband decided to take a fresh look at their own house. “We started with the kitchen,” he said. “We were always bumping into each other, and we had too much in drawers we don’t use.” They pulled everything out, and then reorganized drawers and cupboards based on how items were used and by whom, so they weren’t constantly crisscrossing the kitchen and getting in each other’s way. “It was a revelation for us,” said Winship. “Why do we have 17 oven sheets? We can pare those down and have more room.” They also found things they forgot they had, including their Instant Pot. “We never used it,” he said. Now it’s on the stove — and getting a workout. “When it’s in front of you, you start using it,” he said. “Decluttering is a weird, joyful thing.”
Next, they rearranged all their furniture in the family room with an eye to creating better flow. “We’re not so constrained walking around things,” Winship said. “It makes our home feel kind of new.” If your baseboards are worn and scuffed, paint them, he said. “It looks clean and fresh when everything feels diseased and dangerous.”
Sprucing up your home also “gives you a moment of control,” he said. “We have no control other than to avoid our world. Like it or not, this is our environment now.”
Hygge, the Danish word for creating a cozy, comforting mood, is essential in these fraught times. “Hygge applies now that we’re all sequestered,” said Lisa Pope, a certified kitchen and bath designer, Partners 4 Design, Minneapolis. “Light a candle, put throws around, bring in plants. Make it cozy and welcoming.” If you have a fireplace, build a fire. If you don’t have a pet, consider getting one. Buy a bouquet of flowers, bake something.
A few simple extras can add a bit of comfort without adding a lot of expense, said Hammel, who recommends switching out accent pillows or artwork. “Adding candles instantly relaxes and adds fragrance,” she said. Even just opening windows and bringing in some fresh air can lift your spirits.
Maintain your routine
Abrupt change is unsettling. If you’re new to working from home, try to maintain the same routine you did when you commuted to an office, Vig suggested. Start your workday the way you used to, with a shower and breakfast, or a workout followed by a cup of coffee. “Try to bring your old normal to your new normal. It can help your mind-set.”
Who’s working where?
If two people are now having to work from home, Vig advises designating where each will work and setting up that space like an office. “I highly recommend not sharing an office,” she said. “Try to find your own space, even if it’s small.” Kids learning at home also need designated spaces, she said. “It’s an opportunity to work with your kids and examine what works best for them.” In her home, for example, she set up a double desk, but her kids had other ideas. Her 15-year-old daughter likes to study in a cozy room on a double chaise with her laptop, while her 11-year-old son prefers to “bop around,” then sit down at a computer at the kitchen table. “For every child, it’s a little different,” she said. “At school, they don’t have that opportunity” for individualized learning environments.
Organize your pantry
With most households stocking up on food and other supplies, it’s more important than ever to have a good organizing system. Vig advises stocking the kitchen pantry with items used for “active cooking, day to day,” but creating separate storage for “backstock.” She lives in a 1940s house with a small pantry, so she put up shelving in the basement for surplus canned and dry goods. “Make a separate place to store backstock so you don’t have things lost in the back [of the pantry] that expire.” Then, before your next trip to the grocery store, shop your own backstock first, to avoid buying things you already have.
Hammel organizes her pantry by type of food. There’s a breakfast shelf. “The kids know to go there in the morning,” she said. Snacks get their own shelf, as do pastas and canned goods. Hammel likes to take food out of its packaging and put it in “pretty containers so you can see the food, instead of messy boxes. It calms the eye.” She labels the containers with the expiration date and any necessary preparation instructions. Tiered stacking makes it easier to see what you have and helps you avoid spending money on items already in your pantry.
To keep your home clean and virus-free, Pope advises upgrading hand-washing stations throughout your home and adding disposable towels. And don’t forget to clean and disinfect high-touch areas, such as sinks, refrigerator handles and remote controls.
Tackle a bigger project
If you want help, now’s a good time to seek help from a design professional, many of whom are offering virtual services during this time of limited face-to-face interaction. If you’re eyeing a remodel, “you can start working through the design process,” said Pope, although don’t expect the actual work to be done anytime soon; many subcontractors are curtailing on-site work as a precautionary measure.
Hammel’s design firm recently launched an e-design service at reduced fees for tackling one room at a time. The client sends room dimensions, photos and “inspiration pictures of rooms that make them happy,” Hammel said. “From there, we develop a design, a floor plan and design board, and a shopping list with clickable links.” The cost ranges from about $1,000 to $2,000, depending on the size of the room.
Share your housebound tips
Now that most of us are spending more time in our homes, we want them to feel orderly and comforting, a refuge rather than a place where we’re stuck. What are you doing to enhance your home and make it more functional and enjoyable? Share your ideas. Send a short e-mail to: kim.palmer@startribune. We’ll feature some of the best responses in Sunday Homes.