By Joni Spear
The scourge of a global pandemic has thrust us into unprecedented times. For some, COVID-19 is an existential threat; for others, an inconvenience filled with mask wearing and social distancing. But for me and many others, it’s hit closer to home.
My father, an otherwise healthy 91-year-old, contracted the coronavirus and died 12 days later. My brother and his family, who were his caregivers, were also afflicted. I sat in the hospital with my father during his last hours on Earth, and a week later I also contracted the virus, along with my husband.
I know firsthand how devastating and isolating it is to be restricted inside for 14 days. We are fortunate to have wonderful neighbors, who brought us soup, beverages and medicine. But let me assure you, being confined with one person when you are both very sick is not a fun experience.
With all the changes contributing to our new lifestyle, our chaffed psyches cry out for comfortable and functional zones at home. We not only need places to work, but also areas that offer salvation at the end of the day. Simple changes can help you maintain your sanity and lesson the chaos.
When creating your refuge, consider four of our five basic senses: sight, smell, hearing and touch.
Lighting is critical when conjuring a mood. Adding table lamps with low-voltage lightbulbs or putting a dimmer on an overhead light gives you the option to soften or quiet the overall atmosphere of a room. And make a new habit of unplugging – literally and figuratively – anything that can contribute to your anxiety or unhealthy doomscrolling. While we convalesced, my husband and I turned off our phones, TV, computers … heck, we didn’t even speak to each other for a spell. I also turned off the air conditioning and opened the windows, allowing fresh air and the sounds of nature to penetrate the house.
Have a wood-burning fireplace you never use? Call a plumber and have a gas insert installed. You can achieve the same, calming experience by the fire without all the work and mess. Well-chosen scented candles can also help soothe the soul and reduce anxiety.
For the kitchen, something as simple as new coffee cups or wine glasses can raise your spirits. Repurpose your old tea towels as dust rags and replace them with fresh, absorbent, 100 percent cotton ones. Put a pretty runner, stress mat or small washable rug under the sink; your feet will thank you.
You can also make quick, inexpensive changes in your bathroom. Buy a beautiful dispenser and fill it with a luxuriant, aromatic hand soap. If you prefer bar soap, use a pretty bowl from your china closet. Replace your tired bath towels with outsized Turkish cotton bath sheets to pamper yourself after warm soaks.
For most of us, our bedroom is our go-to sanctuary. Invest in the best-quality mattress and sheets you can afford, and splurge on good down-insert pillows for your bed; you’ll never go back to poly-fill once you lay your weary head on these gentle clouds. I invested in a weighted blanket. They are supposed to help calm a restless body, reduce anxiety and improve sleep, but mostly they’re just super comfy, and you’re missing out if you have yet to try one.
Add bedside lamps and replenish your reading stash. Relax. Keep your favorite slippers handy and shrug off making the bed.
Taking my own advice helped us heal in a variety of ways. When mobile enough, and desperate for fresh air and sunshine, I cut fresh flowers from my garden and pulled weeds to move my body and occupy my mind. But when I’d had enough, I returned gratefully to my private sanctuary, just inside. I hope these tips will help you find solace in yours.
Joni Spear, a professional interior designer with more than 20 years of experience, specializes in high-end residential projects. She recently relocated to Smithfield. See some of her work at www.JoniSpear.com.