Making the Stay at home situation work

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It’s the 6th weekend since we started this shelter in place / stay at home / but not a lockdown (because the Governor doesn’t like to call it that) new normal for New York City. Again, I’m not complaining, but of course, I long for what we had before March.

I don’t even want to think of going back to that, because I know that the reality of it is, this whole situation will change how we move forward, even after we are allowed to go back to a semblance of normalcy. I don’t know how soon or how far off that is — except that it won’t happen before May 15. Our state authorities have said as much. The way that New York City has suffered through the pandemic, it will be harder and a longer journey for us to try and reopen the city as we knew it.

Not that I’ve gotten used to this new way of doing things — but I think I’ve managed to adapt myself to this new way of living. It’s not just about adjusting to the “home office” situation, but more importantly, I’ve had to make some adjustments as part of trying to stay healthy and avoiding getting exposed to germs.

I washed my hands as much as I could — and the first two weeks, I developed a rash on the back of my left hand. It wasn’t anything alarming or painful, but it was uncomfortable and started to itch. Fortunately, I had my ointments from previous dermatological conditions. In a week, my hand was back to normal.

You just have to be conscious of how you do things, more so when you’re outside.

I live in a second floor unit with a common doorway with my first floor neighbor. We are in a u-shaped courtyard. It’s a residential community with minimal foot traffic, and my laundry and garbage bins are just a stone’s throw away from my doorstep. Still, I’ve tried to avoid going out as much as I can by doing things at home differently.

(1) Entryway essentials

– A Box of disposable gloves: so that it’s within easy reach for when I have chores to do outside.

– A trash bin with a disposable trash bag for discarded gloves and mail.

– A pair of scissors to open the mail or deliveries with

When I go outside to pick up the mail or a delivery, I open everything just inside my door instead of bringing everything up. That way, I can dispose of the wrappers or fold away the boxes right there for disposal.

(2) Develop the habit of sorting even your regular trash. I normally threw all the garbage in my huge 13-gallon garbage bin in the kitchen, but I have now reserved this for “wet” garbage. Paper and other “dry” garbage goes into regular or smaller trash bins. I can consolidate these later into a bigger bag, or tie together. Even when I cook, I consciously put away the wrappers with the dry garbage, and I collect the vegetable and fruit peels and containers separately. This will prevent the garbage bin from filling up and minimizing the trips to the garbage bin.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to others who have regular garbage pick up, or who live in buildings where there is a garbage chute. But speaking from experience, consciously disposing of garbage at a time when you don’t want to be taking too many trips outside your door has helped me keep things in order.

(3) Set regular office hours. If you’re one of those who have had to start working from home like me, it’s very important that you delineate your office hours — and be disciplined enough to observe them.

Begin your work day as if you were working in the office. I think I’ve gotten down to a manageable level of “busy” by pacing myself better now. The office closure didn’t really mean a slow down for our office, so I have had to adapt to the work-from-home routine and make a lot of adjustments beyond the smaller laptop screen, and only one screen instead of the two I had back in the office. Some days have been truly exhausting.

– Observe a lunch hour. This is important whether or not you grab a bite. The thing is to observe an actual break, get up from your desk, and pause. Literally.

Aim to finish your tasks for the day and send out the last e-mail the same time you would normally be walking out of the office. One thing that working from home robs us of is the urge to stop and get up to leave when we were actually in the office. We have buses and trains to catch, actual travel time to hurdle before getting home, and we need to be mindful of this even when we are in the “comfort of our own home”. Otherwise, you will find yourself working longer hours and exhausting yourself needlessly.

If you use audio alerts for email and meetings reminders, turn them on and off according to your office hours. My phone emits a sound when I receive an email in my work mailbox — I turn that off. My boss has her own text ringtone and I figure that it was urgent enough for her to reach me after office hours, she will text. So to the rest of my colleagues, there’s tomorrow. This last habit has helped me to keep myself focused on family and home when my office hours end. It has given me the chance to breathe and recharge.

– Shut down or log off your work system at the end of your work day. My personal and work email are both on my phone, but I’ve tried to make it a habit not to look at work emails after I’ve logged out of the network and turned my laptop off. All it takes is the discipline to literally watch the clock.

(4) Find a hobby or passion that you can pursue/continue even within the confines of home. For the first part of my stay-at-home journey, I focused on my art journal. I paused for a week or so, and I’m ready to continue. I’ve started sewing again, but it’s been in stops and starts because I am often too tired to do this at the end of the workday.

Not surprisingly, a lot of my colleagues at work who know I do jewelry were presuming that I’ve had more time to pick up my beads and pliers. The truth of it is, save for that one attempt at crocheting a necklace of glass crystals, the only other time I picked up my tools was earlier this week to restring a favorite necklace of gorgeous pink agate. I am going to try to do something about that in the at least 4 weeks more of this.

It can work if you choose to make it work. It doesn’t have to drive you crazy. When it does, you should find a way to get over the stress of being in this new normal.

I’ve started to cook and even bake. But that’s another blog post. I hope that sharing these things that have made this current way of life easier or more livable will help someone out there. We will get through this — we just need to hang in there and do our part.

Picking up my tools again

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