Forget Curb Appeal, Our Homes and Yards Are For Spreading Joy Now

published Apr 17, 2020
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child draws rainbow in window during coronavirus
Credit: Antipina Daria/

Last spring, a good-looking yard might’ve meant having healthy green grass and some freshly-planted tulips. But this year, curb appeal has taken on a new definition as homebound people are using their windows, doors, porches, and lawns to stay in touch with neighbors and essential workers, even as a public health crisis is keeping us apart.

In windows, you’ll spot stuffed animals and construction paper, hearts and rainbows. On lawns, you’ll see jumbo painted signs and those flailing inflatable tube guys. It wasn’t long after the beginning of the pandemic’s social distancing measures that people began using their homes to communicate with—and uplift—those beyond their front doors.

The rise of “teddy bear treasure hunts” was an early example. Neighbors around the country have conspired to display stuffed animals and other toys in their windows as a way of giving kids a fun game to play while on socially distant walks. The concept caught on immediately, especially as it spread on social media. Some local Facebook groups, chock full of photo updates and teddy bear design inspiration, have thousands of followers, and those most dedicated to the movement say the simple act of arranging children’s toys in window sills, or spotting one on a stroll around town, feels something like a spiritual cleanse. 

“The amount of joy it brings you in such a silly manner is kind of awesome,” says Kate Lewey, who runs a popular bear hunt Facebook page in New Hampshire. “You leave your house kind of verklempt, scared, nervous, uncertain and exhausted from the whole COVID process. But when you see this, it’s an instant relief in like one second. That’s pretty exciting.” Lewey also runs a Google map of the bears’ locations that contains thousands of hits, and grows more numerous by the day. 

One bear hunt aficionado, who also maintains a Facebook page in Massachusetts and has a stuffed lamb draped across her front door like a wreath, says she’s been having more fun seeing what her neighbors are up to than she ever could have imagined, given the circumstances. “I went driving around the other day and people I’ve never met before were out decorating their windows and waving,” says Elizabeth Goulart Pacheco, of Fall River, Mass. “It’s brought people together.”

Credit: Celina Chase
Emma, 11, Brendan, 9, and Liam, 5, paint a window in their Southeast Michigan home.

A similar effort that began in Canada, called Hearts in the Window, has also become an unlikely sensation. Its founder, British Columbia-based Natasha James, says she started a Facebook page a few weeks ago for her neighbors in Nanaimo, thinking a call to tape up hearts cut out of paper or spare holiday wrapping would be a needed pick-me-up for her community. “I figured we’d all have fun putting up hearts in our neighborhoods and walking around. It’s something you can do without getting too close to anybody, but you know you put your hearts out for them and they put out their hearts for you,” she says. “Within seven days we had 100,000 members.”

Photos of increasingly elaborate window displays are submitted to the Hearts in Windows Facebook page nonstop—about 2,000 an hour, James says. It’s now mushroomed into a full-on movement, online and off: Hearts have been paired with messages for frontline health professionals, or placed in driveways and on garbage and recycling bins as gestures of gratitude to public works employees and postal workers. She’s started seeing delivery and garbage trucks reciprocate, with hearts in their windows as well. A few essential employees, when they pass a home that’s particularly decked out in hearts, have taken to honking their horns.

Some have taken this new opportunity to use their windows to communicate with homebound neighbors more literally. In the UK, a woman who spied a cat in an apartment across the street found out the furry friend’s name—it’s Walter—by asking with a sign hung in her window. 

Elsewhere in the UK, a street in North Yorkshire developed a color-coded sign system for facilitating mutual aid to one another: a green rectangle in the window means all is well, while a red one means help is needed fetching groceries or medication. 

Some approach their street-facing home accents with a sense of humor. In Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, some clever apartment dwellers hung a sign, which appears to be fashioned out of a bed sheet, with a coronavirus-themed take on the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive.

The pandemic has also given us an excuse to turn to things that bring good cheer during other parts of the year. Homes around the world have dug up their stowed-away boxes of holiday lights to decorate their homes, sharing photos of their seasonally inappropriate displays with hashtags like #ChristmasinMarch. It makes sense that a tradition designed to brighten a colder and darker time of year might be of some use to people right now, when the mood is anything but joyous.

Credit: Celina Chase

“We’re all going through this strange thing together, so it’s really heartwarming and lovely in a way to keep on persevering ” says Brooklyn’s Anna Grotsky, who maintains a map of homes with windows featuring rainbow-related paintings and crafts, called the Rainbow Connection, that has been viewed more than 300,000 times. “What I hope is that when we do come out of this we take that sense of unity and hope and compassion with us.”