We Asked 14 People How They Destress When They’re Home All the Time—And Most Have the Same Habit
Sharing a small living space with roommates, a partner, or family members can be challenging under the best of circumstances. Too much togetherness and a lack of restorative alone time are the perfect ingredients for bickering, irritability, and resentment—ask anyone who has ever argued over the recycling, and they’ll probably tell you the fight wasn’t really about trash day, but more about reaching a boiling point.
Like many other things, navigating close quarters is infinitely more challenging in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Companies and schools across the country have shifted to remote models, and plenty of recreational activities from the “before times” are looking a lot different these days, if they’re happening at all.
All of this means that lots of people are at home all the time, which can create a set of extreme circumstances. For some folks who live alone, that might mean intense isolation and loneliness—both of which can be harder to manage in the winter months. On the other end of the spectrum are folks who live with roommates or family, where alone time is not only a necessity, but often a rare luxury. And with the weather getting colder in some parts of the country, getting outdoors safely is objectively not as easy as it was over the summer… which means finding alone time is about to get a lot more difficult.
We caught up with a few people of all ages to find out their tips, tricks, and hacks for keeping the peace in their homes—and how to capitalize on the importance of time alone. As it turns out, most highlighted the importance of carving your own space, no matter how small or cramped your home. Here’s how they do it.
“Sound machines. It sounds simple, but the difference between hearing every single noise from every member of the household and providing background noise to blur the edges of daily life is a dose of unexpected mental space and privacy. My favorite one that I consider to be the ‘gold standard’ of sound machines is the Marpac Dohm Classic, because it’s mechanical as opposed to electronic.”—Erin, 38, Massachusetts
“Before saying something critical to a family member or even making a suggestion that could be perceived as criticism, I’ll often ask myself: ‘Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said now? Does this need to be said by me?’ Can’t always bite my tongue though.”—Maude, 65, Pennsylvania
“I try to find a few minutes each day to be by myself while still being productive. Even if it’s a task like folding laundry, mowing the lawn, or cleaning the bathroom, I’ll savor the quiet time by listening to music or stand-up comedy, or letting my mind wander about sports. It’s a good substitute for those previous routine drives to work, coffee breaks, etc.”—Dan, 33, North Carolina
“I live with my girlfriend and we just try to keep an open communication about things. Our apartment is really small, and it’s easy to bicker if we’re not honest and upfront. We also try to find ways to enjoy our own interests even though we’re not going out as much; she’s an artist so she takes time every day to paint or draw. Pre-COVID, I used to go to a yoga class every morning so I still do virtual classes on my own. It’s always important in any relationship to have your own thing, and especially now.” —Eliza, 38, Michigan
“Exercise, even if it’s indoors, can work wonders.”—Owen, 35, Virginia
“I live with roommates and we’ve always had a set of house rules we keep in the kitchen. They’re basic things like putting away dishes, keeping the inside of the microwave clean, taking out the trash when it’s full, removing the old K-cup pod from the Keurig—just a base level of courtesy for each other so that we don’t get under each other’s skin. During the pandemic, where we’re all mostly at home, we have been making sure to pay extra attention to that list because it’s easier to become irritable when we’re indoors so much and generally feeling anxious about the state of the world.”—Jac, 25, Washington
“Take some alone time when you need it! The best thing you can do for yourself and others is to be mindful of your mood and step away when you feel yourself getting worked up. If someone is getting on your nerves, instead of lashing out, just go distract yourself with whatever brings you joy. My partner and I will put this into practice by hitting the pause button and taking time for ourselves. For me, that’s retreating to the bedroom to play guitar, journal, listen to music, or even just sit with my cat.”—Isabel, 24, California
“I became a new mom two months before the pandemic. It wasn’t easy at first to be at home with my new baby and fiancé, as we both work from home, but we have worked it out to get the time we need to ourselves. Now, we switch off on duties and prioritize each other’s alone time, which is something I desperately need to have every now and then. My alone time usually equates to a closed door, a warm drink like Golde’s turmeric latte or a simple coffee, in bed, without any tasks for an hour or so. My fiancé will take over baby duty and will let me be. He can usually always tell when I’m reaching my ‘breaking point’ of the day in which I just need to be left alone. As for him, alone time often involves playing a video game, or just simply not having any responsibilities for a bit, to get a mental break. I didn’t really leave my home before the colder weather, so I don’t see any change happening in the coming months.”—Leila, 24, Connecticut
“I live with two of my best friends and we get along really well but always benefit from time away from each other. The key especially in colder weather is to find designated spaces in our place where we can each be by ourselves and recharge, whether it’s doing work, or playing video games, or just resting. My designated space of choice is usually my room, because I can close the door and put on headphones and shut everyone else out. We need that time because otherwise we annoy each other.” —Kyle, 29, New York
“The most beneficial strategy I have found for keeping the peace is communication, especially about things that are crucial for living peacefully. To me, things that absolutely need to be discussed are what temperature to keep our apartment, expectations for cleanliness in common areas, and, if there are household items that we all use, who is going to restock them when they run out. That said, I also think it’s important to have general conversations too and check in on the people you live with. It doesn’t have to be a deep heart-to-heart, but just knowing how everyone’s faring and how the week has been treating them is enough.” —Camille, 22, Florida
“I try to stay mostly in my own bedroom and my roommate does the same, so we only use the common areas when we need to (for cooking, workout classes, or watching TV). This really helps to feel like we’re not constantly in each other’s hair. I also try to speak up when something bothers me—like putting wet dishes to dry over dry ones—so I don’t build up resentment. Overall though, I’m just lucky that my roommate and I are good friends.” —Iris, 25, England
“I have a big family: Three kids between the ages of 10 and 15, a partner, and two dogs. It is cramped. We build cool-off time into our days, which can be anything from going for a walk to spending time in a room alone, but the key is that it’s done solo and before conflict arises, not as a result of it. Generally, I try to stress the importance of being together and also apart. My kids are more than happy to take time by themselves, but less happy when it’s away from their screens; they’d be on their phones or iPads all day if I let them, plus they are on the computer all the time for school. I try to encourage them to go for walks, read books, color, or call their friends on the landline phone the way my generation did when we were young.” —Dani, 42, Maine