They’re Stuck at Home, So They’re Making Home a Sanctuary

With few places to go or reasons to spend, those lucky enough to be employed remotely are upgrading their surroundings. The impulse comes with guilt.

By Maria Cramer and Aimee Ortiz

In March, the threadbare couch in the living room was merely an annoyance, but Megan Barney, a book publicist in Cambridge, Mass., was not ready to spend hundreds of dollars to replace it.

By August, after six months of working from home, Ms. Barney could not stand looking at what had become an unsightly beige monstrosity. It had to go.

Ms. Barney, 26, and her husband, a research scientist, ordered a blue sectional, which arrived last month, joining a collection of other household amenities that the couple has splurged on since the pandemic began.

Cuisinart pots and Crate & Barrel pans. A cocktail shaker and martini glasses. New dishes.

“If I’m going to be here,” Ms. Barney said, “I want it to be as comfortable as possible and as calming as possible.”

With limited restaurant options, even fewer travel options and little reason to spend money on nice clothes for the office, those fortunate enough to have kept their jobs during the pandemic are using their disposable income to upgrade their pandemic headquarters.

They are buying bamboo-linen sheets, big-screen TVs, high-end blenders and new furniture.

And some of them feel guilty being able to buy freely when so many other people are unemployed. Shouldn’t they be giving money to charity, or decluttering their lives?

“I definitely feel weird,” said Ms. Barney, who has donated and also tried to help friends who were laid off. “I also just feel weird generally about having a job because I don’t necessarily feel special or better than any of my friends who have lost their jobs.”

But experts warn against being too hard on yourself in a time of great anxiety.

It may feel indulgent to splurge on your household now, but it’s perfectly normal, even healthy, said Asia Wong, a social worker and director of counseling and health services at Loyola University New Orleans.

“Think of this as an amplified nesting response,” she said. “Yes, we’re looking for ways to make home feel more entertaining and vibrant. But we’re also looking for ways to feel safer and more cozy.”

Keeping up with the Joneses on Zoom.

But let’s not kid ourselves. We’re also looking to impress others, experts said.

The pressure to have a home pretty enough for Instagram was already intense before the pandemic. As video conferences and virtual learning have opened up people’s living spaces to more outside scrutiny, that pressure has only grown, said Annetta Grant, an assistant professor of marketing at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.

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