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Life at home in extraordinary times – Part 2: Connections

What’s the importance of home in our lives, and how does it connect us to family and friends? These are questions that have always intrigued us at IKEA – and with the COVID-related restrictions and disruptions we all experienced during 2020, they are questions that are more relevant than ever.

Ilenia and Shay are two people whose homes helped them connect with loved ones during the pandemic – but in very different ways. In this second part of our series ‘Life at home in extraordinary times’, we catch up with them both, asking the question: what does your home mean to you?

A red kettle, an off-white mug, and multiple pot plants are situated on a kitchen countertop.
A red kettle, an off-white mug, and multiple pot plants are situated on a kitchen countertop.

Meet Ilenia – Milan, Italy

A scientific researcher who lives alone in Milan, northern Italy, Ilenia has always loved the apartment her parents helped her buy. But before the outbreak of coronavirus, she treated it mostly as somewhere she returned to in the evenings. Now, as a place where she’s grown to love the space and light, it feels like a real home. Most of all, it’s become a place where she feels truly connected to family and friends.

Ilenia’s feelings echo our Life at Home 2020 research, which found that almost half (46%) of those who mainly stayed at home during COVID-19 restrictions felt that their homes fulfilled their emotional needs even more.

There are a lot of memories here.

Ilenia – Milan, Italy

Comfort in the familiar

As Ilenia explains: “There are many memories inside my home. The first time my parents came here…all the dinners I’ve had…the times I went to choose furniture for it. When I see my things around me here, all these memories of family and friends bubble up in my mind.”

Ownership matters

The experience of lockdown has made Ilenia appreciate how lucky she is to own her apartment. Her friends who rent, she says, are surrounded by things that don’t belong to them, which she believes makes it more difficult for them to create the feeling of home.

Locked down at home

Even so, feeling close to people isn’t the same as being close. When Italy’s tight COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed at the beginning of the summer 2020, Ilenia began seeing friends again. But it wasn’t like it was before corona. In the past, she’d often have people over for dinner, but since the outbreak she has found that everyone goes to restaurants instead. Most of all, she misses the days when you didn’t have to plan ahead.

Emotionally close, socially distanced

Then there’s family. Ilenia has always been very close to her parents, but they live 45 minutes’ drive away. During strict lockdown it was impossible for her to see them, and it remained tricky even as restrictions eased. “I’m afraid for them [because of their age]. So no hugs, no kisses. And that’s hard. Not being able to hug them is hard.”

Meet Shay – Sydney, Australia

On the other side of the world, in Sydney, Australia, Shay’s experience has been very different. After we spoke to her for our first Life at Home Pulse Report, she and her boyfriend decided to move out of their small apartment and into Shay’s family home, where they’ve been living ever since. Unlike for Ilenia, the pandemic has brought her physically closer to her family.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, I could count one or two meals a week that I’d eat at home. Atrocious, right?

Shay – Sydney, Australia

An emotional roller-coaster

Sydney seemed to escape the worst of the virus. Even so, Shay found the months since it broke out to be an emotional roller-coaster. “When it’s super warm, my mood is upbeat. I live by the water, so I go to the beach really often,” she says. “But for a month or two, it got scary.”

Sharing workspace with family

Shay’s world used to be dominated by a job that involved lots of foreign travel and time away. But government restrictions have forced her to work from home, side-by-side with other family members. On occasion, the space has felt small and enclosed. Then there’s the monotony to contend with. “Sometimes, every day has felt the same. Monday to Sunday, you could not tell the difference. That has driven me crazy at times.”

Getting closer to home

On the plus side, staying in has helped Shay rediscover simple pleasures, like cooking and reading – activities her pre-pandemic schedule left little time for. “Before the pandemic, I could count one or two meals a week that I’d eat at home. Atrocious, right? Now it’s the complete opposite. I’ve been cooking three meals a day, not just for myself but for my whole family." Many of us, like Shay, found pleasure in spending time at home together during 2020. Among those we surveyed, 53% of people enjoyed having more time with family and 50% enjoyed eating more family meals.

Home in the future

Living under coronavirus restrictions has also allowed Shay to spend a lot more time with her boyfriend – and clearly this has been good for them both. “We got engaged in the autumn! I’m very excited. We’ve already started looking at dates. We’re hoping to have our wedding in October or November 2021. And hopefully without social distancing.”

Shay and her fiancé also hope to be living in their own place by the time they’re married. The dream used to be a small house or apartment in Balmain, a gentrified Sydney district popular with young professionals. But the experience of COVID-19 has made them think longer term.

We’ve done the whole inner-city living thing.

Shay – Sydney, Australia

“Now we’re looking for more space. Somewhere with a backyard... Also, if at some point in the next 3-5 years we start a family, we really want to be closer to both sets of parents. Especially while they’re still young and healthy.”

Final thoughts

The events of 2020 gave many of us what we at IKEA call ‘exquisite clarity’ about the importance of home in our lives. We also had the chance to get in touch with the things, people and activities that connect us more intimately with our homes.

For some, like Shay, it’s been about rediscovering family pleasures. Spending every day on top of each other is hard, but staying at home has allowed people to bond with loved ones through food, exercise and play.

Others, like Ilenia, have found pleasure in home itself – especially in those familiar objects that help connect us to absent people we love.

Up next

In the third part of our series ‘Life at home in extraordinary times’, we explore some of the feelings, thoughts and experiences that all five of the people we caught up with at the end of 2020 have in common.

Discover part three of the ‘Life at home in extraordinary times’ series

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