Quarantined together: sweeping, sorting and keeping the pandemic at bay

I am a chronicler of my family history, curious about the odd and morbid facts not found in photo albums. As this pandemic drew on, I wanted to know what my ancestors might have experienced during the 1918 Spanish Flu. Death? Quarantine? Face masks? Hand washing? Would there be anything familiar to our lives today?

Though three forebears died that year, I found no direct mention of the cause of death in the family archives. One of those lost was my great-great-grandmother, Sarah Ann Coles. Whether the pandemic took her is unknown, but if it did, I would guess it was not out of lack of effort on her part to keep it at bay. Granny Sarah was noted to be an ace housekeeper. She lived by the adage: “Clean the corners and the rest of the room will take care of itself.”

Facing lockdown for the foreseeable future, I decided to address my own home’s corners.

The dreaded storeroom needed to be emptied of outgrown items. The pandemic-prep pantry goods should be removed from bags where they were self-sanitizing on the laundry-room floor. Time to Marie Kondo my closet and Margaret Roach my yard.

Things would be ship-shape In No Time.

There was just the wee problem of sharing space with someone All the Time. Now mind you, my husband is very tidy—doesn’t mind mopping and finds what little ironing there is to do relaxing. But he hasn’t been home all day for forty years. And though he was still working remotely, there were some Home Improvements he had in mind.

For example, he thought a slight rearranging of the silverware drawer was in order. He prefers a larger spoon for oatmeal and soup (two things to be found in the unsorted grocery bags) and felt the tablespoons should switch places with the teaspoons—the spoon size I used most and thought deserved primo placement.

“Oh honey,” I said, as we unloaded the dishwasher together. “The spoons are in the wrong place.”

“Nah,” he replied. “I fixed them.”

“You fixed them?

He proceeded to explain the logic of the silverware switcheroo and I resisted impaling him with a butter knife. Wisely, he conceded the cutlery conflict and we retreated to our separate, still-dusty, corners.

Months later, we haven’t tackled the storeroom, but we’ve made our living space more livable for both of us. The furniture placement is more jumbled, now that things have been rearranged for online yoga classes. We’re eating tasty home-cooked meals, but the lunch dishes sometimes stay in the sink if we both have work calls.

To-be-read-at-a-leisurely-pace newspapers pile up near the most comfortable seats. Leaves litter the dry creek in the front yard. We spend more time in the garden than ever, but often it’s to do bird-sits not rake leaves.

Which is to say, we’ve done more shoring up than sweeping out the corners during the pandemic. Supporting each other’s work, nourishing our bodies, enriching our minds, and navigating the new normal together means there’s less home economics and more home comforts happening where we shelter in place.

I guess that means the muddle in the middle—the less important stuff of daily life—is sorting itself out. But the teaspoons—well, they’re staying in the front of the drawer.

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Kathryn Pritchett

Kathryn Pritchett is a writer and blogger who likes to explore the basic building blocks of good design.  Her writing about design-related things can be found in many print and online publications including the Bay Area News Group where her column Things Elemental ran for many years.

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