There was a time – before March 2020 – when everyday life was a relatively ‘normal’ time of peace and stability. 

We had no idea what was coming down the line….. 

That a global pandemic would keep us locked up in our homes and put an abrupt halt to our everyday life, social activities, travel and schooling.

Or, that a war in Ukraine would cause an unprecedented rise in the cost of living.

Or, that the UK government could/would cause such chaos, misery and lack of confidence leading to higher mortgages, poverty and the threat of blackouts.

We are living in a state of news-driven flux. It’s no surprise that permacrisis is the Collins Dictionary word of the year.

Our home is no longer our place of comfort and safety. It is being devastated by forces way outside of our control.

During the pandemic we were forced to stay at home because it was the safest place to be.

Outside, we were wary of anything we touched (door handles). We were careful about who we saw and where we went. Inside, we devised new everyday rituals, involving disinfectant wipes to keep us safe. It soon became a routine and way of life.

At times we wondered: is this the new normal?

Two years on, we have more things to worry about

The rise in the cost of living means we are battling sky-high costs and constantly looking to see where and how we can cut back. 

Our home is more purgatory than sanctuary; an energy-burning, wasteful, cold, draughty expensive place.

And yet, it is still the centre of our lived experience.

It is also full of things we like to have, and things we cannot do without. But now, our choices – in design, technology, lifestyle and space- make us more conscious of every socket, light and gadget we use.

In the throes of the pandemic people thought about moving to a bigger home with a garden, a house with history and period charm, away from the city.  A new life, a new way of living

Once we marvelled at   Grand Designs homes for their beautiful, open-plan, big windows, free-flowing spaces.

Now: a big home just looks cold, over-sized, empty and impossible to heat. A smaller home with fewer rooms, good insulation, efficient sustainable heating systems  and access to public transport is a much more attractive prospect. 

Is this the wake-up call we need to re-think what we do and how we live?

One solution might be to develop our urban spaces as a 15 minute city. A place where we could live in better resourced neighbourhoods, instead of an urban sprawl, where we would have less need for a car.

Rising costs of basic utilities, fuel and food prices is affecting everything we do outside and inside our homes. Everyone ( apart from the very rich) is having to make adjustments to save money, to pay the bills.

What can we afford? 

How can we cut back? 

What are  Essentials vs non-essentials?

We are advised to  wear more layers, switch off lights and use the oven less. Armed with   new knowledge of kw outputs and costs per hour we are watching the pennies, as the pounds disappear.

It feels familiar…Have we been here before?

As a child I remember my dad getting very angry if we left the immersion heater on – or if we wandered off and left the kettle steaming. He was paying the bills, we were not. Now that I am paying the bills, I see his point.

In the electricity blackouts of  ‘70’s families huddled together in one candle-lit room, keeping warm by the open fire. It was not a longterm hardship and it didn’t drive us into poverty. This was a time  before everyday life hinged around Smart TV’s, mobile phones, Computers, Alexa and Netflix. Since then, the open fire has largely gone from most homes and we are reliant on electricity to run all the gadgets and technology that run our lives.

With such widespread fuel poverty  Warm Spaces, have emerged as places where people can go to be warm. For some the only viable solution  to energy costs is to spend as much time outside of the home as possible – if they can.

Have you put your heating on yet?

How long can you hold off?

It’s been seven months since I last put the heating on. 

In the evenings I sit at home wearing two fleeces, thermal socks and often I’m wrapped a blanket. Others are sitting at home with hot water bottles, draped in wearable blankets, hats and scarves. Sales of electric ponchos are trending.

I will wear whatever it takes to stay warm – and save money. During the lockdowns I got used to wearing ‘comfortable’ clothing. I haven’t worn heels for years.

To reduce electricity costs I use the washing machine less than before. The problem is: if it’s raining, wet clothes can hang indoors for days and still never feel completely dry. After a few days damp clothes start to smell like wet dog. In an unheated house I am ever-conscious that steamy showers can lead to mould and wet towels never dry.

In all this happiness is… my electric blanket. It’s cheap to run and it is a truly luxurious experience  to be warm and to stay warm.

With fluctuating petrol prices I walk more and use the car less. Mostly I use it to drive to budget stores where food and household goods are cheaper than the bigger supermarkets. 

It all sounds super-abstemious and Dickensian –  because it is.

Compared to Victorian times we have labour-saving household equipment, evolved technology, better social and working conditions and rights. But as humans, it all comes down to the same basic things:  to eat, heat – and live. 

So many people are having to make really difficult decisions, they are  sacrificing a lot and/or falling into poverty and debt. 

How impossible must it be for young families and elderly people, or people with a life limiting illness who rely on having a heated home. Many people are stressed out and fearing for their future because everyday life is so challenging. The long-term health consequences of what we are going through now will be significant.

All we seem to talk about is what we are doing to save money. 

A year ago, I’d never heard of an air dryer, but sales of air dryers have rocketed because they are cheaper to run than a conventional oven. They (supposedly) make great chips.

The technology has been around for a while and in these straitened  times  it has come into its own because everyone is looking to find ways to cook on a budget.

This squeeze that is affecting people inside the home impacts on life outside. 

People are cutting back and re-prioritising their spending. The  indications are that hospitality, catering and retail will be hit very hard at what should be the busiest time of year. With higher costs and fewer customers the disruption to businesses ( big and small) means that many will not stay afloat.

With every crisis… recession… war… pandemic… we expect to see a huge shift in attitudes and expectations, and the emergence of a new way of life.

Is this the moment our virtual life takes off.?

Is this the point in time when the novelty of a business in the metaverse becomes an essential part of our everyday life?

On the upside, the second-hand clothes market is booming.

People are looking at what we have to sell- and what can make them money.  This shift towards a more sustainable approach to clothing is a sea-change in attitudes towards pre-owned, used garments.  Major stores such as  M&S are trialling hiring out capsule wardrobes so people can add freshness to their wardrobe, and still reduce their outgoings. 

The Guardian suggests the fashion industry  contributes “more to climate change than the aeronautical and shipping industries combined. It’s very clear  something has to be done. 

We will still desire new clothing (or new to us) so it will be interesting to see if it is fast fashion, mid-fashion or high fashion that takes the biggest hit in this crisis – or the next.

Food re-distributing Apps such as Olio may have been around a while but have suddenly come into their own. Who cares if the veg is wonky, or the bread was frozen on the sell-by date. It’s all perfectly usable and safe. A brilliant idea is innovation at its best.

Social innovation looks to the need. It fills a gap, to bring about a shift in the way we think, act and consume everyday goods. Lifestyles change. Sometimes they must.

The  mild autumn has made a home without heating an easier place to live. And that’s a good thing. Except, maybe not….

At the heart of all of this is our use of, and dependency on, fossil fuels and carbon emissions. Dire warnings from a UN environment report indicate ‘the rapid transformation of societies’ is the only way to limit the impact of global temperatures.

There is the problem as we see it, and experience it in our own homes and in our everyday life as a result of a global political crisis.

There is the problem as science sees it, the bigger picture, the longterm view of where we are now, and where we are likely to end up.

And then there is how each government deals with the crisis – knee-jerk, in a flap or intuitively with joined up thinking.

It is the ultimate real-world design problem.

This is a crisis situation that calls for innovation and anticipation, fore-sight and insight. If business, science, governments and design unite with one purpose to think creatively, and strategically we could be more prepared for whatever comes next.

If our home is to be a place that exudes intimacy, comfort and cosiness then we need to imagine a world where we can manage energy. Perhaps, where every home has solar panels– or a windmill. Where we would drain less of the worlds resources, and capitalise more on what is sustainable.

What is good for the planet should be good for us.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: