When I look around my bedroom, I’m overwhelmed by the amount of…well, things I’ve accumulated over the past few months. The shiny white hook from which I hang my colorful new assortment of masks; the altar-adjacent amount of scented candles on my windowsill; the neon-pink “Girls, Girls, Girls” sign I bought to recreate the aesthetic of my favorite, recently closed lesbian bar; the shelf where I proudly display the dollhouse-sized food miniatures I’ve begun trawling eBay for nightly.
All of this might sound like run-of-the-mill consumerism, but I can promise you: I wasn’t like this before. Prior to March, when COVID-19 first arrived in the U.S. and confined many of us to our homes, I spent most of my time at work or at bars or friends’ houses, returning to the fourth-floor walk-up in Brooklyn that I share with three roommates mostly to sleep, binge-watch TV, or heat up frozen ravioli from the haphazardly stocked grocery downstairs. I didn’t lavish attention on my bedroom decor, because what was the point? I wasn’t there much anyway.
Now we’re nine months into the pandemic, with cases rising in New York and around the country, and I’m relating to my bedroom—a 12-square-foot, white-walled cube with okay-ish light and a less-than-ideal amount of closet space—in an entirely new way. I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home, which means I now write stories and conduct interviews almost entirely from bed (or, on extremely productive days, from the tiny desk bolted to one wall).
Leisure-wise, I’m socializing in the outside world a bit more than I was this spring—for now, anyway—but I still spend an inordinate amount of my time in my chambre, watching trite romantic comedies on Netflix, rereading novels I’d skimmed the first time around, and making occasional, fleeting attempts to organize the stacks of unopened New Yorker magazines that have been making me feel insufficiently literary since I moved in three years ago.
If you’d told me in 2019 that my response to a global pandemic would primarily be “buying things,” I would have laughed you off. There’s something that feels decidedly un-revolutionary about the anxiety-induced nesting I’m doing. How embarrassing, how capitalist and distinctly female, to line the walls of your own little hidey-hole as the world literally burns, my brain whispers as I try to fall asleep at night.
It can’t be escaped that the accumulation of things is a distinctly privileged stress response, one that likely isn’t available to the 15% of Americans who lost their jobs this year as a result of the pandemic. I know how unimaginably fortunate I am to feel protected in my own home, particularly when so many people are still tragically excluded from that feeling. If anything, the life-reevaluating threat of COVID-19 on the horizon should be teaching us to value experiences and relationships over tangible items—so why am I constantly scouring The Strategist for the accent lamp that will bring an end to my existential panic?
Anxiety-induced shopping is definitely a thing, but it’s not the rush of receiving a shipping confirmation that I look forward to. I don’t lust after thousand-dollar throws or status ceramics (which is lucky, because even if I did, they’d be out of my price range); what I really crave, I think, is the seductive notion of control. My bedroom is the only place in the world that really belongs to me, and if I can make it reminiscent of a cherished dive bar, or a pine-scented forest, or the miniatures exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, maybe I won’t long for those places quite as desperately.
Yes, The Met is currently open for business, as are many of my favorite restaurants (though should they be?), and I could technically rent a car and be in a forest by nightfall. All of these experiences, though, come with an attendant level of anxiety, a slow and persistent hum of doubt that strikes when I least expect it. Is my bar table far away enough from that one? Did everyone else who got a timed ticket for the Met today get tested first? Will I have to quarantine for two weeks if I leave the state? At this point, it feels safest just to stay home and limit my sphere of contact. Alone in my room, I can experience a microcosm of the freedom and joy I used to feel in my favorite places—I’m stuck, but I’m safe.
I can’t help wondering whether the impulse I feel to shrink my life down until it fits within the four walls of my bedroom is a mere function of our times—or will it be with me forever? Is my urge to hoard souvenirs from an easier time a temporary coping mechanism, or will I always feel safest when I’m hunkered down alone in my room, surrounded by the talismans of comfort and health? The news of a potential vaccine has me daydreaming about a future that is not defined by the stark contours of fear, but the question lingers—who will I be by then?