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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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When You Have a Full House Sheltering in Place


March 23, 2020
by Catherine

Life Hacks

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Having just come back from Spring Break, many of us are trying to figure out our new routines.  I am grateful that despite being an international student, my family and I are together, safe and well.  Nevertheless, living in a house with a kindergartner, a fourth grader, two active older adults, and two adults working remotely makes one full house.  Boundaries need to be set in place, while new structures will need to be created while some old ones must be maintained.  As the resident OT in our home, I have set some new house rules that I hope will pull us through, and might inspire some ideas for you.

  • Get out of your pajamas.  Despite having to stay home all day, we still have school and jobs to attend to.  Maintaining our morning routines as though we actually have to leave the home has been helpful in getting the day started.  Getting a little dressed up before I sit down in my work area has helped me get in the zone and stay focused.  I have seen that this has also worked with the kids.  Getting into their school clothes has reminded them that we are not on an extended vacation, but trying to go through business as usual.
  • Separate your space.  Even before the struggles of “shelter in place” we had heard countless times that it is helpful to separate our work and rest space for our mental and physical health.  While working remotely has been a privilege, it can sometimes feel that I am constantly working, when I am never able to leave the confines of my desk in my bedroom.  To address this, I recently moved all work related materials into our shared “office” aka the dining room table that we rarely use.  This has become our new space where we each do our respective school assignments and work. A makeshift open office space if you will.  When we are sitting here, we are learning to be respectful of our time, but I can see that it is also teaching the little ones to practice social etiquette.  Nevertheless, I am just one poke away to answer any geometry questions should they come up.
  • Make yourself a quiet place. During the unpredictable and challenging times we live in today, a quiet place to meditate, think, and even just breathe for a couple minutes have been a luxury.  Social distancing aside, as a caregiver and a member of the “sandwich generation” sometimes you need to give yourself some me time.  Especially if you can hear children screaming in the background for 90% your waking hours, silence is golden.  I have found that the car has been a refreshing place of a few minutes of peace and quiet.
  • Don’t forget to connect to other people.  While I can not emphasize enough how much I love my family, it has been important to keep in touch with those I am not blood related to.  Thanks to the internet and all the apps out there, I have been able to stay connected with my network.  Whether it be through text or video chat, or just commenting on posts, it’s good to stay connected and check in.
  • Communicate.  Sometimes when we are with our family we can forget basic communications.  We can make assumptions that we fully understand each other’s needs, leading to more misunderstandings and possibly even hurt feelings.  Extended periods of close connectedness,  can be met with unexpected challenges we may not have anticipated.  For example, when I need to concentrate, I prefer a calm environment, but my sister does her best work when she is talking and walking in circles, and prefers to use her speakerphone.  I never knew this until we tried to share a work space and I will leave the details out, but you probably can imagine.  Through open communication we were able to reach a compromise. I gifted her a pair of wireless earphones and she has agreed to take her important calls on the lawn.

These are just some reflections on my attempts to create some balance and productivity while we adapt to our current state of life in my family.  I hope to continue to share with you my progress with any new ideas or updates that I think may be helpful or entertaining.  As always, I am here for all of you who may have any questions about my life as an OTD resident, student, and as a resource of support.  Fight on!