As I write this, I am sitting at my dining table. It’s strewn with sheets of paper, half-empty water glasses, trailing cables, and crumbs – certainly not the vision of a sparkling clean, food-laden table we had imagined when we first bought it. Martha Stewart would not be pleased.

I’ve also just had to ask my husband to turn down the volume on an episode of Money Heist because I have to concentrate on work. The dining table has become our command centre of sorts, a place where we answer emails, watch Netflix, and eat our meals. We spend at least nine or 10 hours here by default. What’s happened to us?

I’m sure this situation sounds familiar to readers around the world – working from home, dealing with kids who want attention every other minute, worrying about our parents and friends we are unable to meet. 

With the social distancing measures in place, the world for each of us has shrunk down to our house. Where life was once neatly segmented by location – work in the office, exercise in the gym, socialising at the bar – everything now happens within a few square metres, and the boundaries have blurred. Those who are lucky to have a quiet home office and enough rooms can maintain some semblance of normalcy. However, for most of us who suddenly find ourselves having to not only continue working and living as usual, but also managing the household and other family members, things can be really tough.

It can be tempting to try to oversee and do it all, but we all know that path only leads to frustration and burnout. Instead, perhaps it’s better to use this crisis as an opportunity to remind everyone to do their fair share of upkeep, and to carve out structure and routine in the home that can set the tone for the future. It’s a good opportunity to start getting the kids to pitch in with chores, even if it’s something as small as wiping off the table after dinner. After all, it’s their home too.

I don’t know about you, but being home all the time has also become an opportunity for fostering a deeper appreciation of the neighbours. Sure, they do flood the group chat from time to time, but they’ve also provided plenty of valuable information (like where to collect masks and whether our local NTUC has long queues) and more importantly, offered help. I have seen neighbours donate vegetables, offer to buy meals, and give advice on how to reset a circuit breaker – small gestures that offer a much-needed reminder that we’re all here for each other. At dusk, I see the lights of their homes all around me like fireflies in the night, and it’s a comforting sight to behold when one is in isolation.

So despite being confined to these four walls – or perhaps because of it – home has taken on a greater significance than ever. It’s no longer just a place to eat and sleep after coming home from work. This crisis has become an opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of what home truly stands for: a sanctuary from an uncertain world, a shelter where we can make sure our loved ones are safe, and a place where – despite everything else – we can still feel the warm friendship of each other’s presence through the walls.