15 Things to Do While You’re Hunkered Down at Home

The small and meaningful to-dos we're checking off our lists.

March 17, 2020
Photo by James Ransom

Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.

I’ve always professed to be a homebody, but some days into a work-from-home situation, I—as well as, I'm sure, every other “homebody”—have been thinking a lot about how our relationship with our home changes when it becomes the only place we inhabit. When the act of “coming home” no longer exists, because, well, you rarely leave.

While I was processing these thoughts, I received an email from a friend, saying she and her husband were holed up in their home upstate, cut off from the city. The good news, she added, was that they now had time to finally get to that pantry reorg they’d been planning for months. It would be something for them to look forward to doing—together, in the evening hours—a glass of wine for company.

Shortly after, I found myself sitting on the floor with my equivalent of a “junk drawer”—my beloved IKEA fjälla boxes bursting with junk. Ok, not all junk. Buried in there were birthday cards and notes I want to keep, but mostly there were receipts (for things I forgot to return), useless bank stuff, and business cards for shops in obscure places. 30 minutes later, I’d reduced the contents of both boxes to half, and was feeling a level of contentment I haven’t felt since COVID-19 brought on a permanent state of discouragement.

I was reminded yesterday about how Shakespeare allegedly churned out his best work while being quarantined for the plague. While this is a legacy I'm ill-prepared to emulate, I thought: What if we all found small (because no one needs one more thing to be overwhelmed by) but meaningful ways to make our time at home—all the extra time we didn't expect to have—more fulfilling?

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I've worked from home (self-employed computer programmer) for almost 35 years AND I live in rural NW Montana in semi-hermit mode so pretty much business as usual … EXCEPT, I am 64 so "high risk". I am not fearful, but I do want to protect others as well as myself. The crazy thing is, although I often do not go off my property for 7-10-14 days, now that I "should" not … psychological something or other … it feels odd. So, still some "coping" which for me is lightening up on the work schedule, getting outside!!!, connecting more often with friends (Instagram, Slack) and trying new recipes. I am a scratch cook, sourdough baker (bread, crackers, rolls), lots of soup and stews and seafood (salmon, sardines, shrimp). The big thing, though, for me, is focusing on neighbors. This is the time for reaching out to our community … and offering/accepting. For me, I find that thinking about helping others is calming.”
— Liz S.

I’ve since made a list of daily post-work to-dos that include: checking up on old friends I haven’t reached out to in a while (I’m turning to long, news-filled emails. Remember those?), baking bread (I’m a bit terrified), and wiping down my spice drawer and bottles (turmeric, must you be everywhere?).

Turns out half the Food52 team were thinking along the same lines. I asked my colleagues, newly housebound, to share all the projects that they’ve been tackling during their time at home. We'd also love to hear from you! Follow along at Home52 and share all the little projects you’re working on to distract you, comfort you, and make your space a place you want to be.

"I did a very detailed dusting of every leaf on all of my plants over the weekend. They’re all so shiny and happy now—and much less likely to make me cough and freak out!" —Rebecca Sutter, UX designer

"I'm finally getting around to cooking the recipes I've saved on site!! Yesterday I made the Genius Caramelized Cream Eggs and it was delicious. I’m also finally reading some of the books that have been chilling on my bookshelf." —Danielle Curtis Williams, marketing coordinator

"I cleaned out and organized my 'pantry,' aka the big floor-to-ceiling cabinet that I pretend is a pantry, where I keep all my dried and canned goods. For the first time since I moved into my apartment, each shelf has a designated purpose! Next up? My freezer." —Alex Egan, senior SEO strategist

"I keep whole spices (bay and curry leaves, star anise pods, chiles) in the freezer for longevity, but now that I'm braising, stewing, and infusing more, I moved some of these spices to pantry jars so they're more visible." —Coral Lee, associate editor

"I’m hoping to order some peel and stick wallpaper and finally add some life to my dining area. I’ve been meaning to do it for months but now that my evenings are free, I can!" —Caroline Mullen, assistant editor

"I spent some time this weekend moisturizing all of my wooden cutting boards and utensils! My recommendation? John Boos Block Mystery Oil and Board Cream." —Kelsey Burrow, director, public relations

"I cleaned out my glassware/mugs/teapots/random-stuff-I-never use cabinet (Hello, French Press. I was wondering where you were!). Now, when I open that cabinet door, I don't see stacks of very breakable items about to tip over. I donated everything I didn't want to keep, so nothing went into the trash can." —Erin Alexander, associate editor

"I am doing so many little projects, it's hard to pick (Go, Aja!). Most recently I cleaned my bathroom, every corner of it, and then made a pile of all the towels, bath linen, and toiletries and made a huge donation to a homeless shelter." —Aja Aktay, home buyer

"I’ve started doing long-distance origami challenges with my dad who lives in Northern California. He’s incredibly patient—he used to cut out all my paper dolls when I was little— and there are so many lovely tutorials on YouTube and Pinterest for fantastical shapes, birds, and my personal favorite, corgis (it’s true)." —Maggie Slover, senior copywriter

"I finally have time to babysit my dough starter. I’m looking forward to diving into levain breads, fears notwithstanding." —Josh Dion, senior video editor

"I have a backyard at my new place, and haven't had nice weather to do anything with it...until now. First up? A big clean-up job followed by laying sod (if I can still get it in a week or so). I also plan on building planter boxes around the edge to grow veggies." —Rob Strype, video editing lead

"More gardening prep here: sweeping up winter debris and getting seedlings going." —Cody Kestigian, data scientist

"I'm building a deck." —Timothy McSweeney, senior graphic designer

"I’m trying to fix some uneven wall panels and paint in my home with new moldings (Lucas, you’re my hero!) It’s no small task, but I plan on tackling this slowly, one small finite task at a time." —Lucas Monaco, senior QA engineer

Tell us what you've being doing to make your extra time at home feel more productive, fulfilling, or just comforting. We'd really love to know.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Paul Adler
    Paul Adler
  • Jeri Tuttle
    Jeri Tuttle
  • Marta
  • Letscook
  • Shirley Gillette
    Shirley Gillette
Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.


Paul A. April 14, 2020
I’m a 66 year old bachelor who has usually ate out and rarely cooked. There are many virtual cooking classes but they are for specific dishes and types of cooking. It would be great if you could suggesting virtual or online basic cooking classes.
Diane April 14, 2020
Paul Google "foodwishes" on YouTube. Jeff John has very user-friendly how-to videos on cooking everything from entrees to bread to desserts and always chock full of tips. My adult son already knew how to cook breakfasts and simple lunches but through foodwishes, he has become a confident and very capable cook.
Arati M. April 14, 2020
Hi Paul. Check out this article we published a couple weeks ago. I hope you find the options interesting: Also, our team has been making a few home videos as they cook, you might like to follow along. Find them here:
Liz S. April 14, 2020
I (and my brother) learned to cook as children via a "Betty Crocker for Kids" cookbook. We each had to make a meal a week as well as shop for the meal so we learned that. I'm writing that as one thing I thought of which is not online or virtual … is that a cookbook for kids might be a good way to start. Cooking is partly about being able to follow recipe directions, BUT you have to know some terminology. SO, cutting to the chase a bit, I was looking on Amazon and saw this book:

As I looked at internal content, what I looked for a new cook is that any new terms or techniques are explained at the beginning of the recipe.

My other thought, was to start with a few things that you really like and search for videos for those: for example, if you like over easy eggs and bacan and toast for breakfast … look for an "over easy egg" tutorial and make it until you feel comfortable. Then build on that or on pasta with jarred sauce or whatever you like, i.e. start with very simple and keep adding to your knowledge and experience.

You can also search online for "learn to cook" and there are some online "courses" … some free, some not.
Liz S. April 14, 2020
GAH … what I liked for a new cook … and bacon!

But I thought of something else: Instant Pot. There are so many Instant Pot recipes that are very simple as in toss in the ingredients, set the time and "Bob's your Uncle" … dinner!! You don't need to know technique, you just need to get the ingredients: Pot roast and veg, Chilis and Stews and Soups … easy filling meals which you can make a quantity of and freeze single servings or just eat all week.
Diane April 14, 2020
sorry, I don't agree with this. I have an Instant Pot and love it but feel a person must have a good knowledge of cooking before tackling anything even reasonably successful using an Instant Pot. This is for a more experienced cook for certain.
Liz S. April 15, 2020
Hmmm … well my experience has been different. For example: chuck roast, box of broth, potatoes, carrots, onion: 70 minutes and meat is fork tender for a dinner and/or shredded for sandwiches, rice: 1 cup white rice, 1 1/4 cup water, press the rice button and result is fluffy rice. There are definitely complex recipes for Instant Pot (or any brand electric pressure cooker), but there are very simple recipes as well. It is a tool and like a pot or pan and spatula, you can do simple or complex things with it. I'm not challenging your experience or comment and hope you post examples of what you think would be challenging for an inexperienced cook for the purpose of allowing the original poster or others looking to understand the different perspectives we have.
Jeri T. April 6, 2020
Well, the first day I had to fix my dishwasher, the heating element had gone out.. so with the help of a YouTube video it was a success! Since then I have picked fresh vegetables at the veterans Gardens, cooked and froze. I have made homemade soups, like ribollita, Millionaires Stew and vegetable beef soup. I picked up water color painting ( again, Utube has great tutorials), a ton of yardwork!! Thank goodness it's spring and not the midst of winter! My next project will be repainting a concrete floor in my office. Looking forward to projects keeps me on a schedule and gives me a purpose each day.
Marta April 5, 2020
Cooking great meals, some quick some not.. that i have been looking forward to making for a while! also went through box of old photos, this was amazing - great memories, and of course that lead to clean out of closet - done...
Letscook April 5, 2020
Hi from down under!
Loving your spice drawer. I’ve created one exactly the same. Loving the ease of finding exactly what I need at a glance. An idea is to place the spices in alpha order.
Sending my love to you all during these terrible times 💕
Shirley G. April 1, 2020
I am totally committed to my Aerogardens and am reaping what I've sown. Herbs, herbs. No pesticides, no herbicides. My spice/herb bottles are filling up fast and the rest I'll store in envelopes so my son can take them home once this emergency is over. I'm doing way too much on-line shopping but my grocery store will deliver right to my front door so I'm very happy. Am hoping to bake bread this weekend. It will bring back memories of when I lived in Poland and you couldn't find white bread anywhere. I would put my son in his highchair with his favorite car-car and after getting the bread starting, I would bake an apple pie. His fav right up to today and he's nearly 30 after our foreign posting out of Canada.
amazinc March 20, 2020
Good Grief, Ines...when this mayhem is over, will you come to my house and do same? Oh, I don't have a basement, but all the other chores are available. Thanks for making me giggle (and be a tad jealous of your energy).
Ines L. March 19, 2020
Even though I am retired, I've kept very busy doing the following: gardening, stenciling my basement floor, organizing every drawer in my house, cleaning windows, creating art journals, reading two books simultaneously, talking to out-of-town friends and family via Face Time, shopping on Amazon (Nice getting packages!), walking my dog around my neighborhood( He is driving me crazy!), washing my dry hands many times a day and today, I ventured out to Starbucks!
Arati M. March 20, 2020
Wow Ines I wish your energy would rub off on me! That's amazing!
Shirley G. April 1, 2020
Did you see the video of a drone taking the dog out for a walk. I loved it!
Ines L. April 6, 2020
Lol! Trust me though, there are days that all I do is read. The first week was difficult but now I have a routine and that keeps me from getting depressed.
Ines L. April 6, 2020
No, I’ll have to look!
Diane March 19, 2020
I'm getting caught up on my letter-writing. Got the first one done today. I'm also getting back to my photo organizing to make more photo books.
Arati M. March 19, 2020
Hi Diane. This is a wonderful idea. While clearing out my junk "drawer" I found letters written to me by school friends, and it was lovely even re-reading them...
Liz S. March 18, 2020
I've worked from home (self-employed computer programmer) for almost 35 years AND I live in rural NW Montana in semi-hermit mode so pretty much business as usual … EXCEPT, I am 64 so "high risk". I am not fearful, but I do want to protect others as well as myself. The crazy thing is, although I often do not go off my property for 7-10-14 days, now that I "should" not … psychological something or other … it feels odd. So, still some "coping" which for me is lightening up on the work schedule, getting outside!!!, connecting more often with friends (Instagram, Slack) and trying new recipes. I am a scratch cook, sourdough baker (bread, crackers, rolls), lots of soup and stews and seafood (salmon, sardines, shrimp). The big thing, though, for me, is focusing on neighbors. This is the time for reaching out to our community … and offering/accepting. For me, I find that thinking about helping others is calming.
Arati M. March 18, 2020
What a heartwarming sentiment, Liz. Your neighbors are lucky to have you around. Also, your kitchen must smell heavenly right now...all those stews and breads!!
Liz S. March 18, 2020
And I am fortunate in my good neighbors who look after me. Thanks, Arati M. for this post to help us all :)
AntoniaJames March 18, 2020
I've been working from a home office for going on 20 years, and my clients are all still busy, so my routine hasn't changed that much, except that the gyms are all closed, so I'm cycling for 1.5 - 3 hours every day, weather permitting, instead of working out and walking, which I was doing 6X per week during the cold weather months here. I have found Regina Leeds's "The 8-Minute Organizer" (which I discovered a few months ago) to be a wonderful resource, as I continue to work through a wide variety of projects and constituent tasks. I highly recommend it! I imagine that many libraries have it available online. ;o)
Lydia M. March 18, 2020
I’ve started writing letters to people I haven’t spoken with in a while and using pantry items that otherwise never leave the shelf. Always looking for new project ideas! Going to sort through our towel collection today...
Arati M. March 18, 2020
I just found some unused white miso that I'm going to turn into a soup! But you're right, it's a time for discoveries, and re-discoveries (of foods, friendships...)
Ellen B. March 17, 2020
Can’t imagine why the spices in that drawer aren’t in alphabetical order!!
Arati M. March 17, 2020
Maybe that's the next project! :)
mdelgatty March 20, 2020
And with the labels right-side-up...
Bonny M. March 20, 2020
My first thought, as well! I'm not an OCD person, but my spices have to be alphabetical!! (And right side up, lol)
Anne March 17, 2020
I've been working on small cleaning projects for several weeks. I've cleaned out my linen closet, and all cupboards and drawers in my bathroom. Next I'll tackle the window gutters.
Arati M. March 17, 2020
Wow, you're way ahead of me. I've done my junk "drawer," my spice rack, and tomorrow I'll tackle my medicine chest. So much more to go!
amazinc March 17, 2020
I've been whining about the color of my living area for years...even bought paint samples in small cans to check them out on various walls. Guess what. The cans are still unopened and the large poster boards I bought to paint the samples on are still pristine. Now that I'm not pressed to go to our village for shopping or pressed to visit friends, I WILL get this chore, if not finished, at least started. New color?? Coming up!!
Arati M. March 17, 2020
That's amazing. Any idea what color you'll go with? :) I'm tired of my all-white walls and hope to live vicariously through you!
AntoniaJames March 18, 2020
Four gorgeous colors I just put up on the walls of my Colorado house: Benjamin Moore Silver Marlin (third-floor loft office and carriage house apartment) 2139-50, Benjamin Moore Misted Green (primary bedroom) 2138-50; and Benjamin Moore Kentucky Haze (living room, nearby dining area in this open floor plan) AC-16; and Benjamin Moore Sea Haze (entryway, large stair wells going up and down near same, other nearby halls, and kitchen) 2137-50. And no, we didn't select them based on their similarity of numbers, although I suppose it's no coincidence that they work so well together. We created sample panels and then wall tests for many others as well as those - spending days and in some cases weeks on each decision -- but it was well worth the effort and expense. We are altogether delighted. We had Misted Green in our SF Bay Area house but were amazed at how different - and how more beautiful - that color is here in the pure, bright Colorado light, and in a larger room with much higher ceilings. That's proof that one really should use the panels, putting them in a variety of different places within the space, considering them at all times of day and night.

Have fun, Arati! (And congrats on doing something about the all-white walls. I simply cannot imagine that, though I understand that many people live in all-white spaces.) ;o)
Shirley G. April 1, 2020
Just call me "Miss no-Imagination" but my kitchen is white and my office and hallways are dark grey. I love it.
Dominique D. March 17, 2020
I altered a bunch of clothes that were too big on me! It's the type of thing you think of doing for months (if not years) and lacking the motivation to do it all. But it's great! It's like I have 4 new sweaters :)
Arati M. March 17, 2020
Ah, how lovely—thanks for sharing! I'm not a very skilled alterer/tailor, but that's definitely something on my bucket list!!