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Hanging Out At Home As A Lifestyle (in the time of COVID-19)

As city-wide lockdowns and home-isolations kicked in across various countries in the past few months, more and more people took to social media to muse, gripe, reflect on the new normal of hanging out at home.

I, for one, love my home and my house and could possibly hang out at home forever. This is likely the result of much yearning and unwitting conditioning, during the many years I spent traveling alone for fieldwork or living in various cities on serial research fellowships. In fact, yesterday was my one-year anniversary at home via my current workplace, and the milestone was all the more special because it was the first year since 2013 that I work where I live and live where I work.

Often, to simulate feelings of home while on-the-go, I slip into a routine of watching other people hang out at home on a Specific Part of YouTube, to absorb some cozy, some hygge, some wēnnuăn in yet another rental room. ‘Watching’ is both an under- and over-statement of a verb, as I toggle between obsessing over every detail of home decor and leaving hours of footage running in the background for emotional atmosphere.

At the moment, my favourites from this Specific Part of YouTube include the likes of South Koreans 슛뚜sueddu (a freelance illustrator and artist who works from home) and 해그린달 haegreendal (a stay-home mom who cares for her child and home exquisitely); Japanese 少ない物ですっきり暮らす (a blogger who lives in a traditional Japanese house) and Mocha (a hobbyist baker who lives by the sea); and Chinese 子时当归 (a fashionable millennial who takes self-care seriously).

I found community and comfort among networks of East Asian YouTubers who had slowly but surely carved out a niche in highly aestheticised, calming, and mindful ways of spending time at home – usually formatted in a leisurely and light tonality that gently obscures the reality of immense labour, diverse skillsets, and middle-class consumption needed to continuously produce vlogs for the likes of over a million followers.

The scenes pan across different areas of each home, zooming in on different corners and artefacts to capture the daily mundane. They record the pouring of water into a flask for coffee, the crinkling of plastic from unwrapping packages sent by post, the pitter-pattering footsteps of kindergarteners or beloved pets prancing around the living room.

Home maintenance is portrayed as a mindful and even enjoyable activity rather than a chore; hospitality is practiced through sprucing up the home and preparing meals for visitors; the house is a locus for meaningful exchanges with other people, with objects, and within one’s self.

When I eventually returned home to Perth in April last year, I penned the chapter ‘Hanging Out at Home as a Lifestyle’ for the book The Routledge Companion to Media and Class by Erika Polson, Lynn Schofield Clark, and Radhika Gajjala, in part as homage for my own homecoming, in part out of gratitude towards these homebodies for providing me with vicarious homeliness throughout countless nights in faraway places. If you are so inclined, I have made the writing accessible here.

Unlike previous studies that have focused on YouTube vlogs representing the home as a topic, genre, or setting for discussion, Hanging Out At Home As A Lifestyle privileged the home as a locus to artfully design, construct, and sell feelings of domesticity. The videos usually pull away from the body as the focal point, departing from many YouTubers who indulge in talking head videos or skits. Instead, the emphasis is on the written Chinese, Japanese, or Korean text dotting across the screen in captions as narrations, at times supplemented by light diegetic dialogue, but usually complemented by a variety of subtitles provided by the creator or crowd-sourced from enthusiastic viewers.

Many vloggers are working adults in their late-20s, while still others are homebodies between 30 and 50-years-old. A culmination of some experience of and introspection about working life in this vlog genre calls out personal sentiments about preferring to stay at home, to spend recreation time at home, to grow at home, instead of venturing into the outside world. The stories often contain tales of mindfulness (i.e. reducing environmental waste), wellness (i.e. homemaking as therapy), recovery (i.e. opting to freelance or take a break from work due to overwork culture), and recuperation (i.e. improving mental and physical health).

In the age of COVID-19, where many more of us are pulled back in the space of our households and made to convert our most intimate spaces into workplaces, these vloggers provide a form of solace (optimistically), inspiration (aspirationally), and templatability (realistically) for how to approach Hanging Out At Home As A Lifestyle.

As East Asian citizens who were among the first to experience COVID-19 from late-December, they provide a hopeful glimpse of everyday living adjusted to accommodate a global pandemic, a calming pace to grow into new lifestyle changes, and a gentle reminder to make the best of our situations. Their seamless integration of COVID-19 mentions into their vlogs feels understated and soothing, focused on personal coping strategies rather than the health advisories and folkloric counsel that have sent some platforms into a panicked frenzy around misinformation and demonetisation.

I am presently continuing my research on how the East Asian and Australian Influencer industries and social media businesses are coping and strategising for recovery post-COVID-19 as part of my DECRA (please write me if you’re keen to participate), and am writing up an article about Hanging Out At Home As A Lifestyle (in the age of COVID-19). In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these selections as heart medicine as we all try to make sense of this time.

Take care and keep well, everyone.

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