How to Shelter in Place Without Going Crazy

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There’s nothing like the word “pandemic” or “Ebola” to get people to finally pay attention to preparedness. When you have a well stocked pantry with enough food to last at least a couple of months, stored water and an effective way to purify tap water, if need be, plenty of cleaning and sanitation supplies, and the knowledge and skills to use them, you are likely not panicking at all. If anything, you’re looking around to see if there’s anything you can add that might put you and your loved ones in an even better position if you do need to shelter in place.

how to shelter in place, how to self quarantine

Collecting survival supplies is the easy part, though.

What is often overlooked among all the must-have survival lists is the disruption to your daily life that will occur if you ever have to shelter in place.

Imagine suddenly not being able to visit family, friends, or neighbors. Grocery stores, the post office, gas stations, school, the hair salon, even the dog park might be off limits. Venturing out might mean taking the risk of bringing a terrible virus back home with you or infecting someone else if you happen to be the carrier.

Self-quarantined at home

So whatever the extreme scenario, you’ve decided that sheltering in place, or self-quarantining, is the smartest thing to do in order to stay safe. Maybe you’ve been keeping track of publicized accounts of a terrible epidemic and realized they are a little too close to home for comfort. Maybe The Weather Channel is predicting the storm of the century. For whatever reason, sheltering in place is your plan of action.

You have enough supplies to get by for several weeks, but 10 hours into your self-imposed, or maybe mandatory, quarantine, you are about to climb the walls.

The kids are bored. The spouse is home from work and causing all kinds of trouble, and there you are. Thinking, “I have at least 2 more weeks of this!”

The key ingredient is routine

One way to think about your plans for sheltering in place is to view it as an enclosed, inescapable summer vacation — quite literally, a STAY-cation. Remember the summer vacations of your childhood? At first, it seems exciting to be able to sleep in every morning and watch TV all day long, but very shortly that excitement wears off and the lack of activity and routine results in lethargy and irritation.

I’ve heard stories of prisoners of war who created their own daily schedules in order to stay sane, and for your self-quarantine, you can do the same thing, sans the bona fide prison cell and smirking, armed guards.

Right now, your life consists of two main areas of routines — those that are a part of your life at home and then activities and responsibilities away from home.

Your at-home routines consist of things like laundry routine/schedule, housecleaning, preparing meals and cleaning up, and so on. One mom who suddenly found herself working from home during the Coronavirus pandemic shared some of her routines with me:

Start time Activities Allotted Time
5:00 Wake Up @ 5:00 AM 5
5:05 Daily Devotions/Prayer Time 30
5:35 Daily workout 45
6:30 Get Ready for work 50
7:30 Workday/school day start-up 20

As her workday progresses, she has a routine that ends her WFH hours and signals the start of her home’s evening routine:

4:30 Email Clean Up 10
4:40 Daily Review/Last minute tasks 10
4:50 Tomorrow’s Daily Big 3 10

Dinner prep and cleanup happens, some family relaxation, and then it’s time to end the day with this simple routine:

8:00 Household Chores 30
8:30 Review tomorrow’s schedule with son 10
8:40 Get ready for bed (face, teeth, etc.) 20
9:00 Read 30
9:30 Lights Out

Since she suddenly finds herself adding homeschooling to her life, she created this morning routine for her son:

Start Time Activities Allotted Time
8:30 Reading 30
9:00 Free time – play outside, legos,   – NO TV 60
10:00 School work – TBD 60
11:00 Snack 10
11:10 Journal 20
11:30 School work – TBD 30
12:00 Lunch 60
1:00 Art/Craft 90
2:30 School Work – TBD 30
3:00 Snack 10
3:10 Household Chore 20
3:30 School day closeout
3:30 Free time – TV/Movie/Xbox 90
5:00 Help with dinner 60
6:00 Dinner/Family Time 90
7:30 Read 30
8:00 Free time – TV/Movie/Xbox 60
9:00 Bedtime

As you might imagine, this type of structure leads to fewer conflicts, and as routines are created and put in writing, necessary chores are included and can be delegated so mom doesn’t end up doing everything.

Include away-from-home routines to your day

Start thinking about the activities that are outside the house, such as sports and get-togethers with friends.

Keep track of what you do and where you go every time you leave the house. In a time of Shelter in Place (SIP), you may be well and truly stranded inside your own home, unable to leave for any reason.

Your list will be filled with appointments and activities of all kinds.

Here’s what my list looks like:

  • Take daughter to college class on Mondays and Wednesday
  • Son goes to Civil Air Patrol on Mondays
  • Husband has weekly trip out of town
  • Husband works downtown every day
  • I walk the dog each morning.
  • Chess club for son on Wednesdays
  • Internet writing class for son on Fridays
  • Internet writing class for daughter one day each week
  • Homeschool co-op each Friday
  • Grocery shop on Thursdays, if not more often
  • Date night Thursday nights
  • Church on Sundays
  • Math tutor for daughter, once/week
  • Monthly craft class for daughter
  • Baseball practice for son, Tuesdays and Fridays
  • Monthly hair appointment for mom
  • Etc.

You get the idea. Once you have listed everything that takes you out of the house, it’s time to analyze that list. Your family will more easily adjust to this temporary, new normal by including similar activities that provide a similar level of interaction, learning, and entertainment as before.

Looking for substitutions

With list in hand, look for anything that can be replicated at home. For example, my son takes French lessons at our homeschool co-op. If his class wasn’t able to meet online, we could access online lessons from websites like Mango Languages. We could use an online English-French dictionary, and his French lessons could continue without interruption.

My daughter could continue with her math tutor by phone or Skype but would have to give up her college ASL class unless the school was able to utilize online technology like Zoom for their classes.  There are plenty of ASL resources online, so her education wouldn’t have to stall.

In fact, school at any level is very easy to continue with all the homeschool resources available online.

My husband’s employer would have to determine if he could work from home or not. In a lot of cases, many businesses would shut down, and I see this as being the biggest, negative impact of a SIP scenario.

As you think about surviving a shelter-in-place scenario, one of the best ways to prepare is to find ways to earn money online or provide necessary services to your community that require the least amount of face-to-face interaction as possible. In a pandemic, think Coronavirus-gone-crazy, leaving the house to earn money at all, might not be possible.

Continuing to use my list as an example, I realize that I’ll have to eliminate my monthly hair appointments. Stocking up on a few bottles of Clairol Nice and Easy might be a good idea, or maybe I’ll just find out what I look like with white hair!

Date nights? It might actually be fun to come up with creative ideas for that right here in the house or drive to a nearby park or forest to enjoy nature.

Walking the dog? In a pandemic scenario, spending time outside would not only be healthy but a way to get important Vitamin D and exercise. If the family is used to working out at a gym, look for second-hand gym equipment on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and in community online forums.

My family’s activities bring other substitutions that come to mind:

  • Baseball practice —> Shadow pitching and batting. Watching tutorial videos on YouTube.
  • Craft class —> Use supplies around the house to learn something new, such as crochet or quilting.
  • Grocery shopping —> Use grocery store delivery or curbside pickup. Get creative by finding new recipes that use what is already in your pantry.
  • Chess club —> There are online chess clubs and games.
  • Civil Air Patrol or Scouting —> Refer to the manual and find skills that can be learned right at home.

When we think of hunkering down or being quarantined or sheltering in place, at first it seems that life comes to a halt, but as you can see from my examples, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Get creative with your shelter-in-place plans

Routines are great for alleviating stress, boredom, and lethargy, but there’s also a place for spontaneous fun events and surprises. A few that my own family would enjoy:

  • Family read-aloud time
  • Family game night
  • Casino night — Everyone learns how to play poker!
  • Movie schedule — Just like the regular theater, post a schedule of the week’s movies. Make a big deal of “going to the movies” with popcorn or some other treat.
  • Campouts — Put up the tent in the living room or basement and camp out!
  • A family bake-off — Try new recipes and add some friendly competition

A time of sheltering in place is going to be stressful. Life as we have known it will have come to an end, at least temporarily, but it won’t be forever, and your kids may look back on these days and weeks and remember them as one long adventure!

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.

10 thoughts on “How to Shelter in Place Without Going Crazy”

  1. This is EXACTLY where I’m at when it comes to being prepared —->”If anything, you’re looking around to see if there’s anything you can add that might put you and your loved ones in an even better position if you do need to shelter in place.”

    My daughter did ask me the other day what would we do if we were in quarantine and couldn’t go anywhere and I just shrugged. There’s plenty to do around the house. We won’t want for anything. We have all of our basic needs being met.

    I too thought about the spouse and his employment. We live off one income, and I earn money online for extra.Thankfully he’s walking distance to his job and he’s in management. He would have the ability to report to work or work from home. And with a N95 mask, make an appearance if it were a health issue 🙂

    I like the ROUTINE idea. We all need it. It gives us a focus and a purpose. I need to incorporate it more though and that’s something I’m working on.

    Great article, Lisa!

  2. I just wanted to say, the picture at the top of the article is CLASSIC. And your point of establishing a routine is well taken. It will give a feeling of normality and help keep everybody busy.

  3. IF we had to SIP and our sons(& families) are not in the house , the DH and I would have a LOT of time to finish sorting/clearing out some of the old stuff we are hanging on to thru the various moves we’ve done.
    We have books and the internet (if still up), we have things we can do, games we can play etc. If the kids, grandkids here , we are set up for that as well. The grandkids schooling would not suffer as Grandpa (not a professional educator) “teaches real good” as one of our grandsons tells him. We have books and toys, things for them as well 😉

  4. My husband is a police officer and is required to go to work when things go south. That leaves me to care for everything and everyone at home by myself. A few years ago I got my first real wake up call to how life would be for me when there is an emergency. We had hurricane force wind, I live in Utah, so not used to these types wind storms, shingles from neighboring homes flew off and flew through windows, shattering them and glass driven into walls and furniture. We lost all the windows on the back side of out house. It was November and bitter cold. The power went out and remained out for four days. Minutes after the first window blew my husband got the call and was gone. He was unavailable for the next three days. I was left to take care of 4 year old twins, an 8 year old grandson we are raising and my mother-in-law with special needs.

    Since then I have become obsessed with being prepared.

    Sheltering in place raises a whole new set of problems. Would my husband have to live at the police station during a pandemic to avoid infecting our family. It is scary, and I hope I never have to find out.

  5. some ideas:

    1. for adults:

    we were transferred to an isolated post once. very isolated.

    a british soldier assigned to observe with us brought 4 weeks of every NFL football game, 16 each week and we watched one each night for a month. it was not football season and we all loved it. its football season right now, there are 16 games every week that can be recorded.

    2. for young kids

    have their grandparents and parents read them kids bible stories on camera focused on the pictures. they love it, and will watch it over and over.. and let them “read’ a couple of stories themselves on camera. they really enjoy writing their own story, illustrating it and reading it on camera.

    3. cooking- I was amazed how creative the adults and kids were in planning dinners with what was stored.

    4. older kids-weight lifting was very popular, the weights were used constantly. and studying first aid and survival materials.

    5. an alone tent- the most crucial element if there are not enough rooms for everyone. we set up a small tent and rotated who got to stay in the tent alone.

    6. sunshine-if your shelter is below ground, sunshine is very important to morale, use periscope mirrors to beam it in.

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