Welcome to a New Era!

The return to local and the rise of domestic.

Posted May 22, 2020

I’m a perpetual wanderer. 

I’ve previously written about my nomadic lifestyle and the fact that I’m most “at home” when traveling. But when I wrote that post, I was returning from several years of nonstop travel, searching for a way to spark that sense of adventure when locked in place. I recalled Theodore Zeldin’s claim that “adventure starts in the imagination” and argued that “dreams, curiosity, discovery, transformation—this is the stuff of travel. We burst with it in new time zones and foreign lands. But it can also be the stuff of home.”  

These contemplations on how to be “adventurously at home” have never felt more pertinent. Even if you don’t usually suffer from incurable wanderlust, you’re likely feeling the itch to go somewhere, anywhere right about now. And yet, the current state of affairs has made us all homebodies for the foreseeable future. 

So, given the current and likely enduring restrictions, it’s time to settle into and make sense of this new paradigm. Sociologically, I see a new era emerging—one in which the return to local and the rise of domestic dominates. Even as restrictions ease, it’s unlikely life will “return to normal.” This is a new way of living. A vaccine won’t appear overnight. New strains of this and other viruses will likely emerge. And many of the changes we’re making during extreme lockdown will likely take hold and forge a new path for years to come. 

Here’s a brief list of just a few of the ways I envision the pendulum swinging:

OldNew

Plane rides to exotic locales ➡ Road trips to domestic gems

Dining out ➡ Cooking + dinner parties

Going to bars and clubs ➡ The return of house parties!

Music festivals ➡ Local bands and virtual jam sessions

Working in offices ➡ Working from home 75-90% of the time

Big cities ➡ Rural living and a golden age of second cities

Urbanity ➡ Nature

A sad, neglected houseplant ➡ Gardening and horticulture

Isolated detachment ➡ Local community involvement

This is not to say that everything in the “old” column will permanently disappear and cease to exist. It’s less about their extinction and more about a global rebalancing. We’ve evolved into a lopsided existence, with the “old” modes of operating eclipsing and—for some—completely replacing the items on the right. 

Take travel: Yes, people (including me) will eventually visit foreign lands once more. But those far-flung explorations may now be balanced with the return of the art of the road trip, a renewed interest in national parks, and explorations of forgotten treasures in our own backyards. 

Or take the way we eat and entertain ourselves: Restaurants and bars will endure and stage a comeback, but so will the joys of cooking and (the one I’m personally cheering for) the return of house parties—silly, sloppy, all-day, all-night, unproductive, dance-frenzied, joyful, bring-your-friends-and-make-new-ones house parties. And instead of gathering at massive, multi-day music festivals, expect an emphasis on discovering local musicians—first in open-air settings, and then, eventually, in intimate venues playing to smaller but more appreciative audiences. 

Just think of the potential domino effect all of this will have on how we live and work: As a long-time WFH-enthusiast, I’m thrilled that more people are discovering the splendor of the bed-to-couch commute, limited waist-up beautifying, and efficiencies of virtual meetings.

Will some people return to their offices? Sure. But many won’t, and among those who do, many will now go in far less frequently—which diminishes time spent in cars and time wasted “getting ready” every day, but also induces other bigger changes: If we no longer need to commute into an office in a city each day, we can rethink where we’d like to live. The demand for homes with an office, guest house, or garage apartment from which we can work will rise. The need to live in expensive urban areas diminishes, opening the door to more rural spots an hour or two beyond the city center. It also makes smaller communities and second cities attractive alternatives—not just for living, but for launching entrepreneurial ventures or being closer to family.

Permitting ourselves to create a healthier, more seamless flow between how we live and work diminishes the need to frequently “escape” and increases our contentment with our everyday lives. Imagine the old paradigm of staring at our phones while we line up for a fast-casual take-out salad, only to shovel it in back at our desks. This new life configuration, however, might find you using some of that former commute time to cook with your family in the evenings, then reheating those tasty and nutritious leftovers the next day, swapping the fluorescent lights for a quiet sun-drenched lunch in your garden.

Anna Akbari
Homesteader in-training
Source: Anna Akbari

What?! Yes, you have a garden in this new world! OK, maybe not everyone, but with more time spent at home, that lonely, droopy, obligatory houseplant may no longer suffer from neglect, and (if you’re anything like me) you may also find yourself trying your hand at more extensive gardening. You’re able to be more connected to nature in general, and that will ignite some green thumbs, or perhaps more frequent trips to your local farmer’s market. We might not all become homesteaders—but is it such a bad goal? 

And the culminating perk from all of these changes might involve increased connectivity (an ironic byproduct of a socially-distanced pandemic): Getting to know your neighbors. Becoming more involved in your local communities. Reconnecting with your family. More time for self-reflection and the cultivation of skills we never knew we wanted. Taking a deep breath and enjoying smaller movements with unexpectedly large payoffs. I’m so ready for it. All of it.

Many of these transformations will endure long after the lockdown ends—not because they are “net new” revelatory discoveries, but because they were always good and wonderful, but we lost sight of their value and stopped prioritizing them. Like fashion, cultural norms and social behaviors are also cyclical. Depending on your age, it may be your first time around with these “new” ways of operating, or it may be a return to ways of living from your youth. 

The world turns, and with it, our priorities shift. Finding joy and imagining your future during this difficult time is nothing to be ashamed of or shy away from. Use that pent up energy and latent wanderlust to map out your version of these paradigm shifts. What will you leave behind (or diminish) and what will you cultivate and embrace? What got lost in the modern, adult, urban shuffle? What can you reclaim? Yes, in many ways, this is a crappy, frustrating, devastating time. But it can also be hopeful and regenerative. 

I’m still a wanderer at heart. That will never change. But becoming a modern-day homesteader, with one foot in a cosmopolitan, tech-fueled existence and the other covered in dirt from my garden can be equally thrilling and even more satisfying. 

What will this new existence look like for you? What are you already doing, and what are you excited to cultivate? Tell me in the comments!