How daily life in small homes changed during COVID-19

Blog post by Jenny Preece, Kim McKee, David Robinson and John Flint

28 Jun 2021, 12:26 p.m.
Jenny Preece, Kim McKee, David Robinson and John Flint



There are many debates about smaller homes, particularly the contribution they may make in high-cost cities. Our research focuses on understanding the everyday life of residents, whose experiences have been less prominent. We consciously tried to think more broadly about what we consider a ‘small home’ – there is no set definition, but there has been more research into alternative and informal forms of housing like ‘tiny houses’ or van dwelling, rather than more ‘mainstream’ housing that is also perceived to be small.

Our research was planned and carried out during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. When we spoke with residents we had been in ‘lockdown’ for about two months, with individuals only allowed to leave their homes for specific and limited reasons (e.g. to buy food, or to work in an essential service). Many people were spending an unprecedented amount of time at home. This had important implications for our research questions and how we collected the data. We carried out interviews by phone, talking about daily life before and during the lockdown.

We found three key findings. First, participants’ lives before the pandemic were characterised by the way they negotiated space and people in the home. Routines were adapted to others (e.g. in shared housing), but also within family units as household members worked around others in a smaller space. One of the ways that people managed living somewhere small was to simply spend more time outside the home, socialising, working, and eating out.

The second finding was that the advent of the pandemic significantly disrupted usual routines of daily life. Restrictions on movement and social contact exacerbated the existing pressures faced by those living in smaller homes, whilst also restricting the strategies that usually enabled them to cope. There were more people in a small space, which had to cater to functions that normally took place elsewhere. Because schools were closed to most students, this was particularly apparent for those with children at home, requiring negotiation of space for different purposes.  

Finally, the third section of the article discusses the way that the exceptional response to the pandemic and imposition of new routines on people’s lives affect people’s feelings towards their home. This was described by many participants in relation to working at home when sharing space with others, who perceived the space as somewhere to relax. Some also struggled to change this ‘work atmosphere’ when there was no separation between spaces of work and rest. Although there were shared feelings about the pandemic across many groups in society, including monotony, anxiety, and stress, this was exacerbated in small homes by the inability to vary the use and feel of the space. 

Almost a year on from the research, individuals have now been living with restrictions for a significant period. Even at a relatively early point in the pandemic response, some individuals found the restrictions on their lives so damaging that they were already being challenged. However, there is also the possibility that for some, changes to routines have become so embedded that COVID-19 will fundamentally change the ‘rules’ of how we live our lives.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.



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