Are you behaving weirdly during isolation?

We’ve heard of people having weirder, more vivid dreams during the pandemic. Bizarre waking behaviors haven’t been discussed as much, unless you count hoarding toilet paper, which seemed reasonable to do back in the spring. 

When I started moving around the living room furniture without having had a notion that I wanted to rearrange the furniture, I guessed that prolonged isolation explained my abnormal actions. 

Normal behavior for me would be to start by sketching a layout on paper and then making a grid floorpan to be sure that every piece of furniture would fit. 

Normal behavior for me would also mean that rearranging the furniture was on a list of future decorating ideas. On the contrary, when I finished a few projects this summer, I told people that I had finished taking care of everything that bothered me. 

So where the impulse came from was unclear. I was sitting comfortably, reading a magazine, when I suddenly stood up and pushed the couch perpendicular to where it had been. I moved the Ikea Poäng chair into a corner, creating a reading nook. Then I shifted the rug, chairs, lamps, and tables. All without pausing to think.

I’m happy with the changes. The space looks more spacious and open. Why didn’t I think of this layout before? I wondered. But the fact is, thinking had nothing to do with it.

I was curious to investigate what abnormal behaviors other people were reporting during the pandemic — not planned atypical activities like baking and doing jigsaw puzzles but atypical behaviors that arise without conscious thought.

During the initial lockdown a writer at Vice asked people about their bizarre behaviors. Although she wrote in the introduction to her article that “self-isolation can make us behave in really weird ways,” most the reported behaviors struck me as explainable under the circumstances — running up and down stairs because the fitness club was closed, talking to the dog, eating and sleeping at unusual times, dressing up with one’s partner.

An article that began “Weird behavior during the pandemic” turned out to be about how a change in consumer behavior was affecting the algorithms used to manage inventory, sell ads, and screen for fraud. That people cooped up at home are buying different things than before doesn’t deserve to be labeled weird behavior. 

A writer on the Philadelphia news site BillyPenn came closer to what I considered pandemic-related bizarre behavior. She has become addicted to internet shopping, buying “really weird stuff” like a karaoke mic, six disposable cameras, and apparel from a conspiracy theory company. “This behavior is out of character,” she made clear.

Disappointed to not find more confessions like hers, I sat down to read The Atlantic’s November issue and saw a relevant article. “Fluffing Your Own Nest” attempted to explain the surge in do-it-yourself projects during the pandemic. The author said that spending more time inside, we are more aware of where our homes fall short. “[T]he many things the apartment leaves to be desired . . . have become unavoidably obvious to me as I’ve sat inside of it for the better part of the year,” Amanda Mull wrote. “The longer I sit, the more flaws taunt me.”

Mull mentioned the “unscrubbable” kitchen spots that she didn’t notice before she was preparing three meals a day, “the dusty ledges and shelves . . . and “scuffed, jaundiced paint job” that “weren’t so irritating when they weren’t my whole world.”

Her article may hold an explanation for my behavior. I hadn’t fixed every defect; I had just not noticed or ignored some. Like the tight fit of the dining table with the couch backed up to it. Like that neighbors could watch me reading in my pajamas with the Poäng chair in front of the window. Perhaps I needed months of isolation for those flaws to penetrate my subconscious, which prompted a remedy. 

What does the why matter anyhow? I like the results. 



With the new layout, I decided that two slimmer, armless chairs on either side of a table would look better than the armchair that had been in service three decades. The chairs arrived Friday, and I had them assembled by Saturday. 

The shape and the upholstery look good, but in no time at all my cat decided the chairs make great scratchers. Now the chairs are covered with sheets until I get a second scratching post and see whether Fanny uses it instead. If not, I suppose the new chairs will have to be covered with Sticky Paws tape. Another lesson in giving up on wanting things to look just right.

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