Every night when I open up TikTok for my allotted hour of scrolling, I’m greeted with one of two videos at the top of my For You page. One is a continuation of a series, “Random Things In My Japanese Home That Just Make Sense” (which has now gotten thoroughly meme-ified). The other is a progress update of a user converting a shed in her backyard into a “she-shed” to enjoy after quarantine is over.
These videos are wildly popular, with likes into the millions. But it doesn’t take a Home Depot rewards membership to tell you why these kinds of videos are taking off right now, when most of America’s population is stuck inside due to stay-at-home orders, staring at walls their landlords won’t let them paint. Watching home renovations and tours on TikTok is a kind of self-soothing I didn’t realize I’d lean into so much before, you know, all this happened.
I, personally, have done about all the renovations — ronavations? — to my apartment that I can do myself in the five weeks since New York went on pause. I finally matted, framed, and hung prints my nana gave me about six months ago. I’m propagating store-bought mint and rosemary, in hopes of making a little windowsill victory garden. I started sourdough (duh). Completing each of these projects gave me a wild dopamine jolt of pure satisfaction, an affirmation that my hands can be used for something other than making words show up in Google Docs.
But none of this compares to the brain massage that is watching someone install Nordic-style board and batten in what appears to be their dining room, or hand-paint a wall with an enlarged terrazzo-ish motif (search “Pinterest accent wall” for what I’m talking about). Watching these transformations happen, often over time lapse, vicariously quiets the productivity anxiety I’m no longer capable of assuaging, having run out of projects to take on. But I’m also watching a stranger essentially add a room to their house; imagine if the 400 foot studio you’ve memorized every inch of suddenly became a different version of itself, with new shadows and corners to scrutinize.
While I prefer my home tours as 60-second TikToks, others on Instagram and YouTube are filling the void left by brunch ‘grams and travel vlogs. The fashion blog ManRepeller has been posting carousels of their editors’ immaculately styled abodes, making me wonder if everyone’s been buying Noguchi lamps this whole time. “Please note that this was all self-filmed, so don't expect some Architectural Digest footage here,” notes the caption of model Devon Windsor’s mid-April tour of her extremely AD-style house. These videos and galleries are a little escapist and deeply aspirational, in the best way.
Seeing the inside of other people’s houses — and the immensely satisfying updates strangers make to them — lets me dream up a different version of my life, one where my kitchen walls aren’t variably splattered with remnants of Sundays gravies past. It’s a world away from Slack notifications, coronavirus daily briefing recaps, or other things that send my already overworked cortisol centers into hyperdrive, but I still get to stare at my phone. And as grateful as I am for my home and all its current comforts, it’s calming to be able to conceptualize something new.