25 Best Essentials You Need to Stay Healthy (and Sane) During the Quarantine

While COVID-19 rages on, the safest place is home sweet home. But, believe it or not, staying at home all day could also be hazardous to your health. For example, when you’re out making runs for groceries and other necessities, it’s possible to bring those germs back into your home – where they can linger on various surfaces. But are you properly cleaning and sanitizing your home?

Also, some of your daily habits could also be unhealthy. This is not the time to “let yourself go,” and pick up bad habits, while neglecting the basic and necessary activities to contribute to good health.

We found the 25 best essentials you need to stay healthy (and sane) during the quarantine. And since these are stressful times, we also rounded up a few experts to talk about ways to develop and maintain good habits while you’re at home.

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Tips for creating a healthy home

When creating a safe and healthy home, the best tactic is to take a holistic approach. This includes eliminating contaminants and germs, cleaning and disinfecting hard and soft surfaces, eating healthy, maintaining good mental health, and evaluating design choices.  

Cleaning the air you breathe

According to the EPA, indoor air is 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. "The simplest thing anyone can do to improve their home environment is to change their air filter regularly,” said Audrey Monell, President of Forrest Anderson Plumbing and Air Conditioning in Phoenix, AZ. “Air filters are designed to trap small particles that impact air quality and you don’t need to buy the expensive allergy filters, which can put a strain on your HVAC system, just get the 1-inch pleated filters and change them monthly for better indoor air.”

She also recommends inspecting and cleaning your bathroom exhaust fans and kitchen range hoods. "These should be cleaned regularly, and in good working condition to avoid recirculating airborne contaminants," Monell explains.

Chicago-based designer Leslie Markman-Stern advises consumers to use only non-VOC paints or low-VOC paints and stains to control toxins and off gases in the home. She also recommends using plants to achieve fresher air, or putting up a green wall.“

Creating barriers

Lead, chlorine, and other contaminants are common in many water systems. “Install water purifiers or an RO system for better water quality, and install bidets and touchless faucets for better sanitation,” Markman-Stern says. Bidets - or bidet seats - can provide a more thorough - and touchless - cleaning. The fewer surfaces you touch when your hands are dirty, the better. That's why touchless faucets and touchless trash cans can also contribute to better hygiene. Markman-Stern also recommends installing anti-microbial surfaces to prevent viruses from living on your horizontal surfaces.

Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces

“Some viruses can actually stay infectious on surfaces for days, not just hours, so it’s important to start practicing a daily hygiene routine with your family, for yourselves and your home,” advises Gary Findley, CEO of Restoration 1, a property restoration company.   

He recommends cleaning all of your surfaces with soap and water. “This needs to become routine, especially those high traffic areas in your home.”

Not all cleaning products kill infectious viruses, and Findley says a lot of these products focus on cleaning bacteria. “Good disinfectants are: diluted household bleach solutions that you can make at home (4 teaspoons household bleach with 1-quart water), alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, or household cleaners and disinfectants that state on their packaging that they kill 99.9% of bacteria and viruses,” he says.

“Make sure you follow manufacturers’ instructions and have windows open for good ventilation when cleaning – and remember to try to keep surfaces wet for a few minutes before drying.”

Cleaning high traffic areas

So, what are these high traffic areas you should focus on? “Ensure you’re wiping down – with disinfectant – kitchens, all counters and desks, keyboards, cell phones, door handles, light switches, remote controls, and even your car steering wheel,” Findley says.

“Use a disinfecting wipe (not on plastic) or 70% alcohol solution with a soft towel, and pay attention to those areas where dirt usually gets trapped,” Findley says. And don't forget your PC and Macbook accessories.  He says you should pay attention to your laptop’s keyboard, trackpad, exterior, mouse, and other peripherals.

“Once you bring in your grocery supplies, unpack them, spray them with disinfectant, pack them away, and then wipe down the area the bags were placed.” And then, he says you should wash your hands thoroughly.   

Cleaning floors and carpets

Your hands aren’t touching the floor, but Findley says your shoes and pets can bring bacteria and viruses from outside, so disinfect your floors as well. 

This includes hardwoods, hard floors like stone, and also carpets. According to Jack White, vice president of technical services at Rainbow International Restoration, proper carpet cleaning provides 4 health benefits:

  • Remove dead skin cells, lint, hair and dead insects, thus eliminating the food source for carpet beetles and dust mites.
  • Eradicates pollutants left behind by your pet, including fleas, ticks and dander.
  • Helps prevent mold growth.
  • Kills bacteria and viruses breeding in the carpet.

Laundry

“Clean your carpet, rug, or drapes with the recommended cleaner and then launder or take what you can to the laundromat or dry cleaner,” Findley says. “And once clean, use a suitable household disinfectant.” 

When doing household laundry, he recommends using disposable gloves. “Don’t shake out your laundry, use the warmest appropriate setting, and dry items completely.” But that's not the last step. “Once you’ve finished, clean and disinfect the hamper itself, take off your gloves, and wash your hands thoroughly.”

Eating healthy during the quarantine

You may be more sedentary during this time, so it’s even more important to make healthy choices. “Make sure half of your plate is filled with fruits and vegetables, which are the key components of a quality diet,” says Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, director of scientific affairs at Ritual. “During quarantine time, you may shop for fresh produce less often, which makes frozen and canned options very appealing for our daily diet.” And she says they can be just as nutritious as fresh produce.  “Choose options that have no added sugars and are low in sodium.”

Sharafi also recommends replacing an animal-based protein, like red meats and poultry, in one of your meals with a plant-based one, like beans, lentils and chickpeas. “Plant proteins are separate from poultry and meat proteins when it comes to diet quality."

As it relates to fat, she says it’s the type not the amount that counts. So, when you’re reaching for a snack, Sharafi recommends nuts and seeds, instead of cookies high in saturated fat.”

If you really like sweets, she recommends trying to stretch your treats with healthier options. “For example, replace ¼ cup of your ice-cream with ½ cup of strawberry,” she says. “Also take advantage of spices such cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom, that bring a natural sweetness in your food.”

Mental health considerations

When deciding what contributes to your mental health, psychotherapist Jodi Aman, LCSW, says that people are unique and there’s no-one-size-fits-all answer. “While you have to decide which calming and creative activities you personally enjoy, it is important to make sure they are included in your day,” she says.”

The two most important things to get right now: a dependable routine and a sense of purpose. “Routine helps the mind settle the chaos of all the changes that we are experiencing,” Aman says. “And, a sense of purpose helps us step into our personal power instead of feeling helpless about the uncertainty.”

Aman warns against burnout, which can quickly deplete your energy and provides three ways to counter it:

#1- Take breaks from what is draining you, for example, take some time for deep breathing or meditation before bed.

#2 -Set limits on what is draining you, for example, stop reading news articles when they are affecting you.

#3- Receive acknowledgement for what you have done, for example, having a catch up with a friend or partner who "gets" you.

In addition, Markman-Stern suggests bringing the outdoors into your home. "Biophilia, bringing nature into the space, has been found to be calming and improves cognitive, psychological and physiological behavior,” she says. “Use organic, nonliving natural elements in materials, colors, and shapes such as in fabrics, carpets, wallcoverings, furniture details and accent details.”

Sound considerations

When everyone is at home, it can be hard to concentrate and even more difficult to conduct Zoom meetings. “Install area rugs or wall panels in rooms with a lot of glass exposure or wood for better acoustics,” Markman-Stern says. “Beautifully-designed homes with a lot of hard surfaces, such as large windows, hardwood floors, and high ceilings can be difficult to hear in, even in non-quarantine times.”

How the quarantine is reshaping home design

The quarantine is also changing how homeowners and homebuyers are looking at their residences. "Home office space has been increasing in importance for years, but the sudden onset of most people now working from home has moved this feature up toward the top of homebuyers’ wish lists, says Jeff Benach, principal of Chicago-based Lexington Homes.

And now, he says homeowners and homebuyers are putting more thought into what makes these spaces functional and comfortable – including home office accessories – to meet their needs. “They’re finding areas to carve out extra workspaces, such as the second-floor landing in some home designs,” Benach says.  

“We also are finding extra closets and pantries are moving higher up on homebuyer's lists now as spaces to store emergency supplies, safety kits, and purchases from Costco runs." As homeowners spend more time at home, they’re looking for ways to maximize outdoor spaces and turn the backyard into a mini oasis. “Even before the quarantine, we were seeing more buyers who wanted access to private outdoor space,” says Liz Brooks, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Chicago-based Belgravia Group.

“We anticipate even more interest in private outdoor space from buyers given how much time people expect to spend in their homes going forward,” she says. “And as warmer weather approaches, people will naturally want to spend more time outdoors, too, so an outdoor space that can accommodate multiple seating areas for doing work and al fresco dining is also more likely to be on a buyer’s’ radar.”

They’re also looking for ways to reduce germs. “Homeowners are buying and building customized shoe closets in the foyers since nobody wants dirty shoes all over the house these days,” explains Luciana Fragali, owner of interior and architectural design firm Design Solutions in Miami. And there’s another trend that she’s noticing. “Quartz countertops have proved to be the most hygienic, maintenance-free and durable materials for kitchen and bathroom countertops.”

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