What it is like to live in a mostly-student boardinghouse during a pandemic

This may be the first in an occasional series about life in a community of microstudios near my alma mater where the rent includes meals, utilities, internet and housekeeping, aka an upscale 21st-century boardinghouse.

Living in a boardinghouse may have exposed me to the virus more because of all the folks around, shared doorknobs and stairway railings, etc., but it has also kept me calm and prevented any sense of being alone in a crisis. I have had plenty of people to talk to and a whole staff to support me — chefs, maintenance person, housekeeper, on-site manager.

I havent had to worry about stocking up on groceries, cooking, hyper-cleaning, or doing any household chores other than hand-washing. Our housekeeper even volunteered to clean the filter in my window heater/air conditioner so the air I breathe will be as clean as possible, and said she would be happy to do it monthly.

Management very responsibly instituted a lot of extra protocols in recent days – hand sanitizer everywhere, the housekeeper wiping down stairway rails and dining surfaces repeatedly throughout the day, signs throughout the building that say BE SURE TO SANITIZE. And for the entire week before spring break, a single member of the kitchen staff dished up everyones food, so as to minimize touching of plates. I felt even better served than usual.

Many of my fellow residents are introverts, so social distancing is nothing new here. Even before the time of virus, there were rarely more than a half-dozen residents eating in the dining hall at once, and most ate alone at separate tables (some while reading books, notes, or phones).

I have been eating most meals in my room for my entire time here (except when having guests over), and now that seems a societally sanctioned choice too, one recognized as the best for the health of the community.

I bought a four-roll pack of toilet paper at the corner 7-11 a few weeks ago, as per my usual practice since moving in 20 months ago. It didnt occur to me to hoard toilet paper, or anything else. I dont have the space in a 220-square-foot microstudio, and in any case, I know that toilet paper is not essential to life — my mother described using newspaper in the outhouse during her pre-Depression-era childhood. I also know that if I really needed it for some reason, the building likely has a vast storehouse. Ditto anything else I might need. Living in community = resilience by design.

As one of the only residents staying here during spring break, I got all the perishable leftovers from the kitchen before it closed after lunch Friday. My mini-fridge is chock-full of carrot sticks, yogurt-and-fruit, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and cut fruit from the fruit bar. Also (more substantially) a hearty soup, a black bean/hummus wrap, and a mini-freezer full of leftovers from my recent lunches and dinners. (I am not a large person, and the meals here are quite substantial. I frequently eat only two of the three each day.)

When spring quarter begins, I am told, only a half dozen of our 50 residents will be here (basically the foreign students, who cant go home — including at least one from South Korea). So that will be a new reality. Classes at UO, LCC, and NCU (Northwest Christian University — known as Northwest Christian College when I was a UO student in the 1980s) are being taught online through all of spring term, so most students have gone home for spring break and will stay there.

I hope to have time to post one or more updates on how things develop here. Meanwhile, I am appreciating the slower pace of life, the sudden social acceptability of the lifestyle that comes naturally to most introverts (possibly now even essential to survival), and the incentive to think about my own health rather than just the health (via housing needs) of Eugene. And marveling at the occasional glimpses we are receiving of a planet relieved, if only temporarily, of the damage done by modern humans unsustainable patterns of living.

Published by Sherri Schultz

Writer & change-maker exploring micro-dwelling in Eugene, Oregon. Founder of Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers: https://www.meetup.com/Micro-dwellers .

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    1. They very responsibly instituted a lot of extra protocols in recent days – hand sanitizer everywhere, the housekeeping staff wiping down stairway rails and dining surfaces repeatedly throughout the day, signs throughout the building that said BE SURE TO SANITIZE, and the whole last week having only one member of the kitchen staff dish up everyones food, so as to minimize touching of plates.


    2. I was wondering the same thing. Great post, Sherri! I think it goes against most people’s thoughts about co-living during the pandemic so I’m really glad you shared it. Hope you and your fellow residents and staffers continue to stay well and healthy. Better days will come.


      1. Peg, what a treat to hear from you! Thanks so much for reading.

        Gosh, what do most people think? … Maybe that co-living is a malignant cesspool of festering disease… ?

        I guess I am so far removed from how most people think, that did not even occur to me — I just wanted to send out a communique. Thanks for the impetus/reminder of the importance of writing about the quotidian and seemingly trivial, as well as the grand visions and wonkish housing-policy talk.


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