What is the Cocooning Effect?

The unprecedented advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our global understanding of what “home” means. Home - a place once relegated simply to sleeping and eating - has now become our place of refuge, socialization, work and 24/7 activity. We have retreated into our homes over the last eight months for health, safety and comfort. As a nation, and as a planet, we have cast aside the outside world and chosen to burrow into our small, intimate and very personal spaces instead. This recent expression is one iteration of the “cocooning effect.” In her article “6 Global Consumer Trends For 2019, And The Brands That Are Out In Front Of Them” for Forbes, writer Pamela Danziger explains the cocooning trend, its history and its recent re-emergence in popular culture. Danzinger writes that “the cocooning trend” responds to the recent “uncertainties” exposed by contemporary problems and life in general. Danziger predicts that the desire to create “comfort-first sanctuaries” - rather than utilitarian, functionalist spaces - will reach even more people in 2021. As we confront the ongoing pandemic, many will continue to search for a “respite from an increasingly uncertain world,” Danzinger writes. Follow below to fully answer the question "what is the cocooning effect?" and to learn more about its history. You will also gain insight into how it will affect our modern lives, especially as our world continues to change.

A Brief History of the Cocooning Effect

"Cocooning is the need to protect oneself from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the outside world."

The term “cocooning” was first coined by Faith Popcorn, the founder of the avant-garde marketing consultancy “BrainReserve.” In 1981, Popcorn described cocooning as “the need to protect oneself from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the outside world.” In the article “The Essence of Cocooning” for The LA Times, Beth Ann Krier described the phenomenon as “a desire for a cozy, perfect environment far from the influences of a madding world.” Originally, Krier writes, cocooning was coined by Popcorn to refer to a solitary lifestyle - one of “simply staying home, holing up, nesting, being a homebody.” Certainly both Krier and Popcorn predicted a 2020 trend.

The two outlined cocooning in the ‘80s as response to the terrors of the outside world - many of which were man made and human caused. One such horrifying element that kept people inside during the 1980s was “environmental destruction”, hallmarked in that decade by “dumping sites, water going bad, garbage issues, herpes, AIDS, cancer, the ozone layer” and so much more. During that period, a growing number of Americans sought out “anything you [could] make that was easy and secure, warm and available” to add to a cocoon.” People were so overwhelmed by the outside world that they felt the need “to step back,” Krier explained.

What is the Cocooning Effect in Today's Terms?

A High-Tech Home

"Technology has made cocooning easier than ever before, offering a kind of socialized cocooning in which one can live in physical isolation while maintaining contact with others through telecommunication"

Today, the cocooning effect represents a shift towards homes that offer all necessary and desired elements of safety, security, comfort and peace of mind. For more contemporary homes, this means home security systems, smart home integrations and apps that offer off-site visibility. However, the cocooning effect was not always so high-tech. The cocooning effect has long incorporated home health as well. In Danziger's article for Forbes, she notes that many homeowners and renters are searching for more ways in which to increase the health of their homes - in addition to safety. Danziger writes that “inside the home, safety in the form of healthier indoor environments is another trend.” This can include “sensitive lighting that enhances energy and sleep, indoor noise control and improved air quality.” Each of these elements works with the others to create a space that is more hospitable to human residents in the long-term.

A Healthy Home

"This indoor life will be our new normal and our cocoons won't be stationary. They will be driverless pods - a micro-apartment, or mini-hotel suite on wheels - that whisk us around for a change of scenery, to allow our wanderlust to run loose."

In a July 2020 article, Faith Popcorn redefined the term for a post-pandemic audience. In her article “Welcome to 2030: Come Cocoon with Me,” Popcorn explains how cocooning has come to represent “self-preservation” and “psychological shelter.” Today, writes Popcorn, cocooning means adapting. She writes that while cocooning once referred solely to the comfort and security of the home, now it refers to its adaptability and versatility. Homes in the time of Coronavirus must be all things - they must become an “office, gym, restaurant, art studio,” etc. Our homes have become our “ground zero” for all activities - even those we once left the house to perform. These can include “virtual concerts,” eating out, and all the elements of “outside life.” Through quarantine and stay-at-home cocooning, we have since found a way to accomplish and fulfill many of our external dreams at home.

How the Cocoon Effect has Cemented Itself in a COVID-Centric World

"People are searching for 'respite from an increasingly uncertain world'."

This has been proven most significantly in the number of DIY attempts during stay-at-home order periods. Homeowners and renters have taken the health of their homes, their bodies and their minds into their own hands, searching for ways to improve. These solutions have included improving indoor air quality, adding touches of nature and increasing ventilation, among many others. The “cocooning effect” is only expected to widen and strengthen its hold over the American populous as another surge of cases related to the pandemic arises. To make the best of your time alone at home in the coming months, follow Dr. Bella dePaulo's advice. In her article “What We Need Now: 3 Types of Cocooning” for Psychology Today, dePaulo recommends “cultivating and curating” one’s home, “turning [it] into a comfortable cocoon that brings [you] ‘peace and protection, coziness and control.’”