Share on Pinterest
Westend61 / Getty Images

If this past year has taught us anything, it’s how to be more comfortable at home.

And when we’re left to our own devices 24/7, we get creative.

To pass some of the time, you may have become an expert bread baker or taken a stab at embroidery. Or, if you’re like me, perhaps you’ve welcomed a small jungle’s worth of new plants into your home and read more than 100 books.

No matter how you’ve been passing the time, it’s likely your newfound domestic hobbies are part of a much larger trend.

That trend is known as cottagecore.

Cottagecore is less about being the new thing to do and more about going back in time, simplifying things, and revisiting your roots.

Think of cottagecore as a combination of forest bathing, the game Animal Crossing, and Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” album, plus a little Henry David Thoreau for good measure.

To sum it up, the r/cottagecore subreddit says it best. Cottagecore is “your grandma, but like, hip.”

Pandemic or not, the way our society is structured is taking a toll on mental health — so much of a toll that entire aesthetic subcultures are trending.

Cottagecore existed before the pandemic. But after everything we’ve all been through in the past year, it’s no surprise that more and more people are hopping on the trend.

Transformational coach, forest therapy guide, and founder of Shinrin Yoku Hong Kong Amanda Yik gives her input on the trend.

“When I think of cottagecore, the book ‘Small is Beautiful’ by E.F. Schumacher comes to mind. He challenges mainstream capitalism and champions small-scale, empowering technologies,” says Yik.

At its core, Yik adds, cottagecore contains “an element of escape, the need to break away from the trappings and doom and gloom of modern life.”

Simplicity in a chaotic world

Being stuck at home since forever ago left us mostly to our own devices and company. Whether you fully embraced being at home or you found yourself looking for an escape (or both), how could we not all want to run off into the forest?

“I think we have entered a time of deep despair and a very real mental health crisis that has been brought on by the COVID-19 isolation, but also the anxiety and overwhelm that access [to others] only through technology has caused,” says Allison Chawla, a licensed clinical psychotherapist, spiritual counselor, and certified life coach.

Although connectivity during the pandemic has been a lifeline for many, it may not be enough.

“I also think the pendulum has swung way too far toward an electronic lifestyle, and people began to realize that they were not feeling the genuine emotions and reactions from healthy interactions with nature and other people,” says Chawa.

Feelings like these may have spurred the popularity of cottagecore, at least in part.

Mirroring social shifts

Cottagecore is largely about skipping out on the status quo and the yearning for a place where you can be yourself. As such, cottagecore intersects with the LGBTQIA+ community, Black Lives Matter, and other progressive social movements.

The LGBTQIA+ community has had a major part in popularizing cottagecore on TikTok with an even more niche subculture known as “cottagecore lesbians.”

As a bisexual woman from the South, I can appreciate that so many other queer folks find cottagecore enticing.

It’s comforting to think about reclaiming the peace and quiet of rural communities, which have historically been unsafe and unwelcoming due to rampant homophobia.

Cottagecore provides an opportunity to live openly and visibly queer, instead of hiding. It also provides an outlet for domesticity outside of typical gender norms.

Focusing on what we can control

It’s unsettling to be completely out of control of areas in life that used to seem simple. Things have felt topsy-turvy since the pandemic began, but cottagecore has provided a way for some people to take back their sense of agency.

Licensed mental health professional Hayley Neidich explains how “for many, [cottagecore] seems to be a way of embracing isolation and reclaiming it as a part of a purposeful and simple lifestyle.”

In other words, Neidich says it’s a way to reclaim the quarantine and social distancing experience.

(Re)connecting to nature

According to Yik, the desire to wear prairie dresses and learn to whittle goes deeper than just an aesthetic.

“Nostalgia and romanticism certainly have a role to play, but I also believe that at a deeper, less conscious level, biophilia is involved,” says Yik.

Our ancestors have evolved in nature for millennia, which gives us a natural, deep-seated desire to be in harmony with nature, Yik explains.

“While most of us don’t and can’t live in the wild anymore, we have found new ways to express this longing,” Yik says.

Cue phenomena like forest bathing, wild food foraging, or the post-pandemic exodus to the outdoors.

While we can’t say for sure that cottagecore has been driven by mental health needs, we can see very real mental and physical benefits, like:

Connection with nature

The good thing about cottagecore is you can connect to nature no matter where you are. The natural draw toward houseplants and finding any bit of greenery that you can is accessible even if you live in the middle of a big city.

“One of the most common things I say to people when they are feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, or depressed is to get out in nature,” says Chawla. “Put the phones down and turn the devices off completely. Disconnect and observe yourself and how you feel.”

While there’s typically a period of discomfort after we initially unplug, Chawla says that once we adjust, we may begin to notice things we didn’t see before.

“You’ll find that you’re noticing things of beauty that you had been overlooking. You’ll come up with ideas that you didn’t even know you had inside of you,” she says.

Yik emphasized the mental health benefits of cottagecore’s connection with nature.

“The immune-boosting phytoncides and negative ions in the forest air, and in the soil… helps increase resilience and reduce depression symptoms,” she says. “Things we can’t see but are great for our mental wellness are naturally present and available in the woods.”

Not only this, says Yik, but the slow pace of natural rhythms can help us see when we’re pushing too hard. In a culture of productivity and accomplishment, this can be a major gift.

According to Neidich, simple living calls to us as we see the increased effects of climate change.

“The notion of being in nature, living sustainably off the land, and other homesteading ventures at a time when we’re more aware than ever of the climate crisis feels purposeful,” she says.

Letting go of instant gratification

We may have gone from physical to virtual connection, but the reality is we’re all still very “on.” While this can be positive, it can also lead to a codependency.

“We have forgotten how to go 8 hours while someone is at work before hearing back from them. We don’t know how to take pauses,” says Chawla. “Everyone is under the impression that each and every exchange must occur immediately, and therefore we have prevented our brains and emotional beings from having the ability to process, reason, and especially create.”

It’s in the pauses that we are able to truly become present and be alone with ourselves, says Chawla. Time and silence are necessary to allow our brains to process and create new ideas.

“You would be amazed at what you can cultivate by just sitting alone in nature without any connection to the world, other than your feet on the grass,” she says.

Stopping the doomscroll

When we’re surrounded by constant bad news, it’s difficult to look away. You can easily find yourself obsessively reading every little detail or falling prey to endless doomscrolling.

Cottagecore embraces the act of putting down the phone, providing a simple antidote.

“The notion of putting down our phones and connecting with nature at a time where the news and social media is draining so many of us is incredibly enticing to many,” says Neidich.

Positive reinforcement

For those experiencing depression, it may be difficult to engage in the activities that give you joy and meaning. This can create a “downward spiral” that worsens depressive symptoms.

Behavioral activation works to reverse this cycle by providing positive reinforcement for behaviors in the form of rewards.

This cognitive behavior therapy technique may create a sense of productivity by giving people small, pleasurable tasks to accomplish, such as pressing flowers or baking a loaf of bread.

Research from 2017 shows that interaction with rewarding activities like these improves mood, builds confidence, and helps foster a sense of control.

You don’t have to have a cabin in the woods or an obsession with fairies to adopt this lifestyle.

It can be as simple as watering a plant in your living room, watching birds outside your window, growing herbs on your windowsill, or baking something delicious.

“Many of us are tired of the cookie-cutter lifestyle based on mass consumption that we’ve been conditioned to lead,” says Yik. “There’s a dire need for alternatives… that bring more balance and freedom into our tech-dominant lives.”

Cottagecore offers the ability to look at the world through a different lens, one that can provide us with a greater sense of well-being.

Cottagecore is a perfect example of how resilient human beings can be.

It’s nice to know that in the midst of global unrest, there are ways to counteract the negativity with a little bit of nature, whimsy, and simplicity.

Ashley Hubbard is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee, focusing on sustainability, travel, veganism, mental health, social justice, and more. Passionate about animal rights, sustainable travel, and social impact, she seeks out ethical experiences whether at home or on the road. Visit her website.