Big mood

Missing home? Mood boards offer a simple way to reflect on the places you’re longing for most right now.

Rebooting is a biweekly newsletter about how we can use technology to take better care of ourselves.

Having spent the past four years moving back and forth across the country, I’ve learned not to get too attached to any given apartment, no matter how great its location or interior may seem.

Spending enough hours on Hotpads or Craigslist might reward you with a place that teeters on hitting the sweet spot between location, space, and amenities, but if you’re counting down the days until your next paycheck, that’s pretty unlikely. Eventually, you’ll have to learn what compromises you’re willing to make, find a place that hits the most marks, and hope the landlord’s rent increases aren’t excruciatingly cruel.

Not all those compromises are easy to spot before signing your lease, though. No apartment tour will prepare you for a roommate who calls at 3 am every Saturday night because they lost their keys. An apartment down the street from a major metro line isn’t any good if that line is going to be down for the next year (a mistake I, an idiot, have made in two major cities).

When my friend FaceTimed me from what would be my first solo apartment in Long Beach, I couldn’t tell you much more about the city than naming a few musicians from the area. By the time she’d finished giving me a virtual tour of the space and the surrounding neighborhood, I was ready to sign the lease and hop in a U-Haul. I’d found a spot in the heart of downtown Long Beach, within walking distance of the water, complete with a washer and dryer, and a bathroom I’d never have to rush to beat a roommate to. Sure, it was a studio barely within my budget, but I’d spent enough time bouncing between apartments and roommates; I needed some breathing room.

Unfortunately, no good lease goes unpunished. A few months after my move, the red flags that I’d neglected—plus the ones my landlord successfully hid—started to pop up. I loved having hardwood floors and a walk-in closet, but neither were worth the embarrassment of having to reach behind a date and squish a surprisingly fast roach before it got away. Pair that with a microwave that short-circuited the entire apartment, the never-ending battle to find a parking spot, and a front row seat to a weekly argument between neighbors about who’s cheating on who, and I’d quickly fallen out of love with the place I’d hoped to settle into.

Like any on-again/off-again relationship, I constantly argued with myself about whether I truly loved my apartment or hated it and wanted to find any way out. Before mid-March, I would’ve said I didn’t miss it much. I’d just moved into a new apartment in a quieter area, closer to the water, with more space for the pups to run around. I only spent a few months in that apartment, though, and I’ve spent most of the year back in Arizona with family, so when I think about my life in Long Beach, I’m often thinking of life in my first apartment.

Gripes aside, I really did love that place. I could toss on a quick outfit and be at the grocery store, one of my favorite bars, or a cute dog-friendly coffee shop within a few minutes. It was the first place I could call my own, where I started to branch out and get to know people without needing someone else’s introduction. It’s where my girlfriend and I discovered that one of our favorite things to do is cook a nice meal together.

When I was still new to the area, my neighbors and I would sit in the courtyard of our severely-neglected building, chatting about neighborhood gossip as our pups all ran around and played. On nights where my anxiety felt like too much, my downstairs neighbor, Bill, would sit outside on the steps with me and talk me down over a cigarette or two. He’d plop his Chihuahua down on his lap, hand me a cigarette, and light his own as he dished out all the tea on his landlord/boss until he knew I’d calmed down. You can’t buy those kinds of neighbors, though I’m sure that wouldn’t stop landlords from trying.

Under different circumstances, I’d probably still miss that apartment, but quarantine has given me more time to stew in my nostalgia. On the days where the quiet of my hometown feels dull and my heart’s begging for some sort of excitement, I start to miss eavesdropping on the arguments of couples waiting for their rides. The desert heat has kept me indoors most days, when this time last year I was coasting along the ocean on my favorite bike on my way to the gym or to grab coffee with a friend.

It’s going to be a while before I’m back in Long Beach and able to bike around again, and even once I’m there, I still won’t be able to chat with fellow pup owners on our morning walks, or spend an hour at the community garden getting tips about how to keep my orchids alive for longer than a week. The pandemic has taken the things that make our communities feel like home, and even thinking optimistically, it’ll be a while before they start coming back. That won’t stop us from missing them, though, and I’ve been feeling really homesick lately. Nothing’s worked perfectly, but I’ve been making mood boards to flip through when home starts feeling really far away.

I first got into mood boarding when I started decorating that ill-fated apartment last year. I’d never settled into an apartment long enough to awaken my inner home decorator, so Pinterest’s More Like This feature, which shows related images that match the same aesthetic as things you’ve pinned, helped me find what I’d like. After a few weeks of tapping and scrolling through various apartment tours and DIY tutorials, I had a few boards that could, at a glance, give me an idea of what I wanted my apartment to look like, and I could plan from there.

Mood boards mostly get brought up in the context of organizing or planning, but you can use them whenever you find yourself gathering a bunch of images centered on a given theme, like apartment decor, hair styles, or drawing inspiration for creative projects. Since I’m 500 miles away from home right now, I’ve been using a mood board as a sort of digital scrapbook of all my favorite spots and things in Long Beach. It’s not like being back home, but neither is really being at home right now, so I’ll take what I can get.

Unlike a scrapbook or photo album, with mood boards you’re not limited by the photos in your own camera roll. See a nice picture of the Redwoods that reminds you of the trip you took there two summers ago? Mood boards will display them just fine, alongside all the other pictures of places that you miss from your traveling days, or whatever else you’ve been gathering. What starts out as a board of pictures from a place you visited once five years ago might end up being a mosaic of all the things that surface warm memories of places we’d rather be right now. Like the best playlists, mood boards evolve and change as you add more to them, so you never know what it’ll grow into or where it’ll take you.

Without some idea of what you’re trying to gather, though, making your first mood board can feel aimless and uninspired. You don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on getting the topic just right, but you also don’t want something so broad every webpage has something you can tack onto your board. Since we’re talking about quarantine FOMO here, focus on things like cities and destinations, anything that you can tie to a physical location. You might not be able to visit it right now, but having a collage of pictures from your favorite bar might make it easier to revisit the best nights you shared there with your friends.

Get on board

If you’ve never made a mood board before, you’ll probably find comfort in Pinterest’s simplicity and discoverability. Even when you’re lacking inspiration, the app’s algorithm will keep throwing images and guides at you until something makes your eyes flutter. I still use Pinterest when I’m making plans for my apartment, but I’ve moved to Dropmark for general mood boarding. It’s free for nearly every feature you’d need, so don’t sweat the premium tiers unless you get really into mood boards.

Once you’ve got the extensions and apps set up on all your devices, any image or webpage is just a few taps away from being added to any given board. I’ve made a board called “nostalgia” where I drop pictures of Long Beach or Tucson, since those are the two places I always end up missing the most. I could break them up into separate boards, but I’ve found that keeping them all together makes more sense when you’re longing to be anywhere other than the room you’ve spent the last five months in.

All you have to do is hit the save button from any device you’re on, so that’ll be under the Share Sheet on iOS, or in your browser’s toolbar if you’ve got the plugin installed. You can save images, videos, upload files, or even just write in bits of text if you want to turn it into a mood board/journal hybrid. That’s a bit more flexibility than Pinterest gives you, and since it’s not something that gets shared among a bunch of followers, you can be a bit more expressive with what you’re tossing in there.

Great as Pinterest is, you’ll end up spending hours tapping on snapshots of perfectly curated apartments, all with the same patterned blanket you started off with for inspiration—It can get pretty samey.

I’ve found a lot of comfort in Instagram lately, not just through staying connected with friends, but for just browsing tags of my favorite cities and locations, just to see what others had shared before lockdown. So maybe you don’t have any shots of the cute restaurant you and your partner went to on your last vacation, but the restaurant’s Instagram probably has a shot or two that you could throw onto your nostalgia board. The problem is that Instagram makes it nearly impossible to get anything out of its app. Luckily, there’s an iOS Shortcut for that, and running it from within the app’s share menu will let you save any image, complete with credit, and add it to your board. Don’t get weird and take a selfie someone else shared from an event or something, but a restaurant’s not gonna sweat having a picture of their tastiest dish on your page of “meals I miss the most.”

Keep it simple

Like any browsing and collecting you do online, it’s easy to find yourself falling down a rabbit hole any time you’re looking to add things to a mood board. You may start out just collecting pictures of old spots you used to frequent back in your college days, but that board will probably look pretty different after a few hours if you dump everything you find into it.

You don’t have to keep things too specific—eventually a folder of pictures of Yosemite you found on photo blogs will get repetitive—but you’ll want to make sure anything you add to a given nostalgia board will easily trigger a pleasant memory. So, if I found a picture that reminded me of when Bill gave me my first unfiltered cigarette, along with accompanying nausea and coughing fits, I could add that in there to give me a nice little chuckle. I wouldn’t typically associate cigarettes with Long Beach, but our love for cities comes as much from the people we meet in them as it does from the places we go. So just keep that in mind, and you’ll have a board full of your warmest memories in no time.


📚 Good Reads:

Tiktok and the evolution of digital Blackface (Wired): TikTok has a lot going on right now, given its current plans to sue the Trump administration over its recent executive order. That’s worth following whether you’re on the platform or not. But if you’re a TikTok user, Wired’s September cover story is a must read. In it, Jason Parham looks at how digital blackface has evolved across social networks, and the insidious shape it’s taken on TikTok. 

How social justice slideshows took over Instagram (Vox): You’ve certainly seen the pretty infographics showing up on your friends’s Instagram stories by now. Vox has a great piece breaking down how these slideshows became so popular, what happens when brands mimic the aesthetic these slideshows have developed, and how they’re capable of spreading misinformation. 

How Facebook and other sites manipulate your privacy choices (Wired): Dark patterns aren’t new, but they’ve evolved and found even more nefarious and irritating ways to infiltrate our lives. We might not be able to stop companies like Facebook or Twitter from making it hard to take control over our data, and asshole design isn’t going anywhere, but knowing what you’re trying to do and how dark patterns try to obfuscate that can make their efforts less successful.

How pro-mask posts boost the anti-mask movement (First Draft): We’ve all shared things before reading them in fits of frustration or outrage. As misinformation around the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, it’s important to be sure that we’re only sharing things that will get more people on board with wearing masks and staying home. This piece looks into how commenting on hashtags that might upset us, like, say, an anti-mask movement, can actually draw more attention to it, as well as other intentionally misleading information that may piggyback off a hashtag’s popularity. 

Why a Slack backlash is inevitable (Big Technology): As is noted in this piece, Slack can create a lot of hostile work environments, and with more people using Slack now that many of us are working from home, that’s going to become a bigger problem that we’ll have to sort out. But something that Slack has been useful for is holding colleagues accountable in a way that might not have been as easy before. If you’re in a room with your whole company, and a manager says something insensitive, the conversation might be moving fast enough that it gets lost in the conversation. In Slack, attention can still be brought to it, and multiple people are able to speak up without all shouting over whoever else is talking. It’s a way to make sure eyes are being brought to things like sexism or racism in the workplace, though a leadership team dedicated to missing the point could still chalk all that up to “high school problems.” 

🌐 Just Browsing:

📫 The Postal Service is in trouble. Find out how you can help. ☺️ Things are not super great right now, but don’t beat yourself up, it’s okay to feel okay right now. 👤 Don’t like the idea of facial recognition software letting someone know who you are in just a few clicks? This tool can help protect your face from being scanned by nosey algorithms. 🕯️Anne Helen Petersen has some tips on how to fight burnout. 🎥 Wanna read a movie’s script as you sink your teeth into another flick? There’s an extension for that. 🎒 College is expensive, and even if it weren’t, you don’t need an overpriced degree to get informed on a given subject matter. Here’s how to get an education without going to college. 🎩 Come for the best bucket hats you can get, stay for the advice from LL Cool J. 🧠 Feeling down? These six Instagram accounts offer mental health tips to get you feeling better. 💄 Curious about what an online makeup class is like? Medea Giordano over at Wired gave it a shot. 🚨 Is your landlord using tech to be awful despite a global pandemic? Use this map to report them. ⌚ The Apple Watch is a great lil gadget, and it turns out, it’s great for self-care

🔧 Toolkit:

Based on Dorie Chevlen’s advice in this article, I created a Shortcut that runs every night before I go to bed, which asks me for three tasks I need to complete the following day. Once I’ve typed them in, they’re added to my inbox in Things, where I can make sure they’re taken care of throughout the following day. Maybe you don’t use Things, but as long as your to-do app of choice supports the Shortcuts app on iOS, you can get the same sort of setup and give yourself a little less anxiety before bed. 

💕 And now, here’s something we hope you’ll really like:

Good Sudoku (iOS): I’m pretty bad at staying committed to seeing a game through to the end. I still haven’t finished some of my favorite games, despite sinking hours into them. I’ll get to that some day, but in the meantime, I’ve been playing Good Sudoku, a delightful new game on iOS that teaches you how to develop better strategies through a clever notetaking system. The best part is that when you figure out new tactics on your own, without any hints from the game, you feel about a thousand times smarter than you had the rest of the day. 

As always, if you have any questions, feedback, or just want to say hello, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter.

My thanks to Medea Giordano for editing this issue.