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Illustration by Brian McGovern for Racked
Illustration by Brian McGovern for Racked

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Life as a Shut-In: I Survived a Week Relying Only on Delivery Apps

I wanted to see what would happen if I shut myself in my apartment for six straight days, living only off the land—and by "land," I mean "the App Store."

If you've recently been trapped inside your house due to an act of Mother Nature, you know the restorative power a couple hours of in-home lounging can bring. Encouraging this laziness is a new multitude of on-demand beauty and delivery apps, all capable of bringing deep-tissue massages and pre-chopped dinner ingredients to your doorstep—assuming you live in a major city. In theory, you could just take that snow day...and never go back to work.

Which is what I just did for an entire week. I wanted to see what would happen if I shut myself in my New York City apartment for six straight days, living only off the land—and by "land," I mean "the App Store." What I discovered: It's just like having a servant boy, if that servant was an expensive stranger who came to your home with embarrassingly unimportant things like juice boxes of wine, high-end Chinese food, and kickboxing lessons. And while it's certainly a convenient lifestyle, it's not without a few major pitfalls, at least if you value your sanity.

Note: The following experiment took place several weeks ago, before Mayor DeBlasio grounded all New Yorkers this week during snowstorm Juno. But it certainly taught me how to survive without stepping outdoors. Will I teach you? Sure, but I'll warn you: It requires a lot of liquor.


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Photo: Getty Images

Day One: Tuesday

Words cannot describe how good it feels to wake up on a weekday, tired and groggy, and suddenly realize you have nowhere you need to be. Until, of course, you also realize you're fresh out of toilet paper and are stuck on this side of your front door. Thank goodness for Instacart, the service that sends strangers to do your grocery shopping and schlepping for you.

I quickly discover in the hunt for groceries and bathroom products that Instacart isn't so instant. Despite their one-hour delivery window, the next available is for 3pm the following day, meaning I'll now have to fashion a meal out of an old piece of fish and a cucumber. No thanks. I eat a handful of frozen pizza bites, lean into Amazon Prime's (reliable! free!) two-hour evening delivery window for a sack of quinoa and a couple rolls of toilet paper, and text my boyfriend to pick up vegetables for dinner. (About the boyfriend: I know this seems like cheating, but he works crazy hours, so he's rarely available as a groceries mule.)

I learned throughout the week that on-demand deliveries are not as on-demand as I planned. If you're patient, you can get things easily, but this is New York City, so I'm clearly not. Between the $7.99 charge for Amazon Prime Now's one-hour delivery and a $5 tip, they're nowhere near reinventing the wheel. I could just walk down the street to Duane Reade and pocket the $13! But of course, I can't.

Photo: Getty Images

Day Two: Wednesday

If yesterday was for adjusting, today is for settling in. As a freelance writer, I had such a rosy vision of how much work I was going to get done this week, but at this point, I don't actually feel like I have more time than usual. Not having a place to be in the morning means I don't have to get dressed—but it also means I'm accidentally sleeping in. I don't have to leave my house to get anything—but downloading apps, adding credit card information and painstakingly selecting goods with my finger takes time, too. (Cue world's tiniest violin.)

It's weird: Now that I'm home, it feels like all of my chores need to be done immediately. I don't have to go anywhere! Or do anything! Or see anyone! But still, I'm anxious to the max. Thank goodness for my first visitor of the week: an in-house masseuse.

Zeel, available on both coasts and Florida, brings competitively-priced massages to your door with just a few taps on an iPhone. Sure, in theory, letting a stranger come to your house to squeeze your body sounds like a full-on horror movie plot, but it's actually one of the better, more professional services I've used. (OK, it helps that their animated interface is crazy-cute.) I typically opt for male technicians, but all things considered, I go female this time around.

Sure, it's a little weird to have someone come to your house for this service. And even though it's a massage, and I know that, I've been in a relationship for basically forever so the last time I stripped down in front of a stranger at home was years ago. It feels presumptuous, which is why I laid down on the table in leggings and a sports bra until the surprisingly cool masseuse came out and laughed at me, reminding me that I was being a total putz.

Having someone at your house also scrubs out any sort of anonymity. Some spa treatments require a rapport, but massage truly is not one of them. I usually tell the masseuse that I write at a desk and that's why my shoulders feel like gravel, but this time she's actually in my veritable fun house, surrounded by weird art and odd tchotchkes.

There were pros (I picked Jessie Ware's Pandora station in lieu of the classical rendition of Titanic's theme song my neighborhood place favors) and cons (you use your own sheets, meaning mine are now covered in mascara stains), but going from my desk to a massage table to my desk in 62 minutes was pretty insane. Another miracle of doing beauty services on-demand: no tipping! It's already included.

My Instacart delivery finally arrives, filled with bruised apples and a few items I'd never buy if I did the shopping. But that's not an option this week, so I tough it out and try to enjoy this fresh bounty. I'm suddenly blissful. Who needs to leave the house?

But later that night, after a few too many songs by the xx, it hits me: I am super alone. Something is nagging at me, something indescribable — so I decide to escape it by hopping on a Peloton stationary bike. Sweating resets my brain, thank goodness, and I decide to celebrate by making homemade carrot ginger soup. I hunt through the fridge, the kitchen, the bags until I realize: There's no ginger. Instacart didn't include it.

I hate it here.

Photo: Getty Images

Day Three: Thursday

Last night's feelings melt away as I start to fall into a routine. OK, so I was sad last night, but it's reportedly freezing outside. I schedule out rest of the week and realize that, wow, maybe I don't ever have to leave my house! Suddenly, I'm getting more work done than I have in months. A housekeeper lets herself and cleans the apartment and I completely avoid her. Hermit status: on lock.

I have to shake off the social anxiety, though, because tonight I'm throwing a dinner party. Blue Apron is supposed to be a make-dinner-quick service, but I'm hacking it for at-home entertaining, and I'm starting to think this might be the key to successful living. I don't have to get anxiety sweats at the Whole Foods seafood counter or start cooking before I realize I don't have, oh I don't know, ginger, because all I have to do is take these ingredients out, mush them together and bring them from the oven to the table.

Later that night, I end the three-day sweatpants parade and finally put a real outfit on. Okay, it's a muumuu, but for indoors me, this is a big step! I swipe on smidge of eyeshadow and bronzer and realize I've kind of forgotten how to put on makeup. One thing I haven't forgotten how to do, though, is drink. I've become a tiny bit of a lush while shut-in, and I try out the sleek liquor delivery app Minibar (available with select service nationwide) to get provisions for a signature cocktail for the evening. (Haven't left home and still so fancy!) Less than an hour later, I have ginger liqueur at my doorstep. Take that, Instacart.

My poor math abilities mean it takes longer to make the Blue Apron meals than I expected, but I'm delighted and genuinely shocked by how easy it is. I made brick chicken and beef bolognese and at an extreme bonus, managed to used everything from my wedding registry that hadn't yet been touched. I'm definitely using this service again.

My four guests and I chowed down on dinner followed by cookies, babka, and other snacks, which is half the reason I spent that evening nursing a terrible stomachache. The other half, which I realize after it lasts all week, is that I have become completely sedentary. Not in the way we joke about with friends who take back-to-back spin classes, but legitimately, completely sedentary. I sit, I eat, I repeat. I barely even stand! Tonight was super successful, but this isn't a good sign of what's to come.

Photo: Getty Images

Day Four: Friday

I wake up Friday morning with a sugar hangover and realize that I really want to leave the house. I don't feel loopy, just sad down to my bones. I'm like one of those sad animals in a Sarah McLachlan-tracked ASPCA commercial. Someone take me out and play with me, please?

Everyone who comes over beet-faced with windburn is jealous of my body warmth, but I'm so curious about what the cold feels like from the other side of the bedroom window. I find myself eager to call customer service, just to have someone to talk to. The only upside is that for the first time in forever, I can actually focus on work because I have nowhere to be. Unlike a child who sees recess on the horizon or an office dweller waiting for happy hour, I'm stuck here. Even worse? I'm writing some of this with voice dictation. My body is shutting down to the point that my hands don't want to type any longer.

My brain begins to perk up again as I sign into Priv, an app offering beauty and wellness services on-demand on both coasts. It's intended for last-minute bookings, but I'm looking forward to tomorrow too much to wait. It blows my mind that by pressing a couple of buttons, I can set up an entire day of beauty. Instead of stressing about getting to the salon on time before a party and running back to throw on makeup, I could just have someone come over? Why aren't we all doing this all the time?

Still, I'm restless. Unnervingly, this seems less like a week and more like one very, very long day that never ends. My boyfriend cheers me up with surprise take-out from my favorite restaurant, then hits a party afterwards, meaning for me, it's wine time. I'm going to need a big glass of anything to drown out the FOMO from everyone hanging at a housewarming I can't attend.

I have a tricky time navigating the interface of alcohol-delivery app Drizly (available in select markets nationwide) until I stumble upon some kind of red I recently tried and loved. There isn't any detail on the product pages, so I take a chance and randomly add a white wine, too. Wine not! (Sorry, I'm my only entertainment.) I go to place my order, and realize the store closed at 9:45. It's 9:47. This can't be happening.

Well, fine! If I can't get wine, I may as well treat myself to my favorite dessert: Morgenstern's Ice Cream. I sign into peer delivery service Postmates (available in select markets nationwide), select my favorite oddball flavors (durian banana! burnt honey!) and get excited for them to be brought directly to my door, but no one bites, even after I try a second time.

So I switch to another app: Wunwun, an "everything delivery app" servicing New York, The Hamptons and San Francisco. I sign up, add my info, and—bonus—get a $10 credit. I am on my way to ice cream! But the restaurant doesn't take the app's form of payment. They're cash only, and I'm dealing with a completely digital world.

I snarl at Wunwun's congratulatory welcome email—really, Wunwun? You deliver everything?—squeeze a lemon, and get ready to tuck in for the night with a cocktail. Only problem is my arms are so sore from a pathetic attempt at Nike Training Club workouts the day before that I can't get the bottle open.

In case I'm not painting a good enough picture of how deliriously miserable I am right now: I am sad, I am a waste, and I've just spent an hour glued to the couch, trying to get my vices filled to no avail. I won't even go into the 45 minutes I spent after this trying to get blueberries and popcorn delivered with no luck. It was prime time, and my beloved apps had failed me. Oh, and did I mention the housewarming everyone is at is above the exact ice cream shop I've been so desperately trying to reach?

Irony is such a bitch.

Photo: Getty Images

Day Five: Saturday

Today, I've booked Priv's private kickboxing lesson followed by a dry manicure/pedicure. Jonesing for a fancy chai latte, I summon Wunwun and this time it pulls through. Well, sort of. Its app is weird: You just type in what you want and wait, kind of like plunking "coffee from The Smile to Go" into Google and foolishly assuming someone will show up at your door with it minutes later.

Yet, despite how disconcerting it is that they provide no menus, no details, and neither the name of my personal coffee schlepper nor his arrival time, a man on a scooter is at my doorstep a half-hour later with a baggie in hand. I sign off on the delivery and freeze at the sight of the suggested tip screen: $15. Fifteen dollars? For two coffees and a pastry? Where does this miniature computer get off blackmailing me for I-didn't-go-outside guilt? I manually input four bucks and slink back inside. I'd rather keep my money and feel bad all day than be strong-armed into that absurdity.

A few minutes later, I get a message from my trainer Kenneth Atkins through Priv's so-sleek app letting me know he's in the area if I'd like to start early. Uh, duh! Over the next hour, I learn the basics of boxing in my living room. My knuckles are burning, my shoulders hurt, but near the end, I'm straight killing it. To me, this is the ideal workout: It only takes up a teensy amount of room and at $80 a session, it's so reasonably priced compared to most personal training. Kenneth stays late to help me perfect my squats as the manicurist arrives, filling my apartment with a trippy two-person army of helpers wearing Priv t-shirts.

If you're not a woman who lives in a cold territory, you probably don't know what it's like to get a pedicure in winter. When your nails are finally dry, they wrap your feet in industrial saran wrap and shove your foot into a sock, into a boot, and thus into a sweat puddle for the entirety of your journey home. But today I'm like a happy Floridian, flopping around in disposable pedicure flip flops in the comfort of my home.

The mani-pedi at my dining room table was one of the best I've had, but the price, oh the price. A lot of on-demand beauty is in that sweet spot between affordable and expensive, but $70 for a manicure and a dry pedicure that doesn't include any buffing makes it a non-repeater.

When I finally sit down to eat breakfast at 5pm, I can't even lift the fork to my mouth because my arms are still shaking from boxing. I didn't even register how hard that workout was because I was having so much fun, all without moving more than six feet.

I reward my hard work with dinner from Han Dynasty, delivered through Caviar (multiple locations nationwide), a service that pairs couriers with non-delivery restaurants. I pick an hour delivery window and it arrives, on time, complete with updates about where my little food angel is at the moment. It's a bit on the pricey side—dishes I ordered are more expensive through the site and gratuity is mandatory—but hey, I'm just glad to avoid the endless wait. This is definitely going into my previously Seamless-only delivery rotation.

Whether it's the sodium content or the claustrophobia of not having left the house for five days, I try to write afterwards and simply cannot. Trapped on a Saturday night means one thing, of course—wine—and I become fixated on getting those tiny cans of Sofia Blanc de Blancs you've probably seen on Instagram. I must be turning into a bit of a brat, because when I'm delivered a bottle of champagne instead of the cute juice box cans, I certifiably freak. The picture on Drizly showed cans!

It's a small mix-up upon reflection, but when you're trapped in a room and have nothing left to care about, you lose your mind. I curse the day Drizly was born and log back onto Minibar, filling the order just moments before the store closed. Sure, I need to order six cans to meet a minimum for delivery, but who CARES. It's a miracle I haven't been day-drinking for a week, and between the ice cream debacle last night and my desire to have exactly one glass of wine, my patience is shot.

When the delivery arrives, it's the same guy who delivered the first one. "You wanted the cans now, huh?" he said with a smirk. I explain the ludicrous situation and shut the door, sticking a tiny straw in a tiny can and enjoying the tiny sliver of happiness that's all mine, all mine, all mine.

Photo: Getty Images

Day Six: Sunday

Not to be all Fantine about it, but this hell that I'm living in is finally ending! I'm not eager to go outside, but it's comforting to know this will soon be over. The day moves super quickly, and not just because I spent the morning on an Instagram antique auction. To illustrate how much tiny things mean when you have nothing else to funnel energy into, let me put it like this: I refreshed Instagram every ten seconds for eighty minutes trying to win a ceramic strawberry. The wave of pure, unbridled joy I felt on succeeding was unlike anything I'd experienced all week.

I schedule a makeup and hair appointment with GlamSquad (available in NY, LA and Miami), and am confused when they overlap with each other on calendar invites. Must just be back to back, I think, until both artists arrive together and scurry into my bathroom for the most inconceivably efficient beauty experience I've had to date. Seriously, one girl twisted my hair into perfect beach waves from the back while another gave me a bronzed, tan look from the front. It was some sort of beauty tornado, and they'd left me looking pretty dope in their wake.

Having someone tackle my cheekbones and curls from the comfort of my home is so bizarre to me, but apparently people do this before brunch. At $50 for a blowout and $75 for makeup, it's a bit much for stuffing your face with eggs, but for a formal occasion? This is way better than bouncing around from salon to salon.

I conclude the night with a bang: a massive Golden Globes party for friends celebrating both the show and my imminent return to society. The spread, delivered from CostCo through Instacart, is crazy-town, and it surprises even me, who's been doing this for a full week, how easy it is to entertain when everything's brought to your door. Cheese plate? Check. Take-and-bake pizzas? Check. Snacks on snacks? Check, check!

I settle in, eat more food than any normal human should, and get a little bit sad. The week has been weird, but overall great—and I'm filled with dread about emerging back into the outside world tomorrow. Into the cold, the errands and the exercise classes. At least now it'll be on my terms.

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