From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.
I’d been feeling out of sorts, but I couldn’t exactly say why. Something was just OFF and it was BUGGING ME. Finally, the cause of my irritation became clear when my husband and I tried to clean our garage.
We live in a small house with small closets, and even though I declutter on a fairly regular basis, we still seem to acquire an outrageous amount of STUFF. And because I don’t always have the time or energy to put that STUFF where it belongs (or, even if I do, it doesn’t actually have a place to belong), it often gets shoved into the garage. In stacks and piles and Chipotle bags and diaper boxes. Anything or any way to contain the clutter I can’t bear to see in my house.
So, there we stood, my husband and me, ready to tackle what had become, on my to-do list, a capitalized chore. You know…Clean The Garage?! We were anxious to park one of our cars in that space, and anxious to remove the task from our list and the burden from our minds. We were going to DO THIS THING!
Except…after spending a solid hour going through a box full of papers and flyers and envelopes and writing utensils and brochures and magnets and statements and batteries, all I’d done was organize the box full of STUFF into three piles. Sure, one pile was a trash pile. But the other two, equally large piles? One was for things that needed to be filed or otherwise put away, and the other was for things that needed to be dealt with in some way.
All I’d done was weed out a bit of trash and create a lot more work for myself. And when I looked at the largest pile, the one for things that needed to be filed or put away? I wilted. I faced my enemy (the pile) and lost. Because the thought of finding homes for each one of those things – plus all the other things we would surely add to it as we cleared more space for our car? Was too much. It was not just daunting, it was devastating. At least to my motivation and determination to whip the garage into shape.
I couldn’t whip that garage into any shape at all, because my entire house was out of shape. And THAT is why I’d been feeling so out of sorts. When we transformed our guest room/office into a nursery, I didn’t think twice about it (other than to be grateful for a third, albeit tiny, bedroom). And when we moved my desk into my older daughter’s room and our bookshelves into storage, I was so happy to have cleared space in our living and dining rooms, which would surely help us sell the house quicker.
[Spoiler alert: It did not help us sell the house quicker. Or at all. #thatsanotherstory]
Those moves were good things and for good reasons, but they also effectively stole all of MY spaces from our house. I no longer had an office – or even a desk in the dining room. I had a TV tray sitting at the edge of the couch, sagging under the precarious weight of All The Papers that I needed to deal with and/or hadn’t yet tossed into the garage. Every time I sat down to work, I’d scoop up all the STUFF and set it next to me on the couch, opening up my laptop carefully so I wouldn’t knock any remaining phone chargers, remotes, pencils, crayons, toys or other things that had landed on my “desk.”
It wasn’t a good system, and it was causing me to feel majorly out of sorts.
I told my husband then that THIS is why I’d been so grouchy. I needed an office! I didn’t have an office! I NEEDED MY SPACE! I wasn’t really throwing a fit. I was simply figuring out that in order to have peace of mind (and possibly more productivity), I needed a space of my own.
We tossed around lots of ideas that afternoon, including moving our toddler into her sister’s bedroom and turning the nursery back into an office. Since the logistics of staggered bedtimes and shared closet space stymied us, we went another direction. My husband bought a giant set of shelves for the garage, and I priced filing cabinets for the dining room.
I’d like to show you dramatic before and after pictures at this point (and, quite honestly, it’s what I’d planned for this post), but the truth is those shelves are sitting in the middle of our garage, surrounded by the same boxes and bags and piles of STUFF. And I never even bought a new filing cabinet. It’s possible we’ll get around to reclaiming a bit of the dining room for my office and bending the garage chaos to our will soon. But until then, I’ve been thinking of other ways I can steal a little bit of space for myself in this house I share with three other, space-hogging people. Here’s what I came up with:
Keep it simple. Start small. You may not be able to build a “she-shed” or turn a spare room into your own personal getaway. But if you can carve out just one corner for yourself, I bet it will do wonders for your ability to breathe and smile and feel a little less like you’re wearing an itchy sweater.
When I buy groceries this week, I’m buying a pumpkin. Not for my front porch, but for my entertainment center. And not because Pinterest told me to or to create some kind of seasonal mantel decor, but because my couch/TV tray office faces the entertainment center and seeing that pumpkin (or, if I can find them, line of tiny pumpkins and gourds) will make me smile.
Think about accessibility. My scrapbooking supplies live on the top shelf of my baby girl’s closet. So anytime I want to be crafty after she’s gone to bed, I’m out of luck. We actually have several things stored in her room that I occasionally need after bedtime: luggage, craft supplies, old photos, the vacuum. This inconvenience has taught me to think about when I’m most likely to use my space – and to make sure I can get to it at those times.
Consider making it portable. Could your “space” actually fit into a basket or bin? Could you store your favorite books and a blanket in a basket that you can take with you, creating your own space wherever you are? Maybe you stick your stamps and ink pads in a bin that you can move from room to room – or your most-used file folders or notebooks or journals, with the gel pens you like but want to hide from the kids. Whatever makes your space YOUR SPACE, think about making it portable so you can have a space of your own no matter where you are.
Make it pretty. Make it yours. Maybe you don’t need a place to work or create. Maybe you’re just tired of every single surface being covered by crayon marks and Goldfish dust. In that case I say steal a little space and make it pretty! Clear off a shelf or the corner of your desk or a spot on the wall or some space on the counter – and put something pretty or sparkly or inspiring there. Whatever makes you smile – something with bling, something with encouraging words, something that smells good – put it there and keep it there and call that YOUR space.
I’m pulling my bookshelf out of storage and making it MINE. No kids books, no stack of bills, no purses or diaper bags or Target bag of things to return to the store. I’m going to give my [way too] many books a home on those shelves and then put something pretty (although still unbreakable) on top of it. It might not be an entire room or even a desk to call my own again, but it will be something and it will be mine. It will not just transform my space; it will transform my state of mind.