I want to say it was the end of February when I realized the problem.
At that point, we were closing in on 150 days of winter weather in Minnesota, which meant that 95% of my time for those 150 days was spent indoors, in my house. Almost all of it was further limited to the main three rooms of my first floor: living room, dining room, and kitchen. On that February day, it dawned on me that I hated something in the living room: My husband’s wingback chair. I broke the news and began devoting all of my phone time to pinning pictures of better chairs so that we could budget accordingly and solve this new and urgent problem.
There was something familiar about the chairs I was pinning. They were all leather. They could all recline. They all had these little head rests at the top. Just like a certain chair that we already had. My husband’s wingback chair. It was then that I realized what I actually hated was that my husband had a chair, and I did not. I did not have a chair nor did I have any space tailored for me in my entire house.
My husband had his chair and also his work-from-home station in the basement. My kids each had their own entire bedrooms. But I had nothing. Well, that’s not quite right. Taken one way, the whole house was mine. My name is there on the deed. I am chief decorator and organizer. I am intentional about shaping our space to our lives and needs. But taken another way, none of the house was just mine. The house is for all of us, all together.
But I do not need all of the same things as a 1 year old boy or a 3 year old boy or a 37 year old boy. One of my different needs is that I need to write and to reflect because those are things that make me come alive. But I had been doing those things in borrowed spaces — at the kitchen table, on the couch, in coffee shops. Being location-independent has its perks, but, as Virginia Woolf observed, “A woman must have…a room of her own if she is to write.” It occurs to me that not having a place for myself when everyone else in my family does is a bit on the nose as far as metaphors go about what it’s like to be a mother in the 21st century.
It is not only feminist thinkers who believe that outside spaces can have a powerful impact on our insides. Loads of contemporary research in psychology demonstrates that spaces have predictable impacts on the way we think and feel. Spaces can even be designed to elicit certain behaviors and moods. If you doubt, go to Target and tell me you don’t have an urge to buy all the things.
It is April now. I am typing this at a bamboo desk and sitting in a white swivel chair. The desk is mostly bare, which I like because I can spread out my elbows as I work. But I do enjoy the white candle that smells of spruce to my left and the way the air plant beside it makes an appealing shadow in the afternoon light. I mostly like to type here, but I feel comforted that the mason jar to my right has the pens and pencils I like to use when I go analog. But my favorite part?
This space is my very own.
This essay also appeared on Medium.