Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Art of Negotiated Space

 I've moved.

Something I've done before.

This is the first time I've moved across several states that required a plane trip to get here.

So, family and I are settling into this new space.

We selected this house, more like my youngest child, chose this house because she loved the hardwood floors, the space, and the scenery. We had been looking at houses for two weekends up here, besides a huge binder full of properties from the New York City line up to Hamden.  

We were moving in the middle of a pandemic. 

It was going to be the start of her junior year, so schools made an enormous impact in where we would call home, at least for the next two years.

The things we decided to do were not to buy a house immediately.

He was starting a new job as CEO of a community college, having retired from his long-time career in higher education, last as President of an HBCU. It was going to be an adjustment and a time of settling in. He only took a month to just relax before taking on a new passion. That, plus negotiating moving vans and figuring out getting our other daughter to college, we didn't want to add on the stress of trying to buy a. home.

Our realtor was amazing and took our list of needs to find us a nice house to rent for a couple years while we figured out life in the northeast.  She had to find space for me in my office and while we were only going to have one child at home, we have five and all of them could eventually visit here. We are still a large family, so bedrooms and living space was important.

This house we are in is perfectly suited for what we needed. It has all hardwood floors - my ask. It has lots of windows and a finished basement - husband's ask. The kitchen has enough room for us to do what he loves - cook and me - bake. It is quiet, a respite from living in a townhouse for ten years with lovely neighbors and sometimes loud kids riding bikes. We love only hearing the birds chirp in the morning.

Settling in has taken a bit of time and negotiation.

Marie Kondo (is that her name?) would probably cringe at our library. All the books are up, so no more boxes, but none of them will be downsized. It is a carefully curated collection. So nine bookshelves are full, would be ten, but the movers shattered one of them on the way from Missouri to Connecticut.  The girls each have a bookshelf in their room and I think there are some more boxes in the storage room that we haven't made it to yet - husband and I both are scholars, so our research is in there. She would probably shake her head at the family reunion t-shirts or the treasures our daughters' found in their thrifting clothes adventures. 

The thing we came to appreciate is that it is a part of us. 

It is not clutter, I don't like that. Everything has a home, from my seemingly endless mug collection to his vintage LPs, they all have a place. That was something we needed in the move, room. 

Room was something that we gave up when we moved across Missouri. We had our home that the last two were born in and was quite large for a large family. In that home, the great room was off limits to the kids. It was that beautiful space with the unused fireplace and the ten foot ceilings with his balcony office overlooking it all. We barely used it, except during the holidays and when we had company.

Coming here shifted some things about how we negotiated space.

While the. house was empty for almost two months before the movers decided to get out stuff here, we got to know her flow. We knew the dining room would be just for that, mostly on birthdays, holidays, and Sundays. The antique oak dining table would stay but there would be a new modern rug and once we find them, updated chairs.That table would be the feature.

The library was one of the first rooms we set up and the first room we purchased furniture for.He bought a swivel chair and I bought a blue leather chair and ottoman. We added a rug that he and the youngest picked out and thanks to the beauty of shipping, I learned to put together a couple side chairs. It was cozy.

What happened next, though, was what prompted me to think about space.

October when the movers delivered that final truck eventually became November and the realization we would not be traveling back to St. Louis for the holidays. We had to reconsider space for our daughter coming home from college and our son coming for Turkey Day (after quarantining, of course)

So, we bought a new sofa for the long empty living room that I only wanted to be the art gallery with walking space and limited seating

We negotiated.

I realized right then and there that a home, space,is meant for the people who live in it.Not a magazine or even minimalist icons like Marie Kondo. 

Once-upon-a-time, before social media, we had no idea what anyone had in their home. unless invited. We could not judge it or copy it. Their space was just for them.  If it worked for them, that was fine. 

Then, we turned the cameras on. 

Some to show their decorating style. Others because the pandemic made us invite the world into our spaces, we had to come home and do everything. Or because we were away from family and wanted to send greetings.

I already worked at home and had weekly Zoom meetings, so my office in Missouri was surrounded by books in our open concept town house. That wasn't a big deal. It didn't become so until the girls had to do school at home and the dining room became their study because I didn't want them inviting their entire class to their bedroom.

It is something so many of us are thinking about as we have to be present in many more ways.

How do we negotiate space?

I have the smallest bedroom that is my office and I keep thinking about how I am going to put up my artwork to have a more zoom-worthy background. Do I center my sorority pictures behind me or my family photos? What message does that send? Should it be my degrees that in my previous office I never had framed but kept in the original holders, sitting on my antique desk? What about the lighting? Would it be distracting if the framed pictures from a cherished vacation to the Gulf Coast remain on the uncovered window seal?

Thinking about space and how we use it is something that has come of the pandemic as spring moved to summer and fall to winter. We will be inside for a long time. For my family, it will be our first in Connecticut, none of us knows what it is like in the northeast in January or February. What we know is we will be in more.

So space becomes more than just a space, than just a room.

Daughter is in high school, one of the spare bedrooms that was to be her brother's room when he visits is now her study. Except she sometimes prefers the library or even snuggling on that new sofa in the living room so she can see out the windows to the surrounding woods. Scenery changes. Or the one home from college just wants to chill and since they were part of the negotiation that turned my wannabe art gallery into a family room, complete with a mounted TV, she just wants to Netflix in peace.

The pandemic has altered a lot of how we live.

And I realize I am blessed to have the "problem" of what to do with a room. 

I know everyone is not in the same position, some have had to quickly figure it out with multiple family members returning home to quarantine together. Some are precariously holding on to spaces since losing income in furlough. Some are unhoused and their space is a suitcase. 

The art of negotiated space, then, to me, is how we are able to exist, live, breathe, thrive, fully, for ourselves.

What do you need in the space where you exist?

Not what is in a glossy magazine or memories of walking through IKEA with wonders of how they fit an entire apartment in 650 sq ft. Not what we see on Instagram or Pinterest. But. your space.  Your peace.

What brings you peace and respite? 

That is what you should relish and cherish. 

For me, it is knowing that my family is around and in these times when so many are losing so many, remembering that as a gift. Even if I silently cringe at my daughter for leaving her schoolbook in the living room r the other one for leaving one of her makeup pallets on the table. 

We are living.

That is what matters.

The art is in the memories silently captured in moments of joy in the places we call home.



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