Confession. I lived at home until I was 34 years old.
Oh alright, I didn’t actually live with my parents until I was 34 years old. I lived in a home they owned, in a town 65 miles from the house I grew up in, save for two conspicuous years living outside of Canada. I didn’t stay home because I was afraid to live on my own, I stayed home because it seemed practical. Why rent in one of the most expensive communities in the country when I could live rent free and put money away? I spent too many years making A’s, even if they weren’t in math, not to see the value in that.
So I swallowed my pride and stayed put. It was no hardship. The home is beautiful and I was keenly aware – and still am – that I will likely never own such a home in my lifetime. In the face of such good fortune I rationalized my desire to move out as an exercise in ego – a form of selfish pride that children experience when they mistakenly believe they must rebel against an imaginary foe in order to become their own person.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but feel a little smaller every time I was required to explain to a colleague, an associate, or an acquaintance my peculiar freedom from rent. There was dignity in having a place of one’s own and that desire was never satiated by my responsible, practical, sensible, self-talk.
I used to imagine what it would be like to put together a space that reflected just me. I set aside photos on my computer that one day I would print out and frame for my own place. I had a special collection of flowers that I was particularly proud of and I dreamed of hanging them in a crisp white kitchen with cabinets full of colourful glassware to match.
I also put up a bookshelf in my bedroom which solved a rather significant storage problem but, more importantly, made me a curator. I categorized books on the shelf by theme, so that when it was full it looked like a map of my interests. I used to browse through it now and then to remind me of the pieces of myself that lay dormant and unexplored under the usual mundane routines of life. Without acknowledging it consciously, I wanted to share that bookshelf with friends and acquaintances. I wanted people to know me – not the practical, sensible me but the curator of the bookshelf, the photographer of flowers.
This manifested as a desire for, more than anything else, a workspace. A desk, with a window, air and space; I desperately wanted a room. I felt that if I only had a space of my own I would be more free to explore those rusty parts of myself I had enshrined for safe keeping on the bookshelf. It was the second key to Virginia Woolf’s famous statement – I had money, now I needed a room.
Eventually, I finally found one. All those years of living at home provided me with an opportunity I would not have had otherwise – the luxury of purchasing an apartment without having to rely on a roommate to help pay the mortgage.
The brightest bedroom quickly became an office.
The old bookshelf now houses my bed linens, towels, a basket of ironing and my winter sweaters. The new bookshelf spans the entire wall of the room I would have had to have rented. The room is also home to a corner full of photography equipment, a collection of my favourite travel photos, a basket of knitting, the only original painting I own, and a desk under a sunny window with a view of the garden on the deck outside.
But what exactly does this room mean? Has it profoundly altered my sense of self? Liberated me from some unidentifiable oppression? Did I suddenly dust off those interests that were tucked away on the shelf? Not really – or not entirely.
The Room was about more than having physical space to do and be the person I wanted to be. It was the creative, intellectual and emotional space I craved from my family, my friends and even myself. Willfully ignoring what I really wanted because it wasn’t what everyone else wanted or it wasn’t practical didn’t leave a lot of space for the rest of me. Maybe moving out was an exercise in ego and pride after all – but of the kind we all require in order to thrive.
I am still working on the room by the way. It collects clutter more than any other space and battling it back is about a lot more than just keeping it tidy. It is a sanctuary and really good reminder to not forget, no matter where I’m living, to make a little room for myself.