What Does Your Living Space Say About You?

Gleaming counter tops? A place for everything and everything in its place? Um, not in my house. But it’s my mission-not-impossible. Order out of chaos. Cleanliness out of clutter.

Beautiful Clean KitchenFor days and nights I have been shuffling boxes and opening storage containers, sifting through files and unearthing photographs, throwing out magazines, tossing ripped clothing, processing, processing, processing. And doing laundry.

Lately, I dream interiors: my mother’s spacious dining room, its bay windows and patterned wallpaper, the copper bucket filled with logs by the fireplace, the large portrait of my grandmother over the mantel. There are images from my old home as well – its neatly organized office, the foyer filled with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, a kitchen with cabinetry I can actually reach.

I am trying to effect positive change by organizing my environment. Preparing for the future, and determined to do it.

The task at hand is imposing – six years of accumulation and disarray. But worse, there is grieving to be done. Letting go of dreams, of people I loved, of the woman I thought I was, the life I do not lead. And so I’ve been doing it, bit by bit, day by day, for more than a month.

My small space

There’s nothing unusual in downsizing after divorce, nor after layoff. What is unusual is the onslaught of injuries, rendering everything about settling into a home more challenging.

Carrying things up to the hot attic? Sure, my boys can do that.

Sift through the post-divorce, post-accident paperwork? Organizing research and writing? Going through photographs and objects from my mother’s passing?

No. These are my necessary steps, my obstacles, my present that I need to put in the past.

So I work my way through cartons, containers, files that were once in a home office, and enough books to open a library. Everything is stacked, leaned, heaped or piled. There’s only so much I can do before I must stop.

If my living space could speak? It would say this: I am buried, I am overwhelmed, I am going under. But I am a parent. I cannot go under.

Transforming interiors

In the past week I have filled eight giant trash bags, tackled painful memories, and I see progress. The transformation is slow, but I hope that if I can change my living space, my psychological interiors will follow suit.

My mood. My sense of well-being.

For now, my home reflects the presence of teenagers, the reality of jumbled emotions, the instability of freelance work, the suggestion of physical limitations, and equally, the presence of explicit passions – books and art. Thankfully, I possess an orderly mind, which has allowed me to work effectively no matter what. But I expect that I will feel lighter, more relaxed, and more capable – if I can accomplish this makeover mission.

What does your living space say about you?

By the time we’re adults, our environments tell a story, whether we create that narrative, pay a decorator to design its public face, or it unfolds as we tumble through our hectic lives.

  • Does your living space reflect your crazy life?
  • Does it mirror your emotional state?
  • Does it reflect your stage in life?
  • If you could change anything about your interiors, what would it be?


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  1. says

    I love to de-clutter, trying to remove unnecessary things that we have accumulated. I find it cathartic. I recently did that with my father’s belongings after he passed and found it extremely difficult. I may revisit this process when I return back to my childhood home. I appreciate the line you have in your piece, “But I am parent. I cannot go under.”

    • BigLittleWolf says

      It does feel good to de-clutter, Rudri. It’s a constant process raising kids! I’m sorry about your dad. You know what it is then, to go through things that set off a chain of emotions and memories.

  2. says

    Decluttering is an ongoing project here too. I’ve found it cathartic to throw away what no longer fits in my life. There’s an invitation in the process of making space — for new aspects of identity, new experiences, new passions, possibility.

    Props to you for pushing through it, garbage bags and all. Hope the space you create offers much inspiration.

  3. says

    My living space is a BIG part of my mental well being, and I suspect a big part of my struggles since having kids. I don’t do well with chaos or lack of order. I’m a structured kind of person, and well, as you know, kids come with a bit of an explosion. I’ve been trying to find the balance of attention that I should focus on it to keep my mind at peace, but not to take me away from meaningful time with the family. I haven’t found it, I continue to struggle with it. Our spaces are fraught with meaning and importance, as you so eloquently describe here. So I wish you luck as you sift through all of it, and hope you reach a place of comfort in your home.

  4. says

    Congrats on the progress, Wolfie! Isn’t it a great feeling, carrying each bag up to the attic or out to the garbage??

    Sometimes I think my living space is a veneer over my mental state. I keep my home so neat and organized, even if I am feeling frazzled and stressed. Perhaps the illusion of control helps me feel in control. Tackling the task of cleaning or putting things away helps me feel productive and capable. Does that make sense?

  5. says

    My living space says there’s too damn many people living in my house. Control? Clean? That’s funny. More like organized chaos.

  6. says

    After my second divorce and living out of families spare rooms for a year I got my very first apartment that was all mine at 29. I’ve made it my own and left behind years of clutter. As hard as it was to move on I think that eventually it will be harder to share my space again sometime in the future.

  7. says

    I found this on divorcedpauline’s recent blog…. good stuff! I have to say though, i get a pang of yearning when i read about people having HOUSES! I miss that. In NYC, cafes become our “offices” as writers. But that has its advantages too. I really like your blog! (I just wrote about NYC apartments, and whether it is harder than dating… http://bit.ly/mbjKYl
    Must be in the air :))

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Hey, thanks Cougel! Yep. I spent years doing that city apartment thing (all over the place). Then along came those kidlets… and life changes… but it’s a post-divorce itty-bitty house. (Now if only that meant an itty bitty bit of upkeep, and itty bitty mortgage and property taxes, and especially those itty bitty elves who would appear out of nowhere and help with the cleaning and organizing… Oh, right. I forgot. Might that be those no longer itty bitty scruffy kids who eat so much and deposit dirty socks in the oddest places????)

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