My sister and her husband moved into a new house just before their first child was born. There was a little room off the kitchen—a nook, really, not even a whole room. It was too small to be a home office and too visible to be for storage. They decided to make it my sister’s sitting room. The idea took hold that she would bring in her rocking chair and an oversized throw and put her feet up with a good book and cup of hot tea while the baby napped.
It was a wonderful plan, but one that immediately fell victim to the reality of a newborn. (I think every parent has a story of the pre-baby vision that went kaput after the birth. I once read that journalist Maria Shriver had aimed to keep anchoring the Saturday news and Sunday morning show from the East Coast while living in Los Angeles. When her baby came, an exhausted Shriver quickly scaled back.) My sister never claimed ownership of the room—never put her feet up, never drank the tea. Her baby was born and her rocking chair was hauled to the nursery for those middle-of-the-night wakings. The myriad infant gear that quickly followed her daughter’s debut—swing, bouncy seat, baby gym, activity center, jumper, and more—found a perfect home in that room. Over time, after the arrival of a second daughter, the nook became the kids’ playroom.
Virginia Woolf may have extolled the virtues of having a room of one’s own, but often we can’t even stake our claim for a little kitchen nook. Yet I believe having your own space—where you can think, dream, ponder, plan and create, or just be—is essential in our fast-paced, over-connected world. And your office or home office doesn’t count, since it’s a place where your mind immediately goes outward to what task is on deck, rather than looking inward for that much-important inner peace.
When my own kids were younger, I decided I wanted such a personal spot in my home, a tree house of sorts where I could do a deep relaxation or meditate or even read without interruption after I “pulled the up ladder.” We didn’t have an extra room—not even a nook—so I decided to appropriate a walk-in closet. It sounds a little pathetic, but its cocoon-like atmosphere actually made me feel supported and secure.
Of course, there were challenges in trying to transform that closet. For one, it had hanging clothes. I found if I pushed the items forward there was extra space in the back. I cleared the bottom rung of a wall of shelves of its boots and mittens and laid down a colorful scarf, turning it into a joint altar/reading table. I placed my favorite books and some spiritual statues on the shelf and added a small meditation cushion on the floor. My space was ready.
When I told my friend Anne about my new sacred space, she peppered me with questions. She didn’t have room in her closet. Could her place be a favorite club chair? I didn’t see why not—after all, Archie Bunker claimed his chair as his sanctuary. You just have to make sure everyone in your household understands that this is your special place and they need to leave you alone when you’re there. Anne refrained from paying bills or watching TV in that chair, using it mostly for deep breathing exercises, spiritual reading, or savoring a piece of her beloved artisan chocolate. Soon she could feel her brain detox the minute her butt hit the cushy pillows.
I myself got much use out of my closet nook, until we moved to a larger house with more rooms. I liked just knowing that it was there, beckoning me to its comfy space even if at that moment I was dealing with a kid’s skinned knee or a late-night work emergency and couldn’t enter. When I did go there, mostly in the evening just before bed, I went inside myself by reading or meditating or just thinking, and I felt transformed. I barely remembered I was in a closet.
Do you have a special space? If not, give yourself this gift. A room (or a closet or a chair or a back porch) to counter the frenzy of the world and even the energy of the other people you live with—no matter how much you love them.
Meryl Davids Landau is the author of the new book Enlightened Parenting: A Mom Reflects on Living Spiritually With Kids.