You will express yourself in your house whether you want to or not.
Elsie de Wolfe (1913)
I’d been on the road for a couple of weeks and couldn’t wait to get home. As I stumbled through the door and took a brief glance around, I saw stacks of mail, magazines and packages on the dining room table along with cans of remaining cat food on the kitchen counter. Both contributed in their own way to a sedate, shadowy mise-en-scène of an abandoned house, like a darkened theater stage set.
Switching on the lights, I cheerfully announced “Mommy’s home…” only to be astonished by the shambles: every throw pillow in the place was on the floor; every toy they owned was hither and yon—the entire calendar year had been celebrated from catnip Easter bunnies to Santa. Some clever connivers had eaten through a bag of kibbles but had pulled their spoils underneath a loveseat, so that the pet sitter wouldn’t catch on. Down the hall, the linen cupboard was suspiciously ajar. Gratefully, I'd been spared the sight of Charlie dragging my entire collection of lavender laundered vintage tea towels through the cat litter, as the sorry heap on the bathroom floor revealed. It became abundantly clear that my three very annoyed children had been “breaking bad,” gleeful in their determination to show me leaving them wasn’t okay. Still I was back, even to this mess: back, glad and grateful.
“Home again. You’ve been away awhile—a few days, a week, a month, a year or two; it doesn’t matter…The house has been empty, shuttered, braced against intrusion. You have the key. Inside all is dim. Hushed. You take a few steps forward, drop the bags, and breathe in the slumber of your rooms. The air is dense with stillness. Absence has a presence. You feel it and smell it and hear it; you sense it, the way an animal senses, fleetingly, in those first moments through the door. The rooms are as you left. But they’re not as you remember them. Absence warps, distorts. Everything seems slightly aslant somehow,” Dominique Browning observes in her lovely and poignant Around the House and in the Garden: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing, and Home Improvement.“
"There is such power in the return. The return of a loved one from a trip; the return of a child from school; the return of a book; the return of a favor. The return of the swans to the pond, the return of the flowers in the bed, year after year. We experience return so often in the routine of our daily lives that we forget to notice its magic.” So too, can we forget to notice the rooms themselves especially before we leave. We pass through them mentally, emotionally and physically every day but really, how much do we see? Or edit out? The décor, the psychic energy of the furniture and any displays of art and beauty masquerade as vague jumbles in a fading hologram. Should we depart our chambers, the chaos we leave behind patiently waits for our return. Nothing in the world has more staying power than the messy room.
However, being away for a few days from our intimate surroundings does reset our powers of observance. On my trip I became aware of how three different women used the space of their homes to accommodate their families and themselves. Each setting gave me new insight into my own dwelling space and the truth that I’d not created a home for myself these past seven years in California but only a temporary transitional terminal, much like a ghost who does not realize she’s departed. I was waiting for a life to come back to me, while Life was waiting for me to return to Her.
It’s a shock. I remember how surprised I was during the writing of Moving On, which explored how women live in their own homes. Badly, was my conclusion, whether she was 18 or 80, single, divorced, widowed or happily married with four children and grandchildren. Unlike Goldilocks, rarely did my reader or myself, have a comfortable chair and ottoman of our own, lighting which enabled us to see, never mind read without straining our eyes or possessing a properly arranged area to put on make-up and do our hair and dress. Instead we’d claim “eminent domain” on one side of the bed and shuffle from one communal area to another as our tasks dictated. What was really fascinating, however, was that this lack of physical space in our own homes rarely had anything to do with money, although that was the first familiar and often, very real excuse. But I’ve seen women who lived in empty mansions eke out an existence in the space of a walk-in closet and women who can make a walk-in closet seem like an English country manor with all the space, warmth and heart to brilliantly live, entertain and enthrall hordes of hopeful visitors, who always had the best time in their hostess’s company and raved about their accommodation for years.
"Essentially any space can be viewed as an opportunity to cultivate a haven,” Jacqueline de Montravel reminds us in her beguiling book Hers: Design With a Feminine Touch pulled from the bookcase to pack and instead, perused once again with pleasure. “Personal space is as necessary as air and water…Every woman deserves one place that is unapologetically hers. With a style that defines her. Where she sets the rules.” This idea is persuasively provocative because Jacqueline reminds us to seriously reconsider whether personal sustainable comfort isn’t part of the pursuit of happiness.
So what holds our interest this week is how did we feel waking up in our home this morning? Is it a home, a house or a dwelling space? And how will you feel returning to your abode tonight? As you turn the key, will your Soul begin to sigh with palpable pleasure or quiet dread? When you cross the threshold, what dreams wait to welcome you? As you walk through your home, are there some rooms that you just pass through to get somewhere else? Are there rooms with closed doors? Why are they closed? Because you’re the only woman on the planet with more space than she needs? Or is it because you have so little space that it’s impossible to store things properly in the rest of the house, so that the spillage gets stashed, thrown or dumped and left in the “little room” or guest bedroom down the hall?
Hmmm… In other words, are you home, Babe? Or like me, are you neither Here nor There? In that case, I think that it’s time to hone once again our homing instincts using the Simple Abundance six graces—Gratitude, Simplicity, Order, Harmony, Beauty and Joy—as a creative and practical template. We all know that the best part of any vacation is the coming home, so I’m proposing we all have a home bound sojourn this summer. While I look for a new home, you might take another look at where and how you live, as if we’ve never seen it before. Give yourself permission, as I have finally, to create not just gorgeous rooms, but commit to a well-spring of interior sacred spaces that comfort, cajole, and support you in thriving, not just surviving.
Oh, it will be so good to find home again!
Sending you dearest love and blessings on our courage. XO SBB