My family and I live in a small house in a smallish city. Our home was built in 1903 with two stories, wood shingles, and a garage too small for our car. When friends visit from Tokyo or Manhattan, they marvel at the spaciousness and ooh over the lushness of our garden, but when people come from the country or suburbs, even their smiles look cramped.
For us it’s perfect, though we’ve had to adapt. When our first daughter was born I became an expert organizer-simplifier and when our youngest arrived, I learned how to throw things away. There is no more binging, but every day is a purge.
At first, I felt deprived. In stores, I’d lech after things we didn’t need, as if I was decorating a dream house or assuming that one day, we’d upgrade to something larger.
But I don’t do that any more. Over the years, my spatial sense has adjusted to reality and, as a result, my entire aesthetic has shifted. My tastes, values, behavior, and even the way I write have evolved to fit the shape of my life. For me, maintaining minimalism has become almost a spiritual practice.
As William Strunk Jr. said, “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
I want everything to be meaningful. If it’s not beautiful and useful at the same time, it better have some extraordinary significance because there’s no room for flab. (To read more about my approach to creative home economics, read this.) I don’t need adverbs, excess characters, or lengthy detail. I don’t need to sound smart or repeat myself. I don’t need most specialized electric cooking gadgets or clever tchotchkes or a hard copy of every photograph I’ve ever taken. I don’t need.
Just as I was feeling virtuous and a wee bit smug, we decided it was time for our daughters’ to have their own rooms. Until now, the girls have shared a room and it’s been fun and cozy but they are growing, and so are their interests and collections, so our family room (where I happen to write) will now be a bedroom. Instead of purging, we must annihilate. Let the killing begin.
Okay. I don’t really need a desk. We can put those paintings into storage. Does anyone out there need a sofa? I guess I can find somewhere else for my writing chair. (Please see Schietree’s series about artist’s spaces.) I can keep my important papers tucked under its cushion. Maybe I don’t really need privacy to think– in our cozy house, privacy was always an illusion, after all.
But the thing is–just wait a minute. Hey now! Hold your horses— the family room is where I kept my books. The thought of putting my books into storage enters my head like a dull rusted machete. Ouch! How can I live without Jose Saramago and Michael Cunningham and Toni Morrison? What about Virginia Woolf, for god’s sake, what about her? What will I do when I get stuck and I need to walk over to my bookshelf, pick up and open a book and read a paragraph to get me kick-started? Where will I turn for inspiration? How can I live without poetry? Where will I escape?
It occurs to me now that my books were the last visual evidence of myself as an intellectual individual. I have nothing else. No room of my own, no personal space, no privacy. My life before marriage and children is ancient history. Now, my thoughts are not my own and I finish few sentences without interruption. The Netflix queue is filled with Family Favorites. I share a closet. It’s not my bed. Days are spent cooking, cleaning, driving, and entertaining others; my clothes are covered with finger-paint and my handbag is full of stuffed animals and fruit roll-ups. I bathe with a 5-year-old and I rarely pee without an audience.
(Take a long, cleansing breath.) This will be interesting. I will approach it as a scientific experiment. Let’s see what I really need to write.
Does it matter where you write? What do you require in order to maintain your creativity (or sanity)?