No Space

It finally fully hit me last night that I keep waiting for a thing to happen exactly as it was before, and so I’m going to be waiting forever at this rate. I have no office or personal workspace where I can retreat to avoid interruption and properly think about things. It’s not something I can continue to get by without, and I think I’ve finally come up with a practical solution.

Before the pandemic, I happily worked from cafes, libraries, and coworking spaces. I loved it. I loved getting ready each day and being around people going about their lives. It was good for me, and I was working up towards an office within one of these coworking spaces to get a bit more privacy while still being around activity and small talk. I’d still have a reason to get up each day, put on hard pants, and have a clear separation between work and home life.

On days when I couldn’t get out of the house, I had a shared home office. My side was decorated in a way that reflected my tastes and preferences. It was cute and cozy and functional, but since it was my part-time space, it never really felt like mine. I was just a visitor, a visitor in a room with lots of phone calls happening, and where it was preferred that the blinds and curtains were closed even though there was precious, life-giving sunshine trying so hard to break through. It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t my first choice regarding a working environment anyway, so it was fine like this for years.

Once the pandemic started, I stopped working to deal with the fallout from school shifting to what amounted to homeschooling. Herding Ben around to Zoom calls, trying and failing to keep him on task, and eventually attempting to handle all of his schooling myself proved to be too large an expectation. Like many others at this time, we became isolated and sad. I lost my offices both in and out of the house, and it was only without them that I truly realized how important they were in propping up my mental health. Having defined personal space is crucial. I need it to think, I need it to recharge, and I wanted to get back to work.

Eventually, Ben returned to school, and I slowly eased back into work. While I could now see that a shared office was not something either of us needed or wanted again, I also didn’t want to take up the dining room table. I put a desk in the living room, and I started going back to the library and coworking spaces for a bit. Except now, something was different. This time out of the house wasn’t as energizing. It was overwhelming and loud, and I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t understand how I ever enjoyed this. It felt exhausting now in this new post-pandemic world. I wanted to go home but didn’t want to work from the living room, like a sitting duck for people to interrupt, including delivery people who could see me through the window.

I signed a contract for an office within a coworking space community. I got everything set up just so, successfully worked from there a couple times, and then was hit with the mother of all spine injuries. I could no longer sit, and the desk there wasn’t a standing one. My days were now filled with appointments, and I could no longer spare time for a commute anyway, even if driving was not excruciating. I’ve been stuck at home without an office ever since, trying to convince myself it’s not that bad and that I’ll get back to that office again. Except it is that bad, and that particular office makes no sense now since it was tied to a school commute that’s no longer relevant. I also think I’m different, and I just want to work from home now.

Without having designated space, I’m finding it challenging to have my work taken seriously–seriously enough to not be interrupted. I can understand that it might look like I’m not doing much sitting at the kitchen island next to a pile of potatoes or standing at my living room desk while staring at the park, but I am. It’s easy for others to casually walk by, say a few words, and walk away. But for me, in that moment, I was living in my head, where I was trying to solve a problem or reflecting on a particular exchange, and this moment is now gone. I’m now so far from where I was and need to be.

I kept waiting. Kept waiting for my injury to resolve, kept waiting to figure out how to move to a bigger house, kept waiting to figure out how to add more space or an office shed. But those things have proven too big and unrealistic–I need a real solution. The loss of privacy, the loss of being safe from interruption, and the loss of a space I can call my own and retreat to have taken such a huge toll on my morale. I realize some people are perfectly content without having a remote work anchor point, but I need my things and I need to feel respected enough to have a space that’s mine. To have a door that others have to knock on.

There are these weird moments where I’m just about to fully fall asleep or just starting the process of waking up when I have oddly profound insight into a problem that’s regularly tripping me up, and luckily, this happened recently. We have a small split-level house with two living room areas, one in the basement. There’s an open doorway leading into the basement where we could easily install a door and make this Ben’s room. He’s getting older and needs more space and privacy anyway. It’s where he and his friends sleep during sleepovers–it’s the perfect young boy’s bedroom in a lot of ways.

This frees up an entire room upstairs that I can then call my own. I can put my precious things in there, finish complete thoughts, move my Peloton to free up the only remaining living room, and hang my artwork. I can paint it, get more plants, and have calls without warning other people in the house about what will be happening. There’s no more waiting for an unrealistic solution to magically manifest; there’s one we could technically implement immediately where everyone wins.

By many measures, I haven’t had a lot of wins this past year. There’s a lot I can’t control, but I’m excited that I’ve figured out how to control this loss of an important space–a space that will now have a door with a fun but firm Go Away, Please” sign.

See you tomorrow over breakfast.

February 23, 2024

A tiny project byJoni Trythall inspired by friends at Wiggle Work.