Many rooms of one's own: on breakups, minimalism, and creativity

This weekend, I will be moving for the fourth time in two years.

If you've ever moved this many times in such a short time period, then you may know the psychological toll that such constant displacement can have on a person. I have, at times, felt like a nomad without a real home. When your housing arrangements are never stable, it colors the rest of your life in transience too. I feel like anything major in my life could shift at any time, and I'm constantly preparing myself for it--I imagine that this is what homelessness does in the literal sense of the word, and also in the metaphorical sense in which I'm now using it. I live in less of a home than a placeholder, a physical space with four walls that I happen to list as my billing address.

You'd think that moving this many times would make me flexible about anything, but in fact I've become the opposite. I know my preferences and I've become more of a neat freak. Basically, I realized I am getting too old for this communal living shit.

I didn't have a single turning point, but rather a series of them: an unflushed toilet. A moldy shower. Watching a mouse climb up the back of my oven and race across the kitchen counter. The ballsy little fucker had the audacity to stare me down from across the room, daring me to banish him from existence. Perhaps the worst things I've seen are the carnage of robust sex lives and drug use--namely, trash cans and toilet bowls full of the same bodily fluids you'd see in a hospital ward (sorry, hope you didn't barf up your burrito or whatever you're eating just now). 

You're probably wondering what this all has to do with minimalism and writing. I'm getting there, I promise. First let's backtrack to what caused all of these moves.

My residential upheaval started with a devastating breakup. Although there were many unrelated reasons for this relationship coming to an end, my living situation was one of them. After several years of living together, we moved into a space without walls--a large, gaping loft with floor-to-wall windows and a single chandelier dangling down from the concrete ceiling like a crystal spider.

I don't think this is where the problems started, but it's definitely where they culminated.

I need boundaries and soundproofing. I need a place to escape to my writing that is mine alone. This space did not exist, and I did not know how to carve it out of the open air, nor where find it in the sleek industrial pipes and granite countertops that I knew I was supposed to love. So I built walls in other ways--anxiety, panic, and fear. I acted out, hoping that those walls would construct themselves and provide rationale for why I needed privacy in the first place.

When I moved out, many of those self-constructed walls fell away again. I no longer needed them. I had the opportunity to start from scratch and rebuild my creative space. I can't say it's been a linear route getting to my ideal creative space, though. 

Luckily, some friends of mine had an opening for a sublet in their house at just the time I needed to move out of my ex's place. A few months later, the landlady sold the house, and I moved again into a house with three strangers. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these places, other than me realizing that I needed a space to more or less call my own, decorate as I saw fit, and house the rather fiesty street cat that I had decided to take in last fall. 

And now I am moving again into a house with a good friend of mine, and I'm sure in another few years I'll move again. When you move as many times as I have, you begin to get a good sense of what bare necessities you need. In other words, I'm starting to shed a lot of useless crap.

I find that a lot of my free time that could be spent writing is sucked up by consumerism. I am a bit of an online shopping addict, although I rarely buy something unless I've scoured the web a minimum of five times to be sure I'm making the best and most affordable choice. I love art and I love books. Kindle 1-click is my frenemy and Amazon Prime is the friend who buys me too many shots and then I wake up the next morning and stagger to my computer, view my order history, and see I've bought a pasta spiralizer and a monthly subscription for two-pound bags of cacao powder. 

I discovered that one way around this was to (gasp) just stop buying stuff. If I can't buy, why browse? Now that I'm packing up my belongings for the fourth time, I'm seeing at what an alarming rate my second-hand clothing addiction and ever-growing book collection adds up. I try to pack up all of the knick-knacks I've been given for birthdays and Christmases. And, last but not least, I see how cluttered my desk has gotten.

My desk is a sacred space where all the magical writing stuff is supposed to happen. I mean, I've murdered people at that desk. I've made people fall in love and out of love. I've forced people into space ships and onto alien planets. 

It will be my fourth time emptying the drawers of my desk and dismantling the art on my walls and packing away my writing journals. It will be my fourth time reassembling my writing corner in a new space. Each time, I'd like to think that I strip away something I no longer need--credit card statements and other random piles of unopened mail, used tissues, etc. I rotate art that I've been staring at for the past few months. I try out a new chair--my latest swap is a broken desk chair for a brightly-colored arm chair.  I try leaving the walls blank for a while. I move my desk towards the window and away from it. 

Each movement of my body into a new space points towards this truth: the less things you have in your writing space, the more you have to sit with yourself and your mind and nothing else. It's terrifying and liberating and imprisoning all at once, but at least I have an option I didn't have before--to leave the door open or closed, to welcome noise or muffle it, to let loved ones see me in my most vulnerable and frenetic moments of writing or to shut them out.