When we lived in Hawaii, we lived in a 900 square foot house. Two people in one bedroom, two people in the other, and the third for the things the living room couldn’t fit: the TV, the computer, most of the books, the shoes, the barely full size fold out couch for people who came to stay. (Two people to that room too.)
One day found me carefully sorting through our kitchen utensils wondering which ones to throw out. The drawer was crowded, and we didn’t have any more. I was constantly re-evaluating what toys the boys needed and I cleaned out my clothes about three times a year. I was very clear to family about how much room we had and how much they shouldn’t buy us.
But because of that, it took me forty-five minutes to make the whole house presentable, two hours to really clean the whole thing, and that included the bathtub and dishes. I could hear my boys from any corner of the house and they always knew where I was.
And I loved it.
I loved the closeness, especially with two small boys. (Except for when it was terrible.) I loved that everything we owned in the world fit in that 900 square feet. I loved knowing that if we had to leave the next week (always a possibility in the Marines) it would take a day at most to pack up. We had everything we needed to survive, and nothing that we didn’t.
And then we moved, accidentally, to a 2400 square foot house. I mean, we moved on purpose, but when we came to Lakeland to look at houses we narrowed the sixteen we saw down to four, and then two of those were gone by the end of the day, other one rejected our offer, and so we were left with the 2400 square foot house on two acres of land. It really was an accident. It wasn’t what we were looking for at all.
The whole movement now is minimalism, and I understand it because I loved it. Don’t buy what you can’t use, wear, or love, and life is meant to be spent with people, not things.
But after a few months of living in a place that would never be considered small, I can say this too: there is value in just having some space, in being able to see things differently from different rooms, in not having to spend a good part of each day wondering if a certain item is worth keeping in the long run for your whole life. There’s a little bit more room, for decisions, a little more space around the margins.
Looking something right in the face, mess, anger, feeling something right on your body, noise, touch……having the opportunity to turn around and walk away feels like a luxury. There is always that opportunity everywhere, of course. But the size of spaces vary. Sometimes we get in the car, sometimes we can go outside, but in places like my Hawaii house, with the small people I was given, often it only meant closing my eyes and breathing. There was nowhere else to go except inside myself.
Sometimes we say that giving space is giving up, that leaving means we don’t care, that taking a break means we stop loving, but it doesn’t, really. It just means a little more air around us, a little more given to us to breathe, a little more calm to take inside of us from outside, because let’s be honest, maybe the calm should come from inside of us, but it often doesn’t, does it?
There are some things that space does that are new to us, that we had forgotten: we can’t hear each other from every room of the house. Someone can sleep and have a meltdown at the same time. (Well, honestly, that depends on the size of the meltdown.) We all burn more energy because things like doing laundry mean going from one side of the house to the other, multiple times. The boys run the circle between the hallway, kitchen, dining room and living room with ecstatic yells each day.
It’s good to notice this again, and just in case I forget even though I hear my boys yell it every day, because even though we can’t find it some days, because of the house we live in or all the small people around them, we taught them early the value in the free air around them. “MOM! I need space!!!”, the boys yell about eight times a day, because they know they will not get in trouble for asking. Because sometimes, when it feels like the world is closing in, either because your brother is smacking you or because a tree fell on your carport, the exact thing that you need is just some air to breathe, some empty air on each side of you, to bring yourself back to what you know you need and who you know you are.
So maybe the fault is never in the giving space, and walking away is a necessity in this life we live together.
Maybe the only way we win, is after we have walked away, closed our eyes, closed the door, that we can flip our minds, smooth them out, fill our lungs, feel our feet and air, and then turn and walk back in again.
Maybe the victory is always in the coming back.