Thursday, November 22, 2007

Moving to a new room can change outlook

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel November 18, 2007)

For 16 years, my office has been in a 9-by-12-foot room on the south end of our house. It's a small, warm room, the place to gather on chilly winter mornings.

Large picture windows overlook a garden that -- regardless of how much I neglect it -- remains on the fly-by list for assorted winged creatures. Butterflies, birds and bees are attracted to a colorful collection of flowers. The plants in turn, provide shelter to snakes, anoles, frogs and small mammals. Gazing out my office window guarantees interesting observations -- a snake climbing a metal pole, an owl resting on the trellis, a hummingbird flitting from one blossom to another. The view from that window has been a continual source of entertainment and inspiration.

While wildlife have no difficulty finding their way to the garden, the room itself is off the beaten path, and that's fine by me. As a work-at-home parent who raised four home-schooled children, I learned long ago the importance of personal space.

My ability to successfully cope with whatever life hands me is directly related to a certain amount of physical separation from the people I love the most. I've never needed much distance, but some place -- a designated space to recharge -- has always been a mainstay of my sanity. Having a home office that's not in the main traffic flow provided the right proportion of accessibility to aloneness.

My office has been my sanctuary. Until recently.

Of late, it has become more repository than refuge. Stacks of this, mounds of that and paper -- piles and piles of paper -- have found their way onto all available surfaces, including a large expanse of floor. Instead of walking into my office to find much needed peace, more and more often the feeling I'm struck with is repulsion. How can I work amid so much disarray?

The answer is, I can't.

Drastic methods were needed. So I moved.

One evening when I must have had more caffeine in my system than usual, I took my computer, printer and the bare necessities of my craft and moved them into what used to be my oldest son's bedroom.

Like many parents of grown children, we have a number of rooms in our house that are in transition. Bit by bit in the months (and sometimes years) after our three oldest kids moved into their own houses, Ralph and I reclaimed those spaces for other activities. One became a computer room for my youngest son, the other a nicely appointed guest room. The last space in want of transformation was my oldest son's bedroom. He had already removed his furnishings, leaving behind a delightfully sparse, clean and empty room.

I was drawn to that room like ants to honey.

Every time I'd pass it -- it's on the main corridor between the kitchen and living room -- I'd look in longingly. Such a lovely space, all empty and open. No clutter. No mess. No anything at all but pale purple walls promising calmness and order.

I wanted that desperately. So, I took it.

During the past week, I've settled in. While admittedly basic, my new office is functional and, so far, that's enough. I placed my desk against the window -- another large expanse of glass -- and now look out on a different view. Instead of the familiar scene outside my old office window, my gaze is directed toward a tall sycamore tree surrounded by a smattering of orphaned plants. I look at the tree and imagine bird feeders hanging from its limbs, the squirrels competing with goldfinches for an afternoon snack. Beyond the sycamore are shell gingers, climbing roses and honeysuckle vines covering a clay wall.

Although I'm still adjusting to the sights, the change of scenery has been an unexpected benefit of my new surroundings. My eyes seem glad for the change, eager to explore and absorb each nuance of this fresh landscape.

Another perk has been the location. After years of self-imposed isolation, I'm finding it surprisingly convenient to have an office in the thick of things. Now when I'm in the kitchen fixing food, I'm just a step away from checking e-mail or browsing the Web.

Time to exercise? My new office is uncluttered. There's plenty of room to stretch out on the floor, lift hand weights or attempt a pull-up on the chinning bar my son left behind.

Although the plan was to empty everything out of the old office and give it a thorough cleaning, what happens afterward is fuzzy. Originally, I intended to move back into my old office once it was reorganized, but for the moment I've put that plan on hold. This new space is so pleasant that I might just make it permanent.

I've come to realize it doesn't take much to change your perspective. Something as minor as the relocation of a home office can result in a refreshed outlook and a realignment of fixed notions.

Like most people, I'm a creature of habit but occasionally -- say, once every 16 years -- it's a good idea to shake up the system. This past week I moved my office and gained much more than a new place to sit and type. I've changed my perspective and couldn't be happier.

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