Thursday, January 16, 2014

Happiness is…a room of one’s own.

We lay propped up by two pillows each in bed, a book in my hand and either a phone or tablet in his. Sometimes we chat, sometimes we do our own thing. Sometimes I lean against him as we continue wordlessly in our own worlds, on the same bed, and sometimes he turns to kiss me on the top of my head, unexpectedly and unsurprisingly at the same time.

We try to turn off the lights by 11PM, although earlier is ideal, but more often than not, we’re a few minutes late. For two night owls, 11PM is already an anomaly, so we don’t push it, even though when the alarm sounds at 5AM, we always, always wish we had the lights out earlier.

Rising from bed is a struggle for us, and we have come to over rely on the snooze button because prying ourselves away from a warm body to a winter-cold room when we don’t have to, requires iron will. But we do it anyway because we’re the most productive in the pre-dawn hours, while the children are still asleep. 

This is our new normal. And I love it.

I love going to bed with My Guy and having that time at night to decompress together. With our bodies next to one another, we don’t need to talk to connect, although we often do. From our previous routine of frequently missing each other at bedtime because either one or the other had a deadline that kept us up, this new normal is really nice. I had resolved to read more, tired of my own excuses of being too busy, so now, I get to do that too. In case you’re wondering, I’m toggling between Alice Munro’s “Dear Life” and Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier At Home”.

photo 4 (21)   

The latter, especially, has given me a lot to think about, not in a self-help, step-by-step guide kind of way, but more in terms of validation. Yes, indeed I am happier at home. I’m not too far into the book, but already she has shown me, in this book and her last, “The Happiness Project”, how the decisions I’ve made and my subsequent actions have affected my own happiness.

While I’d like to dive into a Top 10 Reasons I’m Happy like she’s known to do in her books, which I suppose, is typical of their genre, I want to first, before anything else, focus on the one change I made that had a colossal impact on my life: Redecorating my bedroom.

I know, how trite, but I can’t deny its effects on me. It’s, of course, not the most important reason, because clearly having a great relationship with My Guy and a stable, comfortable family life trump physical space, but for someone who lives, works, plays, and rests in the same space, within the walls of my home, 24/7, my physical space becomes a crucial part of me.

You’re probably thinking, redecorating, how trivial or how indulgent, and maybe it is, but Ms. Rubin also emphasizes that one of the universal truths of happiness is that what works for some, may not work for others, and it’s okay! 

Because I tend to neglect my own space to focus on other areas of my life, this was a big step for me. Decorating is indulgent, I think, which is why we’ve spent so many years in this home with the same furnishings as the last, choosing to spend any monetary surplus, which was scarce during the year following our departure from our cushy salaried jobs, on travel instead. Anything above that was spent on the girls. Their room, their interests.

When Pickle started to sleep on a big-girl bed, I was finally able to redecorate their space with the two twin beds the way I had always envisioned. It was a satisfying experience, but now that it’s done, it’s just a checkmark off my task list. I had enjoyed it, but I don’t continue to derive enjoyment from their pink and purple room since I’m rarely in there myself, other than to put away laundry and to tuck them in each night.

For years, the master bedroom had been a place for sleep and nothing more. It was always the last room to which I paid any attention, even though I knew that having a dull, lifeless room zapped more of my energy and focus than it did restore them.

My Guy knew how I felt about our bedroom, and he’d occasionally buy me new bedding or something small to spruce up the space to lift my spirits and elevate the aesthetics, but it had little effect. I loved his gestures, but I couldn’t love my room, and every night, as I retired to a room painted in a color (not of my choosing) that I loathed and a worn, old bed, I couldn’t feel a sense of home and belonging, even though I did throughout the rest of the apartment. It felt wrong that the one place that should’ve provided the most restorative peace, was the last place that offered it.

Then one day last spring, we decided to do something about it. That puke-yellow-ochre or whatever horrendousness that was on the walls simply had to go. Two years of it was enough. That was also the time that things were better for us financially, so we finally decided to treat ourselves to this small indulgence. We hired painters to paint our bedroom while we were away at a water park in Wisconsin.

We went with painters because the thought of DIY’ing when we already had so much on our plates made us more anxious than happy, and if the point of painting was to elevate our spirits, then DIY would not have been the way to go. I then battled my practical nature to “save some money” and agreed to hire painters. It was also one of the best decisions of my life.


When I walked into the room after our little vacation, into what was suddenly a bright, sunny, joyous hue of blue that had the ability to also calm and restore, I almost cried. Or maybe I did. I couldn’t believe the difference. The effect it had on me was instantaneous. Suddenly, things started to look up, and I swear, it’s because of the color.

Earlier in the process, after much consideration, we decided on blue, except every color comes in a ridiculous number of shades, and we labored over the perfect hue at the paint store, with a multitude of blue swatches in our hands. Then, an obvious choice emerged, as its name, Serenity, is the same as our little one’s middle name as well as that of a particular fictional space craft from a beloved show of ours, “Firefly”. Besides, how could we go wrong with a paint called Serenity when that’s exactly what we’re trying to achieve with our space? We felt it was a sign. In fact, looking back, I think that it was a good omen.

Opportunities started (and continue to) fall on our laps with Serenity on our walls, and that summer, I worked hard with two goals in mind: With the money I made, we were going to upgrade our old queen bed to a king-sized one and vacation in the mountains. We did both.

The bed is now our favorite piece of furniture in the house. We took a chance with a memory foam mattress and couldn’t believe what we had been missing all these years. It is the most comfortable bed we’ve ever slept in, and because we share similar tastes, the aesthetics of the new bed pleased us immensely. Many of our furniture came from our past lives, and now that we’re in a much better place together, both emotionally and financially, we’ve been making only necessary upgrades, like a much needed dresser or wardrobe, and of course the girls’ room.

But the wall color made us realize how important our bedroom was to us, and we started to pay closer attention it, instead of neglecting it to enhance our family room or living room, as we might have done in the past. Now, my bedroom went from my most dreaded space in the house to the most cherished and loved.

How could it not be? It’s now the room with my favorite color scheme, my favorite bed, my favorite books in my favorite bookcase, my favorite view from my favorite desk, where I retire and wake with my favorite guy.  

This new normal of ours feels and works better because we begin and end our day in a space we both love and enjoy. In fact, I think every aspect of my life is positively affected by this room. Both restoring and energizing, we rest better, we work better, we play better. 

I come in here mid-day to read or to lay in bed to feel the memory foam absorb my weariness as a way to recharge, I work and write from my new desk, and because of the bigger bed, the four of us frolic in here at random moments of the day, not just the mornings.

One of Ms. Rubin’s “Secrets of Adulthood” is that “outer order contributes to inner calm”, and that has become my own mantra as I work towards a happier life. We have been trying to declutter like mad, minimizing our belongings, which works for our “less is more” approach when it comes to aesthetics. And maybe that’s why this room works for us. Of anywhere in this house, there’s less stuff in here.

As much as I’d like to be a proponent of redecorating our way to happiness, I also know that it’s not an easy thing to prioritize when we have bills to pay, mouths to feed. But, in my defense, this room took five years to get to where it is now. Five years of always putting our children’s needs, even wants, first, five years of setting aside our own discomfort to tend to theirs, five years of settling and neglecting, five years of suppressing a deep longing for a space I could call my own.

A fresh coat of paint changed everything, but even then, it took over eight months to finally arrive at this point, when a certain potty-trained girl rid us of the last vestiges of the girls’ belongings (and clutter) in our room. For a couple who live on instant gratification, it was also character building as it exercised our patience greatly.

We didn’t do much, really—we painted, we replaced the bed and carefully chose bedding that worked with the walls, we moved a changing table out of the room and set up a new desk in its place, and we put up new pictures on the wall. In the grand scheme of things, and compared to the rest of the changes in the house, this wasn’t much. And yet, it made a world of difference.

I’ve always known that part of happy parenting is to put ourselves first, and while we’ve been protective of our date nights and time alone, I forget sometimes, that space, too, is important. It’s where we recover, recharge, and grow so we can be better as individuals, as partners, as parents. We are more readily there for each other when we are whole ourselves, and space plays a big role in restoring the pieces of us that come apart during the day.

Now, every night in this room, I feel the invisible seams tighten and, conversely, my grip loosen, and all my disparate selves, fragmented by myriad tasks and roles throughout the day, find their way to my center. It restores not just my strength and energy, but my faith that, no matter how difficult the day was, I will be able to do this again the next day. 

And happily so.



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