When I was a child, my grandparents had a nook with a little door, in the basement, under their stairs in their house in Dewey, Arizona. Rather than use this space for storage, they turned it into a nook for their grandkids, for quiet or play. I loved and lavished this space. I could go in there and tuck myself away with a book or my thoughts and let the time pass. I’d come out whenever I wanted and then go back in whenever I wanted too. It was glorious. I can still feel the space in that little cubby and recollect the smells and the sounds of that house, nestled into the hillside.
Quiet time is an essential need for me–I have to have it. As a mother of three children, it is something that is incredibly difficult to carve out time for, yet so vital to my own care and well being. I imagine I will have to be intentional about making space for my time of solitude even after my children grow older and leave our home because it can feel difficult to justify when there are so many other things vying for our time, activities that are indeed fun and enjoyable.
The reality is that when we choose time for rest we are invariably choosing not to do other activities. So, it can feel like a loss to choose solitude because the benefits are not so visibly tangible. We don’t really see people posting pictures of themselves practicing solitude on social media; we generally see posts filled with activity and in the presence of others. And, those are very good and important things to see and to take part in too. But, solitude offers us precisely what we think we don’t have enough of – time. And, with so many demands on our time it can begin to feel as though we are not able to grab hold of the life we are living long enough to actually notice and embrace the joys and the sorrows we experience. Practicing solitude is an intentional way of pausing to really see our life as it is. In solitude, we can say thank you for what we do have while also acknowledging the uneasiness we may feel as a result of the ebb and flow of our relationships, life stages, careers and those things of value to us.
My husband and I, along with our three children, moved nearly a year ago. It was a transition that was necessary for our family and has definitely felt right over time. I had thought that our previous house, the house all of our children were born into, would be our forever home. I had envisioned grandchildren running down the halls and sipping my coffee and tea in our cheerful little sun room, that I had painted a joyful yellow, into my old age. All of the memories we had made there of important celebrations and dinners with friends and time spent with family and the community of neighbors around us made that house our home for nearly a decade. But change is sometimes the thing we need to leap into, whether we are ready or not.
In my experience, when we are feeling unsure about change, we can be pretty stubborn people and also quite demanding and particular in how we want things to be. This makes sense because it’s kind of our go-to strategy when we are wanting to control that which we can’t always control. I jokingly tell my husband I can be an incredibly flexible and spontaneous person under the right circumstances! However, making known to others what we need and hope for is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves and for others. When we first began talking about a potential move, my primary concern was that our children would be able to weather the changes they would face as a result of the decision my husband and I were making for our family. I was hopeful that we’d find our place in whatever new community we moved into because we were taking with us the assurance that the community we have been a part of for the past 14 years of living on the East Coast would still be there for us in the midst of change. And, this gave me courage and continues to be a source of our strength in other areas of our lives as well.
When we first looked at the house we now live in, one of the things that stood out to me was this tiny space under the stairs in our basement. Although too small for an adult to stretch out, even though I have tried, it was perfect for a little person to make believe in. Each of our kids got their own room in our new house, even though they end up snuggling together in one bed many nights. Since each of their bedrooms are different sizes, our middle daughter offered up the bigger room to her older sister so long as she could claim the little space under the stairs in the basement as her own.
Not long after we settled in I was inspired to transform the space under the basement stairs into a fun little cubby. I got to work and hung as many frames of photos or artwork as I could possibly fit into it. I decorated the space with old silk flowers, and knick-knacks that have been tucked away in boxes or hidden in cupboards for the past few years, ever since baby things and toys had taken their places. All of the things that I had considered taking to Goodwill now became re-purposed in this little sanctuary. I lined the floors of the cubby with baby blankets that are no longer being used to swaddle my babies. The only thing that I actually purchased for this specific project was a shaggy reading pillow. For a final touch, I hung Christmas tree lights around the little entrance to this beautiful cove.
When I finished, the girls loved the cubby so much that my older daughter asked me to make her one. So, I went to work clearing away another corner filled with miscellaneous decorative items that I couldn’t decide whether to keep or give away and transformed an extra little closet in her bedroom into a cubby too. The kids were excited all over again about the second little cubby that my little 2 1/2 year old, at the time, asked me to make him one too. And, how could I resist such a request? If you give a mom a cubby, she’ll make one for all of her babies! So, I turned a corner of my little guy’s closet into a cubby too and hung drawings and paintings made by the kids that I had put in clear acrylic standout frames. For a final touch, I put a handful of books into a little bin and lined part of the closet floor with his favorite stuffed animals and toys. By the end of the week, I was ready for a break!
Most of the time, these little cubbies sit vacant, but there are moments when each of the kids will retreat to their own little corner for some solitude. Our little guy has made playing in his cubby for a few minutes before bedtime part of his routine each night. More than anything, I have observed that our kids appreciate their little space to go to when they just want alone time. And, walking past them in these moments, with a stack of laundry to put away, feels very gratifying and peaceful.
The materials needed to create space for solitude are quite simple and have more to do with our time than with our possessions like pillows, decorations and strings of Christmas lights. Sitting on a rock in the woods or on the step of your front porch while watching the clouds go by will do, so long as you feel free to be. I think it’s easy to get swept up in following a prescribed set of rules and recommendations for how to best maximize anything we do in life, even something like solitude. But the real beauty in solitude is the freedom to choose what thoughts to think or feelings to feel or musings to muse. Children need that freedom in their days and we as adults need that freedom too.
It wasn’t until now, all these years later, that I discovered the creation of little nooks was something my grandmother has done from the time my father and his sisters and brothers were children. My aunts shared memories of my grandmother creating spaces in the homes of their childhood. My aunt Anne wrote, “She [my grandmother] got the biggest kick out of decorating little corners, even [when] camping she would find something to be a table cloth and be very proud of herself for beautifying her little corner.” What a treasure my aunts have given me in helping me to connect my cubby project to an even greater family story that I am a part of and am passing on to my children.
So, however you enjoy taking time to be still, whether it’s making yourself a hot cup of tea or singing in the shower, or kicking up your heals and listening to some of your favorite songs, treat yourself to an extra few minutes of solitude! Life is so short and our days are filled with so much to do. We need our time of quiet and calm.
I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.~ Henry David Thoreau