Coming Out Of The Closet

Right! Here goes with something you don’t know about me even with all the secrets I spilled yesterday. I know what you’re thinking … can there really be something more?

Today I’m coming out about clutter. My closets have never been organized places where clothes hang neatly or where you could open a door and know that something was exactly where you left it. In fact, there have been times when whole rooms began to resemble a big walk in closet and were so bad that even my closest family members were bared from entering.

There are quite a few people who would agree with what I have said here going as far back as my roommate Diane who shared an apartment space with me when we were university students. More recently, my daughter Miranda would not hesitate to confirm that as late as 2007 there was at least one room in our house that looked like more like someone’s storage building out back than it’s intended purpose.

Three guesses which one looked like a ” tip. ” (a British expression I’ve come to love)

rubbish tip (n.) dumping ground, garbage dump, garbage heap, refuse dump, rubbish dump, tip

It was … my home office space. That’s right, the very place I had always had in mind would be my retreat, a place of peaceful serenity where I could write uninterrupted by everyday life. I dreamed of a space like the one I have now while I was working for corporate America. I was fortunate over the years to have three homes where there was enough room for me to have a space designated as my office.

It is no surprise that my writing life was given the least amount of attention and my ” offices ” always reflected that lack of priority and focus. While the rest of the house might have been fairly tidy, my office was always unfinished, over-cluttered, and completely unwelcoming for any creative energy. It was plainly as I said before, a tip. More than a time or two I found myself channeling Bette Davis as I tried to pick my way through the junk pausing in frustration to utter her famous movie line, ” What a dump! “

The day I saw my  home in Atlanta for the first time, I walked upstairs into a delightful space that felt more like a sweetly decorated little treehouse than an upstairs room in a downtown bungalow. The windows were open and outside a light rain was falling creating a happy sound through the trees that formed a canopy of leaves all around the house.

I was enchanted from the moment I stepped inside and the owners who were selling it themselves, were near enough so that the husband volunteered that the room I had fallen in love with was his wife’s office space, and that she was a writer. Of course I was interested in hearing more and asked what she had written, never guessing the connection we already had.

When he picked up a copy of her book from the shelf, The Truth Shall Set You Free, I was stunned as I had read it only a few months earlier. While working a medical conference at St. Simons Island off the coast of Georgia, I walked into a used bookstore and found her book signed with a personal inscription and I snapped up the first edition which had been published only three years earlier.

The book is under the owl and on top of Virginia Wolf

Sally Lowe Whitehead had accomplished a great deal in her office space, writing a book that had a tight hold on me from the beginning and I saw our book connection as a sign that I might also find a way to put the ideas I had on scraps of paper into a book or two of my own.

Standing there recalling the contents, I shared with Sally how I had read her memoir and knew her story, which must have been a bit disconcerting. I remembered enough of the inscription for her to glean that she had known the person who owned it. It turns out that this man had died of an AIDS related illness and that knowledge pretty much sealed it for me. Working as I was in HIV, I thought the universe could not be any more clear. This was surely the place I would write all the books I had dreamed of writing.

When I closed on the house, I took my copy of her book with me to the attorney’s office and Sally signed it with the words below.

To Elizabeth,

What a journey we’ve come to share.

I am so pleased our paths have crossed.

Enjoy your new home!

It is waiting for you with open arms.

Blessings always,

Sally Lowe Whitehead

I was excited to move in and set up my office in what had been the space where she had completed her book. Here is what my office looked like in late 2007. You be the judge … tip or not?

You’re probably thinking … messy, but not really a tip, but what you don’t know is in order to have it look as it does in the three photos above, I had to spill over into another room down the hall.

Again, not awful from this angle, but what you can’t see is all the junk on the other side of the room. All I can say now is, never again!

I’ve shown you my new space and now I want to show you one more thing … the closet! Let me expose what I keep hidden behind closed doors. Once again, John did all the work and built the interiors according to my specifications.

I wanted my closet (wardrobe) space to be divided into three distinct areas. Not only do I write in this room, but I use it as my dressing room too. There are four mirrored doors the length of the wall to bring in as much light as my sliding glass doors will allow.

The first thing I wanted was to be able to hide my chest of drawers so I asked John to build a section that would accommodate the piece of furniture I had already purchased. I keep shoes I rarely wear in little travel bags underneath. Because our small refrigerator has a wooden cabinet front there was no place to put my magnetic collectables so I bought a metal board from Ikea to put some of my favorite quotes and things that I used to stick on the frig in Atlanta. You can see it just above the chest at the back of the closet.

At the far right you can see my hanging clothes with a shoe rack at the bottom and laundry basket under the longer clothing. Notice the pillow color on the daybed.

Now for the business side of life. The left side of the closet holds things related to cameras and computers and business related papers. I have my sewing machine and sewing box tucked in there too. The chest is also from Ikea and has dividers inside that keep all the bits separate and organized. When I put it together, I left the bottom panel out of the second to the last drawer and John fixed it so the last two drawers slide out as one deep drawer that is perfect place for files. Notice the pillows now on the daybed … I did as some of you suggested and made two with orange backing and two with green.

So here ends our week-long tour … please feel free to sign the comment book on your way out and thanks so much for your kind attention.

9 thoughts on “Coming Out Of The Closet

  1. Very good, very good! I sign your book with pleasure. Does one tip the tour guide in your house, or simply say thanks with a well done and a hug!?

    To answer some of your questions, your Atlanta room is not a full tip by any means – you can see the floor after all. And a big sky light, oh bliss. A dream come true.

    I’m staying a little longer in the US, but when I get home top of my list is to have a mega sort of my house. Ironically, the places where my house is messy is on the outside, not the insides – so the linen closet/ airing cupboard for example, has things neatly folded in it and you can always find sheets and towels and facecloths in the right places, Likewise the attic contains only Xmas decorations, empty suitcases and fans, no junk or long lost pieces and parts. But visible in rooms, its more of a WWII bombsite than a tip. It’s a simple but for so long seemingly impossible matter of accepting that there is Just Too Much Stuff. Not old, nor worn out, nor even read, just Too Much. Its paralysing, and I’ve used it as an excuse/ barrier to grasping more “dangerous” – aka risking failure – things like being creative and making things, traveling, going out of my house and consciously sitting, standing, running even, along an often uncomfortable learning curve.

    To me, your room reflects how far you have come, in pushing past the obstacles in your own path from whatever sources, and taking your whole self that into the clear open air of freedom and choice on so many fronts. What I like very much about what you write is the obvious satisfaction you have in embracing this freedom, the deliberate effort and focus you make in preserving and encouraging it in yourself and others, and finally that you are able to own and enjoy your successes as well as your set backs. If you can gift yourself like this, I think its safe to say that it is certainly a self reclaimed, if it indeed was ever lost.

    Forgive this somewhat personal comment on a public blog, but I know you have many readers and I think numbers of them, including me, find all of this both something to aspire to as well as to resonate and *celebrate* with you.

    So glad you kept that slipper chair. Its truly perfect in your space.

  2. Mariellen has put it so well – I’m so glad she left her comment.

    I’m so envious of you for this space and for John wanting to have done this for you. But I’m happy not mad!!! This reminds me of when you asked wouldn’t I post some photos so you could understand our space better and I laughed (or I would cry) and asked “Would you put your closet up on the internet for everyone to see?”

    And the answer for you is yes, but I’m not as brave or moving forward as you are my dear!

    Have a wonderful weekend. I agree with — was it Jennifer — who said she’d love to see every season from your desk. I think that’s a wonderful idea.

  3. Your space looks lovely. I type in our guest room/office space which is currently in disarray. When my thoughts are more organized and my writing more on point, my space is, too. Hmmm. Maybe I should clean up this weekend.

    By the way, we have a house where every door — even the bathroom doors — are made of paned glass. Not good for the disorganized closet. Not that this has made us organize our closets . . .

  4. Wow — your space is inspiring and beautiful. I agree with another comment left above: Your room of your own is a metaphor for how far you’ve come.

    Funny thing, years ago I wrote something along these lines in a newspaper column titled “Home Sweet Office” (it’s in my book too). Like you, before I gave my writing a place of honor in my life, I didn’t make a real space for it in my house. Once I did, things changed.

    Anyhoo — your post is rich with material and a real celebration of your journey. I love how this time of year inspires us all to make these connections and pay attention to our homes and studios. I am cleaning my art studio this afternoon.

  5. Elizabeth,
    I have practiced architecture for 25+ years and am married to an architect. I am fairly good at working out solutions for people who want to build or renovate a house. I absolutely stink at working out solutions for my own studio space.

    I do think there is an emotional reason for this, just afraid to unearth it!!!

    Congratulations to you and John on a space well done. I hope you enjoy it (and it stays picked up) for many years to come…

  6. Beautiful room! I love the mirrored closed doors. How lucky you are to have such a talented husband. You did a fantastic job on the decor and the organizing of your things- I’m quite jealous of your space! thanks for sharing it!

  7. I just came back to see this link, not realizing I had already left a comment … but what fun to read it again, after you left your comment on my post about my home office and Virginia Woolf, etc! And I am really curious about the memoir you mentioned … a great and serendipitous connection. Thanks for including the link to the memoir, too! Again, LOVELY office! Love the mirrors, the clean look of it all. Wish I could be as organized 🙂

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