I love my office. I feel so lucky to have it. I have two big desks. I can see trees, grass, flowers, and birds from three windows. I have a comfortable couch that turns into an even more comfortable bed.
The room looks especially fresh and bright because we just painted the walls and ceiling. We had to move a lot of stuff out to do that, and when I put it together, I chose only things I was sure I wanted to keep. The rest is in another room where I’m gradually sorting through it. I can’t believe how much cleaner and clearer the room feels: I get a warm open feeling in my chest every time I walk in. It is a lovely positive example of my HSP environmental susceptibility.
But even if the room weren’t sparkling like this, I would still love it, for one simple reason: it is mine.
I shared a room with my sister growing up, and with roommates two years into college, so for 20 years I never knew anything different. I don’t remember exactly when it hit me, living alone in my junior year, what a relief this was. But by the time I got married in my late twenties I was clear enough to say to my then-husband, “I have to have my own room. One where I can close the door.”
Luckily, I had a justification: I was a professional oboe player. Serious oboe playing meant hours of practicing, but the hours of oboe reed making were the bigger issue. I had a complex array of tools and equipment, and I produced a steady shower of shavings and long splinters of cane that drew blood if you stepped on them the wrong way. So everybody was happier and safer if I had my own room, right?
This was ten years before Elaine Aron identified the HSP trait. Looking back, I’m amazed I somehow knew I needed my own room and that I had the guts to insist on it, whatever my rationale. This required me to notice my own need, accept it, and take action to meet the need: three key steps to happiness that we HSPs too often struggle to take.
What’s more, I did it in spite of being hampered by two pieces of HSP baggage. One was the uncomfortable impression that I took things too seriously. The other was my belief I was “too sensitive.” My family nickname was “The Princess and the Pea.” (She’s the one who could not only feel a pea through twenty mattresses and twenty eiderdowns: she could somehow be BRUISED by it too.)
So…why is having my own room so important?
I can focus my attention and concentrate without fear of interruption. I can shut the door and absorb myself completely in writing an article or creating a class or listening to a client. This is not a small thing, as Virginia Woolf explained in A Room of One’s Own (she talked about the need for a guaranteed adequate income too.)
I can care for myself better in my intimate relationship. If my partner and I get disconnected, I have a private place to write, reflect, and recover my sense of equilibrium. If he’s sick and has a cough (or if I do), I have a quiet place to sleep. My ability to show up as a partner depends on my equilibrium and my functionality depends on my sleep, so this is not a small thing.
I can take a break from other people’s energy. If we have guests and I need a break from the added sound, stuff, and stimulation, I can come up and close the door. If I can’t do that, I get overstimulated, and it isn’t pretty. So this, too, is not a small thing.
I can uplift and nurture myself with harmonious surroundings. I can arrange, file and display my papers, objects, art, and furnishings to create beauty and order. This helps to keep me calm and happy. My work depends on my ability to be present with others, so this is not a small thing.
A necessity? or a luxury?
I’m painfully aware that this entire topic is born of first-world privilege. As I write, over 60 million refugees and displaced persons—half of them children—are engaged in a daily struggle for food and water, let alone shelter. Given this, isn’t it selfish, even spoiled, to think about luxuries like a room of one’s own?
My first response to that question is gratitude: I AM spoiled. I am extremely fortunate by sheer luck of birth. I live in a first-world country. I have the resources to exercise a degree of choice over my living circumstances, which many here do not. I never, ever forget this.
The other response is determined commitment. Precisely because I have the privilege of resources, I’m as mindful as I can be about how I use them. I want to show up and serve others, from my birth family to my human family, as much and as well as I possibly can. It is crystal clear to me that having a room of my own has a major positive effect on my capacity to do that.
What do you need to be at your best? Do you accept that need? Do you use your resources and take action to support it?