Thinking about changing spaces again


A clear sign that a building is alive and lived in, I believe, is when the spaces keep changing. All the time the boys were growing up, our flat was always changing to accommodate their needs and ours – even though I often felt (and complained loudly) that my needs were taken too little into consideration. The more drastic changes started after the boys both finished school, although they kindly left me a little time to catch up. First Christopher moved to Vienna in October 2010, and Paddy turned what had been “the boys’ room” into his own space, where he lived while doing his “service to society” (alternative to military service in Austria). Then in September 2011, just two months before Peter died, Paddy moved to Vienna too, leaving me with a not-quite-empty room full of memories.

Empty space left after Paddy moved to Vienna

And the spaces keep changing …

After Peter died, my attempts to turn the former boys’ room – or now simply “the front room” – into a writing/sewing room for myself had to be put on hold again, because it was more urgent and necessary to change the bedroom. Little by little, though, I have been taking over the whole flat for myself, and I am very happy living here, where I feel safe, comfortable and content, even though I don’t really spend much time at home. Since the mortgage was paid off the summer before Peter died, my widow’s pension now covers my housing costs. This is what makes it possible for me to afford to run the Workshop in the Main Square as my own private project, thus avoiding all bureaucratic regulations and restrictions, but it also means I couldn’t afford to move, even if I wanted to.

But does it actually make sense for an old widow living alone with two cats to occupy a four-room flat that used to be sufficient living space for a family of four + friends, when there are so many people urgently in need of affordable living space?

That question bothers me, and it keeps coming into my mind, especially every time I hear of people, particularly young families or single mothers, desperately searching for a place to live. Recently, though, it came up again in a completely different context and tied into other worrying questions as well.

I'm still working on taking this one over for myself.

I’m still working on taking this one over for myself.

On one of the blogs I follow („The Polished Widow„), I was startled to read recently that another widow who blogs about her experience married again earlier this year. She is a very young widow with a young child, and it was beautiful and touching to read about how she balances remembering her late husband and going on with her life now with her new husband, but what startled me was the way I suddenly felt old as I read that. Marrying again or rearranging my life with a new relationship is not an option I can imagine for myself, but do I really want to continue on for the rest of my life in this comfortable arrangement of living alone with two cats, keeping everyone else at a safe distance? Isn’t this exactly what makes me old?

As I have always been interested in different forms of community, in different ways of people living together or sharing resources and responsibilities, one obvious change that suggests itself is that I could share my living space. The possibilities for finding “flat-mates”, perhaps of different ages, from different situations, are virtually endless, and there is much that I find appealing about the idea. At the same time, however, I also find the idea quite daunting for a number of reasons as well.

First of all, where would I put all my books to make room for another person? Books have always occupied a significant amount of space everywhere I’ve lived, even more so since Peter first moved in with me after we met through our shared love of books and reading. It’s not just the books, though. Every room in this flat is filled with memories – along with the many objects that go with them. To what extent would I have to limit myself, constrain myself to the here and now to make room for someone else? Could I even do that, and would I want to if I could? Which memories, objects, spaces do I need to cling to, in order to be able to hold on to a sense of “this is me, this is my life”? Or which of them just hold me down, tie me to the past so that I am not free to live in the here and now?

Maybe it is still too soon to start trying out experiments in communal living now, but when will it be too late? If I feel too timid or insecure to embark on any significant changes in the way I live now, I’m afraid it won’t be long before I really am just an old woman too set in my ways to be able to open up my mind to anything new.

In the meantime, however, I really do enjoy being able to share space at least temporarily, both in the Workshop and at home. Being able to welcome guests, provide beds for “visiting firemen” (the phrase the Shanahans always used for visitors from out of town), hand over a key to friends and young people looking after my cats so that they can make themselves comfortable while I’m away: all of that gives me great pleasure – I just have to keep thinking now about whether it is enough.


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5 Antworten zu Thinking about changing spaces again

  1. Amy A sagt:

    Great post as always, Aileen! As I find myself also deciding on things, esp. books, to get rid of for various reasons, it’s interesting to read your thoughts – and rereading your older posts about what Christopher and Paddy took when moving out. It’s always a struggle to figure out what objects stay, and which „have to go.“

    I find myself strangely attached to an old (ca. 1998) edition of „Hacking Exposed.“ It’s out of date, dusty, takes up too much room on the shelf, and is not the type of book normal people would have an emotional attachment to. But how can you not love a book about all the sneaky hacks people came up with to break into systems back before it seemed to have to do with nuclear reactors in Iran, extorting money from government agencies, or international corporate espionage. Hack nostalgia. Hmmm. Ok, maybe the RealBasic book could go instead.

  2. Aileen sagt:

    Thanks, Amy, it’s always reassuring to hear it’s not just me – and I also have a number of computer books especially from the 1990s that I couldn’t bear to part with. A book about navigating the Internet via email (pre-WWW), for example, although it is an obvious indication that I am at least old enough to remember the Internet before WWW.

    What I find myself dithering about most are my imagined responsibilities as a „keeper of memories“, but maybe I should just talk to my sons about what is important to them. As I have no other ties to any physical locations where tangible „memory-objects“ might be found, I have no experience with what other people (e.g. my sons) might want to be able to return to – with the whole emotional baggage of „going home“. It was hard enough clearing out Peter’s workshop, which was an important place to so many people, I’m reluctant to engage in that kind of process at home. But on the other hand, I don’t want to live in a museum either.

  3. Michela sagt:

    Hi Aileen, I have so enjoyed reading this post and thank you for the mention. Even for a ‚young‘ widow like me, remarrying again and making room in my house for this new person was so difficult and continues to be. It’s why he is only allocated 2 drawers for his clothes and limited hanging room. After my husband died, I too, took over all the spaces and kept much of his things as memories. I’m getting better at culling all this for my new husbands sake, but it ain’t easy! I love that you are still comfortable in your home, and you have made it yours alone now. Xxx

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  5. Pippa sagt:

    I’m on the other side of the world and feel that I missed out on the opportunity to help you these weeks!

    I’ve been cleaning up too, though with slightly different parameters and types of objects. The house they are in has to be emptied for sale and the objects of those are mostly those of my great-grandmother and my grandmother with a couple of those of my late uncle and a few of my Dad’s as well as my own traces.

    I don’t know the history of all the things in the space and in some way this has made those objects even harder to make decisions about. Besides the general accumulation of life I’ve been faced with questions. Why was this thing in the house, why was it kept and what were the stories associated with it?

    I think that the Keeper of Memories thing can be a terrible burden, especially when it is tied up with the Keeper of Things responsibility too. As overused as the word has become I wonder if there’s some value in the idea of being „Maker“ of Memories, or more than that even, a Curator of Memories?

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