The first time a space felt like a haven, a room a refuge, was my sophomore year at Oberlin. It was my first year living in Tank Co-op and my first (but not last) time having a single room. That fall, 2018, I had a really rough semester, largely due to overcommitment (but hey, I learned from that!). Retreating to my introvert’s den at the end of a busy, people-packed day always felt like such a release, a form of solace in a chaotic and stressful couple of months. I remember feeling emotionally attached to the room in a way I’d never felt attached to a physical place before, except for maybe the mountain landscape of my hometown.
This year, my room plays more roles than a bedroom ever has before. My room is where I sleep, but it’s also a classroom, a gym, a studio, and a place to study, do homework, rest, and relax. It’s a strange room: it’s narrow and long, and in places the light-blue vertical shiplap is coming off, creating strange gaps and in colder months, drafts. Though I curated my surroundings, I never felt as attached to my room this year as I have in past years, perhaps because I just spend So. Much. Time. There. But, as I reach the end of my time in this college rental house (which we affectionately refer to as the Gnome Home), I find myself facing the impending clean/purge/breakdown/pack/move and appreciating my little space, and feeling more tenderness towards it, than I have at other times of the year.
I am so full of love for my space. I love my white-pink-blue quilt, which my great aunt sewed. I love the garlands of polaroid pictures and museum and concert tickets from my abbreviated semester in Berlin. I love my window desk with the good lighting that always makes me look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Zoom calls, and I love the crystal hanging above it that casts my room in tiny rainbow squares when the sun hits the right angle in the late afternoon. I love the roughly hewn wooden frame with a carved New Mexico landscape in it that my sister made for me, near my wall of postcards from museums, places, letters people have sent me in the past four years… I love the event posters from shows I was in and shows I wasn’t, and my window plant hanging on the curtain rod, and my closet with no doors where I proudly display my carefully arranged collection of dresses, sweaters, jackets, and the odd jumpsuit or pair of overalls.
I love the cultivated clutter in my room. My bedside table and desk are covered in candles, ceramic dishes full of rings and skincare products, little trinkets, a pile of books 18 inches high at least, an eclectic mix of translation theory, German poetry and dramas, some children’s literature, an APA publication manual, a book about gnomes (thematic, no?), and sketchbooks and journals that are half-filled at most. It may look a bit messy, but everything has its specific place, down to my toothbrush.
In terms of rooms, this one is the most lived-in since my single room in Tank my sophomore year. It’s not without its quirks: the floor is slanted and uneven in places, my door doesn’t actually shut anymore, and the windows only stay open if I put a plank of wood in a specific corner to keep them that way. When my laundry is drying on the rack, the room feels cramped, and I want to clean it all. The carpet is old and kind of grubby, and I wish that I had a wood floor. It’s impossible to do ballet in my tiny space (which I try to do anyhow), and I often feel observed by the neighbors and people walking on the street, even though I know they probably cannot see me. And yet, the space is so comfortable in a matter-of-fact sort of way, and I spend so much time there, that it feels almost as normal as being in my childhood bedroom, though I’ve only spent a year there, not 18. At the same time, it’s nonetheless hard to imagine someone else living in this space, because I feel like the space is mine in a way.
In a time when we are confined so much to our homes—or even single rooms—it has been important for me to make the space sacred. In a way, the entire college experience is an exercise in place-making, from decorating a room to finding my place in the broader Oberlin community. And making a room a refuge has been my constant throughout it all; the way I start a semester, the way I end one, a full circle re-and-de-constructing of a space and my place within it.