My housemates and I realized a few weeks ago that our front porch – a glorified cement slab – is a very popular destination for squirrels to discard walnut shells. They pile them up neatly on the edge, in evenly spaced piles. We swept them off one morning in a cleaning frenzy, and by the afternoon, more piles had magically appeared.Instead of trying to sweep them off again, my friend Caroline Robling Griest, decided to buy a bag of peanuts and feed the squirrels.
Our house of eleven women is chaotic in its own wonderful way. Dozens of scattered shoes greet you as you walk in through the front door. Piles of blankets and pillows decorate the couches. Coasters with empty mugs and glasses are strewn about, and we’ve long forgotten who they belonged to. There is almost always someone sitting at the dining room table, working on homework or drinking a cup of tea. Most of the time, the dish rack is bursting at the seams and the fridge is overflowing.
The decorations follow no rhyme or reason. Mounted above the least comfortable armchair is an old sign that reads “Reserved parking for employee of the month.” A framed image of a steam engine adorns the adjacent wall, with the word “train” (all lowercase), underneath. A homemade ghost with black facial features made of felt hangs on our front porch. A variety of houseplants, succulents, mini pumpkins and dried flowers fill in any gaps.
It is amusing to me how we spend so much time and energy decorating the spaces we inhabit, even though we might only get to call them home for a year. We haul carloads of things to and from our various homes, determined to keep our little collection of objects close by, for just a little bit longer.
The word “memento,” after all, originates from a Latin word meaning “remember!” (exclamation mark included). Despite what any extreme minimalist says, I firmly believe that objects are an important part of the human experience. Our things tell visitors who we are in a way that our words couldn’t possibly convey. Our words can hide the truth; our belongings usually can’t.
I have always loved curating spaces. To me, it is a form of witchcraft. I have felt many times that there is no place more sacred than a room of my own, each object and decoration carefully chosen and placed, each with its own purpose. Being in a space that feels like it aligns with the inner workings of my mind is an important self-care and creative practice for me. Yet this year, I am experiencing the creation of space in a new way – I am no longer able to call all the shots.
Eleven college-aged women with majors spanning the entire course catalog make for an eclectic bunch. Yet, in the way I have so often seen women do, we have jumped into this home with open hearts and arms, ready to support and take care of each other.
There is something beautiful about the chaos that we have built together. It is messy and evolving and most importantly—it is ours. No eleven people could ever have the same exact way of living. So instead of insisting that everyone else conform to our own standards, we have decided to buy a bag of peanuts and feed the squirrels. And I wouldn’t trade this pile of walnut shells for the world.