Since students at the University were sent home in March, I’ve found that I have had more privacy than I ever could have imagined. I live in a big house with just my parents, older brother and dog, so there is plenty of room for everyone. I can be completely alone in my bedroom or in the basement, which my mom still calls “The Playroom” because of all the games my brothers and I would play down there in that expansive room — knee football, Nerf battles, building forts, ping pong. Having so much space and solitude is nice for awhile, but I think it’s too much space for myself.
At school you are almost never alone. You’re nearly always sharing a space with someone else, whether it’s a dorm room, a floor of a house or some study space on Grounds. I would treasure the moments I had alone in my bedroom when my roommate wasn’t there — not because I didn’t like my roommate, but because I’m an introvert. I can devote only so much time and energy to someone else. That’s why I was so happy to finally have my room when I moved into a house my fourth year after having shared a bedroom with another person for the past three years.
Having my own room on the house’s second floor was nice. I could make it my own space with my own desk, books and all my junk organized into the tiny space. I was proud of having control over my own little private place. Nevertheless, I got tired of it. By spring semester, I had stopped working at my desk, preferring instead to work downstairs in the house’s dining room or living room. My room became simply a place to sleep in and to store my books.
My slow migration downstairs felt natural at first. I couldn’t pinpoint what led me to decide on most nights to stay on the ground floor to study instead of going upstairs to my room. Now that I’m home and shutting myself in the basement for half the day, I understand why this change happened. I felt too confined in my room. It was too small, and there was not enough room for me to spread out my books and notebooks. I needed enough room to make a mess in, and my room was not big enough for that.
Having a roommate forces you to contain your mess. You have to limit all of your stuff to the space demarcated as yours. When you have utter privacy in your own room, your stuff can sprawl out all over the place and no roommate can bug you about taking up too much space. It’s fine to make a space yours, as long as the stuff you allow to occupy that space does not end up everywhere, as if your belongings really own the room and not you.
I have a habit of filling up empty rooms like they are vacuums that need to be occupied by all sorts of stuff like clothes, sports equipment, shoes — the list goes on. Sitting in my basement, it’s clear that my family is also guilty of that need to allow things to accumulate in open space. In other words, we’re almost hoarders.
Here in my basement, I see now that it is too big of a room for just one person. This is a space meant to be filled with people collecting memories, not boxes collecting dust. It may be corny, but it’s true. A small room like the one I have back in Charlottesville is plenty of space for one person. Spending more time downstairs was nice, but it was meant to be a shared space where people could come and go, not a study space just for me.
I think what I’m getting at is that we all need our privacy. We all need our own little worlds where we are the masters and that no one else can claim. But we can get greedy — I know I did. I wanted to claim more space than I really needed, and the result of overextending is that feeling of being stretched out, sprawling so far out that each additional square foot loses more and more meaning.
I also realize that I have the privilege to have so much space to occupy, whereas a lot of families have been forced into cramped homes 24/7. At times this old house’s creaky floors, thin walls and loud dog may make the place seem smaller than it really is. Nevertheless, it’s more than enough space for me.
Zachary Forstot is a Life Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.