What Your Couch Location Says about Your Priorities
If you’re the observant type, when you enter my apartment, you’ll notice that things aren’t where they’re supposed to be. A couch, TV, and bookshelf are squeezed into the 8’x8’ square designated on the floor plan as “dining.” My dining table, on the other hand, usually covered with the paper and computer utensils of the writing trade, resides where the floor plan says “living.” While I don’t mind breaking floor plan rules, I also lament this flip-flopped arrangement because it reflects priorities that aren’t yet where I want them to be.
As a freelance writer, my work is inseparable from the rest of life. Any experience or conversation could be fodder for the next essay, and I can do laundry during my business hours. However, sometimes life and work are unhealthily intertwined. During most of my post-college years, I lived with roommates, which meant that a hardscrabble, work-from-home job put me in a bedroom that doubled as an office. Eking out a living has left true leisure time in short supply, a lack highlighted by the work that surrounded me from sun up to well past sun down.
So while some people dream of replacing their old beater car with a minivan belled-and-whistled sedan or of buying a bigger house with a pool and nice landscaping, all I hoped for was to work outside my bedroom.
I caught a break when my last bedroom/office flooded undramatically (just a few inches of water, no casualties) during Nashville’s historic May 2010 flood. As I moved into my new apartment, I thought I’d finally graduated into the good life. The built-in desk in the corner of my new living room cemented the longed-for move: I could sleep alone now, without Post-It note to-do lists hovering nearby.
Come tax season, financial survival requires a self-employed writer to claim every possible business expense. In order to get credit, office space must be distinct from the rest of the home. Since the built-in desk couldn’t move, I had to sequester that side of my apartment. Thus, the largest portion of my living space is now claimed for work.
While I’m grateful for God’s provision, moving my office to the living room has brought new challenges. For example, as I claimed the keys to this apartment, I excitedly viewed it as a blank canvas for extending hospitality. However, I haven’t painted many masterpieces, in part because my new home isn’t organized around hospitality. It’s organized around tax credits.
Taxes and hospitality don’t have the same interests.
When I invite people over, they essentially enter my office. Only imaginary lines divide kitchen, dining room, and living room. To accommodate, I must clear away in-progress projects from the dining table/overflow desk and attempt to rearrange furniture so more than two people can participate in a given conversation. This isn’t conducive to party-hosting. Instead, it offers physical representation of the fact that work typically outweighs play in my life.
These space restrictions chafe against my desire for a life that’s not dominated by occupation, no matter how much I love the paid work God has given me. Sometimes there are real limitations—such as my present finances—to living the way we want to live. But I still need to pay attention to what my home says about my priorities.
Work is good, but it is not the only thing God asks us to order our days—or our homes—around. My constrictions serve as a metaphor for the challenge of living out equal callings to writing and community building, one which often requires stretches of solitude, and the other which is fed by hospitality. These callings cannot be mutually exclusive, even when having to choose between office space or living room space makes them feel that way. So just as I now hope for a home with a living room, a bedroom, and an office, so I hope for God’s help in organizing life around the callings that earn money as much as the ones that don’t.