I don’t have a couch in my living room. Last year, over the course of several months, my husband I decided that we want to get rid of our couch. (You can read more about this here.)
We didn’t really intend to get rid of our couch. It just happened. But it’s not surprising that it happened. This is not the first time I’ve played with space in unusual ways.
When I was a middle and high school teacher before I went back to grad school, I frequently noticed how the arrangement of my classroom could encourage or discourage creativity and thought.
One morning before school started, I thought, “This classroom feels cramped. We need more space.” Struck with inspiration, I quickly emptied my desk of all its contents, shoving them into a nearby cabinet until I could sort them later. When a couple of early bird students arrived, I had them help me drag my desk into an out-of-the way corner in the hallway.
With that clunky desk gone, I was delighted to see new, beautiful space and possibility in my classroom. Over the next week, I created several learning centers in the space one monopolized by my desk. There was a center where students could listen to Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes stories on CD.
There was another center full of coloring crayons, pens, and historical and literary coloring books from Dover.
I created a reading nook filled with books and cozy bug beanbags. And I brought my old camp guitar from home and set it up on a stand in the corner. When students finished their assignments early, they could take it out into the hall and teach themselves how to play guitar.
These centers brought my middle school students to life, and I loved watching their curiosity and creativity blossom over the next few weeks.
As an educator, it has always struck me as weird that we are so eager to encourage playfulness, exploration, and movement in little children. And then once children hit middle school, we increasingly confine them. We make them sit more. We take away their recess. We permit fewer and fewer times of unstructured movement and play.
(For the record, I had both recess and nap time for my middle and high school students because they obviously needed it. We sometimes had snack time, too. They were a lot happier and more thoughtful and creative after recess and naps).
This play attenuation continues apace into adulthood.
It’s weird and illogical that we do this. We understand that it is important for young kids to play, explore, and move. Such adventures help students develop confidence, autonomy, creativity, and intelligence. You can read more about this here and here.
Why would we imagine that older students and adults no longer need these types of adventures? Do we think they have fully developed their confidence, autonomy, creativity, and intelligence? If we do believe this, we are sorely mistaken. These are skills that we need to practice and develop our whole life. In fact, if we stop practicing these skills, we lose them.
Playfulness, exploration, and movement are just as necessary, if not more so, for adults. I know it. I think you do, too.
This brings me back to my couch.
I got rid of my couch because it was clunky and taking up too much space in my living room. I didn’t have space to play, to explore, and to move. It was cramping my ability to think. My husband felt this way, too.
And that’s why we got rid of it. It has been over a year now since we got rid of our couch, and here are some cool things that have happened.
One: I am stronger–I get up and down off the floor all the time now, and because of that my legs, arms, and stomach are stronger.
Two: I have more space to play—I have a lot more space in my living room that I can fill with movement. I like to do yoga, ballet, and pilates in it. Sometimes I hula hoop in it. And sometimes I jump on my trampoline.
And sometimes my kitty sleeps on my trampoline.
We also have kettle bells and parallette bars to play with.
John always inspires me with his innovative movement and playfulness.
I tend to think of my living room more now as a place to move and play than to sit. What would it look like, I often wonder, if we transformed all of our spaces into spaces for play?
Three: I have been incorporating more movement into other areas of my life.
I moved our dishes to a lower cabinet so that I must squat to get them. Doing this movement frequently has made me more agile and flexible.
I have also been using a standing desk more, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
For some reason, I grade papers more easily when I am watching old movies I’ve seen a gazillion times. So, this is a makeshift standing desk I created the other day to help me do just that.
I still sit a lot when I work, but I like to stand, too, and I notice that I often feel more energetic and creative when I do this.
I also started climbing trees again because “Why not?”
Four: I have more space to paint.
I draw and paint at my office desk a lot, but I also like to spread out my paints in the living room. Painting in my living room has a different feel than painting in my office. I like both places, but it is fun to experiment with how the different spaces for painting affect my mood and creativity.
Jax likes to help me paint.
Five: I feel more confident, and I look at myself differently.
Getting rid of my couch didn’t make me a completely different person, but it did make me more confident and adventurous. Before I got rid of my couch, I never really thought of myself as a person who would do such a thing. In fact, if you had told me several years ago about people who lived without couches or with minimal furniture, I would have thought it was weird and eccentric.
Now that I have become one of those “weird, eccentric” people, it gives me more confidence and adventurous. I wonder what other weird, eccentric, and adventurous things I can do.
Six: It helps me remember that I can change things.
Who decided everyone should have couches in their living rooms? Who decided we should sit at desks when we work? Who decided that things like play and recess aren’t for adults and that adults must constantly work and have very little time for play, exploration, and movement?
We have decided these things collectively together.
I increasingly understand that the way things are in our society and political life aren’t immutable facts about existence–like gravity or the laws of thermodynamics.
They are the result of social and political decisions we make together, either consciously or unconsciously.
Please note that I don’t care about whether you have a couch in your house or not. Couches are fine. I’ll probably get one again someday.* What I do care about is if you and I have time to rest and play. What I care about is if our personal and political spaces help us feel more alive and powerful or if they crush our creativity and potential.
Of course, everyone must decide these things about their personal space, but our political space is where we make these decision together.
Did you know that U.S. workers have fewer vacation days than almost any other developed nation? You can read about this in Forbes here.
Did you know that the average CEO pay has increased astronomically since 1978? Did you know that CE0s now earn 278 times the salary of the average worker and that the average worker’s wages have increased very little in this same time period? (You can read more about this here.)
Did you know that overall happiness in the U.S. has been on the decline for some time and trails far behind many other developed countries despite the fact that we are one of the richest and most powerful nations on the earth? You can read more about this here and here.
Did you know that the health of U.S. citizens is on the decline? You can read more about this here.
What do these facts have in common? Well, they suggest (among other things) that we have made collective decisions as a nation about how much workers and bosses get payed; about minimum wage; about how much vacation time workplaces must guarantee for their workers; about how much we value the average worker.
These decisions have resulted in, among other things, social conditions in which we work constantly and have increasingly less time to rest, play, and spend time with our loved ones. They have resulted in a culture in which we increasingly value money over people, and our work and social conditions make it difficult to make different decisions.
This affects our health. The American Psychological Association has written about this.
It may seem odd to write about such political matters in conjunction to getting rid of a couch, but getting rid of my couch has made me think about these issues in a different way. The purpose my house and the space in it is to serve me, my husband, and the people we love and entertain in it. We don’t exist for the sake of our house or couch.
In the same way, we don’t exist for the sake of society. Society exists to serve all of us, not the other way around.
Imagine a society that values people over money and possessions and that reflects such values in our work conditions and laws governing them. (Certainly some work environments are already making decisions like this.)
Imagine a society that expects that jobs compensate workers adequately and give them time to rest and play. What new things could we invent? What problems could we solve? What relationships could we build? What life-giving traditions and customs could we cultivate?
Other countries have created such a society. Why can’t we?
If we find our ability to play, move, explore, rest, create, love, and think increasingly squeezed out in society…perhaps it is time to get rid of the couch.
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*I’ve realized that sometimes our couch-less living situation can be inconvenient for guests, although sometimes it can be fun, too. One time we had friends for dinner, and we ate our dinner, sitting on on the floor and reclining on pillows.
I am certain we will get a couch again. We’ll probably still sit on the floor a lot and have the couch for when guests come over.