Motherhood & Words

I have never had an office in our house, a space where I can write and organize and tack up my lists. There was a section of the basement where I used to work on the computer, but I don’t spend time down there anymore because our desktop computer is so old that it freezes when I try to do anything. It’s not even hooked up to the Internet anymore. (And who wants to sit in the basement breathing radon all day?) So a couple of years ago, I took over the dining room. I piled my books and papers and folders on the sideboard. When I ran out of room there, I began to stack my books and papers on the dining room table. I never thought I would do this. I never thought I would become a stacker because my dad is a stacker, and as a teenager, it drove me crazy: “We shouldn’t have to move eighteen piles of papers to sit down and eat dinner, Dad.”

Unfortunately, stacking is genetic.

But what am I to do? If I move a folder or manuscript or book to the basement, I’ll forget about it, and I can’t forget about my teaching or the revision or writing that review. And if these things are out of sight, they will be forgotten. So this is what the sideboard looks like:

This drives D crazy. (It drives me crazy, too, but I do it anyway.) Six months ago, D suggested we convert the pantry off the kitchen into an office for me. We don’t use the space, except for storing pans and kitchen appliances and the microwave. I loved the idea, but in order to do it, we would have to rearrange the kitchen counters (to make room for the microwave) and, more importantly, clean out the basement to make room for everything else from the pantry. Our basement is a disaster. It’s full of the clutter of our lives: tools and reusable gift bags and winter jackets and an obscene number of plastic toys and large bins of Stella’s old clothes, years of my class prep and books and copies and copies of my manuscript. (Seriously, I must have twelve copies of the damn thing from different stages in the writing process.)

Well, last weekend I went up north to my friend Emily’s parents’ cabin with the girls. I was feeling torn about going because D was home and I hate to leave when he’s actually in town. But Emily lives in Colorado, and she’s only in Minnesota for a few weeks, so we both packed up our kids (Emily has two boys) and drove caravan-style to the Iron Range, our children whining and screaming in our respective cars. Most of the weekend was spent trying to make sure Zoë didn’t maul Emily’s youngest, Henry. (I was successful only some of the time. Poor kid.) The rest of the time was spent trying to minimize the competition between our older kids. (I did it first! Mine is bigger! It’s my turn! She took that toy from me!) Emily and our friend Maureen (who accompanied us, and who I’m sure wondered what she had been thinking) had a little time to hang out and talk when the kids were in bed, but not much.

But the trip allowed for something else: on Sunday afternoon, we arrived home to find a clean basement and an absolutely empty pantry! I was beside myself. That night, we went to Ikea and picked out a desk and chair, and now—I can hardly believe it—I have an office, a very tiny room of my own.

Yesterday, I arranged and tossed and arranged. I successfully de-cluttered the sideboard. And though I still have to go through the piles on the dining room table and the piles in the basement (D didn’t know what to do with these), right now I’m basking in my 3 x 3 office.

I can’t tell you how nice it was to sit at my very own desk and work yesterday while Zoë napped. Was I more productive or was it just my imagination? I would work for a bit, then gaze out the window, checking the progress of the bunny hopping across the yard. Then turn back to the computer. Then get up and make tea. Then sit back down to set up interviews for an article I’m working on.

Here it is:

It doesn’t matter that it’s small. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t have a door. It’s mine.

Posted in


I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. cath c on July 21, 2009 at 4:48 pm


    i'm jealous.

  2. Mary on July 21, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Wow, how wonderful! What a bonus that your office has both a window and wainscoting. I was laughing out loud reading this b/c your description of your basement and the piles describe our house perfectly as well. I've considered posting photos just so the shame of the mess might motivate me. congratulations!

  3. Elizabeth on July 21, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    That's great. I want one. Except our pantry is attached to the washer and dryer, so it wouldn't work. I always think about glassing in the front porch.

    And by the way, I'm a stacker as well. I call it organized clutter.

  4. Leightongirl on July 22, 2009 at 10:19 am

    That is awesome. Bravo. Having a clear desk can definitely help the disordered mind. Oh, I guess I'm speaking to myself here! At any rate, good job clearing yourself a space. That's everything.

  5. Kimberly on July 22, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I love this post! My 'office' is our bedroom (I have a corner, but a window too), but I really love your office! It's perfect 🙂 And if it's all for your you and your writing it can be written off in taxes as a % of the square feet deduction from the mortgage! How sweet of your husband to do that for you!

  6. Rhena on July 23, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    I love seeing other people's workspace — and yours looks so great! Cozy and tidy (well, if you're like me and it sounds like you are — not tidy for long). D is a star for setting that up! (Anyone want to come over to wade through the boxes of my thesis?)

  7. Melissa on July 23, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    It's beautiful!

  8. Mummymania on July 24, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    well done you! and it looks fantastic. i always remember Stephen King saying (that sounds like i know him, but sadly I only read his book On Writing!) where after he published his first couple of books, he bought the big house and in the big hosue was the big room he'd always dreamt of writing in. in the big room he placed a very big desk. and on that desk he did very little writing. he didn't need all that space! i just recently moved house and the attic bedroom (the spare spare room) is my writing room. we put my old kitchen table up there and it sits overlooking the skylight so I can see the mountains as i write, and not the suburbia sprawl below. It is mine. all mine, and it is heaven. I have written several blogs about the need to have a space of my own, and now i have it. so now all i have to figure out is finding the time! well done, and happy writng.

  9. Ines on July 26, 2009 at 9:24 am

    I almost cried reading this post. Congratulations! Kate. How wonderful.

  10. kyra on July 27, 2009 at 8:09 am

    yay! your own space!

  11. Amy on July 27, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    happy for you!

  12. mothersalways on July 27, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Understand exactly what you mean.. I'm green… I have a table but I would like to have MORE space. That space is like my breathing area to do my own stuff, crafts and writing …Enjoy

  13. Amy on July 28, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Congrats on the new space! Amzing how that cahnges the dynamic, isn't it?

    And although I didn't thank you specifically, you were absolutely part of "the Interenet" to which I refered to in my blog post about weaning, here:

    Thanks again,

  14. Patty on July 28, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    nice going! I had to evict my 2 y.o. son from his bedroom to create space for "my" office. (Never mind the mobiles hanging from the ceiling, or the kids books and toys everywhere. There's a desk in here now, not a bed!)
    He's adjusting pretty well to sharing a room w/his sis. And I have lots more time for Facebook. 🙂

  15. kate hopper on July 29, 2009 at 8:43 am

    Thanks, everyone! I love love love it! I feel like a new person with my own little space!

  16. kristenspina on August 2, 2009 at 2:14 am

    It's beautiful!!

  17. The Blue Suitcase on August 3, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Kate, yes! I am sitting right now in my "office," a desk smashed into a tiny hallway in our apartment. And i love it in here. Better than all the bigger offices I ever had.