A few years ago when Evan and I went to visit our dear friends Julie and Brett, I noticed some of their beautiful books arranged by color on an antique bookshelf. I was smitten. I came home and promptly over-hauled our main three bookshelves by color. Every day, I look at them and enjoy their arrangement, all my favorite fantasy series, 19th century children’s books, and modern fairy tales intermingled with our grad school books. But more than that, I love our color-themed bookshelves because they remind me of being with Julie. And they remind me to relax, to enjoy looking for a book, and to appreciate how my beloved treasures can look well-arranged. I like how it reminds me that what I have can be both functional and beautiful.
Julie and I lived on the same dorm floor our first year of college. Numerous evenings that year, when I was busy taking copious notes on every page of my World History textbook, Julie’s room was abuzz with activity. Julie’s room was the place to be. It was an extension of Julie herself—beautiful, calm, and welcoming. I would often leave my stacks of library books and piles of papers and mosey on down to that little oasis of inviting creativity.
Julie would always greet you as if there was no one else she wanted to see more. Her room was filled with floor lamps casting a warm glow on those white painted cinderblock walls. Bunked beds with colorful duvet covers welcomed people to sit and talk. Damien Rice’s album O would play from her lovely Bose speakers. In place of piles of papers and stacks of library books she had sheet music and pomade arranged artfully. When people stopped by Julie’s, there wasn’t an agenda or a structure. People simply stayed and chatted, relaxing in a beautiful space. It was a space to breath and just be.
In some ways, Julie and I were unlikely friends. I was an introverted, mid-western, public schooled, anxious, history major. Julie was an extroverted, southern, homeschooled, laid back, piano major. But four years after we met she was reading the gospel at my wedding only two weeks before her own. And last year she asked Evan and me to be godparents to one of her and Brett’s precious little twin baby girls. My decade long friendship with Julie is one of my most treasured.
But when we first met, we were young and finding our footing away from home. One of my first clear memories of Julie concerned my pajama pants habit. She told me in the bathroom one morning that my wearing pajama pants to class was not something that fell under her mother’s sound advice to always go to class comfortable but presentable. I was stunned and embarrassed at this blunt bit of southern wisdom. But in Julie’s defense, my habit of showering, putting on make-up, and then putting on clean pajama pants was a bit odd. Incidentally, so was my habit of wearing my keys and id around my neck on a lanyard key chain, and Julie never said a word about that. That task fell to my friend Liz.
But that was my ISTJ for you: practical, pragmatic, and painstakingly methodical. I kept all my papers—I might need them! I read all the pages assigned—I was told to read them! I was clean and modest; what was the problem with cute, plaid pajama pants? I wore my key chain—I was supposed to know where my keys were at all times!
And that was Julie’s ENFP for you: social, spontaneous, and spectacularly expressive. She kept only what she would use. She read what seemed reasonable and interesting to her. She wore elegant but comfortable outfits that could not be confused with sleeping apparel. She kept her keys in her pretty bag—trusting that they’d be there when she needed them.
And I loved that about Julie; she was so much more trusting than I was. Over the years, I have seen Julie angry, sad, and confused, but I have rarely, if ever, seen Julie anxious. She, like many ENFPs, lives very much in the present. It means that she often would be late to our lunch dates, but when she got there, she would be completely focused on our conversation.
These days, I strive to be more present and less anxious. I appreciate my ISTJ tendencies to make lists, take responsibilities seriously, and keep things organized and structured. But, I am also striving to incorporate more grace and beauty and freedom into my life. I am trying to take on less, and to arrange what I have well. In other words, I am trying to arrange more things in my life like Julie’s colored bookshelves.
[* 2017 update:: Since I’ve been introduced to the enneagram (for the best quick introduction to this 9-type personality system try this liturgist podcast), I can see that my type 1 (the reformer/perfectionist) moves in health to Julie’s type 7 (the enthusiast/epicure).]
Those bookshelves are the kind of order I want in my life. I want things to have a place and to be beautiful at the same time. I want a well-curated life. I want to get things done, but I want to consciously choose what goes on that list. I want how it gets done to be intentional. I want my space to be comfortable and presentable, just like Julie’s mom said.
I find that my creativity thrives in this kind of order. I can work better when I have order that combines lists and structure with a beautiful and calm space. When I cultivate ordering my space both to be inviting and functional, I can see more clearly what needs to get done and what I want to make time for.
How do arrange your bookshelves and your to-do lists? What’s important for you these days as you order your space and time?
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