I got back to university yesterday, and I am all unpacked. I find the process of packing up to leave quite stressful, and the journey with all my accumulated life-stuff even more so, but unpacking again, unfurling all my books and clothes and trinkets into my room, my space that has been cleared out, is a really grounding and therapeutic experience at the beginning of every term.
I like getting all my books out and lining them up along the shelf by my desk. No matter how heavy they were to carry, and how annoyed I may have been at myself for lugging them all home only to not manage to read them all, and have to bring them back again, I like lining them up. I like getting my face up close to their spines and figuring out if this one is just a little taller than that one, arranging in height order but trying to schematise them in other ways that make sense too. Height is the most important consideration, width second to that. Books go tallest to shortest, and widest to narrowest too. If possible within this carefully organised slope, works by the same author or on similar themes will be grouped together: this term, the beginning of my final ever term, I have managed to stack in order of exam topics as well as height, and so there was an immediate bit of satisfaction there.
I really like laying out all my toiletries and make-up round my sink, in the little nook in my room, the nook with its own door and the brassy coat-peg for my towels and my fluffy dressing gown, like a teeny bathroom-come-dresser. I like positioning things extremely exact distances apart, in very precise locations, even though they are things I use all the time and will pick up and put down and joggle around soon enough. I like putting everything in reach so I can range round the sink when I’m doing my daily morning routine, the first thing I’ll do most days, the way I’ll start my day, whatever kind of a day it might shape up to be. Getting back to uni, I’ll always have a new toothbrush too, and I’ll enjoy opening the packaging and laying it out ready to use when I’m getting clean and comfy and soft and calm for sleep on my first night.
I particularly like decorating my pinboard. I’ve got a really big one this year, and it is one of the loveliest things in my room. Decorating it at the beginning of terms is a bit of a labour of love, and it’s become quite important to me that I can do it on my first day back, before I go to bed in the room. If I don’t have time or don’t get the chance it doesn’t actually make a difference – I’m fine. But the room manages to feel a bit sterile, a bit impersonal with the big grey pinboard looming functionally at me, a fire notice or two affixed to it with mismatched pins. When it’s covered in my things, the room feels a lot more like my room. I spend too much time judging the spaces and overlaps between items. The pinboard is a bit like a mind-map of lovely little objects and slips of paper I’ve acquired. I like buying pretty coloured or novelty pins for my pinboard. I like sifting through my box of cards and tickets and polaroids, and coils of ribbon and origami stars my friend made a bunch of for me that time, and picking what old favourites stay on the board, and what is going to get swapped out for a while, replaced with the most recent holiday souvenirs or a gorgeous postcard found at the last gallery I went to. Often, when buying a birthday card or a pick-me-up for someone else, I will buy myself a little message for my pinboard too. This term, in my final term, in perhaps my most stressful term, in the most important term, I will finally get round to printing off some pictures of my cats, for when I’m missing them.
Decorating my pinboard is something that is easy to do while prancing around to music, when all the rest of the unpacking is done, when the heavy bags and boxes have been lifted, and the clothes have been folded, and the bed’s been made. It hits a pretty sweet spot between mundane and creative, methodical but a chance to match colours and fill gaps and think about what motivates me. Like all the other elements of settling back in to my university room, it’s part of establishing the space as somewhere that is mine, somewhere that I live, as well as study. It makes this a space that I am supposed to be comfortable in, a place I can come back to and be and rest.
And as well as making things less plain and more pretty, less functional and more decorative, more like me, making my room more of a hodge-podge of all the things I like and care about, decorating the pinboard is a chance to pause and remember where and when I got the things I’m pinning up. It’s a chance to be positive about this place, and this space (and my place, my space in it all). And I get to choose what memories I’ll be looking at for the next two months, when I’m off in a daydream daze, bored, or tired, or upset, or disenchanted with it all.
However the terms have shaped up to be, in all their variety, and all of the dramatic changes that have happened while I’ve been here, I am so glad that I still manage to feel hopeful, to feel happy, while turning my empty room into a blanketed, throw-pillowed little nest.