Finding a New Comfort Zone


medium_524314942The SOLD sign is gone. The money is in the bank.  The new owners have moved in. 

I’ve loved my century old brick home perched on hill. The open floor plan. Rooms flooded with light throughout the day.  Deep windows that didn’t need to be draped.  The sometimes joyful, sometimes raucous laughter of neighborhood children. The shaded north-facing garden with its spontaneously-generated masses of tiny grey-green moss flowers alongside my intentional beds of color by the season—daffodils, astilbe, roses, lilies, and phlox. 

IMG_2996I lived there thirteen years, much longer than any place else. It’s where I wrote Sailing Down the Moonbeam and completed several drafts of my forthcoming novel A Fitting Place.  Twice now, coming from town, I have driven right past my new home, heading to the old one out of habit.

And yet, in a way I don’t fully understand, I am glad that house is behind me.

Some of the reasons are obvious. One is a growing resistance to the burdens of a charming but also aging house with a garden that needs constant tending. Another is my desire to travel; I want a place I don’t have to worry about when I’m away. And it seems right and fitting that Kent and I should have “our” home instead of trying to carve out a place for him in “my” home.

Less obvious is the notion of stepping outside your comfort zone, of having to deal with a world that is different and sometimes unsettling.  Since childhood, I’ve consistently strayed beyond the boundaries of whatever situation—good or bad—I happened to be in, in search of new ideas and new experiences.

If you define comfort as places and things that are familiar, I’ve spent most of my life outside my comfort zone.

Perhaps “familiar” is not where my comfort zone lies. Perhaps my comfort zone lies in meeting the challenge of the different and unsettling.  Could it be that my much loved house had become too familiar and it was simply time to move on? 

How do you define your comfort zone?  Do you need to redefine it from time to time?


  1. What a graceful transition you’ve made, Mary, filled with insights on what matters the most to you. I felt that way when I retired from nursing 2 years ago, fearful of letting go of the way I defined myself. It was only after making the transition that I realized how many blessings were in store. We have to let go of who we think we are so we can experience all we can be. Congratulations and wishing you many blessings in your new comfort zone!

    • Thanks, Kathleen. I love your idea of letting go of who are “are” in order to learn what “can be.” Your experience when you left nursing parallels mine when I left New York to go sailing … my identity was completely bound up in “doing” things that other people felt were of value. I wasn’t sure that just “being” had any value. But 30 years of living since then tells me that learning to just “be” is a great thing.

  2. Mary, let me add my warm wishes for happy days in your new comfort zone! It sounds as if you and Ken are making a very comfortable transition and carefully have thought through all the things that could arise and create problems. We have lived in our current home 17 years and I’m so comfortable here, I should say we are comfortable here, that it always seems to me that it will be terribly hard to give up this house with its woods and birds and squirrels and sometimes raccoons. But when the time is right, away we’ll go to a new comfort zone!

    • Sherrey … notwithstanding my comment to Kathleen above, there is a part of me that envies people who have the kind of deep roots that you have. On the plus side, I have friends all over the world. On the downside, there’s a lot of shared history I’ve never experienced. I wouldn’t change my life, but I can most certainly see why people make other choices.

  3. What a wonderful, thought-provoking post. So I’m thinking…

    I don’t believe there is such a thing as a comfort zone for me. (I’ve moved around so much, even live in a foreign country, and still have tendencies toward agoraphobia!) The phrase “There’s no place like home” has literal meaning for me.

    Emily Dickinson on the run in a parallel universe…
    I’ll write that book someday.

    • Lindy … ah, a fellow traveler, literally, if not figuratively!

      I’ve lived in 4 countries, worked (long assignments) in 3 more, and spent at least a week in 17 other countries including Turkey. There is no one as surprised as me that I’ve been in Des Moines for 13 years, and have no plans to leave anytime soon. It’s the first time in my life I haven’t been constantly on the lookout for the exit! I think it goes back to toilet training … even as a small child, I never got used to staying in one spot for very long!

  4. Phyllis Goodman says

    Passing the torch. Your beautiful home with its memories of gardens , friends , and words has good juju. I believe in various energies exist in specific spaces. The next shift at this locale appears to have sensed this was “one of those places”. Time to pass this torch, with a bonus cat included. Good wishes to the next shift.
    I am reluctant to leave comfort. It came to me later in life, and it is precious for that. For me, comfort has a frailty, ready to dissolve without warning. I wonder if others feel this wariness about enjoying comfort. I’ll bet many do.
    Given this awareness, I also am driven to risk the loss of comfort. Staying in comfort seems to miss the point of life.
    Best wishes to Kent and yourself as you travel onwards for more good energy.

    • Phyllis … I resonate with “wariness about enjoying comfort” … in psychobabble terms, my pattern has been to leave a comfortable situation before it got taken away. Which is again why being so willing to stay in Des Moines comes as a surprise to me almost every day.

  5. It was a shock when I realized my comfort zone was the sense of discomfort that comes from not having found that place yet where I’m prepared to settle. Having said that, I came to the Midwest with the intention of creating ‘home.’ But it soon became apparent from my husband’s dissatisfaction with his job that it would be wiser to stay in gypsy mode. The jury is still out on our current situation …

    I wish you much joy in your new home, Mary.

  6. Congratulations Mary, on your transition and on not being bludgeoned by it! Although I grew up in a different town every year I was in school, I’ve lived in my little house on LI, thirty years, come February. Leaving this familiarity, is something I hope I never have to do, as it remains a work in progress. Something I can take some pride in that will last almost as long as my words! While it’s true that life is a journey to be savored, part of that for me is knowing a safe hiding place is always there, waiting… just in case.

    • Hi Richard … I love the idea of work in progress … it makes the familiar house a journey of a different sort. Perhaps part of the problem with my “much loved” house on the hill is that there wasn’t much to do to it any more that represented progress … the garden was mostly weeding, and the house was mostly repair and maintenance. I f I was going to be on a journey, it wasn’t going to be in that house.

  7. Seven years ago I moved from my home of 35 Years.
    I only moved 2 counties over but it felt like the other side of the world.
    I had a new husband a new job and new friends.
    The experience caused anxiety but also sparked my creativity.
    It is finally starting to feel like home.
    Congratulations on your new home Mary and best wishes for many

    • Doreen … thanks for stopping by …. I feel like I’m on the cusp of a whole new way of life. That fact that we can see the horizon from our dinner table has to be a powerful metaphor!

  8. Mary, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. My wife and I have our house for sale. My children grew up here. We have called this house our home for nearly a quarter of a century. Strange, that we call our dwelling a home until, when we we decide to sell, it becomes a house.

    Congratulations for bravely moving on.

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Brian . I so understand that ambiguity about a home vs a house. And you have lived there through illness and recovery as well as children, so the dichotomy must be all the harder. Have you picked the place you are going next or is that still an “adventure yet to come”?

      I think your comment may have inspired my next blog ….