Client profile: male, on his way to retirement, active cyclist, nature lover, legal background, political activist.
Situation: Two lodgers in the house, sharing kitchen and lounge with them. Each has their own area upstairs.
First impressions: Clear hallway, some clutter in the kitchen, lounge feels cramped and full of stuff.
Initial review of the situation: it became clear quickly that most of the issues were the result of a takeover of the paperwork, magazines, mail, newspapers, and printed materials related to his hobbies and subscriptions. Papers had been piled up and got mixed up with some of his work files as well. A classic ‘take work home’ story for me, then.
The bookshelves were not suited for purpose: my client had a good number of books from paperbacks to large volumes, and these were arranged without making good use of the shelves, with books balancing on top of others, and on piles of paper.
The jumble of stuff in addition to the papers were all my client’s possessions that he had ‘temporarily stored’ in the lounge. He had tried to hide them away in an attempt to keeping the lounge useable for his lodgers, but the general feeling was one of personal space rather than shared space. He confirmed that his lodgers rarely come into this space, although he was clearly unaware that he had ‘claimed this space’ as his own by distributing his personal items around the space.
Goals: 1) find organising solutions for the paper materials (including removing what’s unnecessary), and 2) making the lounge accessible for the lodgers.
Strategy for 1): Paperwork in the kitchen was relocated to the lounge. The kitchen surfaces were then reorganised to suit the shared use of the space. This was the easy and quick part. The lounge was a different issue altogether…
All the papers on the lounge table were moved to the side to make space for sorting, and then the nitty-gritty started: each piece of paper, each letter, magazine, etc. were evaluated first to decide if they stay, and then either placed in the recycling box, or on a specific pile on the table.
Luckily, my client was able to let go of a good volume of papers. Magazines and newsletters were especially prone to removal as they dated back up to 20 years, and the recycling boxes started piling up in the corner quickly. We ran three multi-hour sessions in this way, regularly taking recycling to the containers at the end of the road.
Ultimately, the remaining papers were then gradually organised into several folders, with clear labels and tabs to retrieve any necessary information easily.
The bookshelves proved to be tricky as they were fixed into the alcoves and needed proper handywork to change. First of all, we organised the books by subject AND size, then added some hanging baskets underneath the shelves for future loose paperwork to make use of the empty spaces above the smaller books. This arrangement was meant to keep new papers off the table, and make the bookshelves look more inviting.
Strategy for 2): Dealing with the papers already opened the dinner table for proper use, and removing the piles of paper from around the kitchen and lounge created enough space for all three inhabitants to make use of the spaces without interfering with each other’s personal space too much.
Since I was not invited to work in my client’s personal room upstairs, I couldn’t actively advise to relocate any of the personal items away from the lounge. However, We decided to shift some of the furniture into a more ergonomic space that opened up some proper ‘traffic lanes’, allow for the doors to open fully and no longer block movement. The new arrangement of the furniture allowed for storing some of my client’s personal items out of view, thereby making the space less personal, more inviting for all parties involved to use the space to a larger degree.
Final thoughts: In my experience, this is a fairly typical male client with a good theoretical knowledge, but a lack of practical experience in organising things into a space. I also believe that his behaviour was at least partially guided by the feeling that this is HIS space rather than a shared space – another fully expected result of starting to rent out rooms. He never really accepted that the space was now ‘shared’. I’m hoping that making the space feel less like a ‘personal space’ will have allowed the lodgers to make better use of their shared areas.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.