A personal space is easiest to declutter from a family point of view. Only one person is concerned in the decision making for this room, and it is up to them to take decisions about their stuff, or not. Normally, nobody else would have to get involved as the personal space only contains items that belong to one person. Sadly, proper personal spaces tend to be rare in shared households: apart from man caves or sewing rooms (pardon my borderline sexism here, I’m hard put to come up with examples), very few proper personal spaces exist. This has a lot to do with the simple fact that space is limited, an initial need of a couple or family to share everything together, or the lack of hobbies requiring a specific room to do it in.
The word “required” gives an insight into the reasons behind the lack of these spaces: they are frowned upon because someone is claiming a particular part of the home as their own rather than sharing it with the rest of the family, which is probably why those few personal spaces I have encountered tend to be controversial to start with. Once that space has been claimed, it tends to be managed and decorated in a way that makes it uninteresting or unpalatable to the rest of the household and thus remains a personal space for the time being.
Think about your own home: if you are not living alone, you’ll likely be hard put to identify a space that is yours, and yours only. Sharing a home does that and I’m not sure if that is such a good thing: I often hear people complain that they do not have a quiet space in the house and I cannot but think this is a lack of personal space within the framework of a family. Yes: kids have their bedroom (which is heavily supervised by their parents) and the parents have a master bedroom (which they share and which is normally not used during the day at all).
Do most of us really have a space to ourselves?
This questions brings us back to the usefulness of the man cave and the sewing room mentioned above. I believe these are really just attempts at creating a space that is just ‘ours’ and everyone else is only endured in that space rather than welcomed into it. While on the surface, these rooms serve a specific purpose (playing/entertaining or making things), the real reason is simpler: it’s about carving out a personal, undisturbed spot in the home. A space only you are responsible for, that is easy to manage (just one decision maker), and that is totally under your control.
Modern society and daily life forces us to share space with a lot of people, day in day out: commuting, working in an office or a shop, being on the work floor with others, doing sports or working out, we rarely get time to ourselves, and we rarely get a chance to decide what our surrounding look and feel like. The easiest place to achieve such a thing is your own home – and believe me: it’s not as simple as it may look at first sight! If you have kids you will be very aware of the number of occasions you had ‘discussions’ with the offspring about the state of their rooms. Think of it as their personal space and encourage them to keep it clean, but not necessarily as organised as you would like it to be. It’s their personal space, after all. Would you enjoy somebody shouting at you all the time to change your own habits?
A shared space is one that serves a function for more than one member of the family, like a living room (for relaxation) or a kitchen (for cooking). However, don’t forget that the same living room might well be used as a room for the kids to hang out and for an adult to read a book at the same time. Both are using the room, but the kids might become too loud for comfort or the adult could be considered a chaperone rather than just someone else in the room. You can see that – even though the room serves a similar function – those functions are not necessarily mutually inclusive.
One step further, the same room might serve a different function for different people at any given time: the kitchen is used to cook food, but the kitchen table also serves as the place for the kids to do homework. Or the garage is used to park the car, but also serve as a storage facility for crafts material for the kids and food reserves for whoever does the cooking. Imagine someone doing taking care of the family finances on the living room table, a second person watching TV and a couple of kids playing twister in the background.
Yes, these are all activities that happen at the same time, of course. What does this have to do with decluttering? Each of these activities brings a separate set of items needed to fulfil that function in that room. If mom decides that the toys are to be stored elsewhere, that will have an impact on the pattern of playtime and the place it happens. If someone does the books on the living room table, it is likely that the bills are piled up somewhere nearby – if that drawer is shifted elsewhere, bookkeeping becomes a little less convenient in the living room.
That brings us back to proper shared spaces which are used by all in the same way. The classic one is the hallway/entrance hall to your home. Not only is this the first thing any visitor gets to see, but also it tends to be used by all members of the household. If there is a place for common rules, this is it. Nobody wants to see everybody else’s stuff lying around pointlessly in the way of their own use of the hallway: bikes stored here will annoy everyone who tries to pass. Shoes dropped at random are no good look either. Anything that is moved from the space someone has left it will be missed by that person and will undoubtedly lead to discussions and potentially a lengthy search action to find again.
Proper decluttering begins BEFORE the mess starts to pile up: by setting proper rules to start with, and regular follow-up on those and follow-through if the rules are broken.
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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.