Stuff. Under my stairs collecting dust I have four boxes of books and CDs. I have no idea what’s in the boxes. They’ve been there three years, ever since I packed them up in order to dismantle the bookcase they were on. My plan is to build a new bookcase for them. But if I can’t remember what’s in the boxes do I really need anything that’s in them?
Stuff. I tell you this story because we all cope with stuff— the things that accumulate in our homes. They surround us. They are part of what makes “home” for us. We acquire them from lots of different directions. We buy them, we receive gifts, we inherit from family and friends, we make them. Over a lifetime it can become a lot of stuff.
Stuff is one of the barriers to sharing housing. This is readily apparent at the sharing housing meetup I’ve been running for the past sixteen months. If you are a homeowner and want to have a home-mate, you have to make room for this person. Literally. You need to empty out space for them.
There are homeowners who don’t realize this.
Some homeowners furnish a room with the idea of renting it. This is great for people who want temporary housemates. People who don’t want or need to have their own stuff with them: students, refugees, employees working away from their home base, people in transition, and visitors from overseas. In other words, their need for housing is short-term and they intend to leave at some point in time.
A potential home-mate on the other hand is someone who moves in with the hope and intent that this will be a long-term relationship. Most people want to sleep in their own bed—with their own pillows, sheets, and blankets. It’s a primal comfort. The space that the home-mate pays for as personal space should be empty.Empty allows new home-mates to completely furnish and decorate with their own stuff.
And there’s the rub. Actually emptying a room. What do to with the stuff that’s in it?
Give it away. Sell it. Let it go. As the recyclers say, let someone else love it. Move it to another part of your home.
Easy to say, not so easy to do. It takes emotional energy to sift through things and decide. It takes physical energy to move items. And when there is no deadline and no urgency to get it done, it doesn’t happen.
A method for getting it done comes from Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. She advises us to keep only that which gives us “a spark of joy”—and she means this literally. We hold each item our hands, not look at from a distance. We hold it and sense. Does it make us happy? Give us joy? If not, send it away. Thank it for its service, the pleasure it once gave us and let it go. She also recommends you do this by category in order: out of season clothes, in-season clothes, books, CDs, and finally mementos. It’s worth reading the book to really understand her method. It’s also a fun read.
You might ask a friend to help you work on emptying a room. You might hire an organizer. Having someone there defines the time for the process. Another person helps you with a reality check. You can return the favor for your friend.
Clearing out the space for a home-mate is important work. Perhaps it is also emotional and spiritual work. As you physically clear the space, you are preparing psychic space for having this person in your home.
Remember that the goal is to have a home-mate — a person you like and respect whose way of living is compatible enough with yours that you are comfortable living together. The benefits can be significant. (I wrote a guest post about them, which you can read here.)
When I do build those bookcases, I’m going to be very careful what I put on them. Only what gives me a “spark of joy.”
What about you? Can you clear out space to make room? Do you think you have too much stuff to share housing? Is this a barrier?