Designing space

With apologies to Marie Kondo

Words by Kristen McKendry

The pandemic lockdown experience was an eye-opener for me, as I’m sure it was for many. Having a household of five adults all working from home roused in me the need for a dedicated home office and art studio, away from noise and people. When my husband and I recently purchased an old church to renovate, I claimed the choir loft as my new private space. No more working on the dining table surrounded by books, laptops, art supplies, and—oh yeah—diners on the other half of the table!

At the thought of having a room all to myself, I gleefully started planning shelving and cupboards to hold ALL of my stuff. Books, my looms, fabric and yarn, musical instruments, yoga mat and desk and chair and reading lamp and—But then my husband suggested that, instead of designing the room to hold everything I owned, I should instead think about what I wanted the room to feel like and how I wanted it to function, and then only put into it whatever contributed to that.

I put on the brakes and gave that some deep thought. I knew instinctively that what I crave is space and light and air, especially after three years of working from home. I need those things more than I need stuff. They lead to creativity and well-being for me. But how to choose what to take and what to eliminate?

Decluttering expert Marie Kondo recommends picking up each of your possessions and asking yourself wether it sparks joy within you. This is probably a great method for clearing out one’s house, but for me, it sounds daunting. It might take a year to go through every item, and I’d likely talk myself into keeping some things I really didn’t want simply because staring at an object can bring up fond memories associated with it. It can also be like trying to turn down that soulful-eyed puppy in the pet-store window (which is how we ended up with Kiai, our German Shepherd mix, but that’s a story for another time).

Instead of going through each possession, what would happen if I just walked into my current work space, picked out my ten favorite or necessary things, whatever came first to mind, and got rid of the rest?

But what about the rest of the stuff? Realistically, if it doesn’t come to mind right away, it probably isn’t high on my list of loved or useful things. If I can’t remember what’s in the closet or the plastic tote, is it really of value to me?

So now I’m not just paring down the art supplies, I’m reconsidering my hobbies and their importance to me. I’m looking not just at space, but pace. I gave away half my fabric and my spinning wheel. I (gulp) weeded out my least-favorite books, I got rid of the two big floor looms, and I’m now having serious debates with myself about whether I really use the remaining table-top loom enough to justify keeping the bulky thing in my precious space. I suspect in the end I’ll be left with a simple desk and chair, a bookcase, a laptop, a box of supplies, and my instruments, with lots of floor space to stretch out and do yoga in. Interestingly, this idea makes me feel I’ve gained something, not lost.

Kristen McKendry

Kristen McKendry is the author of ten novels and a children's book. She has been organizing other people’s lives professionally for thirty-plus years and teaches workshops and seminars on life balance and value-based living.


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