21 Dragons

In Search of Wisdom

A New Room

My girlfriend was looking for a new place to stay, but instead of having her rent a room, I convinced her to come stay with me (yeah I know, big life change right?). It meant I had to completely re-design my room, which was really set up for just one to stay and work, not two. I had two main goals for the re-design, which informed everything:

  1. It had to comfortably accommodate the living and working spaces for two.
  2. It had to be as simple as possible, in form and function.

The Old Room

This is what my room looked like prior to the re-design. The wardrobe and single bed were really set up for only one. The main anchor of the room was this bookshelf which took up the most space and attention. Unfortunately, I realized from the beginning that it had to go, it was taking up way too much room and I couldn't maneuver anything new around it.

I also realized that no matter how much I tried, the new room wasn't going to fit everything I already had and still have space left for hers. That meant I had to go through a heavy, nuclear-level de-clutter.

De-cluttering my books took the longest time. I pared down my collection to the ones I absolutely wanted to keep, and these were transferred to a temporary shelf in the living room (it was interesting how few books were really essential and how obvious which ones they were).

The books I chose to let go totaled up to four large bags, which brought me to a dilemma: for a book-lover like me, throwing books away is a heart-breaking waste. Luckily for me I read about a book swap going on in the papers. My girlfriend gamely helped me truck down the heavy bags to the swap, and since the goal was to de-clutter not re-clutter, I didn't bother getting any new books in return.

The New Room

This is what the new room looks like now.

It's a pretty big change, isn't it?

My girlfriend and I looked into doing minor tweaks to the room at first, like simply adding a new single mattress, but we realized early on that approach wasn't going to work. To make the room work for the both of us was going to require a major overhaul.

Our favorite bit of the new room is this open space in front of the desk where nothing exists but a carpet and a bean bag. I was hesitant to leave this space empty when planning out the new look, but when the furniture came and I actually experienced it, I fell in love with it instantly.

The entrance to the room is a little cramp, and there's something refreshing about going through a tight space into a wide, empty opening. It makes me feel free, light and relaxed – I didn't know it at the time, but my girlfriend and I had created a physical pause, a space for us to sit, relax, do nothing, do something, wait, be still, reflect. She's done some handicraft there, we've both read there, and have already enjoyed some movies on the iMac while lounging on the bean bag. The empty space invites us to fill whatever it is we need to fill into it, or to fill nothing into it. And that's as Zen as I'm going to get now.

Lessons Learned

Setting out the design goals right from the start proved invaluable when making decisions, as was focusing on the essential big pieces first and weaving other choices around them.

I knew that the wardrobe and bed were the two most important pieces for the both of us to live comfortably together, and so we fit them in first. That meant much less space for my books and the work table, but those were compromises that just had to be made.

Even though I de-clutter at least once a year, it was still quite surprising how much stuff I kept that I didn't need anymore, and how much I could actually live without when forced to make a choice. The 3 De-Cluttering Boxes strategy still proved useful, and Peter Walsh's quote was a big help whenever I had to decide between keeping something or not (and I had to not keep a lot of things during this re-design):

It’s not about the stuff – it’s about the life you wish to live…It’s important to remember that what you own and where and how you live is a reflection of the person you are. A clutter-free, organized life is about living in a way that helps create your best possible life – happy, stress-free, creative, motivated and enriching. Happiness can’t be found in the quantity of stuff we own, it’s in the quality of relationships that we form. What we own should foster that life, not be a hurdle to it.