Meaningful, beautiful, useful

We’ve all heard of time management, but what about space management? Just as with time management, we don’t manage time, just the tasks we operate within it. In space management we don’t necessarily manage the space we occupy but rather the physical artefacts within it. So this might be an article on Spring cleaning or it might be an article about productivity, or something else, you can decide.

In September, while my family and I were on holiday in France, I had a call from a neighbour who said there had been a water leak in our house. She’d managed to turn the mains off at the external water meter, but for water to be spewing out through brickwork at the front of the house something dramatic had happened. It turned out that water from the radiator in the bathroom had leaked, filling the ceiling cavity of the room below, bringing that ceiling down. The room below was my home office.

When we got back, it was a horrible scene. But by some miracle, my books and equipment were undamaged. The ceiling, floor, walls and furniture were destroyed. It was a long and arduous process to clear the room and get it re-built (with delays caused by an indifferent insurance company employing amateurs). We finally got the room back just a few days before Christmas.

So the task of re-populating the room with physical artefacts began. And that’s when the positive aspect of such a disaster became apparent.

When we ‘tidy up’ we usually just shuffle things around. We might get ruthless every once in a while and throw out something if it’s broken, it all depends on where you set your hoard threshold and the values you grew up with. I’m inclined to keep everything. If something’s broken it’ll be kept so I can fix it later. I’ll keep things just in case they may present some unknown future use.

This is why the stuff I took out of my office amounted to a larger collection of stationary than Rymans. I have enough staples and paper clips to last until the sun goes supernova. Then there was box files, papers, magazines, models, executive toys, children’s toys, dozens of Daleks, boxes of computer cables, boxes of audio and video cables, 1000s of CDs, boxes of reams of paper, card and printer cartridges for printers I don’t have.

You can’t gauge your level of artefact value judgement by looking at things in situ and shuffling them round a room. You have to remove them from their habitat to view their value independently. This is what the destruction of the room forced me to do: I had an empty room. There was no way I was going to clutter it up with all that junk.

So what was I going to put back in?

If taking everything out is the first rule, the second is to have a set of criteria with which to judge what to choose to put back in. So I came up with three categories. If an object didn’t meet one of those categories it either went into long-term storage or it was disposed of.

My categories were: an object has to be Meaningful, Beautiful or Useful.

By meaningful I mean that I’d keep things that had personal meaning and significance for me. These are actually few but include my business awards or family photos. Beautiful things include my Matmos lava lamp and a (few) model Daleks. So most things in the new room are useful: my computer, guitar, drum kit, pens, books etc. Even my book collection was subject to the rules. This cut the content of my bookshelves down by half.

The difference between long term storage (i.e. in the attic or some other room) and the bin arrives because we sometimes have to keep things (like accounts papers) and sometimes want to keep things (like Doctor Who annuals 1965 – 2012) but don’t need them on display with easy instant access.

I suggest you give it a go yourself. Don’t wait for circumstances to force your hand. Just as we know that getting control of time management by getting rid of unwanted, unnecessary tasks give you more time, getting rid of unnecessary physical artefacts gives you more space.

But the space it gives is not just more physical space to move around in. The external world is a mirror of the internal world (and vice versa). When you create physical space, you create mental space, space to think. Try it. You’ll find that by blowing the cobwebs from your workspace you’ll be blowing them from your mind, like a fresh Spring breeze.

So perhaps this was about Spring cleaning and productivity after all.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see:


10 comments on “Meaningful, beautiful, useful

  1. Ayd, good article. In the world of business, this process is called “5S”.

    These are:

    In telling your story you covered all except sustain, so keep it up!



  2. So funny (whether it was meant to create a smile, or not!) I was smiling from ear-to-ear reading this and thinking of the synergies. Completely agree that cathartic actions such as this brings significant benefits. (I wish I could do some of this with the wife’s’ ‘stuff’!).

    Worth continuing with this theme with other aspects of your life too and something I share with my clients is to address the routine aspects, one by one, in your life…and alter the behaviour around simple everyday actions that lead to a ‘zombie’ like, mindless existence. I would suggest changing the hand (for men particularly) when shaving, but that would likely lead to bloodshed; but what about when brushing your teeth? Small and bigger changes, forced or by choice can improve your focus, creativity and performance.
    But Ayd, you know this!
    Thanks for another great piece


  3. Oscar Wilde said you should only have beautiful and useful things in your home. I have far too many things that are meaningful. However I will give it a go when I have three rooms redecorated as the result of a leak.


  4. So sorry – I’ve been misquoting this for years and now that we have the wonderful google tool I can check it. It turns out that this is a William Morris quote!

    “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”


    • Good stuff. But if you exclude the meaningful you’d have to eradicate your life’s mementos, family photos and your early works of creation. William Morris may have made pretty wallpaper but it sounds like his life must have been devoid of personality if he took his own advice to heart. Hence why I prefer the work of the other William Morris, Lord Nuffield who invented the British motor industry, employed at one point 70% of Oxford and set up charities and hospitals that still run today. Now there’s an obscure rant for you.


  5. May be a rant but it made me smile! And I quite agree. With 8 (large) boxes of my parents’ life mementos crying out to be sorted and occupying space in my basement since my mother’s last move 3 years ago to the day, I have to agree but it’s no easy task. It reminds me of another quote on the list of things that retired folk should never do: “clear out their basements because someone else will always fill the space”. A teacher told me that pupils should always put a colon or a semi-colon in their essays because the examiner will be so thrilled he’ll give them a pass mark. Friday seems to be as good a day as any for ranting…….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s