How empty, clean, or messy a space is — usually is correlated with how that person feels about their surroundings.

Even though humans have evolved passed, planting flags to claim territory, we still subliminally claim our surroundings with ‘stuff’.

If I walk into an office space — let’s say this office space has cubicles. I will often see a variety of claimed and unclaimed spaces. It is common to see a cubicle where decor is scarce, with only a couple of post-its slapped onto a bulletin board. It is also common to see a cubicle proudly proclaiming fandom. I know a coworker with every imaginable tchotchke of the Giants proudly displayed in their 6x6 space. And another friend who, apart from office documents, just kept a cup full of plastic forks. The moment I put a picture frame on my desk, I’m making the space more “mine”. It is claimed. A statement that I feel an emotional connection to my space and my environment. I have noticed that the more ‘claim’ someone has in their space, the more emotional ownership they have in their space, and the more likely they will want to stay in their space.

The same friend with the cup of plastic forks, is leaving her job. While the employee with the Giants tchotchkes is working at the same company 13 years and going.

Ranges of Space

I want to start by talking about the ranges of spaces that I’ve noticed.

On one side of the spectrum, is a messy space.

A messy space does not necessarily signal ownership. A messy space can also teeter towards abandonment. Pure lack of care.

In my house, there is a guest room that we rarely use. Over the past couple of years, all unused objects, and unfinished home projects get “temporarily” left here. No one has the heart to clean it out because, well frankly, this is the messy space. Here, in this room that we rarely think about, is where we dispose of the objects we don’t want to think about. It is also the last room we would chose to clean or remodel.

Next, is the used space.

The used space is clean enough to function on a day to day basis. There is a range of used space, most commonly, the “organized chaos”. This simply means, “I know, it looks like a mess. But ask me to find a pair of underwear, and I’ll know where to pull it from.” This doesn’t mean anything other than: I’m comfortable where I am, but I am also hoping no one is looking at my ‘used’ space.

A cleaned, used space is the next level on the space spectrum: a curated space. A curated space is different from an empty space because it is almost never empty.

A curated space means there are intentional details left behind. There are usually traces of thought, movement, and care planted throughout the space. Perhaps a cabinet with books and an added detail to proudly proclaim -this is who I am, here is an example of who I am.

And finally — the empty space. Empty spaces lack detail, curation, and have purposely been left unclaimed and desolate.

Meaning of Empty Space

I’ll start with a disclaimer: not all empty spaces indicate lack of connection. The exception is the contemplated empty spaces. A contemplated space is a slower accumulation of personal objects into an empty space, which may link back to the more meticulous personality. An empty space that anticipates a soon turned curated space. This can be someone’s first “grown-up apartment” they want to invest the time and money to buy some non-IKEA furniture to fill. A space, filled with potential, is the most exciting space of all. While an empty space that stays empty is usually a negative indicator about how someone may feel about their roommate, partner or company.

Empty spaces can be empty because someone is scared to make a statement of themself. Perhaps their larger surrounding is intimidatingly claimed by others. An example can be, using another person’s space and feeling like a guest in someone else’s household. In which case, an empty space is the lack of imprint they leave behind.

Empty spaces can be empty because someone doesn’t feel akin with their surroundings. There is a disconnect and they don’t feel proud enough to say — this is where I represent myself.

  • A lack of ownership in a workplace may be an indicator the employee does not feel comfortable in their office.
  • A lack of ownership in a house, may be an indicator a roommate does not feel comfortable in their home.
  • A lack of ownership on behalf of a partner during their visit, may be an indicator the partner isn’t fully ready to commit. One night stands don’t leave a trace, while a forgotten earring is a reason to come back. The correlation stands consistently even for a workspace or living space.

It is offensive to limit expression in a space because it’s a direct limitation on ‘being’ in a space.

When a company wants to create a “flexible office environment” encouraging their employees to hide their personal belongings, it creates a disconnect from having their own “safe place.”

When a roommate has overpopulated the shared space with their own belongings, it discourages their other roommates to feel like that space is shared at all. Therefore, there is less of a reason to stay.

If a populated space is a reflection of ownership, then an empty space is a lack of ownership.

An empty space is a space without an identity.

A creative who specializes in building simple, human brands.