Me and The Others

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The somewhat tiny flat experiment

Leanne and I both enjoy reading about the tiny home movement. I find something really compelling about the idea of living in a very small, heavily curated space and the videos and pictures all seem very enticing. But I’ll admit that our time in London so far makes me question my commitment to that idea. The core of the experience has been moving from our four bedroom, three full bathroom, California suburban home to our decidedly smaller scale two bedroom, one bath/one toilet flat in London. Mostly I’ve really enjoyed the change. But, as I alluded to in my previous blog entry, when it comes to my writing environment this has been a dramatic change for the worse. Inspired by the Day #3 assignment I’ve been reflecting a bit on why this is so.

The first thing I feel I need to explain is that just looking at the bed/bath numbers doesn’t nearly tell the whole story. At first glance you might expect that it is the missing space that makes the difference: there’s no garage, there’s no patio, there’s no garden shed. But mostly that missing space has made little difference to me. Sure Leanne’s sewing area is now a corner of our living room rather than all the garage, and there are times that hats and hats-yet-to-be are everywhere, but mostly I find it a change for the better; it is quite nice having her in the same space as us in the evenings rather than out on her own behind closed doors.

The next obvious factor is that everything is smaller scale. Every room, every appliance, every closet and drawer. But again, I personally find this largely a change for a better. I have embraced the scaled down curated approach to stuff. I take a closer look at my possessions. I can ask, “will this give me joy?” and then do the necessary when the answer is no. And no regrets.

But the theme today isn’t living, it is writing. And that’s where our cozy comfortable flat is causing me problems.

In California with our (retrospective) excess of space I had the indulgence of an office of my own, with a table of my own. A place I could put my stuff and leave it and come back and find it in the same spot. And then there was the door. I could close it. And that’s what I miss now, in London. The ability to have a bit of space of my own, at home. A place where I know I can go and sit and think and write and work through problems.

This has been a big surprise to me. I agree with quite a bit that Joel says about software, but my experience with shared space for developers vs private offices doesn’t match his. He argues, persuasively, for private offices for developers; my best experiences have been in shared open space. And then I go home and I want to work on a blog entry or the CITCON website and suddenly I find myself seeing his point. Why?

I’m reminded of an experience we had at Agitar where we tried quite a few different seating arrangements. We found we could work well in an open space with 14 desks in a circle, and even when there was conversation across the circle it wasn’t a problem… as long as the conversation was about a problem. If the conversation was technical then it seemed we could monitor the talk and choose to join or not, and yet we didn’t find it distracting. But as soon as someone walked up and asked about a non-work topic — how was your weekend? did you see that show? etc — we had to chase them off. So noise about our common endeavour wasn’t noise and wasn’t a problem. So when I got home and try and work I find all the human activity around me is about something else, and maybe that’s why I find it a problem…

And then I go write this blog entry in a pub.

For the moment I’m out of theories and I’ll I’m left with is observations. These days in the office I’m rarely at my desk, mostly moving from meeting to meeting or conversation to conversation. In the scattered minutes and hours I am at my open space desk I can sit down and work just fine. I go home and struggle to find a productive space. If I’m in the living room then Leanne and the girls want to watch an episode of White Castle. If I’m in the kitchen someone starts a laundry cycle. There are days where everything is quite and peaceful and productive, but it isn’t something that I can count on. But if I take my laptop out to a cafe or pub I can work.

I miss my desk, but considered as a package I prefer the mode of living we have now.

Anyone have some theories to make sense of all of this?


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