Negative owning of space

There’s a great art to energetically owning the space of your home, but what many people don’t realize is that this can be done in a positive or negative way.

Keep Out sign

The positive wayto energetically own space is done consciously, is empowering, and benefits everyone concerned. But there is also negative owning of space, which is mostly unconscious and can have very undesirable consequences.

Negative owning of space

One of the best examples of negative owning of space I have come across was in the home of an American woman who booked me to do a clutter clearing consultation. She had managed to spread clutter through every room of the 3-bedroom house she shared with her husband, covering every inch of floor space except for narrow pathways through it.

At first, I was baffled by why she had done this. The chaos in her home did not reflect at all the capable, intelligent person I could see she was in every other aspect of her life. But by the end of our first session, the true cause of the problem emerged. She had married an Italian man, who she loved dearly, but she had not realized until they set up home together that she had also married all his relatives. They were loud, party-loving people, who thought they could visit at any time of the day or night, enter without even knocking, and treat the place as if it were their own.

This was fine for her husband because it was how he’d been brought up, but it felt like an intolerable invasion of privacy to her. Her way of coping with it was to cover the floor of each room with an array of clutter so that his family would not want to visit at all. She’d done this very gradually and unconsciously, as a form of self-protection. She didn’t like living with the mess, she told me, but it felt like the only way she could keep the relatives out of her home.

Territorial marking

Humans are territorial animals and putting personal possessions in an area is one of the main ways we establish our claim to a particular space. We do this in our homes and workplaces, and other locations we frequent. You can see this in any library, where a person arrives and stakes out their claim to an area by spreading out their books and perhaps putting their jacket on their chair. Or at a conference table, where all the delegates arrive and each has their own defined space with pen, paper, perhaps a glass of water, and so on.

However, when clutter is used to do territorial marking, it’s known as negative owning of space. It establishes ownership, but in such a way that no one can use the space, not even the person defending it. It’s an act of self-sabotage that creates stuckness and pulls the energy of a place down.

As a result of unconsciously using this tactic in her home, this woman’s self-esteem had sunk to an all-time low and her relationship with her husband was in a downward spiral, with fights and arguments nearly every day. She could see it was not going to end well. She needed to do something about it.

The solution, once she had understood the cause, was very simple. It turned out she had never discussed her feelings with her husband so she sat him down, explained how it made her feel when his relatives descended on their home unannounced, and they worked out how to handle it better in future. The core of the problem was not about clutter or their relationship at all but about cultural differences in behaviour between his Italian homeland and where they had made their life together in the US. “When in Rome…” wasn’t working. It needed to be updated to “when in California…”

As soon as this got straightened out between them, she swiftly and easily decluttered and tidied her home, established a room that was uniquely hers where visitors never ventured, and took positive ownership of the space, enjoying her new role as a warm and welcoming hostess to relatives who arrived at agreed times. She told me the family became much more respectful of the space, tidying up after themselves before they left, and she grew to enjoy their visits rather than dread them.

More examples of negative owning of space

After reading this article, as you go about your life, you’re likely to find other examples of negative owning of space that you may not have noticed before.

If you work in an office, go take a peek at the most cluttered desk there is. If the person is a capable worker, their piles of paperwork may be their way of telling their boss they are at peak capacity so please don’t load any more work on to me!

When driving, someone who stays in the outside lane after they have finished overtaking is negatively owning that space, much to the frustration of other drivers held up behind them.

And when parking, it’s not your imagination that many people take longer to exit when they know someone is waiting to take their space!

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2018, updated 2023

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The art of owning space
How to create clutter-free zones in your home

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui, and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must-read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fifth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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5 Responses to Negative owning of space

  1. To clarify my earlier comment, i mean the SMALL three-drawer plastic units, where each drawer is the size of a piece of paper and is 1-2 inches deep. NOT the huge ones that double as chests-of-drawers, LOL!

  2. @Aideen– I myself struggle with paper, as it tends to want to lie in piles rather than being put tidily away. A temporary solution i have found in order to get it off the floor and into a somewhat more organized mess is those three-drawer plastic thingies that are generally sold on the same aisle as the plastic tubs (you know the aisle, i’m sure!). By stacking several of those three-drawer units and labeling each individual drawer with a category, I have been able to speed up my sorting of papers, and then as soon as one drawer is full, i simply shove its contents into a file envelope, label it, and stick it in a file box. Later i’m going to do more culling once i get through it all (I cull as i sort, of course, but i know that’s only the first pass and there is always more to be done) but for now, this has helped me loads. Maybe he might try some of those! 🙂

  3. “And when parking, it’s not your imagination that many people take longer to exit when they know someone is waiting to take their space”.

    Ha ha – this happened to me today (I waited for ages for someone to stop faffing around and exit a space I was waiting for!!!)

  4. Since my husband retired three years, his study has become an impenetrable forest. The floor has become the paper equivalent of the infamous floordrobe, with piles of papers covering the carpet. He insists he is organising them and will get through it all soon but I have seen no change in the past two years. He is completely resistant to strong hints about the necessity of moving this stuff on. It’s his space and his life so I am not interfering but I can see all the signs that he is stuck. Any advice?

    1. Hi Aideen – This is a difficult question to answer because you are the person asking for help with this situation, not your husband, so you are the person who wants change, not him. However, there is some advice I can give you that may help…

      Before helping a partner, the first step is always to do your own clutter clearing. So if you have any paper or other types of clutter to sort through and declutter yourself, I suggest you begin with that. Often this will result in what I call the Clutter Clearing Ripple Effect, which will inspire your husband to do likewise.

      If that doesn’t happen, the best I can suggest is that you ask him if there is a small, unimportant section of paper clutter you can help him to organize, such as tidying up his stationery, collating old magazines, bundling up old receipts, and so on, on the strict understanding that you will not throw anything away without his consent. You will simply collect various categories together and put them in boxes, ready for him to look through when he has time. That may help to get the ball rolling.

      Something else that can be surprisingly effective is to clean and vacuum as much of the space as he will give you access to, lifting up and replacing piles of papers as necessary, and opening windows to let in fresh air. This helps to remove some of the stagnant energy that always accumulates around clutter, which will help him to feel less stuck too.

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