Inside a Professional Organizer’s Home: Sharing Spaces with Roommates

Hello Kuzak’s Closet readers, it’s Haleigh from the Kuzak’s Closet organizing team! I currently live with two of my gal pals in a three bedroom/one bathroom apartment and today I’m giving you the inside scoop on how we maintain a harmonious and organized home.

As professional organizers, the most obvious aspect of our job is providing our clients with beautiful, aesthetically pleasing solutions for cluttered and chaotic zones in their houses. Clients come to us looking for perfect ‘Pinterest’ kitchens and closets, and we always give them an instagrammable before and after with sorted, contained, color coordinated spaces. A more challenging aspect of our work that isn’t as apparent in the pictures is the effort we put into creating a system that our client can maintain, and the more uses and users that a space has the more difficult that process can be. Whether it’s a children’s shared homework spot, a kitchen for a family with different dietary restrictions, or any communal storage area used by everyone in the house, sorting and organizing a zone isn’t always as straightforward as putting likes with likes. Often we need to make distinctions about which items are communal and which aren’t, and the way we do this can make a huge impact on the way our clients use that space. Taking the time to do this well can help everyone sharing a space to respect and hold space for each other while maintaining an organized home.  

The importance of delineating shared spaces is even more prevalent in homes shared by roommates rather than a single family. When there are fewer shared items it’s important to make what is shared and what isn’t visually and systematically clear, especially when those items are stored in communal spaces. Going through this process and maintaining these systems will ensure that expectations are clear and everyone feels that their boundaries and possessions are being respected. In this post, I’ll be going through some of the best ways to divide up these communal spaces. 

The first and most important step of this process is establishing expectations for each space that will be shared and making sure those expectations are understood by each person that will be using that space. Factors such as how much storage is available in the space and the users’ preferences on things like privacy and noise level all go into determining what the space will be used for and what will be stored there. An example of this that is often not thought about is communal bathrooms. A couple’s expectations of a shared bathroom probably involves less privacy than siblings sharing a similar space, and would therefore be organized differently.

In the case of three female roommates sharing a bathroom with no storage or counter space, we opted to keep everything that would normally be put in bathroom drawers or cabinets into the closet directly next to the bathroom. This includes everything from toothbrushes and extra toilet paper to hair products and makeup. Each roommate gets one shelf for her items, with the very top shelf used for extra towels, and the very bottom shelf used for backstock toilet paper and first aid items. This solution ensures that the shared space of the bathroom is always clean and tidy (no makeup or hair products left out on the counter) and eliminates many possible issues with sharing that space, like needing to do your hair or makeup while someone else is showering.

Let’s take a closer look…

As with the main shelves in our bathroom closet, usually the easiest way to divide up a communal space is to designate certain areas to each person using it, whether that’s a drawer, a shelf, or an organizing product you use like a bin or divider.  Another place in our home where we used this method is the refrigerator and freezer. We each get one shelf in each space, with drawers and lower shelves for larger items or overflow. The refrigerator door is used for communal items like butter, milk, and condiments. The designation of personal space for each person as well as a specific space for items we don’t mind sharing works really well; instead of saying that all beverages and condiments are communal and leaving grey areas that could cause a dispute, we know that items on the door are up for grabs but items on shelves are not. This means that if I’m planning on using something that might otherwise be communal for a specific recipe or meal, I can place that item on my shelf and know that the boundary will be respected without having to label anything, leave a note, or otherwise communicate with my roommates.

Let’s take a closer look…

One issue that can come up when you divide up a space based on the users instead of just putting like items together is that the space can’t always be used as efficiently as possible. Sometimes dividing up spaces isn’t as straightforward as giving each person one equal zone, and effectively using the space takes a bit more thought and planning. 

An example of this is how we divided up space in our pantry. The cabinet that we store most of our food in is tall, narrow, and fairly deep with six shelves. Instead of one roommate getting the bottom two shelves (both difficult to see to the back of the shelf), one roommate getting the middle two, which are the easiest to see and access, and one getting the top two which are fairly difficult to reach, we each got one mid level shelf for all our most commonly used items.  The more difficult to access shelves we use for items we use less often, bulky items that take up a lot of space but are easy to grab, or back stock items we only access when we run out of something. This solution wouldn’t normally be necessary in a single family kitchen, but the concept is useful in other spaces as well, such as a shared office or homework space.

Let’s take a closer look…

Sometimes physically dividing up a space doesn’t make sense; if the items are distinct enough that they won’t get mixed up then often it works better to allow belongings to commingle in that space. When this is the case, it’s vital to make sure that the boundaries of what is allowed in that space are understood so it won’t become a dumping ground for miscellaneous items. One space in our house that we used this method for is the coat closet by the front door. It’s not a big space, and based on the closets in our bedrooms we use the coat closet in slightly different ways so it wouldn’t make sense to divide it up evenly. Instead we decided that that closet was only to be used for coats, shoes, and bags to keep the space from getting cluttered. 

Let’s take a closer look…

What’s most important to remember when you’re organizing a shared space is first to establish expectations for what categories of items that space is going to hold. This is vital for making sure that it doesn’t become cluttered and that users feel like they and their possessions are being respected in that space. Second, if you’re going to physically divide up a shared area you must establish where the boundaries are and what they mean. This kind of spatial communication will not only maintain the organization of a space but also promote peace and harmony in the home. 

Whether you live with roommates or are back home from college and have to share a bathroom with a sibling, I hope you are able to take away some action items from today’s post. Just remember, it’s never too late to push the reset button.

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