[hackerspaces] Members storing their personal stuff...

Sam Ley sam.ley at gmail.com
Fri Nov 22 04:34:34 CET 2013

This is one of those "every x-space in the world has it" problems, like
people paying rent on time, and landlords being confused about what you do.

The Phoenix Asylum in Boulder has a slightly different model, in that our
memberships all come with some physical space (at least 100 sq. ft.), and
that we only have as many membership slots as we have space. There is also
common area and tools usable by all members, which is theoretically
supposed to stay free of personal projects and junk.

1. Do you allow members to keep their own stuff at the space, at all? If
> not, why not, and what happens to stuff that gets left behind accidentally,
> or deliberately abandoned/donated?

Yes, they can keep as much as they want in their own defined space. When
they leave, the space must be empty, or they don't get their deposit
(~$200) back. Abandoned things are tossed - there is no expectation that it
will be held onto for some future purpose.

> 2. How much storage space does a member get? Is it variable? Based on what
> criteria?

100 sq. ft., though members can buy up to a bit more with a formula that is
public to the group.

> 3. For how long can a member leave stuff in the space? Once they start, is
> it safe to assume that their stuff can remain as long as they remain a
> member?

The space has their name on it - they can use it as long as they are a

> 4. If there's some sort of inactivity or timeout clause, how does that
> work, and who enforces it?

Either they are a member or they aren't, and if they aren't, they have to
remove their items.

> 5. Assuming you require labels on storage spots or labels on stored items,
> how are unlabeled items handled when they turn up in storage? Or items left
> in unlabeled spots?

Here is where we have a problem. There is common "storage", but it is
supposed to be for truly common items, like folding chairs, activity
tables, the speakers we listen to music on, etc. Sometimes shit just
appears in there, like a motorcycle, or a giant bird-cage made out of
forks. You don't want to toss someone's motorcycle or fork-cage, but it
can't just hang around. Usually a slightly grumpy email thread triggers the
item's removal.

> 6. Have you ever had anyone try to actively subvert the limits?

Yes. Not maliciously, but usually by rationalizing the heck out of
something, such as an extremely stretched definition of donation. "Oh well
I meant for EVERYONE to be able to use the giant bird cage made out of
forks." This requires some special care to resolve, and usually involves
people voting on whether something is actually useful to the group or not.

> 7. Are "group projects" by a handful of members given special
> accommodation, beyond what an individual member would get?

This is a tough one too. In certain cases we've allowed it to occupy some
of the common space, but the individuals involved usually need to show that
they are doing their best to keep it out, commit to a time-frame, and get
buy-in from the rest of the members.

> 8. Assuming you have some mechanism to throw out stuff that everyone
> agrees is abandoned, has anyone come back later and whined that their
> precious shit wasn't yours to throw out? How do you handle that?

Also yes. About that damn bird cage, actually. The best way I can think of
is to be specific on the groups communication system (usually email) about
WHAT is getting tossed, WHY it doesn't belong where it is, WHO owns it (if
you know), and WHEN. In the cases where someone has complained, we can
usually show that they had neglected several easy and clear opportunities
to speak up.

9. Is your system so drastically different from what I'm describing that
> the questions don't even apply? Do tell!

While it is true that we are a bit to the side when it comes to the fact
that all memberships are tied to floorspace, perhaps it is something
hackerspaces could implement in miniature - your membership is tied to this
shelf space with your name on it. If it is somewhere else, it isn't going
to last. Knowing that people need to store stuff SOMEWHERE, it makes sense
to just define it clearly from the beginning. Let a mini-economy start
where people who don't need their shelf barter it to others who need more
shelf space.

> 10. Whatever storage system you have right now, is it working? What do you
> see as its main strengths, and main weaknesses? If you could start from a
> clean slate, what would you change?

It "works" in the same way that gardens work - if we stay on top of things,
and resolve problems quickly, then it works well, and no feelings are hurt.
If we get lazy and take a few months off from dealing with issues, then
they spread like weeds, and pulling them out is uncomfortable and

-Sam Ley
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