[hackerspaces] Members storing their personal stuff...

Steven Sutton ssutton4455 at gmail.com
Fri Nov 22 04:54:41 CET 2013

Here is my experience (in an easy-to-read wall of text!) from cleanups as
Freeside Atlanta -

First of all, I would call this problem Important, but not
In other words, you probably have some people who are very excited about
this (or maybe they've lost their patience with the issue) and want it to
happen as soon as possible. Their enthusiasm will probably set off the
paranoia of another group of people who will want to put on the brakes and
have a conversation about it. Those two groups of people have to be on the
same page if you want to move forward without hard feelings. I would give
it 2-3 months to be fully cleared up (including delayed deadlines, which
I'll get into later).

A third group of people will emerge as you start to implement (~1 month in)
who either weren't paying attention when you were getting ready or didn't
take it seriously. They've got to be in on it to, so you'll have some
delays and concessions for that too. This should be easier if you've got a
consensus among the first two groups as long as the process moves forward
respectfully but on a schedule.

Basically, we isolate member property to member storage wherever possible
and then periodically clean up member storage. It moves in waves so it
isn't a constant enforcement hassle for members or whatever unlucky person
has the job of enforcing storage.

On Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 9:44 PM, Nathaniel Bezanson <myself at telcodata.us>wrote:

> 0. Is there a collection of wisdom on this topic somewhere already? I have
> this feeling that Gui is going to respond with a doc-dump and I'll look
> silly, but I can't find anything already in a few minutes of searching...
> :)

We have all of the Freeside Atlanta policies
<https://wiki.freesideatlanta.org/fs/Policies>up on our wiki. The member
storage policy specifies a storage size and that members can't store stuff
over a certain dimension. They do, and that's okay. Member projects are
allowed to stay in member storage for a "reasonable" amount of time. For
us, reasonable is between cleanups. When it gets too full, we clean it out.

> 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?

Active member projects get temporary storage in the space if they request
it. If they don't want their stuff parted out by an enthusiastic hacker,
they'll label it (this does happen, but only rarely). As for member
storage, there are fewer questions asked there, but the stuff should be

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

Each member gets a storage tote. Stuff that won't fit in there is usually
just okayed by the members and hangs around until a cleanup.

> 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?

Between cleanups. Unless it's something as big as a car. People tend to get
kinda impatient with stuff like that. If it stays on schedule, even that
can be okay though.

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

This is really difficult to enforce. That's why we do this as a cleanup of
the space. That avoids singling people out and in general improves the
condition of the space. If someone can't remove their stuff during the
cleanup, get a deadline from them. Remind them of the deadline and hold
them to it (in one-on-one conversations whenever possible).

> 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?
> After the cleanup, we move unlabeled stuff into the "attic" which is an
area that's tough to get to over member storage. We periodically clear this
area out too, moving this stuff to the recycling shelves. There are a lot
of notifications and emails between these moves.

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

Yes. Only rarely. It took a very long time and a lot of patience, but they
eventually lost that game and left the space. Again, this stuff can't
happen overnight and it's easy to turn members against the enforcing body
if any missteps are made in that process. It becomes a political battle at
that point and the approach changes. Give them enough rope to hang
themselves. Deadlines help.

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

Yes, group projects get a special accommodation. They still got through an
approval process to get allocated the space though. When I say "approval
process," I mean that emails are exchanged on the mailing list and nobody
objects or talks a Director to complain. You may have to live with it
beyond its intended schedule, so upfront consensus keeps it from turning
into tension that spills over into other stuff.

> 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?

We do and they have. We apologized. What else could we do? It is unlikely
that someone will sue, so they don't have much recourse. If you're a
Nonprofit, you have a bit of an upper hand, because a private individual
can't use the resources of a Nonprofit to their own benefit in
These situations should be taken seriously, but only as urgently as would
be best for the organization.

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

We avoid conflict in our space by encouraging assertiveness
<http://www.get.gg/communication.htm>among our members. This is a skill
that is tough to develop, but it is AWESOME once a critical mass of your
membership gets good at it. If somebody is passive about a violation until
they reach their boiling point and then blow up, they won't find much
support and may just burn out. We try to watch for that and structure our
culture to mitigate that. It's working really well so far.

> 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?
> Or current system leverages the fact that we have a lot of space... and
time. Freeside has a lot of space-time. We have Public Space, Member
Storage, The Attic, and The Recycling Shelves. We move stuff from Public to
Member Storage as frequently as we tidy up (twice a week or so). We move
stuff from Member Storage to the Attic about every 3 months. We clear out
the Attic about the same. Recycling goes out once it fills up, but once
stuff is on those shelves it is open for members to take. Each step gets
multiple warnings beforehand and pictures posted on the mailing list. No
scolding, just business as usual.

Our Directors try to keep people from getting on the defensive. We don't
single people out or call them out in public (there have been mistakes
there and we've learned from them). I recommend patience and taking your
time with it.You can adapt all of the policies to the style of culture in
your space, but I think it's pretty universal that this kind of stuff has
to be respectful, assertive, a group effort and systematic.

> Also for context, it might be helpful to understand how large your space
> is and how many members you have (I could just look this up in the wiki but
> it'll be easier to have it in your response!).

Our space is 5,500 square feet and we have 55 members and growing. We're
trying to get all of this stuff figured out so we can keep growing. We'll
have to rebuild and expand Member Storage and increase the frequencies of
cleanups as we grow, I imagine.

Another thing to think about - do your members think of your space as a
place for personal development or a shared workshop? If they think of it as
a shared workshop, could they be competing for space rather than trying to
optimize the shop for cool shit to happen? As hokey and corporate as it is,
that's why "mission statement" conversations are so important - if your
members have different expectations, they'll use the space differently and
not understand the objections of other members. If that hasn't happened
yet, that's a good place to start.

Steven Sutton
President, Freeside Atlanta
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