Picture yourself in the public bathroom of your office building, or local shopping centre, or library, or cinema, or wherever it is that you go to the toilet when you’re not at home.
Do you have a stall you always go for? Maybe it’s the first one you come to, or maybe you’ve put a bit more thought into it and have chosen the one you think gets the least use (third along, is my advice).
How about the basin – do you always pick the same one over the others? Because it’s your tap, right?
We humans are pretty funny creatures, when even a toilet and a tap at our workplace or mall can become ‘ours’.
Of course, the phenomenon stretches beyond bathroom stalls. Students will return, unprompted, to the same seats every lesson. We do it in conference rooms, churches and cafes, and even roll out our yoga mat on the same patch of floor at the gym each week.
I thought it had something to do with habit, that handy unconscious elimination of choice that frees our brain up to think of other things. No one wants to make those tedious sorts of decisions afresh each time – we just automatically head to the same spot we went last time. Problem solved.
But apparently there’s something else at stake. Making sure we have our own space – especially in a competitive environment like a classroom – is an expression of environmental psychology known as “territorialism”. It’s a spatial organising mechanism that makes us feel comfortable and in control in a shared area.
It’s why hot desking is such a laughable failure in most offices.
So I sit in my seat, you sit in yours, no dramas. Of course, when someone comes along who didn’t get the memo, conflict can arise. A reshuffling of positions must occur, probably accompanied by some dirty looks.
We’re really just animals: like my cats, who have divvied up their sleeping zones in the laundry, or my dog who pees on every bush between our house and the shops. We like our own space and we want people to acknowledge it.
Just be glad we only mark our territory with a coat or a bag.