The downsides of small space living

I’m in favour of living in small spaces – or at least, in spaces that aren’t significantly bigger than you need. I’ve spent the last seven years mostly living in small spaces, and it’s taught me to be disciplined about what I keep and to think carefully about what matters to me.

Small space living is often depicted as an affectation of people with more money than sense, moving into improbably small caravans and tiny dolls’ houses. The reality of living in small spaces is that it is often a direct consequence of poverty. You take what you can afford, not what you need. Yes you can sleep two children in a small bedroom – but you can’t provide them both with quiet, personal study space.

One of the consequences of living in a small space is that you can’t stash things against all eventualities. You may not, for example, have anywhere to put wellington boots for everyone. You may have nowhere to put a snow shovel, or to store things for summertime play and relaxation. You may have nowhere outdoors in which to enjoy those summer things anyway. Spares, extras, foul weather stock-piles – these are the things a small space makes impossible. Most of the time that’s fine, because you can have the things you need most of the time. But, for those times when the extras, spares and emergency kit would have been good, you are more exposed.

Small space living often means that you can’t pick up things on offer. If you don’t have a lot of kitchen space, or a big freezer, then supermarket offers aren’t for you. Opportunities to save money by bulk buying aren’t for you if you’ve nowhere to put things.

At the moment, we’re a three person household in a two bedroom flat, and none of those rooms are large. There is one communal space that is living room, dining room, workspace for me, art studio, and study space. There are many things for which a private and dedicated space are a real advantage – for spiritual practices and meditation, for quiet work and study, and of course for writing. A writing cave, where it’s just you and everyone knows to leave you alone is a real asset. It’s also a luxury I can’t afford.

Small space living is, without a doubt, the greener option. It uses less land, requires less heating, and does not encourage us to own a lot of stuff. If only there were free to use spaces where a person could go to read, or meditate – but those are in short supply. Churches are locked in the day, often. Libraries are closing. It would be easy to live in smaller spaces if we had shared spaces we could use as well. But, we live in a system that is geared to private ownership, and to paying for every way in which we might access public space.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

12 responses to “The downsides of small space living

  • Jen - Liminal Luminous

    yes, I agree with all of this. I especially lament the loss of public quiet spaces. Our library is not a place you can sit quietly and read in, which makes me very sad.

    • Siobhan Johnson

      I was having this exact conversation with my Grandma only yesterday. We moved from a place with a library that had a quiet reading room, free magazines (like 50 different ones) and a coffee machine, to a place where the staff look at you weird for even skimming through a book inside to see if you want it or not. Not only was it a wonderful quiet space, but I’ve noticed that my cash and space has suddenly dwindled now that it’s harder to go, and less to get in this new library.

    • Nimue Brown

      they’re taking on too much of the work that councils can’t afford to hold other spaces for.

  • Readerbythesea

    There’s been a big growth in people storing stuff in lock up rental storage places, which again is ok if you have the cash. It is a problem and the only solution I’ve come up with is storing out of season clothes in vacuum bags that reduces the size and other stuff in stacked plastic boxes which is unsightly. I refuse to get rid of my books though!

  • halfarsedrunner

    I suppose how you view living in a small space is very much a product of whether it was your choice or something imposed out of financial necessity.

    • Nimue Brown

      Yes, absolutely. And if you’ve chosen it the odds are you’ve had time to figure out how best to make it work for you, rather than just being squeezed in somewhere at little notice.

  • Siobhan Johnson

    It isn’t easy living small, but it’s good when you have a community around you and you can borrow things. I’ve heard there’s a few websites where you can borrow stranger’s tools and even cars for a small fee, instead of having to buy and store your own.

    • Nimue Brown

      Yes! I know the transition network is very keen on this. You can save a lot of space and materials by tool sharing.

      • Siobhan Johnson

        I’ve also heard in some very rural places in the US of a similar thing for baby stuff. Like, formal clothes for young children, outdoor shoes for extreme weather, even some more normal clothes that you can rent instead of purchase. Like a library but for baby and toddler stuff. It would be awesome to have more of those, but also maybe a similar one for adults that isn’t just formal wear, like maybe you could rent extreme weather clothes and shoes or like hiking gear.

  • lornasmithers

    I’ve always lived in a single room – whether it’s my room at my parent’s house or a room in a mobile home (I seriously had the tiniest room ever when I worked as a groom in Hertfordshire – literally a bed and wardrobe with barely enough room to walk by) or shared house whilst working with horses. I sleep, study, and do my devotions to my gods in the same room. It’s just something I’ve learnt to live with. I think I’d be lost if I ever had more space which I don’t think it’s likely I’ll ever be able to afford!

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