I spent 2 years on a narrowboat, which, when you have three people and a cat, and two of the people work from home, is a very small space indeed. Currently I live in a fairly small flat – a grand and luxurious pad compared to the boat, but still less space than is considered normal for three people and a cat, especially given that two of the people work from home…
I’ve learned a lot from small space living – particularly about what is important to me and what I can do without. I continue to miss having a garden. I have an enduring gratitude for toilets that do not need emptying and water supplies that do not need filling up from a tap. I have a much keener appreciation of reliable electricity and internet, and places to dry wet clothes. I’ve learned to give things away because I can’t keep everything, and I’ve learned to be fussy about what I keep and why.
Small spaces require massive cooperation. Just to get two people working together in the kitchen takes attention. To move people and stuff round in a small space, to share it feasibly – it all takes thought, mutual awareness and care. I’m very glad we’re the sort of household that can do this. We don’t depend on being able to get away from each other.
Smaller spaces make for greener living arrangements – you occupy less ground. Small spaces take less energy to heat, there are fewer spaces to light, the lack of space creates a pressure not to buy stuff. However, there are no two ways about it – this is easier to do if you can afford to pick out the best things to fit the space. Small space living is easier for people who have more money and do it by choice, but more likely to be what happens to people who can’t afford a bigger space and can’t afford to be fussy about furnishings.
There are things you can’t do in a small space. I have no spare room to put up visiting friends, or to rescues anyone in crisis. I can’t have large parties. I can’t host a meeting, or a jamming session, or a rehearsal. I can’t do any large art of craft or DIY projects. I can’t stash things for crafting to any large degree. I depend on borrowing spaces and on more public spaces – pubs and libraries especially. I have good resources in walking distance, but for many people, small space living has a serious social impact.
I look at the vast houses up in the Cotswold hills, and I wonder about what they cost to maintain, heat and light. I wonder how many, or how few people live in them and for how much of the year. It is greener to downsize or share space with more people, but I note that the people who most need to do that are clearly the ones least interested in living a bit more lightly.