I picked up an article and some attendant discussions recently about living in small spaces. Apparently new build in the UK is smaller than European averages, with one bedroom flats at perhaps 43 meters square. I did the maths and worked out the boat may be slightly smaller than that, and there are three of us in it. I also gather that in Japan, small living is more prevalent.
There are challenges, let’s be clear. Having more than one person in a small space means next to no personal space. Privacy is at a premium, but not impossible. It calls for constant attention and negotiation, so you really have to get on with the people sharing the small space. We’ve not struggled on this score, although in the depths of winter when it’s wet and grim outside and we’re all fidgety, it isn’t always a joy. Laundry and wet clothes are the biggest practical problem. Again, not insurmountable. I now have little lines strung up over the sink and draining board for when the waterproof outers get soaked. Dealing with wet clothes in a small space is not entertaining, but again, wholly possible. The person with a car probably wouldn’t face this one as much.
We had to give up all sorts of things to downsize. We have to be very disciplined about buying new stuff. Actually I like this, I like living lightly and not feeling weighted down by possessions. There’s less to clean, tidy and maintain, too. Every prospective purchase has to be considered. Where is it going to live? Is something else going to have to move out, and if so, what? It makes us focus on what we value and use most. It also discourages people buying us (and especially the child) anything that is both large and useless. Another win.
There is no way we can have dinner parties. I’m fine with that, I feel no lack. We meet people other places. No frantic pre-visitor tidying up, we just go to the pub. Splendid. We don’t end up with hordes of other people’s children coming to visit. This is fine too. We go to spaces where children can rampage. I do not worry about breakages, or children getting into things they should not. More win.
Large spaces are an invitation to accumulate stuff, (Been there, done that) most of the stuff is barely used, not even necessarily wanted, but it grows to fill the available space. The smaller the space, the less you let it do that. Unlike a lot of people I know, I don’t have an attic, garage or spare rom stuffed with unwanted things I can’t let go of. This is another win. Large spaces are also an invitation to stay in while your small space encourages going out. There’s a lot of space outside. Most of the time I’ve not felt cramped in the boat, because of what’s outside the windows. There’s a lot of space outside, and in nice weather, I can sit in it, and work. My ‘office’ for writing this afternoon will be under the willows. I can also use libraries, cafes, and other public spaces. I’ve felt more cooped up in houses than ever I have on the boat.
Then there’s the cost and environmental aspects. Often we only need one light in the evening, and the heating is much reduced. More space equals more lights and more heating needed. Bigger properties occupy more land, and that does have a direct environmental impact. Think how much soil is taken out of natural use in order to support all those bedrooms and garages stacked with unwanted junk. Smaller spaces take less cleaning and therefore use fewer cleaning products. Less carpet is required. Fewer cans of paint will be deployed in decorating, and on it goes. A smaller space means less consumption, continually, saving money and keeping you greener. Furthermore it will have been cheaper to buy or rent than a big space. And that saved money will enable you to get out and do more interesting things somewhere else.
I’m conscious that anyone with mobility issues may need a bit more space to get around. That’s a different sort of issue. Some working from home options require more storage space and work area than we do – again I’d not argue with that. However, having space so that you can have more junk, and as an antidote to not being able to relate very well to the people you ostensibly live with… not so clever. Small spaces call for interesting skills, managing possessions, accumulation, and human relationships. I can really recommend it as a learning experience. There’s so much to be gained from finding out what you actually need, and what’s just weighing you down. It’s easier than you might imagine, and more fun.