Two Sides: In Which I Reject Small Space Living

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In this two-part series, I’ll write two separate posts from opposing viewpoints. At issue is the growing trend of micro-homes, spaces 400 square feet and smaller. What do they mean for us? For our environment? For the world? This post is my argument against small spaces and why I personally live in a larger apartment.

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Tiny home blue sky red roof

Today, every inch has a price tag on it. From ever-smalling of cellphones to the embiggening of TVs, it’s all about size.

And what of the rise in “small spaces,” homes as tiny as 210 square feet, meant to contain your whole world in one room?

Sure, some people can survive and even thrive in these spaces, but how realistic is it, and when is bucking the smallness trend better for the individual?

Smaller is better?

There’s something noble about today’s quest for the ever-smaller, more organized, functional space, but it unsettles me as well. Should we want for nothing, be content with only minimal belongings? Is that the only way to be admirable today?

Those who’ve read my work know I strongly advocate of de-cluttering to rid distraction from your life, but the constant “smalling” of homes and lives strikes me as odd, even unhealthy.

The Atlantic Monthly agrees, with experts suggesting these smaller spaces are only appropriate for folks in their 20s. The rest of us, they say, really do need a little more space for a psychologically and physically healthy home.

The goldilocks home syndrome

Too big, too small, just right — we all need what we need. I’ve had my share of small spaces, and I’ve gone up in size. I love efficient homes and a lack of clutter, but I also  livein a nearly 900-square-foot space and would have it no other way.

Much of my last 20 years were spent in spaces under 700 square feet and I always made do.

Oddly, as both an environmentalist and a realist, I believe we need less space. People living in 2,500 to 4,000 square feet strikes me as crazy.

How many square feet per person is really ideal? For whom? There’s no right answer to this question. It’s largely about what’s become the norm. When I was 20, my 450-square-foot pad was perfect for me.

Thy home is thy self

Today I tell myself part of my identity comes via what I own — my large antiques, my extensive books, my well-stocked hobby-chef kitchen. These things represent me. I want a space where I can display them and thus display myself.

I’m not unique in wanting a place that reflects who I am, and it doesn’t mean I’m materialistic. I don’t ever have to buy the newest, biggest, bestest. I have often repurposed and painted furniture to get a few years more use because I see the thing for its purpose not its prettiness. I don’t want more than what I have now. I’m content.

But that doesn’t mean I want to be living in a small, cramped space, making existence a series of choices between what can and can’t fit in my cubbyhole of life.

Space as a status symbol

Have we reached a time when space is at such a premium that only 10% of people can afford it?

I moved from the big city of Vancouver because, there, the answer was “yes”. Cost per square foot was off the charts. It took a minimum wage of $20 an hour just to survive. And that’s if could find a place under $1000 that wasn’t a roach-infested slum.

In New York and other metropolitan hubs like Vancouver, an almost fetishistic worship of the micro loft has risen. They sell the notion of super-cool small spaces where you, in theory, will never want a thing because the thrill of the city sits outside your door. You’ve got 300 square feet and a city that never sleeps.

To me, it feels like a way to suppress people, make them want less. Drink the Kool-aid and be happy little worker drones, living the city life and go out every night blowing the “savings” month afforded by that micro loft, because escaping that cell-sized home is the only way to feel unimprisoned.

A soul needs space to grow

They sell the myth of small-space city-life meaning you’re never alone, you’re never bored, and you never want more than what you’ve got, because the “real” world is just outside your door.

Tell that to artists who need room for their paints, or a tailor who sews, or the hobby chef who cooks massive meals or sells jams at the Farmer’s Market, or the young family who wants to build sofa forts for their two-year-old.

Tell them that space is a wasted commodity in a modern world too packed to sustain it.

Tell them that they don’t need room for the “hobby” that is how they define themselves.

My home, my soul

I work six days a week from home, so my home is my world. Were I working in a 500-square-foot space, let alone a 300 sq-ft home, I’d go squirrelly. I’d feel trapped and stressed. Instead, I have space where I can walk away from my desk. I have a yard. I have tons of natural light.

I don’t just sleep and eat here, expecting my soul to be filled only when I step outside my doors. No. I have a home. A place I feel safe and protected, where I feel I can be myself. I have a big sofa I can fall asleep on at night, a second desk where I can get extracurricular focus and sort through bills, and lots of room to display things I have inherited, saved, and collected, all without feeling cluttered or boxed in.

Less is not more for me

No matter what my social views are on the environment, living with excess, or simplifying, less is not more for me. I don’t live with excess, I just want a few extra feet to pace and putter in.

Space should certainly come at a price. That makes sense. I’m willing to pay more for extra space, but I won’t apologize for having a bigger (but not excessive) home. I don’t think it contradicts my worldview.

If you’re 25 and life’s a big party and you’re just starting out, there’s no reason you can’t make a go of life in a nice small home. I did and I loved it. But when you’re 40 and you want a place in the world, you shouldn’t have to have a family and a dog in order to justify it. To paraphrase Virginia Woolf, we all deserve some room of our own.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.