There has been a long trend toward larger homes and more things to put in them, and therefore toward larger closets and storage spaces too.
In many upscale dwellings in the developed world, closets now can be enormous and even rooms in themselves. The use of full basements is common as well, creating the potential to match the entire footprint of a home with stored possessions.
But a new and growing counter-trend is gaining strength, questioning the wisdom and even need of this inherited design and lifestyle trajectory. It asks us to consider the optimal size of our homes, and equally the amount of storage space and storable things in our lives.
The Ethos Of Conscious Vs. Conspicuous Consumption In Action
Central to new thinking about the ideal amount of personal space and storables in our lives is the idea that we will naturally fill the space we have…whether it is intended for daily living or housing possessions that do not fit within the regular scope of our day-to-day lives. This space-filling can be the product of the normal goals and inertia of materialist living, or simply from feeling unsettled with and motivated to act on the presence of significant unused or unclaimed space around us.
Though there is limited research of these potentially life-altering domestic phenomena, anecdotal evidence from portraits of large home life today (see here for an example) suggests that we tend to make a good and happy use of a set maximum amount of space and possessions per person. If we strive or are driven to obtain more things and/or more space, we can regressively and ironically overshoot this natural maximum and reduce total quality of life via our added efforts, however well-intentioned they may be.
If there is an objective optimum and natural circularity involving our space and our stuff – with patterns of choice in one area at least related to and perhaps directly causing unintended patterns in the other – it suggests a need for new thinking and creativity. This re-thinking includes considering the amount and design of space and storage space in our homes, and our choices about what we have and need to store in our lives.
Given this opportunity to explore new home design and lifestyle imperatives, here are some ideas to help you consider and perhaps better master your current and future consumption, storage, and dwelling practices:
> Clothing – the video I have included asks us to consider what life would be like with 33 articles of clothing…an extravagance by historical standards but far less than is typical in the developed world in our time. The quick answer is that life goes on, and that this simple and relatively easy constraint provides new opportunities and motivation for a more engaged and innovative approach to the way we dress and think about our attire each day. A slightly longer answer is that downsizing in this way may also increase our happiness, by encouraging us to better attend to non-material aspects of life (where six of the seven drivers of happiness lie) and by increasing our amount and sense of economic security (which is the seventh happiness driver). The proposed approach – if not to live with 33 articles of clothing then perhaps 66 – is also a happier one for the natural environment. And we have good reason to think that these same effects apply to most or all areas of our modern lives and consumption patterns.
> Furniture & Furnishings – if we can get by, and even may be freer and happier, with 33 or 66 articles of clothing per person, what then is the right amount of furniture and home furnishings for us? Though this question may seem hard to approach at first, it actually can be answered quickly and reliably, if we think back from the essential ways we live and what we need to enable this lifestyle in modern style and comfort. For example, a list of modern lifestyle attributes might include: 1) preparing food, 2) eating, 3) working, 4) non-work tasks & pastimes 5) gathering inside, 6) gathering outside, 7) bathing & toileting, and 8) sleeping. I’ll leave you to consider these lifestyle attributes and their applicability to you, but would suggest that they point to a fairly short list of furniture and furnishings (especially since many items can serve more than one life attribute during the day).
> Other Possessions – given this lifestyle attribute list, I’ll also leave you to consider what other possessions you need to enable a happy and secure modern life. But, excluding transportation, I would like to introduce the idea that they might all fit nicely in a large box or basket.
> Needed Storage Space – with your new double-digit number of clothing items and box or basket of other things for each person, how much storage space do you and your household actually need? Very likely, the answer is about 2 cubic meters (60 cubic feet) per person…perhaps in the form of a double row of hangers (one above the other), some shelving, and a container for your miscellany, each totaling about a meter (3 feet) in length. You might also need a small closet for coats and long garments, depending on your climate and lifestyle.
> Needed Overall Space – as you complete these simple calculations to uncover your true possession and storage needs, you might as well take a minute to consider your overall space needs as well…using your furniture and furnishings list and then adding in your storage space needs. If you do this, you are likely to find that your overall domestic space needs are far less than you might have imagined or at least than is the norm around you…again, potentially freeing you to work less and live more, and perhaps putting home ownership and economic security for your family in easier reach.
I hope this brief introduction to new and more intentional thinking about our possessions, storage needs, and dwelling choices will spur new questioning and ideas in you. Often, the seemingly simple and even mundane topic of storage space is a presumed and inattentive aspect of building design and personal consumption, but is actually an area rich in waiting opportunities to make more transparent and optimal our lifestyle patterns, personal choices, and building and design goals.
As always, I invite your comments on innovative building practices and our many opportunities to promote more functional, natural, and beautiful modern buildings.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of ArchaNatura.
Tell others about ArchaNatura…encourage modern natural design!