Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Is living smaller the new living large?

This is the second edition of a Twitter Blog-off, initiated by Paul Anater of Kitchen & Residential Design.

Living Large defined

Firstly, what is the definition of  “living large”? Is it being a trendsetter? Is it being happy with what you have? Is it being green (whatever that means)?

For this discussion, let’s say “living large” means, living responsibly in terms of consumption. Consumption of everything, be it space, carbon footprint, utility usage.

There is small, and there is ridiculous.

Paul links to an article about a couple of grad students who are living in a 127SF space. That is basically a 10’x12′ room. While it isn’t impossible to call such a small space home & a place to lay your head, it’s not practical for everyone. People who work from home, for example. Or families of more than 2.

That being said, I’ve written before about how much we actually need in a home. It occurred to me while staying in a hotel suite for 2 weeks, that I was perfectly comfortable. That suite was about 300SF. Granted, it was inhabited by one – me.  And my belongings – mainly clothes, toiletries and work gear like a laptop & phone.

It’s not the space. It’s the stuff we accumulate.

The 1st real problem is the stuff we accumulate over the years. How many times have you moved & never opened any of the boxes after you settled? I’ve done it. I know many people who’ve done it.

We don’t really need whatever’s in those boxes. But we lug them around like it’s life support. And the bigger the place we live, the more crap we gather. We’re magnets for clutter; the more we have the more we attract. It’s a viscious self perpetuating cycle.  read more >>>>>>

Pub. Come on in!Third Places

The more pervasive problem comes in the form of a social ill, & that is we don’t know how to be communities anymore. The ever expanding square footage for the average home puts distance between neighbors. 2,438 SF is the average home size. That is 8 times larger than that hotel suite I mentioned earlier. Eight times larger!

It’s very easy, especially for introverts, to just rattle around inside a house that size, avoiding people & being isolated. There’s not much daily life incentive to get out, other than the usuals:

  • working,
  • obtaining food,
  • going to the doctor,
  • dropping the kids off at school/soccer/swimming

Anything not related to that list requires driving. Which is fun when you’re 17 & freshly licensed. When you’re 30, not so much. Traffic, & looking for a parking place are chores. They’re a pain in the rear-end, honestly.

So what happens is, we substitute & blur the lines between our need for Third Places and home and/or work. Third Places feed our need for community – even an introvert needs Third Places.

Third Places are where we have a beer after work or on a weekend afternoon. Maybe grab a coffee & read the paper on Sunday morning. Places where there is no expected formal activity, other than to talk with each other about the city, the new store opening up a few blocks over, the music venue, etc. We need to hang out with regulars – and we need to meet new friends. All that happens in Third Places.

Ray Oldenburg: The Great Good Place

Third Places + Smaller Living = the true Living Large

How did I get from a smaller house to talking about Third Places? Well, most homes in a denser urban environment are about 2000 SF, more often, less. The concentration of humanity & mixed use of spaces forces the reduction of living space, and the proliferation of places for people to work, play & socialize.

Socialize, meaning Third Places. There are no genuine walkable Third Places in the ‘burbs. There are strip centers with restaurants, there are community swimming pools, and there are community churches. But there are largely no places to be informal & relaxed & communicative in real time.

I live in a condo in a city that is 1500 SF. There are 2 adults, 2 cats & 2 dogs here. We are very comfortable. Each space has a purpose, & some spaces have more than one purpose. Our kitchen & dining area is integrated with our living room. So we can eat, cook and socialize in one space. Our home office where I work doubles as a guest room.

There are 49 other condos in our building, & an amazingly diverse population. People go barefoot to have wine with the neighbors upstairs. If it rains during our annual picnic, we drag it, grill & all into our parking deck & carry on. The guy across the hall borrows butter & sugar at 9pm on a Sunday. We give a ride to the airport to our neighbor down the hall. It’s an interactive community on a daily basis.

Many days I don’t drive my car at all: I work from home, & I’m close enough to walk to a diner for lunch or dinner, a hardware store for new filters & other odds & ends to keep the house in good working order. There is also a free hybrid bus circulator that runs all day & many late evenings.

Bottom Line

I agree with Paul, that in general, Americans are *not* living smaller. The SF statistic says it all. Do I think we should be living smaller? Yes, I do. I think that anything we can do to be efficient for this planet is what we should be doing.

The trick with a smaller space design is to get someone to design it so it works.  Not just from an internal spatial aspect, but also from the context of what’s around it. At a minimum, it needs to have

  • storage for the things that get used every day;
  • spaces of retreat, to read, sleep, or meditate;
  • small connections to nature, like operable windows, or a spot for a container garden;
  • affordable pricetags, to ensure diversity of population & community;
  • easy access to work, food supply and Third Places.

Other Blog off Participants:

Veronica Miller at Modenus, A Small Life is Good, but Slow Down to enjoy it!
Richard Holdschuh at Concrete Detail, Small is Beautiful but Relativity Rules
Nick Lovelady at Cupboards Kitchen and Bath, Is Small Really Realistic?
Rufus Dogg at Dogwalkblog, DogWalkBlog
Cindy Frewen Wuellner at Urbanverse, Living Large and Small
Saxon Henry at Chair Chick, Chair Chick

10 Responses to “Is living smaller the new living large?”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Becky Shankle, Becky Shankle and Nick @ Cupboards , Veronika Miller. Veronika Miller said: love it, great post RT @ecomod @dogwalkblog @paul_anater @cupboards @concretedetail mine's here http://bit.ly/anBuQb […]

  2. […] Veronika Miller, @modenus Modenus Paul Anater, @paul_anater Kitchen and Residential Design Nick Lovelady @cupboards, Cupboardsonline Richard Holschuh, @concretedetail Concrete Detail Rufus Dogg, @dogwalkblog DogWalkBlog Cindy Frewen Wuellner, @Urbanverse Urbanverse Becky Shankle, @ecomod, Eco-Moderism […]

  3. It’s so true that it’s all the stuff that we collect that necessitates the bigger homes to store it. I’ve downsized five times over the last decade and I feel better each time I do so. Great post; so happy to be a part of the blog-off!

  4. Great points and I love the concept of Third Spaces. I live in a pretty dense urban neighborhood and there’s a pub on the corner that ends being my neighborhood’s Third Space. There’s a coffee shop two blocks away that handles the overflow. I never thought of those shared spaces as anything other than a convenient place to meet up but now that I’m thinking of it, they serve a real need. The abundance of Third Spaces are what make so many European cities such intensely social places. Thanks for giving me a new phrase and concept to wrap my head around!

  5. Saxon – I haven’t moved in more than 10 years, but I do remember past moves when I felt like I lost 50 pounds just by getting rid of STUFF!

    Paul – your neighborhood sounds ideal! Even if you don’t hit the pub to drink, I bet there are plenty who go to grab a bite & a coke & share in the company. You’re right about the European cities, too.

    I went to Amsterdam on business once alone. I’d never been there, much less Europe. I stopped in a pub for a beer at the end of the day, & shared a table with locals. We chatted & bought each other rounds. The conversation was the same as any ordinary crowd in America: work woes, who won the game, weekend plans, etc. It was such a warm & welcoming place, where everyone was on equal footing regardless of what they looked like or wore. I love places like that!

  6. Becky: sounds like a wonderful way to live, the right fit for you and your family. lovely. I too am a big fan of third places. have you read Soja’s book on it? Third Spaces I think may work for work too, so we can downsize offices and minimize commutes. its possibly a whole new way to look at cities and our buildings. Youre right on, we can build community – twitter is perhaps my favorite neighborhood, sure has some cool folks! Cindy @urbanverse

  7. […] Lovelady at Cupboards Kitchen and Bath, Is Small Really Realistic? Becky Shankle at Eco Modernism, Is Living Smaller the New Living Large? Saxon Henry at Chair Chick, Living Small (and Getting […]

  8. Cindy – I haven’t read Soja’s book – do you have a link on Amazon? That’s a good idea, too, about having 3rd places work for offices. On that wiki link above, they touch on that w/ the working in the coffeeshop crowd. What I can’t figure out is why co-working spaces don’t seem to work – from a business standpoint it doesn’t make $, and none of them seem to last more than a few years. What are your thoughts on that?

  9. Becky- Awesome insight on Third Spaces… I must say,it’s a concept that I’ve not really put much thought in to. LOVE learning new things!

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lavina Gaucher, Lavina Gaucher. Lavina Gaucher said: Is living smaller the new living large? http://t.co/JjEu2FG via @AddThis I think the time has come for us to RE-THINK what space means. […]

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