This week’s idea may sound rather radical. I should warn you that I like to make a practice of disruptive thinking. I was always the ‘why?’ child and have yet to shake that ‘why?’ throughout adulthood.
This past week, I have been pondering how vastly different our world would be if every person was allotted no more than 500 square feet of housing. Considering conscious consumption is what led my thoughts to this wondering. I don’t like to think of myself as a consumer, but I am. I try to be intentional. I love to buy art — books and hand-crafted pieces. I often pick up bottles of wine, wedges of cheese, and bars of chocolate. While traveling, I find myself wanting to collect, more than I need or can squeeze into my bag when returning home. I don’t need any of this stuff.
Beyond my individual thoughts, I found a Tiny House Movement that’s gathering speed. This movement features houses between 100 to 400 square feet. So, for this imagination game, let’s add a few feet and move forward with my proposed 500. For many among us, living under the economic poverty level, 500 square feet per person could seem palatial. Some may even initially struggle to fill the space. For the wealthier around, where 5,000 square feet might feel like a targeted norm, the 500 adjustment would be equally monumental in the reverse. If one wanted something new, methods of exchange and recycling would need to replace accumulation. The wealthy could have far more expensive items, but not more items for more’s sake. If one wanted to collect more widely, you would need to loan out your collections. To remain in the spaces we currently inhabit that are larger than the 500 allotment would require inviting others to live together – cooperatively.
Recently, my daughter Carly and I were discussing over consumption and the possibilities for more modest living. We drew conclusions on how living in small spaces would limit one’s concentration on the material world. I have learned from our 1,800 square foot home in Seattle, where we raised Carly, and her foster brother for two years. There was never space to waste. We lived in fewer than 500 square feet per person. We used every room. I believe our limited physical structure brought our small community closer together. When touring castles, seeing photos of the massive homes built for the one percent, and turning the 500 square foot idea over in my mind, I’m reminded of an observation Carly made about township living in South Africa. She noted: ”The people here rely on their community". Her comment resonated with me. Living in close quarters necessitated maintaining mutually beneficial relationships in our household. The same could of course hold true for larger communities. Space, in abundance, can isolate.
Perhaps living in smaller quarters could ultimately bring our larger seemingly sprawled and disintegrated communities closer. If so, what a socially beneficial argument for reducing our ecological footprint. This might never happen, but for me the concept poses an important question that I hope to be asking myself daily: will this fit into my 500 square feet – is this really important and necessary? How much space do you and your family want to use and live in? How might you consume less or share with others? What could you do without?
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