What is room enough?

There are limits to how small a place you can live in.  It would be irresponsible of our blog to say – “yeah, free your mind, sell your home, move somewhere too small” (like the tiny house movement does, *ahem*).  Imagine the guilt if we encouraged a family of ten to move into a converted wheelie-bin, and they caught resistant-TB and died.  None of us want to read that obituary in the comments section.

Luckily for all of us, this blog doesn’t have to speculate about what is ‘room enough’.  Experts have already worked it all out.  In the olden days, they deemed a room to be too small if there wasn’t the room to ‘swing a dead cat’ (the earliest surveyors preferred dead cats to tape measures).

Estimated area required to swing a dead cat, courtesy of Shelter
Estimated area required to swing a dead cat, via Shelter

By the 1960s, swinging a dead cat was no longer appropriate, so minimum space standards were created and enforced.  But less than 20 years after introducing these standards for council housing, our forebears elected Margaret Thatcher.  She quickly removed any obligation for councils to build houses that were adequately sized.  Indeed, she  effectively stopped them building anything at all, allowing the private sector to build the nation’s homes, sticking ‘For Sale’ signs on any plasterboard cupboards they could be bothered to build.

So now, British residents live in the smallest homes in Europe, and London is full of under-sized new-build flats (to go with the under-sized house-to-flat conversions).  The effect of overcrowding on children is profound, increasing their risk of meningitis, TB and making it more difficult to learn.  Despite this, it’s thought that 4 in 10 children in London grow up in overcrowded homes.  This has become such a problem that the Greater London Autority Council has come up with a novel solution- setting standards.  See here.

These standards are actually quite admirable- they insist no home should be exclusively north-facing, that they should have some private outdoor space, cycle storage and be built to bear in mind global warming.  The only down-side is that these regulations only apply to homes built with public funding, which means virtually no homes at all.  It’s like my rule that I won’t fly a magic carpet above 50 feet within 5 miles of an airport.

The standards do give us a starting-point to work out how much space one needs, though.   London’s eminent researchers have concluded that we need 10% more space than people from the 1960s (the mods).  There could be a few reasons for that- people have got fatter, we have more possessions, and we expect more.  There is psychology at work, as well as geometry.

b = bedroom, p = people
b = bedroom, p = people


If you’ve been paying attention to our blog, you’ll have noticed that we live in a 700 square foot, 2-storey property, yet the regulations suggest about 800 square feet.  We’re fine with this, honest.  There are key factors that influence whether someone feels their place is too small, which I discuss here. And with those things in mind, here is a list of things make our  place feel reasonable:

  • Outside space – Anything is better for none.  There is lots of evidence that being able to sit outside in your own territory is good for the soul.
  • Be near something green – Not a wheelie bin, but a patch of grass.  If there’s a park, shared garden or any other outdoor space, this can compensate for the lack of outdoor space if you have children.  I spent most of my childhood playing out the front with other kids, we had a back garden, but it wasn’t as important to me.
  • Storage – A link to all the things we have to say about storage will appear here, once that entry is written.  Until then, just blag a friend/relative/neighbour to put anything big in their storage, and keep everything you need up high, on shelves.
  • Kitchen worktops – Having enough kitchen space boils down to having enough worktop, I discovered as we did house-hunting.
  • Minimum standards – If you’re renting, know what is the least your landlord should provide for you.  See Shelter’s guidance here.
  • Light – All those things that make a room feel bigger, like plenty of light and high ceilings, do make a difference.  But a couple of caveats to be aware of – although open-plan kitchens give a large living-space, they also reduce privacy.  Having another room to go to (like a separate kitchen) allows you to have more control your social interactions.  As your children get older, you might want to be in a separate kitchen, and they will need that separation too.  Also, big windows are good, but a small property with massive, exposed, south-facing windows, will get oppresively hot.

If your property is larger than the minimum standards here, then you should have enough space to live in (if you are all able-bodied).  If you feel overcrowded, you just need to either get rid of some stuff, or change your perspective.  If it’s smaller, you’ve got some work to do, check out the rest of the blog, and you can see from our Pinterest some other articles you could find useful.

We always welcome your comments below or please take part in our Facebook group forum here.

Related posts:
The 4 most important things that define if your home is big enough
It’s all in your head

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