Is it really a compromise to have less living space?

The London property market is getting more and more expensive, so it makes sense that young buyers are finding they need to ‘compromise’ to get their foot on the housing ladder – moving to less popular, less central areas is all part of London’s evolution, and buyers are expecting less and less space as they go further out.  But is having less space really a compromise?

More space costs more to furnish, more to heat, and gives you more room to keep more stuff, while today’s young workforce is trying to minimize all of this.

Are we suffering from Stuffocation?

James Wallman’s book Stuffocation ( describes that, the consumer culture of the west is starting to wane; people are finding that more does not mean better. He looks at this from a range of angles and all the indicators seem to be pointing in the same direction. The new digital generation coming of age now can be viewed from various intellectual perspectives:

  • Political scientists say they have grown up in relative stability and therefore don’t feel the need to hoard material goods
  • Environmentalists will tell you that the threat of global warming has meant a greater consciousness of consumption
  • Psychologists note that earning more and buying more doesn’t equate to happiness
  • Economists also point out that in a world of rising costs and stagnating incomes, most people simply do not have the money to keep buying more stuff
  • Technologists tell us the reason why we are turning away from material goods is, actually, because we can. After all, what’s the point of owning physical books and CDs when you can access them from the cloud?

Whichever angle you favour, it is becoming clear that more stuff in our lives actually causes more stress and unhappiness. It costs money to buy and to house all of these belongings. Living with less is financially, emotionally and ecologically more sustainable. Whether we have had to stop spending or whether we want to, it appears to be increasingly likely that we are entering the post-consumption era. Physical possessions are no longer viewed as clear identifiers of status and happiness.

So the equation of working hard to acquire more stuff doesn’t seem to stack up for many. If you are over 50, this may seem like heresy. If you are under 40 you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about. Those aged between 25 and 35 have grown up in the shadow of global warming and are very much of the digital age. They have also entered the workplace burdened with student debt, and into the headwind of a global economic contraction. If you are young and living in London, this all becomes more acute as you struggle to work, live and play in the Capital. The personal P&L accounts of young workers in London has never been under more strain, as the costs of living and travelling around the city has increased, while wages have failed to keep pace.

Pocket homes – designed for today’s generation

Our CEO Marc loves to quote ‘The Great One’ Wayne Gretsky who said “A good [ice]hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” In this instance, I think he might be right. Pocket was conceived to provide affordable housing for those struggling to live and work in London. Pocket’s compact design was an economic response to land prices and property speculation.

Increasingly though, we meet our customers and they don’t see the size of our flats as a compromise in any way. They perceive them to be perfectly formed for the way they live their lives. They are out and about a lot in the city – working and playing hard. They have never accumulated the belongings of previous generations because they have often had to shift from rental to rental on a yearly basis and why would they accumulate stuff when they have access to their literature and music in the Cloud?

38sq metres of your own home that’s well designed, low cost to run and has everything you need for at least 20% cheaper than the surrounding market is no compromise. It’s how we want to live today. Stuffocation explores the way in which the Facebook generation evaluates their status amongst their peer group. The observation is that unlike older consumers, status is derived less by what you own and more by what you do. The experiences that we have and share, define who we are more than what we buy. In developed urban economies younger generations are being post-consumerists.

“The “Millennials” ….are no longer buying cars like their parents did, and they are choosing to live in small, city centre apartments – which, by nature of their size and location, offer less room for stuff and more for the possibility of experience…..Rather than owning a thing – whether that’s an album, a movie, or a car – they prefer access, through services like Zipcar, Spotify, Rent the Runway, and Netflix. Rather than showing off through physical goods, like previous generations used to, they are expressing their identities and getting status through experiences they can share through social media.”

While a great deal of the research that fed into Wallman’s book came from America, it is increasingly true of London. Technology is the great facilitator but there is something deeper happening here and we need our cities to think more about what is to come.

Do you agree?

With the housing crisis really hurting the people who often power the city economically, socially and culturally, we need to help policy makers understand the realities of the way that young workers want to live today. The Parker Morris space standards were set in a pre-internet age (1980) and created for a world that still revered the nuclear family and many of the planners, politicians and lenders come from that era too. So we need to help them look forward to the way that the next generation wants to live, rather than past ones.

So please leave a comment and help us change the debate around size and expand the horizon to help increase the supply of sustainable housing solutions across London for young, hard working city makers. Let us know what you think of owning a car in London? How many boxes of stuff did you last move into your current rental property? Does your current home work for cyclists? How many cupboards do you need in your kitchen? How many people do you need to fit around your kitchen table? How many wardrobes/chest of drawers do you have/need?

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One thought to “Is it really a compromise to have less living space?”

  1. Since university and moving to London last year, I have found I have cut down on my stuff considerably.

    However, I wouldn’t call myself a hoarder yet I find myself choosing to keep things in case I need them again such as tools. I have to battle with the choice of throwing to save space and keeping just in case. I agree this may be due to the “have more space, use more space” scenario. When it comes down to it, you don’t need that much stuff like you say

    Hidden, miscellaneous storage and kitchen cupboard space is something I have found to be important.

    7 Boxes is all was needed when I moved to a new flat in East London, along with two bikes! Which have to sit in the hallway as I do not trust the communal bike storage which only requires an FB2 key to enter.

    I am looking to buy a place within the next two years with my partner (I’m looking at you Pocket!) And would look for somewhere with flexible space, nothing too constricted yet somewhere that wouldn’t allow too much freedom to unnecessarily clutter.

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