Spare room

Not long a go the UK government introduced a measure that has come to be referred to as the ‘bedroom tax’. The housing charity Shelter explain the rules as follows:

New housing benefit rules introduced on 1 April 2013 mean you won’t be able to get housing benefit to pay for all of your rent if your home has ‘spare bedrooms’… If you are a council or housing association tenant of working age receiving housing benefit and renting a home that has more bedrooms than you need, your housing benefit will probably be reduced. Pensioners claiming housing benefit will not be affected… Under the new rules, the limit on the number of rooms you can claim for is based on the number of people living in your home. If you have more bedrooms than the rules say you need, you will be treated as ‘under-occupying’ your home. You will get less of your rent paid for by housing benefit.

All sorts of issues have arisen because of the introduction of this new rule, including it highlighting the lack of rented accommodation suitable (in this context) for a single person, i.e. with only one bedroom, and the expectation that all couples need just one bedroom, irrespective of physical problems or health.

However, the purpose of this post is not to discuss the relative merits of this policy (you can read lots more about it elsewhere on the web), it was just the starting point that got me thinking about how much space we actually need…

I have a friend who is a great advocate of ‘tiny homes’ – he and Beauty, his German Shepherd dog, live in a very small space – a single room houses his, bed/sitting space, kitchen and work area. For some years he lived in a van (mobile home) so in comparison the ‘house’ is palatial, but in addition he has lots of land and is able to spend a great deal of time outdoors if he chooses. In addition he doesn’t have a partner.

Filling the space available

Filling the space available

I think Mr Snail and I would drive each other mad if we didn’t have separate spaces to occupy. In theory, our house has three bedrooms (not that we are affected by the bedroom tax as our house is bought and paid for and we don’t get or need any state support to be able to have a roof over our heads), but in practice it has just one. The other two rooms described in the details when we bought the house as ‘bedrooms’ are now office/work space – his and hers, so to speak. There is no room in our house this is not used on a daily basis. I do sometimes hanker for a spare bedroom in which seamlessly to install guests without having to resort to the (comfortable) bed-settee in the living room, but on balance, we make good use of all the space we have with our current arrangement.

The thing that concerns me, however, is that I expand to fill my space… or rather my belongings expand to fill the space available (my personal size is fairly constant, although slightly larger than I would like). Because we live in a bungalow with a relatively large footprint, we also have lots of loft space, which is occupied by more of our belongings. As a result of all this space, I don’t really need to worry about accumulation, but it does concern me as it allows me to gradually collect more and more ‘stuff’. I have got better at not buying things, but it’s still all too easy to accumulate. So, I’ve been inspired by revdarkwater and his blog What I shed today in which he records the things he’s getting rid of – from plants to furniture, from clothes to bits of car – trying to shed something each day. I don’t think I’m up to his achievements (I’m just not ruthless enough), but I am trying to shed something every week. Last week, three pairs of shoes went to the Salvation Army, the week before some books went to the British Heart Foundation shop and this week… well, I haven’t decided yet, but I will find something to shed. My aim is not to send things to landfill, but to find them good homes or alternative uses… what could you shed today?

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  1. John Boshier

     /  May 29, 2014

    I’ve got room for a partner in my tiny home! But you’re right that having access to plenty of outdoor space is good. Beauty reckons she needs more space than I do! Just cramming people together in cramped spaces causes more problems than it solves. I think the need is to design homes that suit people, rather than what happens at present, so that people feel they really belong in whatever space is available. When I designed my tiny home, which is relatively big for such things, I considered making half of it living space, and half workshop. Maybe next time I will. Or maybe I’ll live in a tiny home, and build a huge workshop! It’s all about designing for people’s reasonable needs, rather than mass produced one size fits all solutions.

  2. I could certainly do with some shedding. I have a few things to put on freecycle at the moment.
    Of course with the stuff in the loft space you can use the multiple functions argument with it doubling up as insulation.

  3. I could shed several pairs of perfectly nice shoes I love but am not able to wear any more because of foot pain and inflammation due to peripheral neuropathy and arthritis. I keep them as a sort of talisman, a reminder of what was, but after a year, I feel I should probably let them go… And I should certainly shed a whole lot of business shirts I no longer need. And… oh dear, you’ve started something there. I shall probably spend some quality time with a black bin liner tomorrow!

    • I finally got rid of my work blouses last year, but there’s still plenty in my wardrobe left over from those days of working in an office… I’m just taking it slowly.

  4. I have a pile of books that have been ‘going to the charity shop’ for a few months, so they are definitely the next thing on my shed list!

    • The ones I got rid of were much the same… a pile that had been sitting around for quite a while. Once I decided that I was going to the charity shop, however, it gave me the incentive to add a few more.

  5. Like you I have a tendency to send all my spare books to a Charity shop and mainly if someone likes something I have, unless it’s needed I’m happy to let it go but where my clothes are concerned, and I have far too many, I can’t make myself sort through them, woe betide anyone who goes near my waistcoats.I need some help to be ruthless.
    My second bedroom is where I have my office but also where I usually sleep so visitors can have the double room.Over time I’ve just become used to it.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

  6. My basement could use an overhaul. There unpacked boxes down there from when we moved three years ago and bags of clothes that have been on the way to a thrift store for months.

  7. I’m of two minds about “space” and “stuff”. I don’t think that it’s inherently wrong to have either, but I, myself, don’t want a lot of it because of my nomadic nature. I once lived in an 18 foot motor home that was too big for me, now I live in an 1800 square foot house that’s too small for my husband. Life changes. We make compromises. 🙂

    Anyway, what I mean is, if one can afford to have both space and stuff and utilize both, why deprive them of the right to do so? There’s nothing intrinsically evil in having a larger house or a lot of things, even if only one person (or two people) lives there. That is why people work hard to get paid, so they can have more space/stuff. And if someone doesn’t collect all the things and have the space to put them in, where will all of that stuff go? The footprint is already made. The things people are trying so hard to get rid of are already out there in the world, Wouldn’t you rather they be in someone’s home than filling up the landfills?

    • I agree that space and stuff are not inherently wrong, but our constant march towards increasing consumption of both land and resources is having an adverse impact on the environment of the whole world. My answer is to moderate my consumption… and strive towards some more equality in the world by avoiding products that exploit other people’s lives and land.
      I totally agree that simply sending stuff to landfill is no answer. I am always looking for creative ways to use items that I no longer have a need for whether by giving or selling them to someone who can make use of them or repurposing so that an old object has a new lease of life.

  8. I have to admit that, due to moving around 30-odd times in my 52 years, I learned the art of shedding the unwanted at a relatively early age – although that doesn’t prevent me from having to have a good clear out at least once a year as, even with only two of us in the house, Mr Night Owl and I tend to keep unwanted items, ‘as I might be able to make another use for it!’ – we really do hate having to throw away something that, as you said, might end up in a landfill somewhere 🙂

    With my ‘spare’ room filled up with all the impedimenta of a crochet-a-holic, I excuse myself when I buy more, with the fact that as much goes out the house, in the form of gifts to my family and friends, as there is coming in – it’s amazing how we can forgive ourselves that next hank of yarn, isn’t it? {grin}

  9. John Boshier

     /  May 30, 2014

    I actually own quite a lot of stuff. My personal living stuff will all fit in my tiny home, although it’s not all in there yet! I’ve just built an office in another part of the house, but that’s because I’m working on setting up two businesses, and there’s no reason why a tiny home dweller shouldn’t have a separate business work space. It’s only 8ft 6in x 6ft anyway! I’ve also got a lot of tools that are in my temporary workshop in another part of the house. Then there’s all the building materials, much acquired through Freecycle, that are all over the place. I got a rather nice outside door today! I also own various bits of (mostly Freecycled) furniture for use by lodgers, visitors, and for meetings.

    What I don’t have is a loads of “stuff” I’ll probably never use stored away in spare bedrooms and the loft. When I sold my last house and went travelling, I had a massive clearout. I sorted everything into piles of like stuff. Some piles were disposed of. What I kept was exactly what I needed in my van to live and travel with, and I put into store stuff that I was genuinely attached to, the contents of my workshop, stuff I would need to replace in my next house that was more cost effective to keep, and stuff I thought I might need as soon as I moved into a new house. So there was a point in my life where everything I had was owned for a reason. It would have been worth it even if my life on the road had only lasted a few days, rather than 2.5 years!!!

    Everything I have is temporary at the moment, as it’s part of a bigger housing project, hence using various bits of a house, but I could live in a very comfortable tiny home that was super energy efficient and cosy in the most extreme weather, and very cheap to run. Then have a business office in a small shed, that again I could make very energy efficient, and have a workshop in another shed. Probably all in less space than occupied by most conventional houses. Or I could have one live/work unit containing all of it that is smaller than a conventional house. If I did that, all the clutter of building materials and furniture would become someone else’s problem!

  10. Oh yes, the ongoing discussion. It worries me to see all that stuff in shopping centres and malls, but I admit to hypocrisy because give me an art shop and I will admire everything in it for hours! I have a Zero Growth Policy that sort of works. I decided that for everything that came into the house something would go out. It doesn’t actually reduce the stuff I have, but it makes me more thoughtful about what I have. (Needless to say, I don’t use my policy for books, art materials or plants! 🙂 )

    • I think your Zero Growth Policy is a brilliant way to make ourselves more thoughtful about consumption.

      • It is a good idea, but doesn’t deal with the rest of the stuff in my house. Perhaps I need to change it to a 2:1 policy ~ for one thing that comes in, 2 things have to go out! Thank you for helping me think that one through 🙂 and as usual, the answer is blindingly simple. 😀

  11. I am always taking bags of stuff to our local thrift shop. I swear I rarely buy anything so where does it all come from? I love that you (and your readers) are involved in finding good homes for their stuff,

  12. Shedding everyday becomes an easy habit. It’s 9.59 and I have already earmarked one dress and a pair of old shoes. There are also a number of books I noticed on my shelves yesterday that I know I am not going to read. So they will go to. I read recently that if you hold something and it doesn’t make you light up then it is bringing you down. Clearly there are some essentials (basic cooking/sleeping etc. etc.) But take the book example. If I pick up a book and think “oh wow I really enjoyed that and must go back and have a look through it again” then I’ll keep it. If I pick it up and think “I really ought to try again and see if I can get any futher / I wonder why I bought that / hmm must read that someday” It will gather dust on my shelf, it will make me feel guilty that I haven’t read it and I am stopping somebody else from enjoying it.

    It’s horses for course, some people advocate baby steps on the decluttering front, others (like me) go for the big blitz. Either way, once you have shed most of the stuff you don’t need daily shedding really is quite easy. Good luck 🙂

  13. Oh, dear Dr. Snail of Happiness, thanks for the nod, and what an encouraging discussion is proceeding in these comments! I pale to think of myself as an example, but I fear even more not to share what I’m learning. The best lesson is to keep laughing at myself. Regarding the ways our possessions turn the tables and possess us, it’s worth revisiting George Carlin’s brilliant skewering of “stuff.” Here’s a transcript of one version:


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