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New Year Solutions: Space

January 2019 by Georgia Gage

We are writing a review of Jo Fidgen’s podcast on BBC 4 of New Year Solutions in which Joe “tackles the ways in which ordinary people can make a difference”. Episode 1 tackles meat and you can listen to it here.


We have a lot of stuff. That dusty stuff in the cupboard under the stairs, the sticky greasy stuff on top of kitchen cupboards, the crumpled moth-eaten stuff at the back of your wardrobe. Stuff we have forgotten we owned, taking up space we would love to have back. In this episode, Jo investigates stuff and space, “getting rid of one and getting better at using the other”.

Jo meets architect and professor of sustainable urbanism Irena Bauman.

“It is so liberating to declutter. Walk around the house and think, what in the house do you actually need? It’ll be a handful of things you can fit on the dinner table.”

Most of us strive to live in places with space and to gain valuable and meaningful possessions yet we end up filling these spaces with possessions that have no use to us and no meaning. Irena shares a concept from Japanese culture, if you don’t touch something or look after it in 6 months, you should get rid of it.

What does this apply to in your house? Old suitcases with broken zips, bed linen, clothing you never liked, Christmas presents from another decade and pots and pans with wobbly handles.

What does this have to do with climate change huh?

Freeing yourself of a miscellaneous kitchen appliance and global warming – it’s a little hard to see the connection. Decluttering helps us think about what we actually need. What we actually need is almost certainly less than we think. If we can create more space we can live in less space and this, we learn, is very important.

Too many of us live in homes that are too big, and big homes are costly to our planet. They require more energy to heat and light, more services to build and maintain and more products to furnish. The more space we require the less space there is for nature. Everybody loves nature and so does the planet; plants and trees absorb Co2 – what luck! It is only fair we share our planet with the other 11 million living species – don’t you think?

It is clear we need to downsize and we need to live in a more compact fashion. Could you be persuaded to swap your splendorous Victorian terraced home for a little snug in a high-rise? For a nation that worships Grand Designs and continually strives to own bigger and better homes, perhaps we’re not in the mood for downsizing. Well, we may soon have no choice.

“It is difficult”, says Dr Luke Yates, sociologist at The University of Manchester, “when we are working with a housing stock designed for nuclear families”. Nuclear families have ‘gone out of fashion’ somewhat. Independence is valued by many demographics and the result is there are many couples or individuals living in large homes leaving parts of it unused, taking up more space than they need.

How many Earths?

How many Earths do we need to sustain our way of living in the UK? James Evans is a professor of Geography and sustainable cities at The University for Manchester. He tells us we would need 5-6 planet earths if everyone in the world lived like we do in the UK. You can calculate how many worlds it would take to support your lifestyle here.

If we are to have a sustainable future, we will have to start living in more densely populated and compact settlements. Well, I say the future – it’s happening now.

Ever heard of co-living?

The Collective Old Oak in London is a good example of co-living. A community of 500 people each with their own room or studio but sharing facilities and communal spaces including the kitchen and dining areas. You may imagine it teeming with barefooted-hipsters, yoga mats permanently strapped to their backs, and yes there is a yoga room, but it seems there are all sorts of people living there from all walks of life. There is a cinema, library, gym, spa and restaurant. Even the launderette feels like a bohemian coffee shop. All in all, it looks like a relaxing, sociable and enjoyable place to live. Could this be the future? Personally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Co-living isn’t for everyone. What if you have a family or a pet, perhaps you simply prefer to keep yourself to yourself. How about this then, try sharing with your neighbours. Share dinner once a week, share laundry (minus the undies), share tools and appliances such as hoovers and lawnmowers. You never know, you might quite like it.

Sharing and caring

James Evans says that “the biggest cause of unhappiness is loneliness. One thing that correlates highest with happiness is whether or not you know your neighbours”. So why not pop round and see what you can share – knowledge, tools, a cup of sugar?

This New Year solution is not as obvious as cycling to work or Veganuary. It’s a step towards a shift in culture, and one we should take if we want the planet to remain habitable for all. A step towards a new normal, a new and likely better way of living.

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