A couple months ago I was sitting in my campsite in the Umpqua National Forest about 15 miles from the north rim of Crater Lake in south central Oregon, As I sat there, I was reminded of the people who are intrigued by my simple, living free lifestyle. Most want to look inside “My McVansion,” my tiny house on wheels, to see how one can actually live in 50 square feet. That's about the size of a small walk-in closet, to give you a bit of perspective.
In my first article on compartmentalizing I listed ten areas we humans, especially those of us living in “Western” developed societies, compartmentalize to varying degrees. In this article I'm going to focus on “shelter” compartmentalizing. Our early ancestors probably didn't have words like house, home, abode, residence, cabin, cottage, apartment, condominium, villa, townhouse, mansion and, one of the newer terms, McMansion or any other descriptors we currently attach to our variety of shelters. The list doesn't include portable, mobile and other alternative forms of shelter. But, as you can see from the list I just made, we compartmentalize the array of forms shelters may take.
And, to add to this, there are subdivisions (and I don't mean communities, that's another form of compartmentalizing) broken down into the varieties of the listed shelters. There are cape cods, split levels, bi-levels, colonial style, ranch homes, bungalows, garden apartments, high-rise apartments, brownstone walk-ups, tenements. I could go on and on, but I'm sure I've made my point. But, there is more.
Compartmentalizing The Interior Of Our “Homes”
Yes! Not only do we compartmentalize by the variations on the shelter theme, we also compartmentalize the interior of our homes, regardless of the form of the structure. We compartmentalize the interior based on the various functions we perform on a daily basis. Some of us have smaller spaces, so we may not be able to provide designated compartments for every function. We may use some compartments for multiple functions.
Here is a list of many of the typical functions people in our society may create compartments for in their homes.
- Food Preparation & Consumption – compartments include:
- Bathroom(s) – compartments include:
Necessary human biological functions
Applying & Removing Make-up
Shaving and other Grooming
- Sleeping (and certain other “fun” activities – use your imagination)
Bedrooms - the number of bedrooms will vary depending on
the number, gender and age of those who will occupy said
- Living Areas – may include:
Informal Living Room
Patio – with grilling and entertaining facilities
- Recreation Areas – may include:
Play Room (Children)
Other outdoor sports and games
- Work Areas – may include:
Workshop (specialized or general)
- Personal Areas – may include:
- Storage – may include:
- Live-in Help Quarters
- Guest House/Quarters
- In-law Apartment
You may be able to think of other compartments for functions I haven't thought of. Feel free to add them to the list.
Complex Lives Require Compartmentalizing
You may be out of breath after reading all these functions and compartments we live with on a daily basis. My guess is you probably never looked at your home from precisely this perspective.
This is what life looks like in our modern, advanced society. And, remember, we haven't included the professional/occupational life, social life or any of the other seven general compartments I enumerated in part one of this series.
Is it really any wonder Big Pharma and specialized medical practices are growing like wildfire, providing record numbers of antidepressant, stress relieving and anxiety drugs? And, it's not only adults experiencing the stress, depression and anxiety. It's also the newly graduated young adults beginning independent life, college students, high school students and even elementary and middle school kids. And, don't think our aging senior population isn't experiencing this same stress, depression and anxiety. They are concerned about losing homes they may not be able to afford any longer, retirement funds that have diminished, increases in cost of living and the future of Social Security and Medicare.
I remember, when I was a kid growing up, being over anxious to become an adult so I could be free and do whatever I wanted to do. Boy, do I wish I could go back to being that carefree kid in the 50's and early 60's.
By the way, if you haven't figured it out, I'm working on getting back there. Society often refers to this as the “second childhood.” I call it “living free.” Maybe you have another name for it.
Learning to Compartmentalize
I don't know about you, but as a kid my personal world was very small. I had very little “stuff.” It didn't take much space. My parent's first homes were small. Food was prepared in the kitchen. We ate in there, too. We only had one bathroom . . . and we survived. My sister and I shared one very small bedroom. The closets were tiny.
But, pretty typical of the 50's and 60's, my father began expanding that little cape cod house. He built a recreation room in the basement that was half the size of the house. He assembled a workshop for himself that also housed the washing machine, an old ringer style, to handle those functions. There was a corner of the recreation room where my father had his drafting table where he did sub-contract work for another business other than his full-time employer. The attic was expandable, so he had a contractor install a large dormer across the front of the house with the intention of adding two bedrooms upstairs in addition to retaining space for storage.
While I didn't actually understand the concepts of the daily functions of our lives and compartmentalizing the functions, looking back, it was obvious. Of course, I was very young, just beginning elementary school to be more precise. And, of course, as an impressionable child, I learned life functions and compartmentalizing from my parents, thus, modeling my life after theirs. My best guess says you learned about life functions and compartmentalizing the same way. So, did our kids and our grandchildren.
Each succeeding house my parents owned (there were five more) was larger and more compartmentalized. Ultimately, there were three children in the family. The homes added more bedrooms, more bathrooms. More compartments for entertainment/recreational activities, hobbies, etc.
Eventually, we each had our own bedrooms. In our last home three people could be using bathroom facilities at the same time. What a concept. We even had garage facilities for two of the three cars in the family. Of course, by this time, I was about to graduate from college and leave the nest.
Like so many facets and functions of life we learn from our parents and grandparents, we learn about compartmentalizing. Of course, in our current society, 65+ years from the time I grew up, television and the Internet may have as much influence, and possibly more, than parents currently have.
The average size home was just under 1,000 square feet in 1950. Today, the average size home is about 2,700 square feet. Starter homes had two small bedrooms and one bath, an eat in kitchen and a living room in the 50's. Currently, starter homes seem to have three to four bedrooms and two and a half to three bathrooms. And, of course, more and more compartments are included in current homes. An interesting note here is that while homes are about three times larger today than in 1950, the size of the average family is smaller.
In my own life, I started my adult life in small apartments including a one room “efficiency” apartment. Over the years the size of my homes grew, too. The largest home I had was about 5,000 square feet. My last home, as a single man, was well over 2,000 square feet and about 3,000 square feet including storage space. I moved into that home nearly 14 years ago.
All of my homes had lots of compartments. But, I was just as functional in my early, one room, efficiency apartment as I was in the larger homes. An interesting thing is that I had actually created a one room efficiency apartment in the master bedroom of my last house. I had come full circle and found I actually needed a minimal amount of space to live in efficiently and comfortably. I have many friends with larger homes. They typically only use three rooms out of six, eight or more rooms.
It's nice to have more room when you have a family at home. We are a society that loves our privacy. Larger home structures allow every member of the family to enjoy their own “space.” However, when you look at the history of human society, very few people had the luxury of their own “space” and privacy. Typically, only the elite enjoyed this luxury. They comprised a small percentage of most developed societies. We often refer to them as the “upper crust.” They always seem to have enjoyed more expansive, compartmentalized lifestyles. However, throughout history, while the life functions were still part of everyone's lives, most people found ways to compact their compartmentalization.
50 Square Feet – Really?
So, people wonder how I can live in 50 square feet. It's simple. I'm working at being that kid back in the 50's and early 60's, again. I'm not sure I'd call it a “second childhood.” I do try to enjoy a “child-like” spirit and attitude. However, I don't act “childish.” There is a difference.
Living in 50 square feet is not really all that different than when I was living in 5,000 square feet. I still have, pretty much, the same life functions as you and most people have. I still have compartments to deal with these various life functions, the same as I did in 5,000 square feet. The difference is I've been able to simplify my life, lifestyle and life functions. This has allowed me to minimize my footprint and the degree of complexity of my life functions. Accordingly, I've been able to compact my life and world down to 50 square feet.
This isn't the only time or the only way I've compacted and compressed my lifestyle during my lifetime. I've also used the same concepts and processes to run very effective and efficient businesses in extremely small spaces. I had one business I operated out of a portion of one drawer in my desk that was located in one small office in a small, compact three room office suite I created out of one larger room in one of my homes. The primary elements of compartmentalizing and compacting various facets of a lifestyle are attitude, pragmatic thinking and ingenuity.
Attitude: You have to have the desire to simplify, live minimally then make a conscious decision to take the appropriate action.
Pragmatic Thinking: You must take every function in your life and break them down to the lowest common denominator. What's the least you need to accomplish each function.
Ingenuity: You must envision how you can accomplish each function in the most practical, efficient manner, then design the plan to implement your vision.
In my case, my vision was to create a plan to downsize from considerably too much space for one person to live and function in efficiently and economically. Then to create a pragmatic environment that would allow me to function as I envisioned it. And, finally, this allows me to enjoy the life I want to be living. Of course, like all things in life, my life and lifestyle is still a work in progress.
There is no one size or style lifestyle that fits all. My objective in this series of articles is not to have you adopt my specific lifestyle. The mobile, van dwelling or RV dwelling lifestyle only appeals to a certain percentage of the population. And, even within this lifestyle there are many variations on the theme.
Your assignment, regardless of your current age, is to take an inventory of your current life and lifestyle.
Evaluate the space you (and your spouse, significant other, partner if you have one) are occupying. Is it inadequate, adequate or overly indulgent? Do you need more space and why? Can you live efficiently, comfortably and economically in less space? What will you have to sacrifice or compromise if you downsize? Is your space just right for this time of your life, but will need to be reevaluated periodically for possible downsizing as life changes occur? Does a mobile lifestyle appeal to you? Would you enjoy changing your views, environment and neighbors on a frequent basis without giving up your “home??
Evaluate your lifestyle. Do you enjoy formal or semi-formal entertaining? Does everyone in your immediate life require their own privacy and space? Would you prefer an urban, compact, efficient lifestyle to enjoy the many advantages and features of urban living? Would you prefer a suburban lifestyle in a community of people living similar lifestyles? Are your interested and prepared for the maintenance and upkeep of such a home in such a community and all the advantages and disadvantages of such a lifestyle. Are you interested in a more rural or even a very rural lifestyle where you live with nature all around you, lots of open space, minimal living space requirements and the minimum upkeep and maintenance of a more rustic nature?
Or, would you like to travel and move from place to place, perhaps, renting cottages, cabins, condos or houses. Perhaps you would like to change your environment frequently such as ocean, lake, mountains, desert, agricultural, urban, suburban and so on. Maybe, like a friend of mine and his wife, you might want to live in a different country each year to experience to different cultures and environments.
Or, would you like to be able to change your environment with the turn of an ignition switch in a motorhome of a size you find comfortable and adequate or a van or a converted school bus. Perhaps you'd rather tow your home behind your vehicle until you locate the next place you want to stop and enjoy for a while.
You'll also have to evaluate your “stuff.” Most people, who decide to seriously downsize, find they can fore go and eliminate the massive number of appliances designed to make everything extremely efficient, but frequently don't utilize. Unfortunately, many people ultimately find they gravitate to only a few basic devices for multiple functions and the rest of the “stuff” just sits, takes up space and collects dust as it depreciates. The same may be true of clothes, tools, toys, furniture, nick-knacks, hobbies, recreational "toys," etc.
Look over the list of all the functions and compartments of our life and determine how you can simplify and compact all of them into the least amount of space and stuff and can maintain economically. Who knows. You, too, may be able to enjoy a lifestyle of freedom in just 50 to 100 square feet of space.
Live free and be happy. EH