After calls for the removal of a square foot minimum for London apartments and claims that millennials don’t need living rooms, stylist.co.uk’s Megan Murray explains how not having a communal space in her home for eight years has affected her.
When I moved to London to study journalism at 18, I knew I’d be waving goodbye to some home comforts.
I guessed my new found independence would cost me the usual fare: home-cooked meals replaced by microwaved ones and pajamas that smelt more like damp than my mum’s favourite fabric softener.
But what I didn’t anticipate to become a relic of my adolescence, was living in a house that had any form of communal space.
On reflection, my university halls bedroom (which could have passed for a rabbit hutch) should have been a pretty strong indicator of what was to become the norm for the next eight (or more) years.
But even as I looked around at my new confined living quarters on my first day in the big city, I naively thought, well this is just student life, isn’t it?
Well actually, it turns out, no. For me, this has just become, well, life.
Since then, I’ve lived in seven houses, and none of them have had a living room. Cue the montage of a string of ridiculously tiny rooms, including the worst of all: a space that was so narrow I had to sleep underneath a layer of wet pants because my clothes dryer, when opened, was the same width as my bedroom.
But it’s not just me that’s felt the claustrophobic effects of bedroom-confinement.
Soaring rent prices see millennials spending an average of nearly a quarter of our net income on our accommodation, which is three times more than our grandparent’s generation. But for all the extra money we’re spending, we’re getting less. Our living space has declined by eight square metres since the late Sixties and one in ten of us is living in what can be described as ‘overcrowded’ conditions.
However, according to controversial architect, Patrik Schumacher, the ever-shrinking size of our apartments is not something to be fought against, but embraced.
In an essay written for think-tank the Adam Smith Institute, titled “Only capitalism can solve the housing crisis“, Schumacher argues that millennials don’t need living rooms and that “hotel room-sized” studio flats are ideal for “young professionals”.
Calling for the abolition of current standards that enforce new builds must be no smaller than 38 square metres, he says that by building two flats in the space of a development that can currently fit one, we’ll have better and more plentiful accommodation for younger people.
Batting away criticism that flats this size would be, well, unethical, he writes: “the debate about standards becomes quickly emotional and rhetorical with phrases like ‘rabbit hutches’ and ‘slums’ standing in for arguments.”
He continues to speak on behalf of all millennials who also happen to have a job, writing that “a small, clean, private hotel-room sized central patch” would “serve their needs perfectly well”.
Schumacher’s comments paint an alien picture of a scarily sterile generation who, because they’re passionate about their careers, have no need for a comfortable home where they can entertain friends or socialise with a partner or flat mates.
His essay exudes an air of flippancy that the place you call home is nothing more than a place to lay your head for the night, before you’re off again, into the hustle and bustle and “networking 24/7”.
Maybe for some, life is like that. But I’m a 26-year-old professional and I do not want to live somewhere that resembles a cramped hotel room. I’m not on a budget city break, throwing my bag on the hostel floor with no plans to return until midnight. Building a life somewhere means feeling happy with your home, and having a sanctuary to go back to after a long day at work.
Speaking to The Atlantic, University of Texas psychology professor Samuel Gosling, explains that those proposing “micro-living have a tendency to focus on functional things, like is there enough room for the fridge.”
But there’s an obvious need to feel happy in your environment, as Gosling points out: “An apartment has to fill other psychological needs as well, such as self-expression and relaxation, that might not be as easily met in a highly cramped space.”
Although Schumacher’s comments are directed more at studios than shared accommodation, his points on not needing a living space echo a wider mind set of the standards of city housing. Many of the houses I’ve lived in have been shared, and they have all done away with the living room to cram in another tenant.
This has meant constantly moving into new accommodation with new people and struggling to feel comfortable and safe in a place that is supposedly my home. I believe living for so long without a living room has had a negative effect on my mental health. In certain housing situations, I have felt increased levels of anxiety living alongside people that I have had limited opportunities to build a relationship with.
Countless times I’ve had to tip toe to the kitchen late at night to make a snack, praying not to bump into a stranger in my pyjamas. I’ve even started showering at the gym because it felt weird using a bathroom shared with people I didn’t know.
Lonneke De Graaf is a data analyst from Holland, who moved to London two years ago and has lived in a shared house without a living space ever since. She agrees that the lack of a living room has negatively impacted her life in a number of ways.
Speaking to stylist.co.uk, De Graaf explains how her confined quarters affect her ability to relax, saying: “Not having a living room results in spending more non-sleeping time in your bedroom. In turn I think this can sometimes mean that there isn’t such a clear division in your mind between ‘this is where I live - this is where I sleep’, which can lead to making it more difficult to unwind in the evening and fall asleep.”
In Schumacher’s essay he claims that it’s worth spending 80% of your income on an apartment if it’s centrally located, but I would argue that it’s very frustrating living in zone one but never being able to share the joys of this with anyone.
I can’t invite my friends round for dinner, because there’s simply nowhere for us to sit or socialise.
And De Graaf agrees, saying, “It definitely makes me more reluctant to host people at my flat. With London already being such an expensive city it would be nice to be able to have a dinner or a party or whatsoever at home, without people having to squeeze into my kitchen or sit on my bed.
“Only having a small kitchen and/or bedroom limits my possibilities and contributes to spending more time and money eating/drinking out.”
Apparently a central location is the most important thing for people like me, but what’s the point in paying all this rent for a great location when I can’t spend time there?
London’s housing crisis needs to change. But taking away our living rooms because we’re thought of as robotic young professionals is simply not healthy.