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John Hill-Daniel is founder of the Kings Heath Centre for Space Exploration. Here he talks about family space. How much do we think we really need?

Family space

How much space does a family need?  Well, according to the wisdom of today’s tea bag tag; ‘The only thing you own, is your experience.’ In which case I have definitely spent too much on storage solutions over the years.  But however much we could simplify our lives by clearing out all the ‘stuff’ we have accumulated, we still need somewhere to sleep.  And if we are parents, so do our children.

When expecting our first child, the love of my life and I began dutifully preparing ‘The Nursery’ in the smallest of our three bedrooms, painting the walls, installing a new carpet and, with no idea of what might be required in this room, ‘researching’ in IKEA.  Despite our having good medical advice on the likely length of a pregnancy, our nursery was incomplete when our bundle of joy arrived.  ‘No panic’ I reassured Sarah ‘I’m sure the baby will sleep in our room for a couple of weeks anyway.’  Six months later, the nursery was long-complete, but little Jamie was still very happy with his cot in our room.  The nursery furniture was redundant; drawers he couldn’t open filled with clothes he couldn’t put on.  Why would he need his own room?  He was reliant on us for everything and we could care for him better if he was in with us.

Now we step inside the TARDIS, which apparently provides infinite accommodation, and jump forward ten years to the present day.  We now live in a six-bedroom house.  There are bedrooms for our three boys, Sarah and I occupy another, then there is a spare room and an office.  But we haven’t moved, and we haven’t extended.  The three boys bedrooms are all in one, and the office and spare room are also combined.  While friends of ours are on their third house-move since we settled here, we have simply grown into the space we have available.

But this period of growth has not been achieved in Buddha-like serenity.  September last year was the point when a prolonged period of increasingly frenzied house hunting and extension planning brought me to a startling realisation; that the the time and effort I spent drawing additions to our house and scouring could more happily and productively be spent looking at ways to better use the space that we have.  This led to my founding the ‘Kings Heath Centre for Space Exploration’, a personal research program looking at the relationship between our living space and our well-being.

This work has seen me talking to many different households in different situations and revealed one story that I found particularly inspiring.  A family of five in a three-bedroom house were moving to a new area.  They were looking for a four-bedroom place to give each child a room of their own, they thought this might help reduce the squabbles between the children that were a growing problem.  In the end they downsized.  They moved to a two-bedroom house, because they realised that the two children who shared a room rarely squabbled.  Now that all three children share, they find that the whole family gets on much better!

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Article by John Hill-Daniel

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