After watching the YouTube video of Gary Chang’s 344-square-foot apartment, writing about Japan’s hotel “capsule” housing and reading WSJ.com’s blog post “The Optimal Amount of Living Space,” I’ve been wondering: “How much dwelling space do humans require to be happy and safe?”
Since safety and happiness are major concerns in U.S. prisons (“happiness” in the sense of keeping rioting, violence, and suicide rates at a minimum), I expected minimum square footage per inmate mandates to exist. Turns out, the federal government does not define how many square feet a prisoner is required to have for conditions to be considered something better than “cruel or unusual.” As a result, inmates are given anywhere between 35 square feet (common when two prisoners share a 70 square foot cell) to 100 square feet (quite uncommon, but more likely to be found in solitary-confinement situations where prisoners never leave their cells). And, research about the penal system shows that rates of riots, violence, and suicide don’t appear to be directly correlated to cell size (much like job satisfaction isn’t based on office size).
The amount of space humans need to be happy and safe, therefore, is quite minimal (based on how it’s configured, it could be difficult for most people to even lie down in 35 square feet). So the question isn’t really one of need, but one of want.
Many factors go into answering the question: “How much space do I want to be happy and safe?” Location of property, floor plan, cultural norms, rent/mortgage, amenities, storage, air quality, and aesthetics are all considerations that weigh into an individual’s want response.
Have you ever stopped to consider how much space you want? What factors are guiding your answer? Are you letting your stuff dictate your response? I’m eager to read your thoughts on this issue in the comments.