Why there never seems to be enough storage space in our homes

I once went to visit the home that I grew up in and was struck by how much STUFF the people who now live there have crammed into the place.

Terraced houses

The current occupants are a family of five and mine was also a family of five. But the people living in my old home have so many more things than we did. Everyone does these days.

Back then (I’m really going to show my age now), we had a telephone, a record player, a television, a radio, a vacuum cleaner, a wood-fired Raeburn stove, and an electric iron. And that was it. No computer, no printer, no router, no camera, no washing machine, no tumble dryer, no dishwasher, no fridge, no toaster, no kitchen gadgets, no DVD player, no Xbox, no hair dryer, no central heating – none of the things that most people take for granted nowadays.

Our entire family owned two shelves of books, a handful or ornaments, essential furniture, some clothes, a car and some bicycles. And it wasn’t that we were poor. My father was a self-made man and we were a fairly well-to-do middle class family. People just owned a lot less things in those days, and many of the items they have today hadn’t been invented yet.

The difference between then and now

But the thing is, many people are still living in houses built 20, 50, or 100 years ago or more, when no one thought so much storage space would ever be needed. In fact, according to a BBC radio interview with Harry Rich, chief executive of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a study has shown that architects are still designing houses without enough storage space.

“Quite a lot of new-build homes are built in a way that is similar to 20 years ago,” he says.

The interviewer gave the example of one family that has to keep their vacuum cleaner at their parent’s house 20 minutes away because there is just nowhere to put it in their own home.

Here’s my suggestion to the architects of the world

The plan is to start designing homes that have the storage space that’s needed these days, and that’s really good news. But of course, with the speed of modern technological development, what we’ll need in 20 years’ time will be very different again.

So here’s my suggestion. Start designing homes now that are bigger than you can possibly imagine anyone will need and have a heck of a lot more storage space, so we won’t need to have this discussion again in 20 years’ time.

And while you’re at it, please add some decent ceiling height. This modern cost-cutting trend for saving half a meter of bricks doesn’t take account of how creatively stifled people are when they live in low-ceilinged homes. People of the future will need and want head space, so plan for it now.

How our homes affect us

Winston Churchill famously said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” When you squeeze people into small boxes, guess what you get? People with small lives. It’s not rocket science. With all the will in the world, it’s very difficult to have big ideas and achieve big things when you live in small spaces or ones that are jam-packed with clutter because you don’t have enough storage space for essentials. Minimalism is lovely concept but it’s very restricting as a way of life.

Yes, I know it comes down to economics. Bigger homes need more land and more building materials, which all cost more. They also cost more to heat or cool. But the fact is, we are not thriving in small homes, and as the years go by, they feel smaller and smaller as we try to cram more and more in. Technological advances are not going to stop, and we need to face this fact and start planning for it now.

In the meantime – or in case this idyllic scenario of bigger homes and more storage space never comes about – regular clutter clearing is not just highly desirable, it’s become essential for sanity and well-being.

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2012, updated 2021

Related article
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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui, and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must-read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fifth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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18 Responses to Why there never seems to be enough storage space in our homes

  1. Interesting article, I totally agree. I work in an architectural company and often, we desperately try to talk people into having more storage space and more ceiling height. Believe it or not, people are VERY resistant. Investors think they won’t get paid for ceiling height and “wasted” square meters that you cannot live on and private homeowners prefer representative living rooms and HUGE kitchens (even if they admit to only cook once a week on the weekend). It’s all about showing off. We tend to ask them if they really prefer to hang their laundry in the kitchen or living room or bedroom to placing the laundry rack into a laundry room and if they really want to fold the clothes on the dining table… and yes, most of them don’t mind in order to have more representative space for occasional visitors.

  2. Our current house was built in 1995 and has zero inbuilt storage. Our previous house was built in 1990 and quite tiny, but the architects had utilised the space under the stairs and provided a plethora of kitchen cupboards, top and bottom, along two long walls. I think the whole issue can be summed up by the phrase ‘deceptively spacious’.

    I believe that we need in-built cupboards and a pantry in every house, but lives are now seen as portable even while we own – because we need to own it in many cases (working from home, hm?) – more than ever. I also fear that, for those who lack resources, life is as ‘mean’ as back in the days of the slums or early high-rise blocks; packed together in tiny, overpriced, square flats without gardens nor a pleasant outlook.

  3. I watch many remodeling shows on TV. I always have mixed feelings about what the hosts of the show decides on what changes are necessary. It seems in certain eras of house building, kitchens had adequate storage space, especially a pantry. I witnessed a redo across the street from me, and they downsized the kitchen cabinets, no pantry and no place to eat. The new owners have to put their food in the coat closet. Also, they sold their average-sized couch, to fit in a dining table.

    My Mom’s house which was built in the 40’s has a nice amount of storage, but my Mom has big emotional hoarding issues, so she exclaimed when I was very little, “this house doesn’t have enough storage” lol. So, some things we need, pantry, linen closet, mudroom, laundry room, and many houses are being built or re-modeled without them. Instead, they are ripping out support walls with their storage cabinets and making one big kitchen connected to the seating area. Difficult to keep the kitchen clean and sanitary with connected living area dust drifting onto counters. This is a cheaper way to build, but we are being convinced this is so new and stylish. We will be forced to buy more storage in addition to the overpriced, industrial-styled, shotgun house.

  4. In the 10+ homes I have lived in here in NZ not a SINGLE one had adequate or well designed storage! Requiring more stuff in the form of free standing furniture for storage and contributing to a more cluttered feeling home. Plus it is extremely frustrating to have insufficient storage for basic household needs.

    In terms of living a more sustainable and less impactful life/consumer based life, some aspects of these lifestyles can require more space and storage. For example storing herbs, seeds and foodstuff grown on the property and the equipment and tools needed for processing, especially if you want to avoid a chaotic space. More so for self sufficient lifestyles.

    Having seen examples of people living in converted vans I noticed that the most functional ones actually had a lot of storage space relative to overall size. It would be interesting to know what the storage space ratio of the average tiny home is in comparison to normal sized homes.

    I wonder if there is a connection between people who live in homes that are big enough, have plenty of storage living more fulfilled lives with better self esteem and therefore don’t feel the need to full it with a lot of unnecessary stuff… so in the long run are less resource consumptive? Or in achieving their potential more fully have a more positive overall impact.

  5. Great post Karen. I agree that homes have always been built with little emphasis on storage of necessities. This is the primary reason the “self-storage” business in the United States is so huge. (Don’t know about self storage needs in UK).

    As for the negative responses to your post; everyone should go with what they are comfortable with. If you feel “cozy” in a smaller space, by all means enjoy it. If more space MAKES YOU HAPPY, then go for it. Viva la difference. Everyone has an opinion or belief. It is great to share it. But passing judgment on our fellow man is not attractive. Wars are fought because groups insist on imposing their will upon others (who rightfully resist). We see a microcosm of this behavior every day, especially online.

  6. Size is relative. If you have never lived in a tiny apartment where there’s no space to even turn your bed let alone have cupboard space then you’ll agree with Karen. If you have been living with gigantic bathrooms that are big enough to squeeze a king sized bed into it along with the usual bathroom fixtures then maybe you will argue that enough is way too much.

    Look at the home sizes in Asia. Particularly in Hong Kong and some parts of Japan. And even in Singapore and maybe you’ll agree.

    1. My article is addressed to the architects of the world, to implore them to design homes that have enough storage space for modern needs rather than making people feel cramped and restricted in their home, which is then reflected in how they live their life.

  7. I too am a bit surprised about seeing this post on here. I disagree with the need for larger homes and more storage. They take up more resources and the storage will just be filled with more stuff. I disagree that living in smaller homes results in a “smaller life”. I personally can’t stand high ceilings, they make me feel uncomfortable and I prefer small cosy spaces and rooms. I have lived in a caravan and letting go of the contents of a three bedroomed house was very liberating – I just couldn’t fit it in so I had to let it go and I’m still letting go of even more stuff after I realised I just don’t need or use it. Living in a small space can actually make your life “larger” and more interesting because you are not amongst so much stuff draining your energy and distracting you from what is valuable such as: friendship, community, physical games and activities, hobbies and nature etc. You get outside more, you are in touch with the seasons and nature more, you use the outside space more if you live in a small property. I love the Tiny House movement as I feel these people are being really creative in how they are choosing to live with few possessions and using up fewer resources. http://www.thetinylife.com/what-is-the-tiny-house-movement/

  8. I think that most new builds in the UK are on the small side.

    I currently live in a Victorian house with wonderfully high ceilings and generous rooms… no wonder its so hard to find our next house… which, by the way, we are looking for in the Cotswolds, as I think you, Karen, are too…

  9. I had to read this post a few times to make sure I understood the message correctly, and honestly I’m still a bit surprised that I found this point of view in the blog post – that we need larger homes and “more” space. As a person living in the United States, I feel that many, many people here are out of touch with the rest of the world and how to live sustainably and honestly -visible in the often proposterously-sized and lavishly outfitted homes (and lives too). I think it’s why I’ve been attracted to this author and line of thought – less stuff, more beauty, simplicity, and honesty in how we live. Granted, I haven’t seen the homes that were referenced in the article and no one wants to live in a closet, but I do think that we all have to be aware of our footprint on Earth.

  10. Yes, we have more stuff these days which we need to control, but it is all SO much bigger as well – 72 inch TV screens for example – how far away do you need to be in order not to damage your eyesight and so how much bigger does your living room have to be? TV advertisements are forever promoting sofas that are far too large proportionally for the average home. I have a friend who lives in a small house, but because she keeps buying excessively big (cheap) furniture and covering it with enormous cushions, the place always looks too small and cramped. As a result, instead of scaling down the furniture, she and her husband built an extension to accomodate it and a rather nasty cupboard she was given free and couldn’t bear not to keep. It seemed to me a mad and expensive solution.

  11. I disagree with the idea that we need larger houses. The larger the house, the more stuff it is filled with, and all stuff eventually ends up in the landfill. What clutter does to our homes, landfills do to the earth, but unlike a garbage can, we can’t just throw away the contents of a landfill when it’s full. Additionally, large houses use more resources to build, maintain and live in, and this use of resources is currently unsustainable. I live in Southern California, where the perceived need for larger houses has manifested in the widespread building of huge houses squished together in developments whose main design function is to enhance the profits of the corporations that build them. Living in these homes is expensive, wasteful, and environmentally devastating. To think that people “need” the largest house they can buy in order to accommodate their stuff is depressing indeed.

    1. I absolutely agree–thanks for sharing your comment. This post seemed a bit odd to me given the context of clutter-clearing and evaluating what we REALLY need. At the rate of population growth and diminishing resources, I’m not certain how enormous homes for all is feasible or desirable. And it seems very much a developed-world issue. I confess I do like a higher ceiling, though. 🙂

    2. Roxanne…we can’t really compare apples and oranges…do the google search on house size comparisons. The average British home in 2005 was way way smaller [76 square metres] than the average new American home [201 square metres] so I imagine Karen is on trend to bring them into the 21st century as many of them are still in the 19th size wise.

      My thirty year old three bedroom house here in Australia is about 100 square meters which a half the size of the average new Australian or American house [201 square meters in 2005] and a quarter again bigger than a British and it has just enough storage as long as I do my annual declutter.

      It is all relative…

  12. True…. and we spend so much of our hard earned money doing up bathrooms and then spend lots of time and energy to keep them spic and span!!!!

  13. I’m baffled by the amount of bathrooms in British homes. One on each floor!!! Very strange! I like to watch ‘Escape to the Country”‘, ‘Home and Away’, and ‘Property Ladder’. There is an awful lot of space spent on bathrooms. How hard can it be to walk a few steps to a a bathroom on another floor!!! A separate toilet, OK. But lots of bathrooms? Very strange!

  14. This is why we need your work so much, Karen. Objects are so cheap these days, at least in Western countries, that we find ourselves buried in crap before we realize it. Growing up I had no more than 4-5 pair of shoes at a time, and now it’s more like 20. You see people’s closets in magazines, and it’s … a wall of shoes. We used to wear the same clothes 2-3 days in a row, and that’s a big no-no, at least in the States. You’re expected to have variety. Agreed on lack of storage space in old buildings, and tiny closets. Building myself a big wall closet on the back of my bedroom and pulling a beautiful curtain over it. THANK YOU!

  15. Couldn’t agree more. Also, why do people need lots of bathrooms? Everywhere, even small 2 bedroom flats have a bathroom and en-suite. Why not have a large storage area instead? I know this goes against clutter clearing. But I keep my ironing board & airdrier in my en-suite because there is not a large cupboard in the kitchen!

    I think it’s very interesting that there are lots of tv programmes on at the moment re: clutter & hoarding. I wonder why?

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