Planning our Personal Space

Personal space means being able to relax in the company of others

It seems strange to say it, but at this time when we can’t plan what would like to do next week, that we can start to think about where and how we would like to live in future.

Any plans to move out of your flat or house to a new one is frankly impossible at present, and yet, despite these great uncertainties, this period of enforced isolation is making many people think and act collectively – in fact we have the time and the freedom to think and to plan.

Many of us have had much more time to think because we’ve either been furloughed or laid off from work, but it can feel quite stressful not knowing what lies ahead.

Added to that, all our senses and emotions are heightened through being confined within in the home with whoever we live with.

I’d like to think that because we are not in such a hurry we can be more forgiving and accepting of others, but at the same time, living in close proximity to others more of the time makes us aware of things in them that we perhaps hadn’t noticed.

Interestingly it also makes us aware of things in ourselves – which is what I would like to focus on. It’s made me think about how I want to live in future.

Environment

The skies have been much bluer and the air a lot cleaner than normal. Maybe we should clean up our cities even more in future, or maybe I should leave the city and live in the country?

It is also much quieter and one can hear birdsong and children playing rather than the background noise of traffic and aircraft. It is, however, often punctuated by the sound of sirens or a helicopter overhead and I am quickly brought back into the present.

On the streets, people are walking around you rather than past you, not suspiciously but cautiously respecting the new social distancing measures.

And yet, people do have time to stop and chat over a garden gate with a neighbour or across a street instead of rushing off to their next appointment or to pick-up someone or something.

The working day and the whole concept of weekends has changed for many. For me, now furloughed, Monday to Friday is now the same as the weekend, whilst for others each day brings the same, but conversely they are employed double-time on the front-line in essential services, trying to help the country get over the curve.

For those of us not working as normal, or able to work at home, it has provided an opportunity to spend more time with our children, with our partner, or even with our parents, if that was the preferred or necessary location to wait it out.

Either way, working less, ignoring for one minute the huge question of how this will all be paid for and resolved down-the-line, can be a good thing. It allows us time to sit and chat, to think, to do our chores and hobbies, whereas previously we could not.

But the strange thing is that I find too much of a good thing is not always a good. Boredom has set-in a bit in week three and familiarity and repetitiveness make things and people less interesting.

Where is the balance to be found between work and time with loved ones in future?

Unfortunately I predict people will want to work less when this is over, but in fact will have to work more, in order to help pay for it all. Costs of housing and of living in general may become an even greater burden, despite reports of rents falling as short-term holiday rentals are now offered for longer-term rent.

Social life

I haven’t been in a pub or restaurant for 3 weeks now and realise that, apart from saving a lot of money, that I miss the hustle and bustle of such social environments.

Neither have I joined in any get-together or a club physically speaking, although of course, like many, social video platforms and work spaces have now taken over in the home and at work respectively.

Last but not least, we haven’t been going to work. As well as giving us routine and in many cases something to get up for, it provides many small and insignificant but comforting social interactions. (It also gives us Corona virus at present!)

This has made me think about older age and how I’d like to live in future. In my 50s now, I’ll soon be in my 60s and if I can’t travel and see friends, how will it be? My home, the space, facilities and people I share it with will be even more important than now.

Relationships

On a positive, when we’re not talking about the big C word then conversations have roamed around the question of how would like to live and what could be better in the world. This has been fueled by hours and hours reading stories on the BBC and other news related platforms, but also some forward-thinking and hopefully believable media platforms, like Yes Magazine (Independent Journalism – with a The World We Want Special), Reasons to be Cheerful (Founded by David Byrne of talking Heads fame), CNN (What is happening in the US) and the FT online (What business is worrying about.

With whoever we are sharing a space we will have noticed all of their personal habits and repeated behaviour at close quarters. Undoubtedly there would have been some things that we have noticed for the first time and as anyone who shares knows, small things can irritate over time. See our previous article about ‘nobody is perfect.

We may have talked about our finances and noticed our spending habits more than usual. Money is a little tighter and in June may become even more so as companies approach the end of the Furlough scheme and have hard decisions to make.

In such an economic situation, renting and sharing accommodation makes more sense than ever. More people will be forced to do it rather than choose to in some cases, but we had better get good at it, because as I have long-predicted, it will become the norm in future.

Linked to the public health issue, affordable housing is even more important than ever. But more than that, having lost our freedom for some weeks, perhaps we’ll all appreciate the value and importance of getting out and about, seeing people and doing things, rather than spending an acceptably high proportion of our income on expensive rents?

Personal space

Last but not least, we have all spent more time in our personal space than usual.

Short-term this is a bit of a nightmare for some, but longer-term it must help drive development and refurbishment of property in which people can live more comfortably for longer periods.

As if the social considerations were not personal, uncertainty and underlying fear has disrupted our quality of sleep. The emotional energy we use when we’re not relaxed is much greater and the down-time when we think of nothing is currently almost non-existent.

Yet, among all of this we have experienced a greater element of shared experience. The upside of that is that we can work together to solve problems and to support each other through our social actions – local Facebook support groups are popping up and voluntary acts of kindness are seen. The down-side is that the herd mentality can lead to anti-social and selfish behaviour resulting in food and goods shortages, or worse, a queue for guns.

But for me the biggest thing has been an increase in a sense of and need for ‘personal space’ and how to create this and explain to people I share a home with, why and how I need it. I am fortunate enough to be able to go into another room (I am writing from the bedroom) in order to have space, but all of us to some degree has ‘lost’ space recently.

I often get space when walking to work, or to meet someone, but now that is not happening and we only have a scheduled walk this feels like it should be together. However close we are or how friendly we are, one or other of us might like some time alone outside, away from the home.

It is this need for, and increasing awareness of, the need for social space that I think represents the biggest architectural challenge for shared homes in future. Space costs money, so there has been a tendency to create smaller and smaller units.

Thank goodness UK planning law requires a minimum size of 35 sq.m. per dwelling as we might need more space going forward rather than less. But as we know, in shared homes it isn’t just your own room that represents ‘personal space’, it’s the other spaces also, in which you can sit comfortably and think about something yourself, read, or watch a video, without others feeling excluded or that your behaviour is unusual or anti-social.

Cohabitants feel comfortable in each other’s space

That requires a level of maturity in home sharing, in which cohabitants feel comfortable in each other’s space and confident that just because a person doesn’t want to talk right now, that it doesn’t mean they are unhappy with you.  This is a really difficult thing to achieve. It takes time and quite frankly, practice.

Many of the long-term sharing groups I have met have this characteristic. They know each other well-enough to feel comfortable in each other’s presence even when not doing things together. It is perhaps the most valuable thing a housemate can bring to a house share.

I am going to think how we can bring this into the Cohabitas profiles, because it is so important. Any ideas please let me know.

So self-isolation has many bad effects we can see, but I do think it is stimulating new thought and innovation – and that is a positive.

Planning for the future takes time and experience and by definition it needs to be conducted ahead of time; now is a perfect time to think about how you want to live in future.

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