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Driver's Seat
The future of living in small places
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I recently learned that before long millions of people may be living in miniature homes called micropods – miniature houses or apartments that, while cramped, will still provide the necessary elements of a genuine home.

The reasons given for this possible trend are that (a) the average American will not be able to afford the old-fashioned home that includes a couple thousand square feet of interior living space, and (b) our population is growing so fast that we’ll eventually run out of available big-time living spaces even if we were all millionaires.

The persistence of homelessness is also a spur toward developing micro-houses or micropods. In 2013, an estimated 610,000 men, women and children slept without shelter every night. A few cities have already begun trying the Tiny House solution to homelessness. While no one suggests that tiny homes are a permanent fix for homeless persons, micropods can be regarded as at least a beginning. Persons living in a micropod are off the street, and therefore not subject to being arrested for vagrancy or other municipal offenses. Or being mugged by thugs.

The typical U.S. home has 2,600 square feet. Tomorrow’s tiny houses will require only 100 to 400 square feet. Would you be willing or able to undertake having such a snug home? Who knows? You may already have endured living like a sardine, at least for a short time.

Example: a Pullman berth on a passenger train. That can be either romantic, or dangerous. I once knew a young married couple who were devoted to one another until they traveled from Miami to Boston, sharing Pullman accommodations all the way. By the time they reached Baltimore they had learned more about each other than they ever wanted to know. Physical closeness can breed either passion or mutual contempt.

Second example: military service. It can be excellent training for living in a micropod. For several years in the Navy every clothing article and other personal possession I owned I kept in a foot locker the size of a suitcase. A sailor who is suddenly transferred to another ship must be ready to pack all his belongings into a single seabag. As a civilian, I sometimes still feel guilty when I buy an extra shirt or toothbrush.

Speaking of sailors: anyone who has lived aboard a sailboat or powerboat will probably view a micropod as a palace, relatively speaking. I’d wager that many micropod designers first learned their skills while working for boat builders. But on a boat there’s still room to move about – to go topside and feel the breeze. A micropod will not afford that luxury. Once inside a micropod, that’s it, folks. Wiggle room just won’t exist.

A micropod will require its occupant to double up. The kitchen sink may also serve as the bathroom sink. A bed surface can be converted into a desk or a dining area.

Does the prospect of making such arrangements charm you? Me, neither.

As a spouse arrives home at the end of a workday, he or she would not have to announce, “Honey, I’m home!” The moment he opens the front door he’d be facing his beloved from about 2 feet away. Micropod residents won’t have to worry about having dinner parties. There won’t be enough room to entertain anyone, unless they are terrifically skinny.

As we read about micropods and the adventure of living in restricted quarters, we quickly become aware that much of the human race is already dwelling in sub-standard arrangements that would make a modern micropod seem like paradise. In many Chinese cities, “ant tribes” are common – gatherings of workers jammed into stinking hovels. Around the globe today, landlords are able to charge outrageous rental fees. Postage-stamp-sized apartments in Manhattan cost $2,000 a month or more, and desperate city-dwellers gladly get in line to grab one.

In all the research and chatter that centers on how to get people to live in small spaces, one important truth is sometimes ignored. It is this: in most humans, there is an inescapable need to be alone for part of each day, even for just an hour, in a quiet, private space – a bedroom, a garage, a woodshed. A micropod will answer that need, but only for one person at a time. Two at the most. After that, there simply won’t be room for the tranquility that solitude provides.

Logic therefore suggests that the primary market for micropods will be recluses, loners and others who choose to live alone. That describes millions of today’s citizens. But micropods, it’s hoped, will at least bring the price down.

Bob Driver is a former columnist for the Clearwater Sun. His email address is tralee71@comcast.net.
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