(Storage) Space: The Final Frontier-Why We Will Have Less Stuff and Less Room in The Future

(Storage) Space: The Final Frontier-Why We Will Have Less Stuff and Less Room in The Future

I helped a friend get set up in his new flat yesterday (the awesome designer/illustrator behind the new Book of the Future brand, Stewart Aitken). Suffice to say he had a lot of stuff. Not quite the avalanche of junk I brought to the Man Cave in 2012, but around 50 boxes altogether, labelled ‘Books’, ‘Comics’, and ‘Random Stuff’.

It got me thinking: how are we going to keep all this stuff in the future, and will we need to?

Mo’ People, Mo’ Problems

It certainly seems likely that population density is going to increase in the future. The United Nations forecasts that we will have over 10 billion people on the planet by 2100, depending on your expectations of fertility. This is 3 billion more than today. Even if we all had just enough children to replace ourselves, extended lifespans would mean that population will still reach almost the same level. Many would argue that there are more people on the planet that it can sustainably support.

Climate-Change Consuming Cities

You can add to this the likely sea-level rise and flooding effects of climate change. Sea levels are likely to rise 80 centimetres and could rise as much as 2 metres by the end of this century. Half of the world’s population lives within 62 miles of a coastline. Many of the world’s largest cities, including London, will be threatened. A lot of people could be looking for a new home unless trillions is invested in flood defence. We won’t be able to save every bit of land from the rising tides, so there will be less to go around.

Return of the High-Rise

Given the lack of investment in any serious space programmes (tentative trips to Mars and commercial satellite launches notwithstanding) we’re not going to have access to another planet to consume soon. And we’re a long way off constructing human habitable space stations.

So what are we going to do? Get cosy. The reality is that we will all have to live a little closer together, likely in smaller spaces. Given that cities enable us to make more efficient use of energy resources, it’s likely that we will see the return of the high-rise apartment block (as suggested by this BBC piece back in 2004), and more mixed-use developments to get people back to city-centre living. Not just young workers but families too.

The Big Compression

If we all have less space, physical possessions will become a real luxury: shelves and shelves of books a thing of the past, or restricted only to the very rich. Of course this is already happening. The rise of the eReader is rapidly replacing the printed word with stored bits. There’s now a whole generation who has barely owned a CD yet have massive music collections. And streaming services are quickly replacing the disc purchase for films and TV boxsets. Whatever you may feel about the loss of these vital, emotional objects (I live in a house crammed with books and still buy CDs, for all my love of tech), it is much more space-efficient to store their contents digitally.

But what about all the other stuff that fills our homes? Toys, clothes, luggage, bedding, objets d’art. What will happen to these when we are space-constrained?

I certainly think the mass of plastic that fills my kid’s toy chests will be gone. Not only will we not be able to afford the space, we won’t be able to afford the materials. As oil extraction drops off and we have to recover used materials more, prices will rise. Toys will need to more and more virtualised. High quality, physical, wooden toys will become real luxuries of which kids will have just a couple.

Clothes will need to become more resilient and reusable. We won’t want to store 93 different outfits, so they will have to go longer without washing (or ideally not need washing at all), be more flexible in their reuse (changing style and colour).

Luggage will become less of an issue as a result: we won’t need to transport as much stuff either day-to-day or on holidays, so we won’t need to keep as many bags and suitcases around the place. Bedding too should benefit from some sort of self-cleaning technology, though it seems likely that at some point we might do away with the rather dark-age concept of the duvet and sheets altogether.

That just leaves us with the pretty stuff: pictures, vases, trinkets. These will remain a luxury, only more so. When you have fewer walls and fewer shelves, you’ll need to be really discerning about what occupies them, though digital frames will become so cheap you can at least have large representations on rotation.

Start Decluttering Today

Generation by generation for the next few decades we’re going to have a serious decluttering exercise. Maybe you could start today? There are worse new years resolutions…

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This article is by Tom Cheesewright. This post forms part of the Future of Cities series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future of Cities page.

Tom Cheesewright


Futurist speaker Tom Cheesewright is one of the UK's leading commentators on technology and tomorrow. Tom has worked with a huge range of organisations across a variety of markets, to help them to see a clear vision of tomorrow, share that vision and respond with agility. Tom draws on his experience to create original, compelling talks that are keyed to the experience of the audience but which surprise and shock with unexpected facts and examples.

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