The Indicator from Planet Money - Making Most Of Scarce Space

Lockdowns, working from home, and remote learning have all made personal domestic space more scarce. Emily Anthes has some solutions.

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Economics is partly the study of scarcity how we can make the best use of scarce resources and one resource of a kind that has become more scarce due to the pandemic is the space that we have to move around in pairs with so many offices and bars and restaurants and movie theaters in other places either still closed or at least having their access restricted. There is quite literally less space in which we can work and see each other socially and just live our lives. So a lot of us have just been spending more time at home and we might soon be spending even more time at home with fall and winter coming up Emily and this is a science journalist by complete coincidence when the pandemic struck she had just finished her new book called The Great Indoors, which is all about the science behind how we design our indoor spaces including our homes and it explains how we can get the most out of that increasingly scarce space even including some lesson.

outer space then show a conversation with Emily anthes

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Emily at the Walk of the podcast. Thanks so much for having me. It's great to be here and wait. Let me start with this one of the ideas in your book. Is it to make the indoors more hospitable more tolerable? It's a good idea to make it indoors a little bit more like the outdoors. How can we do that? And why should we absolutely no idea here is that we evolved out in the rough-and-tumble of Nature. And so we function best when we're surrounded by it. And so one really good way to make your home and your indoor spaces healthy is to try to bring in elements of the natural world and that can be plants like actual living plans house plans, but it doesn't have to be realized nature. It can be photographs of nature can even be nature sounds and there's a huge scientific literature. Now that demonstrates that the benefits of bringing nature into your indoor space.

Are almost endless so we know that exposure to Nature can reduce our stress. It can boost your immune system which might be particularly important these days. I can't even boost our focus and concentration and help us be more productive when we were working and also have similar mental health benefits as real plants.

Yeah, I guess if you think about sort of The evolutionary as well because experience the world with sort of brings us back to that space to that natural world. And you know, maybe that's sound maybe that's view of a landscape that can all create some of the same same benefits in our bodies and our minds Emily another surprising idea in your work. Is that by staying indoors more? We might be unwittingly exposing ourselves to more pollution. I hadn't thought of that what's going on there? Yeah. So something that surprised me and that I think my surprise a lot of people is that because our outdoor air has gotten cleaner over the last few decades at least here in the US a lot of us now get our main exposure to air pollution indoors and it can come from all sorts of sources, you know, the products we put in our homes like our rugs.

Pain center Furnishings, they all release Air pollutants, but the activities we do in our homes create a lot of pollution to so the process of cooking itself the combustion and the use of equipment of particularly gas kitchen equipment can release all sorts of pollutants into the air so it can create particulate matter. So if you think about maybe a stir fry on the stovetop some of those particles of food and droplets of oil are being aerosolized and released into the air and you can inhale them clean has some of the same effects of the compounds be used to clean particularly things like bleach can release ammonia and other gases into the air and some of those gases can actually react with other surfaces in her home and other compounds in her home and create additional toxic compounds. Is there anything we can do about this?

Don't really have a choice but to do more cooking and cleaning at home here is ventilation. I'm not suggesting that anyone give up cooking or cleaning both of which are really important to daily life in which I'm doing plenty of important to think carefully about airflow. So if you have a range hood or exhaust fan in the kitchen, make sure using it all the time when you cook not just if you're craving something that's smoking open a window. If you don't have a range fan, maybe consider getting a window fan and sending it to exhaust that's what we've done in our kitchen door pulls the polluted air out as you cooked in the same thing when cleaning, you know, turn on a bathroom fan if you can crack a window, even if it's just temporarily should help.

Okay, and let me ask now about working from home which obviously a lot more people are doing now. How do we redesigned a space that was originally meant for something else for just living in so that we can actually get some work done to take away from the book is that there's no single environment or setting that is good for everyone or every task or every circumstance. There are studies that show for instance that blue lighting might be better for multitasking. Whereas orange or amber colored lighting might be better for creativity. And so I think one thing that might be helpful for people to do to the extent that they can and their workspaces is to create different kinds of microenvironments and to allow themselves to move between them as their tasks change as their needs and desires changed so you can imagine something like maybe you want to work standing up at a desk or at a kitchen counter when you're trying to lose weight.

Blast through bunch of emails in the morning but in the afternoon if you want to brainstorm or you have a lot of reading to do maybe you move to the couch and that's a more comfortable place for that. So I don't Purge people to give themselves permission to try different settings and arrangements and places to work from their home and sort of figure out what works best for them for different kinds of tasks. And then finally believe there is this really intriguing bit at the end of your book and it's about astronauts and the importance of privacy in indoor spaces. So what are the lessons that we can learn from the experiences of astronauts and robust literature that sometimes referred to as the psychology of isolated confined environments and as you might imagine being on the space station with a few other people for maybe six months is about as isolated in confined if you can get it and research shows that one of the big stressors in

Scenario is interpersonal tension, you're cooped up with people that you may or may not like who may or may not get on your nerves for weeks or months at a time. And so obviously in our homes most of us are probably confined with people we've chosen or that we enjoy but that doesn't mean that we don't also want privacy and personal space and alone time and depending on the size of your home and what's going on there that can be hard to achieve but even their space has some interesting lessons for us, you know in a space shuttle there is not a lot of physical space to move around. Most of our homes are probably at least bigger than that, but there are other ways that we can create privacy. So it's not just being able to go into your own room and close the door, which is great, but you can think about something with maybe auditory privacy. So maybe you and your spouse are both in the living room, but you each have headphone.

Don and you are listening to your own music or your own podcast that can create sort of a way to escape and create a little bit of a personal Zone even just psychologically, of course. Thank you.

Is episode of the indicator was produced by Jamila Huxtable and Nick found in fact check by Brittany Cronin our editors Patty Hearst in the indicator is a production of NPR.

I'm Lisa Hagen and I'm Chris axle where the host of no compromise NPR's new podcast exploring one family's mission to reconstruct America using too powerful tools guns and Facebook new episodes every Tuesday join us for the no compromise podcast from NPR.
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