Thursday, July 9, 2015

Living in a tiny space

This article appeared in my Facebook newsfeed yesterday:

Dear People who live in tiny houses

In a witty, tongue in cheek kind of way, the author asks a slew of semi-rhetorical questions to tiny house dwellers. She adds a footnote stating that while the article is half in jest, she truly does wonder "if it’s all peaches and cream like the swanky design magazines suggest." 

I get asked similar questions all the time:
What about guests?
What about privacy?
What about laundry?

I thought I'd take a few minutes to answer her questions.

Since we've made a commitment/plan to continue living aboard for another two years (which will bring our total time as liveaboards to over ten years), I've been thinking a lot recently about why I like living aboard and why it works for us. I watched an episode of House Hunters on Netflix/HGTV last night and the featured couple were on the market for a new home because their two bedroom condo was just too small for them and their toddler. Yet we live, happily, on a boat with two adults and two kids. So why does it work for us and other people need more space?

Is there something fundamentally different about us that makes this small lifestyle possible? Is it because I live in a permanent state of wanderlust and living on a boat gives me the illusion of travel? Is it because we can't commit to one place? Are we gluttons for punishment? Are we too lazy to change?

No, yes, yes, no, no.

But I have come up with my ultimate answer:

We liveaboard because it works for us. Financially and in a lifestyle kind of way. It forces us to be minimalists, to not consume. It kicks us outside where the kids have space to run and we can meet other people (build community). It encourages us to be conscious about what we eat because we have little storage space for food.

But the answer: because it works for us, still leaves people wondering: could I ever live on a boat, in that tiny space? No way, I have way too much stuff. How do you cook? What about laundry? The bathroom is smaller than a closet.

So the follow-up answer, to anyone wondering: Could I do it?, is: Yes! Anyone can live on a boat. But what you can't do is transfer your land-based life to a liveaboard life or a tiny home. They are fundamentally different and can't be swapped out 1 for 1. 

Hans and I knew we wanted to move on a boat when we were in college. We never created the landlubbing lifestyle for ourselves. Yes, we lived in apartments for four years but we never bought nice stuff. When we moved aboard our sailboat we had a yard sale and then donated the rest to Goodwill. We've never gotten used to using a dishwasher or having a washing machine in our living space. We've gotten very good at getting rid of extra stuff that creeps onto the boat and we generally don't spend a lot of time (or money) shopping for stuff.

I have significantly less clothes than other women I know, less dishes, fewer books, the kids have fewer toys, etc. etc. We have less stuff. And sometimes that is hard. I don't want stuff per se, but it would be nice to not be so limited. And don't get me started on having to lug my laundry to the marina 2 times a week. But then I move on. I watch the sunset or swim in the marina pool and I move on. Because I've chosen this life and the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences and the "gee it would be nice if..."

Yes, it is a totally different lifestyle, but I don't think that we are unique individuals, per se. We've just organized our lives a little differently than dirt dwellers and it makes boat living easy(ish).

Choosing a liveaboard lifestyle over a landlubbing lifestyle would just require an acknowledgement of the differences and knowing that life will be different. In good ways and bad ways. Just like a landlubber could come on board and have difficulty with our never-perfect, a little stinky at times, finicky toilets, I walk into a house and think: it would take me forever to clean this place! 

It's different, that's all. Choosing a liveaboard lifestyle would require a mind shift and the understanding that the systems are different (sometimes easier, sometimes harder), but, at the end of the day, my life is rather similar to my peers.

We have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an eat-in kitchen, a living room with TV, a shower, hot water (!), a outside area, heat and air conditioning, and internet. And we have a dinghy and we can watch the sunrise and sunset every day!

With impeccable timing, my friend Charlotte posted this illustration on her blog recently. The illustration, by Sarah Steenland, is a fellow liveaboard, cruiser, boat mom. Her sense of humor is awesome and she so perfectly captures why we liveaboard:

And the reasons why not? 100% spot on:

Back to the original article that (finally) got me writing again (at least on my blog, I've been doing a lot of tapping away on the keyboard, just not publishing it).

Ms. Modery, 

I hear your questions. I get them. I understand them. And I appreciate your sense of humor too. It's not always pretty (we currently have the pieces of a 48 piece jigsaw puzzle scattered over the floor of the main cabin and I stepped on a Lego in the middle of the night and I'm dreading lugging the big blue Ikea bag up to the marina laundry this afternoon), but, quite often, it's so pretty that it's worth it. Cramped space, lack of privacy, and all.


  1. Perfect...nice reminders of why to do this and how to balance the benefits w/ the challenges. My first step toward not being a land-lubber and accumulating things was when I wanted to move (to Baltimore or Colorado or...Barcelona), but I had a great futon and a great bed and a great...set of dishes? Really? a set of dishes? yes, okay I had three and one set was my grandmother's and I value tradition...but at some point, you realize you are not your stuff. YOU might be your accumulation of experiences (even that might be vanity/ego)...but you are definitely not your STUFF. That letting go was the beginning for me. I hope other people will be inspired by the Tiny House idea (of which you & Hans and me & P were way-the-hell-ahead of the f-ing curve) and by intelligent responses to the honest questions of HOW...HOW does one embark on a life less cluttered? And WHY... Thanks, K. as always when you share your thoughts, they resonate.

    1. thank you! I always like to remind myself that while there are challenges to living aboard, living in a traditional set-up isn't always easy either. But the stuff...yup. it's just stuff. I'll admit that usually a week or so after a purge, I look for something and then get grumpy b/c I threw it out. 6 months later...what did I regret throwing out?
      Now if I can only get our boat to look even a little bit as trendy and as polished as the hipsters online living in their tiny dwellings...