During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays). I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year. I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat. I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.
|Running in place may make the hamster happy, but it wasn't working for us -- ultimately we left the rat race to live on a boat! (image from ClipArtPanda)|
It was the late 80s or early 90s, Dan and I were in our early 40s, an age when the expectation was that we would be entering the "high-powered" period of our careers -- we were old enough to have finally built up some expertise, still young enough to have lots of energy, and the idea was this was the time to work hard and start earning the big bucks! And we did ... until we realized that we were spending so much time earning, that we were missing out on a lot. Like seeing the shifting light of the day, of the weather and the seasons, from our windowless cubicles. All that money we were raking in was going right back out again: long workdays left us too tired to cook, so we ate dinner out several times per week, and paid someone else to clean the house that we had no time to clean ourselves, the rooms we rarely had time to use anyway. We needed off this treadmill!
We started small -- negotiations with our bosses allowed us to each cut back to working 4 days per week with no overtime. We were generally able to keep our favorite "core" projects, but had to give up some committees, and knew this path would lead to being passed over for some career opportunities down the road. We also knew we were going to have to cut down on lifestyle somewhat. Ultimately it was going to lead to moving to a smaller, less-expensive house, and then a yet-smaller house, and then to a boat. We had been trading big chunks of our lives to our jobs in exchange for money to buy stuff; now, we were saying no to the money, and taking back our time! We spent those newfound 3-day weekends with friends, hiking or camping or canoeing, building a solar greenhouse, reading, creating, cooking. Truly, the best things in life ... weren't things.
Now, a 33-foot sailboat has been our home for the last 14 years. We live in less than 300 square feet -- just over a tenth the square footage of the average American house. Of course, the smaller living space means we have room for only very few possessions (every piece of clothing I own has to fit in a space about the size of two airline carryon bags, for example, three small shelves plus 5 hangers). It's as if you had to fit everything you own into the cabinets of an average kitchen: not just pots and pans and food and dishes, but also your sweaters and hiking boots and tools and books and towels -- everything. We've learned to collect intangibles instead -- friends, memories, adventures, ultimately take up no space. And we're happier than we ever were. Modern science backs this up, as studies show that experiences make us happier than material possessions. But we had our epiphany back in the 1980s, so I've got to get points for doing this before it was cool.
A few of the benefits we've discovered of this minimalist lifestyle:
- Smaller living space costs less to build, heat, cool, and maintain; a smaller boat costs less in slip rental and utilities, smaller sails and lighter lines, than a big one. Saving money = more free time.
- We also save time -- cleaning a small space takes just a few minutes.
- We're collecting friends and memories instead of knickknacks that need to be dusted. That saves money, and space, and time, and the hypothetical knickknacks would fall off their shelves in rough seas anyway.
- Since we only have space for one of each thing, we don't have to make decisions about which of several similar things to use. Making these decisions, that ultimately don't matter in the long run, wastes time and energy and accomplishes nothing. I wrote about these "micro-decisions" in last year's A to Z challenge.
- To the greater good, we're decreasing our ecological footprint and using less of the planet's resources.