Living on a boat, done right, can be the very essence of living the simple life.  We make do with less of everything from food (fridge too small) to clothing (no closet space) to knick-knacks and frick-frack which we simply don’t have space to display/store.  We also consume much less than the average four person family, simply because we don’t have an unlimited supply.  For instance water; I have to haul all our water to the boat in jugs during the winter.  Because of that, I keep a very close eye on every drop that comes out of our taps and can really turn into the soup-nazi if I think for a second that my water is being wasted.  (NO WATER FOR YOU!!!) Our electricity is limited to 30amps during the summer and 60amps in the winter.  With that limited supply, we run our boat – heating, hot water, lights, TV’s, computers, radio, etc.  When we try to draw more than what we have purchased, we pop a breaker.  At that point I know that if I really want to heat up that slice of pizza in the microwave, I’m going to have to turn something else off.

Last week, I was surfing around looking for other live aboard blogs and came across one that I had not seen before called Sailing, Simplicity and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Teresa is the owner of the blog and what is outstanding about her is that she is one of the few single females that participate in our way of life.  There are lots of single guys living on boats, lots of couples and many families like ours but a single woman living on a boat is a rarity.  She is a teacher, so her blog is very well written and a real joy to read.  Be sure to visit her blog and say hello.

Teresa’s various blog posts on Voluntary Simplicity sent me down the road of thinking about how we live our lives in an increasingly complex and connected world.  As I described above, we are already living the simple life compared to most young families, but I still wonder and wish for simpler times.  Is it possible that we could make do with less?  Why is everything so complicated and convoluted?  Do I really need …. (insert widget, commitment or stuff here)?

A couple of weeks ago the power went out in the middle of a dark and stormy night.  (It really was a dark and stormy night!)  I discovered one of the limitations of relying on shore power for our heat – when the power is out, there is no heat.  The next morning I sat down and made a list of what I would need to do to become more independent and less at the mercy of the local power company.  I came up with several options to make and store my own electricity, create my own heat and generally go ‘off grid.’  However, as I looked at that list, I very quickly saw two things.

1.  Everything was going to cost money – and not just a little … a lot!

2.  Each idea involved designing, installing and working with another ‘system’ on the boat.

Systems are, by nature, complex – that is why they are called systems.  So, does adding new systems really make my life more simple or am I adding a level of complexity that in turn adds to the total load on my life?  Does it make sense to become more independent by becoming more complex?  I’m not sure the trade off is worth it.  As it stands now, it is far easier for me to make my yearly donation to the power company and simply endure the occasional power failure than it is to set up alternative energy sources.  So we remain plugged in.

Now lets get down to the basic question:  What is Simplicity?

The simple life for me is a paradox.  The less you have, the more you can do.  Does that make sense?  Let me ask this: if you didn’t have to take care of all the crap that you’ve accumulated in your life, would you have more time to do what you really want to do?  Another way to state the paradox is: fewer possessions equal greater potential for a richer life.  I don’t know who first said this, but it has been said many times before, “If you don’t control how much stuff you have, your stuff will control you.”  Stuff, be it gadgets, or so called necessities will suck up your time and suck the life out of you.  The converse of this is: it is the simple things in life that are often the most fulfilling.  A simple meal with your family, a good book on a rainy day, a walk in the park, time with friends, playing with your kids; these are the things that are peaceful and fulfilling.  These are the things that bring joy, or as the French say, “joie de vivre ” (joy of life.)   If you are committed to your stuff, be they time commitments, toys, gadgets or other miscellaneous stuff, you lose the time to spend on the simple things that do bring you joy.  It is your priorities that will control your actions, make your priority the simple things and leave the ‘stuff’ behind.  So, for me, simplicity is concentrating on less.  Less of everything, leaving time for the simple things that bring joy.

On the boat here we’ve tried many strategies to control the ‘stuff.’  Of course, as already mentioned, we are limited by our space constraints, but we still try to stop the boat from overflowing.  One of our favorite policies is ‘one in, one out.’  That means whenever we want to bring something new on board, something else has to go.  Now, I will be perfectly honest here, I am the worst culprit breaking this rule, but it is something that helps slow the flow.

A great book that I just finished about simplicity is called The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life by Leo Babauta.  It is an easy read full of practical ideas and instruction on how to slow down and reduce the stuff and commitments in your life.  He also shows that once you drop the non-essential stuff, you can get so much more done.  See, there’s the paradox again, less stuff – get more done.  My favorite question that he asks is, “What’s the alternative to information and task overload?  Must we follow the example of Thoreau, and build a cabin in the woods, shutting ourselves off from society and modern technology? “  As much as I enjoy the thought of a Thoreauean life, I do enjoy being plugged into the web, running water, electricity and the horseless carriage.  So he proposes a middle ground, one that reduces but does not eliminate everything.  I really enjoyed the book and got a lot out of it.  Highly recommended.

Well, that’s it – my litlle ‘self-help’ post.  It works for me.  Don’t forget to visit Sailing, Simplicity and the Pursuit of Happiness.

"Thoughts on Simple Living" by was published on January 18th, 2009 and is listed in Boat Life, Books, Opinions, Simple Life, Uncategorized.

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Comments on "Thoughts on Simple Living": 15 Comments

  1. Sailing Simplicity wrote,

    Hey! Thanks for mentioning me in your blog. I’m glad that you enjoy reading my blog. I’ve checked out yours too, and bookmarked it now so I can keep reading. I’ve heard of “The Power of Less” too. I should check it out. Another great book about simple living (more about simple food and health) is Healthy at 100. Excellent book.
    Teresa

  2. jaye wrote,

    Nice writing … from a fellow liveaboard blogger.
    http://www.hometownannapolis.com/blogs/blog/9/Jaye%20Lunsford%20-%20Life%20Afloat.html

    Please drop me an email – I’d like to quote you.

  3. micah rich wrote,

    hey, thanks for providing the link. i’m always looking for more inspiration, either about alternative living situations or about making my life simpler. i want to live on a boat, sail around the world, and enjoy living with less, and the more i read about it, the more inspired i’ll be to do it. :-)

  4. Tina wrote,

    Did a google search and found your site. I have so many questions about simple living. May I ask questions without offending you? Its not that I think I am right or wrong its that I just question things to learn and understand and I don’t completely understand–I understand living with less and that is a neat idea although for me I would have a bit of a problem since I make things and people make me things and I cherish and save them–somehow when I take these items out the person is a live and with me even if they arent physically in my space I love that but it does create build up. The other thing is I very much give of my time, and experiences and which is a major thing I do outside of work—how in making life simple do you have time to meet and connect with people of all walks of life to experience them? It seems you live a small community of people who are all doing the same thing—how do you connect, inspire, give to and join other communities and be part of it all? It seems you have to spend all your time worrying about up keep on the boat–where to find the money and the time to do it all. Giving to other people is a gift and a luxury I can’t imagine giving up to live as you call it Simply sounds so complicated and focused to me it doesnt seem to let you mind wander and experience it actually sounds like Selfish Living because you have to focus all your time on yourself and family and the 1 experience. Could you help me understand it better?

  5. strathy wrote,

    Hi Tina,

    Thanks for the comment and questions – I am certainly not offended…lol.

    Let me break down your comment into separate questions…

    Gifts from others: both of our families know and understand that we just don’t have room for anything large. Of course, gifts are welcome here and are valued for the thoughts behind them. Especially for my kids – they love getting stuff from the grandparents/aunts/uncles. We all (the adults anyway) understand though, that when the useful time of those gifts is over, they will be donated or otherwise given to other kids to enjoy.

    “How in making life simple do you have time to meet and connect with people of all walks of life to experience them?” Hmmm, maybe I did not make my point very clear on this … the point of simplifying life is to have time for the important stuff – stuff like friends and neighbors, or like this afternoon when I took my 4 yr old to indoor soccer and hung around with the other parents chatting it up. Another thing we do a lot of is travel. We are currently planning a trip in Feb to the Mississippi delta. I expect to do a lot of “meet and connect with people of all walks of life to experience them” on that trip. Again, it’s a matter of choice and priorities. I live in a very cosmopolitan city – Toronto – we experience different people and cultures everyday just by living here. In the past month we’ve enjoyed food from the following cultures: Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Lebanese and Indian. This is the amount of interaction that we choose – it is enough for us. Any more and I would have to take time away from something else that is at this point in time, more important to me.

    “It seems you have to spend all your time worrying about up keep on the boat–where to find the money and the time to do it all.” You are reading a blog about how I live on a boat. That’s what it is about. Don’t assess how I spend my time based what you read on this blog. It is only a part of who and what I am. I actually have a very fulfilling life outside of boating. I spend much more time on my hobby (I study and collect insects) than I do “worrying” about the boat. Check out http://www.myinsectcollection.com for some of what I do there. As to money – yes living on a boat does cost some money, but not anywhere near as much as owning and living in a house. See my other posts about living on a boat for cost comparisons.

    “…you call it Simply sounds so complicated and focused to me it doesnt seem to let you mind wander and experience it actually sounds like Selfish Living because you have to focus all your time on yourself and family and the 1 experience.” Wow, this final point really floored me. Are you kidding me? The whole point of setting up a simple life is so that I have the time to spend on what is important to me. i.e. my kids and family. I can’t think of anything else in this world that is more important to me at this time. Let me try to put it a different way – I’ve given up the menial many, so that I can spend quality time on the important few. If you say that making time for my kids is selfish, then I am proud to say I’m guilty. They are the important few that I want to spend my time on. Don’t spread yourself too thin. That’s like trying to butter 10 slices of bread with enough butter for 5. It’s hard to do and nobody enjoys it.

    Hope this helps you…

  6. Tina wrote,

    Yes thanks—it does make more sense to me and I appreciate your thoughts but I was not talking about selfish living in terms of your own family but in terms of giving to community and showing your family how to give and love others whatever it is donating time to soup kitchen working with kids in a hospital, volunteering at a school it seems if you go place to place your children dont get the experience of community

    The way you explain simple living it is not different from the way anyone else that makes there kids an important focus in there life as well as community which I actually didnt get what your contribution was to community?— Toronto is one of my favorite cities—and traveling is great I love to travel too. I think just because you dont have a lot of material things doesnt make your life any simpler to me it just means you have less space—Simple seems like a mind set—and not related to material things at all —you could have a boat, a motor home, a house, and still live simple and enjoy life and the material things you chose to make important to you whatever they may as long as they are not more important than a person or people material things can be very fun —simple then doesn’t sound like you need to give up material things after all a boat is a material thing right? It is how you make a lifestyle rather than making life simple that you are talking about—because you have to spend time rationing water doesnt make your life simpler than mine because I just get in the shower? It just makes your focus different does that make sense? Is that true? I am just curious and your thoughts do mean a lot to me –I hope you will come visit when you are in New York City

  7. strathy wrote,

    “Simple seems like a mind set” That’s it. I think you’ve stated it exactly right with that statement. It all begins in your mind and what priorities you set in your life. Once you’ve created the time and space you need to think straight then you can apply yourself and your time to whatever is the’ very important’ to you. Be that the local soup kitchen, your family, reading a book or anything else, living life in a simple and uncomplicated way affords you the time to commit to those commitments that you choose. So often we give our lives up to everyone else … and I recognize that serving others may be one of those things that is on your ‘very important’ list, but saying “No”, while hard to do at the time, is sometimes the best answer to give to a demand or request. I’m sure we’ve all had bosses that expected us to do 12 hours of work in the 8 hours they wanted to pay us for … that is the situation that you want to alleviate in your personal life. Take time to breath, or as we used to say, smell the roses. Your mind will be better for it.

  8. Tina wrote,

    Again Thanks so much for your thoughts I have been thinking so much lately how to bring different communities together and have them each learn from others experiences–you have eloquently answered my questions on Simply Living as in my email response –with one addition

    I love that you live your dream the way it works for you—as I see it Simple Living is about–

    1- being true to yourself and your dreams
    2- fulfilling those dreams in any matter that works for you
    3- Loving & Appreciating people above all else ie. material things
    4- teaching your children that love of people is the most important thing to value
    5- Cherish the moments and not the material things
    6- Achievements through work you are passionate about is a gift
    7- Stop to smell the roses :)

    Did I get it? Is this the heart of simple living?

  9. How to Live Off Grid wrote,

    Wow, what an amazing site, and how amazing you have done this for your family. At one point my husband and I talked about living on a boat. I think it would be wonderful.

    I too have problems with the “gift” aspect of things. Grandparents getting upset when we give gifts they’ve given, even when they are outgrown. The whole “guilt” aspect and fear of offending people. But I think a lot of that has to do with me than anything else.

    I would love to keep my house but get rid of the clutter, and the non essentials. I am also hoping to make our house self sustaining, both power and food. :)

    I guess it’s all just one step at at time huh?

    Jackie

  10. kristi wrote,

    i enjoyed the post. i like how you address the trade off between being more independent, and making things more complex. i recently pondered whether adding a fax machine would simplify my life (don’t have to go to kinko’s to fax) or make it more complicated (another toner cartridge, another machine, etc.). i wasn’t sure … so i went with my default strategy for when i’m not sure and did nothing. i think with your power situation … when and if the ‘system upgrade’ really makes sense – you’ll know it.

    also, one thing i find works well to keep things simple and minimal is to not hesitate to buy the best of whatever you need. yeah, quality stuff costs money – but it lasts longer, works better, makes you want to take care of it, has better resale value, etc.

  11. Skipper wrote,

    Hiya, just found your blog and I can see I’m going to spend a lot of time ‘here! Wanted to comment on the ‘plugged-in heating’ issue, because we went through a similar dilemma. But almost two years ago we took the plunge and installed a special little wood heater, and we love it, love it, love it! You can read about it here ….
    http://mvwindwalker.blogspot.com/2007/12/but-arent-you-cold.html . We sure haven’t had any regrets!

  12. Boat Slips wrote,

    I think the key to simple living is realizing that somestimes less is more. As you mentioned, it gives you more time to focus on the things that DO matter.
    I checked out Teresa’s blog and it’s great!

  13. Lis Sowerbutts wrote,

    I dont live on a boat – I get sea sick on a 30mn trip LOL. But we did camp 6 months around Australia – deserts and boats are very similar – power and water can be problematical – and in fact the best camper trailers and caravans are built on the same principals as boats -water proof is also sand proof!

    My point though is that I saw people travelling completely self-contained – usually with a late model 4WD extra batteries, extra fuel tank, generator – rugged camper trailer. They were self- contained alright but the setup costs are easily $300k plus. We spent $10k on a 1985 landcruiser a tent and gear. We had a spare jerry can of diesel, 30 litres of water, a tent, gas cooking and torchs . We could recharge batteries and the laptop when the car was driving.

    We weren’t as comfortable as their setup – we basically needed to plugin in every 2/3 days – but we went everywhere pretty much possilble in Australia – and we never worried about anything getting lost or damaged :-)

    People get obssessed by being independent – it the weather was against us as far as camping was concerned – we got a cabin, or a room in the pub! We still spent an awful lot less than $300k!

  14. David wrote,

    Stumbled upon your website tonight as I am considering living aboard a boat, it has been my dream for many years. I’m a single dad. I’m here to read and learn. I was a Navy Quartermaster for some years and gained some navigation experience. I truly loved it. I hope those skills will help. I definitely enjoyed your simple living post and comments. I bookmarked your site and will come back to read more. Thanks for sharing your experience. David.

  15. Mia - Marine Supplies wrote,

    I love the "one in, one out" idea – that is similar to how I manage my clothes in my closet.  Now if I only I could use the same approach when thinking about supplies for my boat!  I just found your site stumbling across sustainable living, and while I hadn't thought of living on my boat for long periods of time, you have definitely given me something to think of pursuing.  Best of luck!

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