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.