Living in Small Spaces

By boating standards we have a large boat. I have come to realize this through the friendly comments of experienced boaters as they stand on the dock with their hands on their hips looking at our boat. Ohhhh the irony. This is our tiny house. It is vastly smaller than what we came from and we feel that everyday.

Living in small spaces isn’t for everyone. It’s a choice we knew we wanted to make. However until we were living it we didn’t know how small it would feel. So far it’s working for us. It’s different though. Moving through the boat is a constant dance. Passing in the hallway isn’t an option. Two people cooking together is a thing of the past. Eating dinner together is a scene like no other in our living room (I’ll save that story for another time, but I’ll leave you with one word: PICNIC)

We are always in the same space together. There really is no retreating to a different part of the house for a quiet minute. That’s what the marina laundry room is for. Conversations include everyone, not by choice. We are always swirling around saying “excuse me” “oh sorry, did I bump you with that?” “can you scoot over a little bit so that I can walk by you?” It’s kind of a beautiful mess though.

Our girls are quite active. They don’t really sit quietly. They are always moving, jumping, twirling, dancing, jumping, jumping, jumping. In our old house the girls had room to ride bikes inside, loads of space to show how fast they could run and we had a huge deck and even bigger yard to release energy. The boat is different and we hadn’t acknowledged the play space issue until last night when a moment of clarity hit me.

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Matt was out running an errand after dinner and it was just me and the girls hanging out. Like so many days before, the inevitable jumping started. Jumping off the ladder, jumping off the couch, jumping down the steps. The thing is though, Lyla can land these jumps, Savannah can not. Mind you, we have been talking about no jumping on the boat for weeks now. It makes me nervous and edgy. I’m just waiting for someone to get hurt. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I looked at the girls and quietly said, “If there is anymore jumping I am taking the ladder down and getting rid of the couch.” They stared at me. Maybe because we had already gotten rid of so many things they wondered if I was serious or maybe because I was so calm it made them curious. They stopped jumping and found another activity, rope swinging and tackling each other. REALLY??? We needed a new plan that didn’t involve me having more wine.

As I thought more about the whole exchange I came to realize that it was actually all about Matt and I and what we weren’t doing. It really had nothing to do with them. They are two and four and about as wiggly as they come. I realized that we need to expand our play space if we are going to make this work. We need to go for walks after dinner; we need to go to the park before bed. Living in a house I never would have dreamed of leaving with the girls after 4:00pm. That would have seemed crazy. Not now though. It is so necessary.

Living is a small space is causing me to expand my world. New habits are forming. I started a list last night of places we could walk and things we could do with the girls to expand their world as well. I am also refocusing on quiet activities we can do with them to help foster a connection with our new space. They need an example and guidance for what this new space means, not just a list of what they can’t do.

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Raising children is always a constant work in progress. Coupled with our change in lifestyle and we are dancing a new dance in so many ways. It’s testing us in ways I hadn’t even thought of and forcing us to be present. Success of this situation lies solely in the hands of us, as parents. We can’t rely on the space/toys in our home to entertain our children, we must engage in new ways. What parenting moments have caused you to personally reflect?

Boat Observations

1.  Living on a boat in the winter is wet.  Literally, everything is wet.  Maybe it’s that way in the summer too, I don’t know, I just know winter is definitely wet inside our boat.20140224-145909.jpg

2.  The windows always have condensation.  Lyla is quite skilled at using a squeegee though and Savannah mops up with towels behind her.  We are harnessing their love for window washing as that will be a new endless task for us.20140224-150113.jpg

3. Our boats roof and seals around the windows leak water in all sorts of places.  It seems to be a totally normal thing to have happen on a boat.  As luck would have it a few days after we  moved in Matt said, “Tracking down leaks are one of my favorite things.  I’m pretty good at it.” Reason #496 he is the best person for me to live aboard this boat with.

4. Taking the laundry to the laundry room at the marina is not a bad job.  It gets you a little piece and quiet, a nice warm room and there are magazines.  Sometimes that’s all it takes to turn a day around.

5.  Speaking of little moments, taking the garbage out isn’t a bad gig either.  I often take my camera as I have been amazed at the night sky on my walks.  When I went the other night a little harbor seal popped up and started showing off.  It was clapping and splashing.  Seems that might be the new normal.  Turns out there are a few local seals that are super social and just hang here to play and live.  They are the new neighborhood animals we see.  It’s kind of fun to have seals pop up every so often as if to say, “good morning.”

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6. Getting life jackets on and off has added some time to our routine of getting ready.  The girls can’t do their own buckles yet so they both still need help getting situated.

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7.  Our life is way more active than before.  There is a lot more walking and carrying, and pushing carts up and down ramps, and climbing steps and ladders and twisting inside doors and lifting little people out of doors.  It’s nice.  I feel like I am participating in life again.  Between that and the increased amount of fresh air, it’s kind of a refreshing way to live.

8.  We only have 30amps of power on this boat.  I didn’t really know too much about electricity until I realized three heaters, the refrigerator and the stove can’t be on at the same time.  We are learning to balance it all out.  Solar and wind energy will most definitely be in our future.

9.  We are loving living in town.  Being able to walk into Friday Harbor for coffee or dinner out has been fun.  We just discovered Van Go Pizza, a new place on the island.  Super good pizza and I’m happy to have a new restaurant on the island.  Plus the walks home are kind of cute with these two.

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Oh Captain, My Captain

The second most popular question after “How’s it going?” has been “Can you even drive that thing?”  And the answer is… yes, sort of.  The boat works and it’s sea worthy…. buuuut no one in our family has really ever driven a boat this large.  captain

We do have a Captain identified though.  We are off to a good start.  His name is Matthew and I love him with all of my heart.  He has spent many a day on the water in the San Juans and Pacific Northwest when he was growing up in Washington.  He grew up on a farm and in a family that boated recreationally.  He is mechanically inclined,  learns new skills quickly and he’s eager to get this boat out on the water.  He seemed like the logical choice out of the four of us.

When we first started shopping for boats, trying to figure out what size boat we would need was very interesting and I learned a lot quickly.  I became well versed in boat types, almost to the point where I can carry on a short conversation with experienced boaters.  I knew that we needed something with at least two bedrooms, a kitchen (galley… see look at my new boat lingo) and a living room.  I didn’t know boat sizes though.  I found a lovely 60’ boat that even had a hot tub on the top deck, but we determined that might be a bit much and missing the point.  We narrowed it down to around 40’ being ideal as most boats that size would work well for living aboard.

Seeing as how Matt and I have never been boating together, my first obvious question to him as we were looking was, “Can you drive a boat that is 40’?”  His response was, “Yep, I think I can.”  That little word “think” had me a touch concerned.  I mean really, who wants to be in a giant boat drifting at sea or worse yet, hitting every boat in the marina as we pinball our way out.  Not this girl.  He assured me he could do it.

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When we found the Wild Rose we knew right away we had to have her.  She was perfect for us.  She is a 50’ boat though and that’s no joke.  If you have three minutes and tape measure, which I’m sure you don’t, measure out 50’.  It’s big.  She was located in Olympia, WA which is about 140 nautical miles, or a three day trip in the winter.  At first Matt thought that perhaps he could just gather a few friends and they would drive it up.  After a little research and map checking we decided it might be better to save the guy’s weekend for a different time. We discovered that you can actually hire someone to drive your boat places.  We got in touch with Captain Gary, a very experienced boat Captain who spends his retirement delivering large boats to people on the west coast.  Done and done.  He was available and super easy to work with.  We had ourselves a Captain to bring us our house.

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Once our boat arrived, we felt way more settled.  The thing is though; we just aren’t ready to take her out yet.  I know, “a boat is safest in the harbor, but that’s not where a ship is meant to be blah blah blah”.  The Wild Rose is perfectly happy in the harbor right now.  Our Captain is taking boating classes once a week and will be working this spring to get up to speed on driving this boat.  I imagine our first trip out will be in a few months.  We are all still deep into an adjustment period and this is something we need to do on our own time. 

This has been a huge lesson in trusting your partner for me.  However, after much thought I have come to realize that the only way we are going to be successful is if we believe in each other and our abilities to learn new things on this adventure.  I know I will want his full support as I take on learning new pieces of this life too.  He deserves the same.  I am pretty sure I will be an absolute nervous wreck the first time we take this boat out. However, I have always been a firm believer in trying new things that scare me, as past experiences have told me this is where I have the most personal growth in life.

When was the last time you tried something that scared you?  Seriously, tell me… I might need your stories for courage when I am white knuckling the couch with two life jackets on.

Project: Get rid of our shit

We have never been huge ‘let’s go shopping all day’ consumers.  However, it seemed we always found something we needed every time we went to a store.  The kitchen gadget which made omelets better, the new lotion that would make me glow, the magic baby gizmo promising to solve all of our problems and the little toy that just had to be purchased (damn you Dollar Store).  We had those things.  More of those things than I thought.  It was easy to go to the store and justify the purchase.

When we started to talk about moving onto a boat, we quickly realized we couldn’t bring all our things with us.  We only had room for the things we actually used everyday.  Think about that for a minute.  If it wasn’t part of our daily or weekly routine we couldn’t bring it aboard.  It took some time for me to wrap my head around this concept.  The waffle maker couldn’t come.  It didn’t get used enough.  No more closets full of things.  I knew I wanted to simplify my life but it didn’t register just how simple we were going to get.

We knew we wanted a storage unit (10×10) to keep those items that we weren’t really ready to let go of.  We aren’t sure how long we are going to keep the storage unit.  We are slowly starting to realize we may not actually need anything in there really.  However this evolution of thought takes time and I admit I’m not ready to get rid of everything just yet. christmas.january.2014 060

For instance, I have collected a rather large supply of craft items.  However, rarely (okay, never) do I find myself crafting.  But I am ready just in case anyone needs fancy paper cut into tiny circles intricately arranged into crafty awesomeness.  I don’t need this stuff.  If by some miracle I find the project of my dreams, I can gather the supplies.  Odds are though; I won’t be making a single item in my Pinterest craft folder, ever.  I am coming to terms with this.

My husband likes to squirrel away tools and various nuts/bolts/trinkets/gadgets/pieces of wood just in case a project might come up.  They never do.  We have all the tools we need on the boat.  He is coming to terms with this.  (I must say though, we have literally been moving pieces of wood that he thought he needed for years.  I almost died when he told me he got rid of all of it.  ALL.OF.IT.  Progress people.)

These craft supplies/kids clothes/tools/wall art are the items our storage unit holds.  We have had to change our thinking.  We can no longer hold onto the items we might need someday.  Experience tells me we never use them.  We still have a long way to go, but I can tell you, we have made progress in leaps and bounds.

We took no less than seven truck loads of items to the local thrift store, three furniture drop off’s to a friends house, three truck loads to the dump and literally gave away every piece of baby stuff to a woman who wanted our crib.  I wasn’t looking to make money off of our items.  We got our use out of the stuff.  I just wanted it gone.  We laugh now that we can’t go to the thrift store on our tiny island for awhile because it’s probably just looks like our house set up differently.

Some of the hardest stuff for me to let go of were the items from my childhood.  I had three plastic totes full of trinkets and treasures from my youth.  Old trophies, pictures, journals, jewelry, notes from a crush, stuffed animals art projects and dare I even say, old corsages.  I feel like most people have ‘those boxes’ tucked away in the attic/basement/back closet and get them out once in a blue moon for a trip down memory lane.  I started to wonder why I was saving that stuff.  Getting rid of it, didn’t take away my memories, did it?  Even if I got rid of the trophy, I still won the science fair.  Maybe I thought I was going to show my girls one day and it was going to be magical and we were going to have this amazing mother/daughter moment where they would be fascinated with my stories of the ‘old days’.  In all reality I probably would have dragged the box out; they would have rifled through it and then said, “Cool Mom”.  And I would have moved those damn totes around for 20+ years for that?????  No thank you.

I did keep my journals which I have written in since the ripe age of five.  Those are gems.  I’m not sharing them with the girls though.  That’s my reading when I am old and crazy.  I also keep every photograph I found along the process of downsizing.  That’s it though.  The rest is gone and I feel so good with that decision.

Surprisingly enough, our girls started to understand the concept of having less and have been good with getting rid of most items too.  We talked about toys and whether they were garbage or whether we could pass it onto another child.  Being two, Savannah didn’t care.  As long as her beloved concrete lawn squirrel stayed, we were good.  Lyla, however, wanted to keep more and we let her.  This is a work in progress.  We will continue to revisit the toys and talk about what we play with and don’t play with.  This has to be positive for them.  I don’t want them to feel like their stuff just disappears in the night (I was tempted to fill a giant trash bag once they went to bed however Matt was the voice of reason).

So what do we have on the boat?  We each have a small closet of clothes, only the shoes we wear each week, bathroom stuff we use daily, a few blankets, bedding and towels, a handful of toys and puzzles for the girls, enough pots and pans for a meal and enough plates/dishes/cups for each meal.  We have to wash what we use so it’s ready for the next meal.  That’s it.  It’s like we packed for a mini vacation to a cabin.

I have to say, it’s lovely.  We feel so much lighter.  We have more time because we aren’t always putting things away, or doing dishes, or just dealing with our stuff.  I don’t feel like I have less though, I feel like I have more time, money and energy for other things.  You really should try it, get rid of 30 items, you might be surprised how quickly you forget them.   

Our Little Mates

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To my Little Belle and Sissy Boo,

So many people have questioned why we moved to a boat.  They worry about you two sweet little chickens.  I am grateful people are worrying about you, but they could never worry more than me and Daddy.

 “Will your girls be safe?”

 “Where will they play?

 “Will they have to sleep in their life jackets?”

 “What if they fall in the water?

 “What if, What if, What if”

 In my heart I know we have made the right choice.  We kept you both first in every conversation we had about the decision.  You see though little loves, we’ve never lived on a boat before.  We don’t know what to expect, but isn’t that the fun of it?  Isn’t life about capturing the adventure that lies around the corner?  Isn’t it about seeing the unknown before you and charging towards it with intention instead of retreating because of fear?  We want you to see that different is okay.  A life with daily challenges is good.  It’s called living.  We want to learn this new life with you.

You don’t have the yard to play in anymore, but you have clams and sea anemones to check on and ducks to watch and Popeye the seal to guard the waters around our boat at night.  You have an ice cream shop a stones through from the boat and the park in town with swings is only a skip away.  You have a million stars at night to see from our deck and blue herons that sound like coo coo clocks.  You have otters that scared us to death the first time we heard them playing under our dock herding fish.  You have over zealous sea gulls that hope you will drop your crackers.  You imaginations run wild at night as we imagine the ocean floor below.  (Minus the scary jelly fishes that we will NEVER bring up again.)

You have a new fancy “life coat” with a whistle that each of proudly blow as you march along the docks.  You have a newfound confidence each time we let you walk a little further ahead without holding our hands.  We are learning to trust you more and more.  We are learning to communicate in a new way.  We are learning to appreciate your independence.  We are watching you grow in ways we never imagined.

Will you fall in the water?  My bet is yes.  Actually, I bet Daddy falls in first, then probably Charlie. You know what though?  If you fall in, we will get you out and dry you off and kiss your cheeks and laugh with you or dry your tears.  We will keep you as safe as we can but we can’t keep you in tiny little boxes your whole life.  We will let you lean over the edge just a little to get your balance and see what lives under our dock.  We will let you dip your toes in the water to see just.how.cold. the water is here.  We will let you jump in if you want.  This adventure is about living and learning together.  You ladies will learn what you like and don’t like.  I can’t tell you what that might be.  We must discover it together.

I can’t even begin to tell you how amazed I am with the spirit of adventure you girls have about living on a boat.  You are bursting with excitement.  Your ability to embrace this change astounds me.  Yes, Sissy, I know showers are scary.  But you are brave and last night when the whole family was literally cheering for you the whole time you showered, you shined on through and persevered.  You surprised yourself and couldn’t stop beaming and saying “I did it” when you were done.  Victory!

Little ladies, I promise you, our boat will always be filled with love for you both.  We will keep you safe and warm and we will learn and grow together on this adventure.  We will have ups and downs and surprises but we will have each other and that’s really ultimately what matters the most.

PS: You don’t have to sleep in your lifecoat.  Docks and deck only.

Finding our path again

When my husband and I met ten years ago on Orcas Island, we would spend a considerable amount of time dreaming of living alternatively.  The thought of a house in a neighborhood bored us to tears.  We wanted different, we wanted a little hardship in our living, and we wanted to physically work for what we had.  The standard American way of living never looked that lovely to us.  Don’t get me wrong, I drool over perfectly styled spaces.  Historic homes will always tug at my heart.  But let’s be real here for a sec, if you spend anymore than ten minutes with my husband and I, you will quickly realized quaint historic homes and styled nooks aren’t our gig.

Over the years, our goals and dreams have drifted everywhere from living in a bus, to a yurt, to a grain silo to a storage container and everywhere in between.  We dreamed of a unique space that would allow us to be creative but also not be tied down financially to our home.  We didn’t want a big, expensive, fancy house.  We wanted simple.  We never wanted to be owned by our possessions.

Then we had our first daughter and thought that all of our creative ways to live had to wait.  We needed a proper house to raise our baby.  We took out a thirty year mortgage and settled in with the rest of America in the burbs’ of Portland, Oregon.  We put our true dreams on hold for what we thought we were supposed to have.  But somehow, we never stopped sitting up at night drawing new ideas for tiny houses, dreaming up budgets to travel in a bus or scheming ways to live off of the grid.

We were trapped in suburbia and needed to bust the hell outta of there quick.  There was no denying it.  We didn’t belong.

Little girl #2 arrived and we started making an exit plan.  Our path lead us to San Juan Island in Washington.  We rented a house.  A big house.  The biggest house either of us had ever lived in.  2200sqft big.  And we settled right in.  But we didn’t feel settled.  We didn’t need all of that space.  We didn’t want to buy more things to fill that space either.

Bit by bit, we started to talk about what our next step would be.  We talked about buying land and building our own tiny home (as in physically doing it ourselves).  Honestly though, we have a two and a four year old and we are tired.  We didn’t have time to build a house.  We didn’t have the money to buy land.  We didn’t want another loan and we didn’t want to be owned by our house.

And then one day it all became clear.  We needed to simplify our life to get where we wanted to be.  We really had everything we needed already.  We didn’t need a big house and we didn’t need all our stuff.  What we needed was a boat.  Yes, we needed a boat to live on.  This little family of four + one old lab needed a boat.

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One might think, “oh wow, how fun, they must be experienced boaters”.  Well think again sisters and brothers.  My husband boated when he was little but that was recreationally.  My family went canoeing once and only once.  We spent a lot of time in the bushes along the river on that particular family trip.  Boating is not in our blood.  Okay, it is more in my husband’s blood than mine and he is handy and mechanically inclined.  But still, you get the point.  We are novices.

Everybody has their first day at being new at something though.  So just like any good inexperienced boating family, we purchased a beautiful (yet very reasonably priced) 1954 50’ Chris Craft Catalina.  She is an old wood boat and her name is Wild Rose.  She is one of ten boats of her kind, and it seems only one of two still remaining in the world.  She works like a charm and I know she has stories.  We will only add to her stories.  Every good adventure has a learning curve and this will prove no different.  Here’s to the “Adventures of Wild Rose”.