|From Scuppers the Sailor Dog by Margaret Wise Brown, Illustrated by Garth Williams|
Anke and I have lived in some small spaces, most of them shared with our late, 50lb dog, Scuppers. You could fit each of them into a walk-in closet, and a few would have room to spare.
We always tell folks who ask, "Yeah, but the back yard is HUGE!" It's true. When indoors, we're either lying down (on our rolled out bed) or sitting (mostly on the rolled up bed). Outside, our space stretches on to the horizons.
Small is affordable, quick to build and outfit, and easy to maintain. House-keeping and spring cleaning are manageable. Everything is in easy reach. Quick and easy to warm. Rent, utilities and taxes, if you must pay them, are low. It was economist E.F.Schumacher who said, "Small is beautiful!"
For boats and other mobile homes, the ratio of human strength to forces involved is high. Easier to move, easier to park, and more slots available. If push comes to shove, you can muscle a small home out of trouble... up and above the tide-line, for example.
And when trouble hits - shipwreck, fire, repossession - we've always wanted boats we could walk away from. Not be traumatized by the loss of a huge investment.
Well... there's an ever-evolving art to living small. Attitude is most important. Humor, tolerance, flexibility, ingenuity... not a bad set for life itself.
A friend told us early on, "To live in a small space, you've got to be ruthless." The more you can dis-attach yourself from stuff, the easier it is. Jettison those old high school medals, momentos of this or that, tureens. Cultivate a rich, internal life. Treasure memories, not souvenirs.
Look for tools that can 'wear many hats'. A good kitchen knife, for example, replaces a slew of gew-gaws and gadgets. When you find one thing that will replace two, trade down (remember to get rid of the two being replaced). And don't mistake clutter for convenience. I'm talkin' appliances.
Most often, the latest technology won't be on your side. Old timers had simplicity pretty well down, and it pays to study their ways and means. Still, a tablet computer holds a boatload of books, weeks of music and more video than is good for you. Use your head, but if it helps trade down, why not?
You'll want some pastimes. Cultivate those with small toolsets and footprint: a musical instrument; pencil, pen or charcoal drawing; whittling or chip carving; marlinspike arts; scrimshaw. Cultivate joy in giving away your masterpieces. Or, if you must keep them, work on the structure itself, turning it into a thing of beauty.
Not being naturally ruthless, one rule we've made for ourselves is to have no storage elsewhere. Every one of our friends with off-site storage pay a hefty, monthly bill to house stuff they haven't seen in years... don't even recall what's there!
On-board storage should be clever, but not too smart for its own good. There's a balance between tiny, dedicated pigeon-holes (well organized, but hard to ventilate and clean) and large, flexible bins (less organized, but easy to air and wipe down).
We've been tending toward modular, containerized storage, organized on open shelves or racks. We can stick full containers outside - in the rain, if necessary - and deep clean their shelving. Contents under control at all times (if you unpack a built-in bin, where does all that stuff go?). Divide and conquer, rather than one, big, often unsuccessful push from one end of the boat to the other.
However you work it, the old adage, "A place for everything and everything in its place" applies. It gets easier, the smaller the space. In our case, it's at least something to aim for.
To share a small space with a partner, your family or guests requires those same attitudes listed above.
Courtesy is essential. Toleration is good, but don't depend on it... work together to find and fix what's not working. And if it's not working for one, it will work for none.
Privacy is a number one concern about small spaces. It's over-rated. Taboos inhibit full or partial nudity, and privatize elimination. Children have little problem with either, and adults accept them in locker rooms, public bathrooms or latrines.
If you can retrain yourselves to a more relaxed standard, life gets easier. If not, ingenuity steps in with curtains, customs ("Keep a sharp lookout for'ard!") and timing ("Time for the morning walk and constitutional!").
Meanwhile, even in a small space, you shouldn't be in one anothers' laps. Everyone should have a comfortable place to lounge, without touching or being touched. Inside and outside spaces can be utilized to their fullest. Having a bimini (tarp) or tent can open your options wide indeed. A tent is especially helpful if you wanna get some good lovin' in, without scandalizing the rest of the crew. It's the small space version of 'get a room!'
I've never quite understood the need for full-standing headroom on a boat. It's not like you can really walk around. Nice in the galley, but sit-down and kneeling galleys work fine. Weight and windage are lower without. Precious warm air doesn't hang out at the overhead, whilst toesies freeze.
The headroom clincher I hear from live-aboards is, "A feller wants to be able to stand to pull his pants up." That's a direct quote, repeated verbatim, maybe a thousand times over the years. I mean, what's so hard about pulling 'em up, lying down? You bridge your hips for a second, when you get there, and shazzam. Pants're up. No big deal.
I don't like to be crowded by the overhead, though. Headroom should be one of lounging, sitting or standing; comfortable for its use while not tempting one to futilely attempt the next. In-between headroom leads to concussion and nagging, lower back pain.
If you're thinking about a small space, rest assured. While there are things foregone, the return is great. In a very short while, you will begin to see your 'sacrifices' in a new light. To see what I mean, load a pack with 50lbs of your favorite possessions, and wear it around for one day...
At the end of the day, take it off.