In 2014 I moved full time onto a 32ft yacht. For three years.
While I’d only intended on going sailing for a few months, maybe six, it turned into a long-term way of life. The boat well and truly became my home.
Now when most people talk about small space living, or ‘tiny homes’, they’re not often talking about a place with 2 square metre floor space. The boat didn’t have so much small space as no space.
And yet I lived aboard with my then-partner for three years. And we still had everything we needed.
I’m back living on dry land now in a space still modest, but more usual. But the way of life I had to embrace on board the boat has stuck with me and it was genuinely transformative.
Filling the space you have
It’s often not until people move house that they realise just how much stuff they have. Normally it’s at least partially hidden away in cupboards, wardrobes, garages etc. But when you move, sheesh, there it all is. Endless.
I moved onto the boat when I was pretty young and only two years out of university. I hadn’t really had much time to accrue lots of things but still, when I packed it all up to put into my parent’s attic, the ten or so big boxes seemed like a lot.
And then three years passed. Three years, where I hadn’t missed any of it. I hadn’t needed any of it. I’d never thought, ‘damn, I wish I had such and such with me.’
On board the boat we only had things that we actually needed. We only had clothes we actually wore, only kitchen equipment we actually used and books we actually read.
Everything aboard had a purpose and was necessary. There was nothing else, there was no room for it.
And, if you think about it, that’s how you operate at home too. You only use the things you use. You only wear the clothes you wear. Everything else is stored away, rarely seen and never brought out.
We fill the space we have. We buy houses and fill it with furniture even though we only use three rooms. We keep stuff ‘just in case’ even though the situation to use it hasn’t arisen in a decade. We buy decorations that mean nothing, purely to fill gaps, anything to mask a void.
And all this stuff not only serves no purpose and isn’t used, it weighs you down, it drains your finances and it messes with your real priorities.
Reconsider your possessions
Whether you live in a small space or not, it’s still a good idea to live by small space practicalities. Because they’re almost always based around efficiency and minimalism.
It’s easy to let your possessions take possession of you. There’s a reason why homeware shops like Ikea have entire departments called things like ‘storage solutions’ and why self-storage companies are popping up all over the place.
But think about it, if you have so many possessions that you have to pay to store them outside of your house, that means you’re not using them. You’re paying to own things you never use.
And if you have so many possessions that you need endless storage boxes/cupboards/systems within your house to hold, then who is your house really for? You or your possessions?
We have natural bonds to things we own even if we never wear or use them. It’s ours and so we are possessive. But whether that’s a hangover from an ancestral time or not, it’s certainly not useful to us now.
You don’t need a t-shirt you’ve own for 12 years and haven’t worn for 10. You just don’t.
Small space living forces you to be completely black and white about your possessions.
- Do I wear it? (Not will I wear it)
- Do I use it? (Not will I use it)
- Is there room for it? (Not can I make room for it)
Reconsider your space
It’s funny, when we look to buy or rent a property, we look at how much space it has. We walk around rooms and think wow, so much space! So light and airy!
And then, when we move in, we immediately set about filling it with stuff, closing down those spaces and hemming ourselves in.
But who is your home for? You? Or your possessions?
Your purpose isn’t to collect as many items as possible and acquire larger and larger property to house it. This isn’t a treasure-hunting Xbox game.
Your home is a private space. For you.
While living on the boat, it was incredibly important to keep as much space free as possible. There were several reasons that revolved around safety and the fact the boat inherently moved around, but also it was important because without space it was impossible to relax.
If you have to move things out of the way whenever you want to sit down, stretch out or move around, even being inside your own home becomes stressful.
And stress is the antithesis of home.
With small space living, you need to put emphasis on the space you require, not the space your possessions require. You come first.
Reconsider your laziness
When you have the space to leave rubbish and clutter lying around, it’s easy to just think, ‘I’ll put it away/bin it later.’
But of course, if there’s one dirty mug on the side table, you may as well leave a dirty plate there too. And if there’s one pair of shoes left on the lounge floor, you may as well leave your coat slung over the chair. Clutter attracts clutter.
Before you know it there’s more clutter than you can pick up in one trip and then it’s a case of tidying. And that’s a full on task. So you put that off too.
But this can’t happen with small space living because there’s not enough room for clutter to be left. With the small space living mindset, you start putting things away the moment you stop using them. You start binning rubbish the moment it becomes rubbish. You don’t put it off because it cannot be put off.
And here’s the nifty thing. Tidiness begets tidiness. You might find yourself straightening up bedding and picking up that tiny scrap that’s caught your eye. Because everything else is tidy, so it’ll only take a second to tidy that too.
Be more creative
When you live in a small space, you have to get creative. But this goes for larger homes too if you want to open up bigger spaces. As you start keeping your possessions to a minimum and start appreciating all that beautiful space you fell in love with when you first moved in, you’ll want to recover that sense of calm and freedom.
Getting creative can mean many things with small space living, but one of the major aspects is the efficient use of space. On the boat, it meant having our table hinged to the wall. That meant we could take it down to eat and clip it back up when we were done.
It sounds almost insane to suggest doing that for a house. But think about it. If your dining table only took up space when you were eating, you’d always clear and clean it after and it would never collect items like mail, keys, bits and bobs etc. And you’d have so much more space.
Chances are, you probably already have everything you need. You probably have somewhere to hang your clothes, eat your dinner off and display your books. You probably have enough clothes and shoes and bags.
So why buy more?
I just moved house and didn’t have any cutlery. So off I went to the shops to find some. Most sets were 24 pieces. 24! That was six of each item - each fork, each knife etc.
But there were only two of us living there. The most we’d probably ever need would be four of each. So we tracked down a 16 piece set instead. The same goes for crockery. Do you really need six of every type of plate?
It’s easy to think of the odd evening you might have a group of friends around but is it worth owning double or triple the amount of things you normally use? If they’re real friends, they won’t mind if you use a weird assortment of sizes.
Monica from Friends might’ve had a set of towels for every occasion and type of guest, but buying excess for rare situations is just a waste of money and space. And when you look around your space — no matter how big it is — and realise that you actually already have everything you need and more, you can just stop going to homeware shops. Stop going to clothing shops.
Appreciate the things you have, everything else is just marketing
Living in a tiny space on the boat was actually surprisingly easy. Because there was no space for anything new, I never craved buying anything. I was either at sea or in incredibly rural and isolated locations a lot of the time, so I didn’t really see much advertising either.
And that’s one thing I’ve noticed since being back and having the space to technically acquire more possessions.
I can be minding my own business, thinking I have everything I need and then boom. I see something I didn’t know existed but suddenly feel the need to possess.
Obviously, the brand wants you to immediately buy that thing. It’s spent a lot of money on an advert solely to get you to buy whatever it is they’re selling.
That’s all. They’re not selling it to help you out. They’re not selling it because you need it.
The first time I walked into a British department store in three years was overwhelming. I knew the store well, but now I’d been small space living for so long, the sheer weight of stuff was unbearable. All the displays were lovely, but were filled with things I not only didn’t need, but some I couldn’t even attribute a purpose for at all.
Sure it all looked fantastic put together, but take any of those constituent parts away and place in your home and it’ll still be your home. Just with added stuff.
When you appreciate what you already have and whittle it down to what you love, what you need and what you actually use — you might well find that you simply don’t want any of the stuff in the adverts.
They’re trying to sell you the promise of a better life but in reality they’re just selling you weight. And we don’t need weight, we need space.
Kitiara Pascoe is a ghostwriter and author. After three years of sailing around the Atlantic and Caribbean, she washed up in Devon in the UK. You can find her on Twitter @KitiaraP and @TheLitLifeboat. She’s the author of In Bed with the Atlantic and The Working Writer and you can find her journalism and blog at KitiaraPascoe.com or her ghostwriting at TheLiteraryLifeboat.co.uk