We’ve just had our first anniversary of moving to the boat, which seems like a good time to reflect on the experience. Boat life has definitely changed me, and altered the dynamic in my family.
The first and most obvious issue was space, moving from a large two bedroomed cottage to a narrowboat meant paring down our possessions. A lot. Tom had already done that to change country. I had to consider what to put in storage, what to bring, what to give away. James had to contemplate his vast array of toys. The process turned out to be similar – what has good memories associated with it, and what reminds us of things we would rather forget? We took the opportunity to get rid of anything with unhappy associations. What do we really use and enjoy, what is just ‘stuff’?In the space of a few weeks, we contemplated our need for and relationship with every physical thing we owned. And I have to say, we judged well. We swap books and toys around with those in storage every so often, but I don’t miss any of the things I let go of. Rather than having a lot of toys, James now has a few that he really gets good use out of, and a better idea what to pick out for himself when looking for new things.
The shortage of space inside means we are outside a lot. It also means we have learned to work and move around each other, careful of each other’s space and needs, co-operating to make what space we have work for us. That’s been really good too, and I think in terms of inter-personal skills, has fine-tuned the child’s sensibilities. He defaults to tidying up now, has learned to manage his own space and possessions, and has become very good at fitting in. We’re a quiet boat, and a happy one.
Electricity as been an interesting issue. Boats are self contained units, which means generating your own power. This has made us super-conscious of what we use, and absolutely careful about not wasting it, or frittering it away on pointless things. Computer time is really focused, and if we can find a non-electrical solution we use that instead. So we have a wind-up radio, and sometimes we use candles. It makes for a more relaxed and peaceful environment.
I’ve always loved to travel although I don’t do well in cars. Boat life means moving at least every two weeks. A change of views, a different route to school and in the holidays and at weekends, adventures further afield. There are a lot of villages that are a bit like ‘home’ and we go to events all over the place. We meet a lot of people. And of course all the other boaters are moving too, with a shifting, transient community of friendly people. The flow of neighbours, the webs of friendship and the real sense of community amongst boating people is lovely, and I’ve really enjoyed that aspect.
I’ve learned a lot about me in the last year. I have learned how little material stuff I need in order to be happy, but I have also learned what I cannot do without. I’ve fallen in love with small-space living, I can’t imagine I’d ever want to live in a big house after this. I love the compactness. I love having to think carefully about what I need, and what is useful. I had thought before this that I wasn’t a materialist, that I was mindful of electricity and water consumption, but I’m even more aware now, and it’s a good awareness to have. Living small means living lightly, but rather than feel restricted by this, I find it increasingly liberating. Inside the boat is a warm, contained space, outside is everything else, and room for adventures.
I miss having the space to grow plants, and I would like enough room for all my books, and I do occasionally hanker after the kind of kitchen that has a table in it and room to feed large gatherings of people, but there will be time for that in the future. I find I don’t hanker after gadgets, or even furniture that much. I could imagine living in a traditional Japanese style house where beds are rolled up each day and people kneel at a low table to eat. The trouble with ‘normal’ is that we can so easily forget it isn’t necessary, or inevitable much of the time. I don’t need much, and my child, with his one box of toys, his stack of books, a bike and a lot of open spaces, is happier than he’s ever been. He doesn’t seem to miss the gadgets either. His main desire for more space involves room for bookcases and his wish to have his now considerable book collection to hand too.