Tag Archives: small home

Small scale living

I picked up an article and some attendant discussions recently about living in small spaces. Apparently new build in the UK is smaller than European averages, with one bedroom flats at perhaps 43 meters square. I did the maths and worked out the boat may be slightly smaller than that, and there are three of us in it. I also gather that in Japan, small living is more prevalent.

There are challenges, let’s be clear. Having more than one person in a small space means next to no personal space. Privacy is at a premium, but not impossible. It calls for constant attention and negotiation, so you really have to get on with the people sharing the small space. We’ve not struggled on this score, although in the depths of winter when it’s wet and grim outside and we’re all fidgety, it isn’t always a joy. Laundry and wet clothes are the biggest practical problem. Again, not insurmountable. I now have little lines strung up over the sink and draining board for when the waterproof outers get soaked. Dealing with wet clothes in a small space is not entertaining, but again, wholly possible. The person with a car probably wouldn’t face this one as much.

We had to give up all sorts of things to downsize. We have to be very disciplined about buying new stuff. Actually I like this, I like living lightly and not feeling weighted down by possessions. There’s less to clean, tidy and maintain, too. Every prospective purchase has to be considered. Where is it going to live? Is something else going to have to move out, and if so, what? It makes us focus on what we value and use most. It also discourages people buying us (and especially the child) anything that is both large and useless. Another win.

There is no way we can have dinner parties. I’m fine with that, I feel no lack. We meet people other places. No frantic pre-visitor tidying up, we just go to the pub. Splendid. We don’t end up with hordes of other people’s children coming to visit. This is fine too. We go to spaces where children can rampage. I do not worry about breakages, or children getting into things they should not. More win.

Large spaces are an invitation to accumulate stuff, (Been there, done that) most of the stuff is barely used, not even necessarily wanted, but it grows to fill the available space. The smaller the space, the less you let it do that. Unlike a lot of people I know, I don’t have an attic, garage or spare rom stuffed with unwanted things I can’t let go of. This is another win. Large spaces are also an invitation to stay in while your small space encourages going out. There’s a lot of space outside. Most of the time I’ve not felt cramped in the boat, because of what’s outside the windows. There’s a lot of space outside, and in nice weather, I can sit in it, and work. My ‘office’ for writing this afternoon will be under the willows. I can also use libraries, cafes, and other public spaces. I’ve felt more cooped up in houses than ever I have on the boat.

Then there’s the cost and environmental aspects. Often we only need one light in the evening, and the heating is much reduced. More space equals more lights and more heating needed. Bigger properties occupy more land, and that does have a direct environmental impact. Think how much soil is taken out of natural use in order to support all those bedrooms and garages stacked with unwanted junk. Smaller spaces take less cleaning and therefore use fewer cleaning products. Less carpet is required. Fewer cans of paint will be deployed in decorating, and on it goes. A smaller space means less consumption, continually, saving money and keeping you greener. Furthermore it will have been cheaper to buy or rent than a big space. And that saved money will enable you to get out and do more interesting things somewhere else.

I’m conscious that anyone with mobility issues may need a bit more space to get around. That’s a different sort of issue. Some working from home options require more storage space and work area than we do – again I’d not argue with that. However, having space so that you can have more junk, and as an antidote to not being able to relate very well to the people you ostensibly live with… not so clever. Small spaces call for interesting skills, managing possessions, accumulation, and human relationships. I can really recommend it as a learning experience. There’s so much to be gained from finding out what you actually need, and what’s just weighing you down. It’s easier than you might imagine, and more fun.

Druids afloat

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.

Living Small and Green

Somewhere back in the depths of winter we started talking about small living. The smaller a property, the less it takes to heat it, the less land it occupies, and the more conscious you have to be about how you use the space. No owning things for the sake of it, if you have next to no room. In terms of living greenly, living in a small space seemed the way to go. At that point it was all theory, but the Gods were clearly listening… things happened and we took the decision to live on a narrowboat. I can’t claim the main reason was green, but that was in the mix.

So here we are, off the grid, generating our own electricity, and in a very small space. We’ve been doing this for a few months now, so I feel able to comment.

The process of moving in involved a radical rethink of everything we own. What do we actually need? What can we stash in the available space? What will suit our lifestyle? Having spent a lot of years in long skirts, I’ve become a jeans girl, because boats and cycles do not go well with long skirts. My son had to weigh up the fun to space ratio of his various toys. And it must be said, he gets a lot of use out of the things he picked, and has not missed anything so far as I can tell. He’s learned a lot about himself and how he likes to play. We brought a lot of books, by agreement, and that was a good call. The stripping down process created self awareness, and made us conscious of everything we do. From a Druid perspective, it’s been a great teacher and awareness raiser.

One of the effects of living in a relatively small space is that you spend more time outside. There’s a great deal of outside with a canal, all of it beautiful. We go places and do things, work outdoors, eat outside, play outside as much as we can. It’s made me increasingly aware of the relationship between ‘in’ and ‘out’. Currently the norm seems to be to go after ever bigger and more luxurious houses full of stuff. The more houses we have, the more inside we create, the more ‘outside’ we destroy. On the whole, I’d rather have my home be a small space, and there be lots of wild outside everyone can share and benefit from.

Smaller homes do not require as much cleaning, which is a plus for work, and a plus for not using cleaning products. Fewer rooms equals less lighting, a radio on in the boat entertains us all. The smallness of space encourages us to interact and co-operate, unlike families in big houses who all have their own rooms and a television in each one. We share, entertain each other, and that living closer is a good thing. And if we need space, there’s an abundance of outside right there.

I’ve had to rethink my priorities, my whole way of living and doing. It’s been a good process. I feel cleaner, lighter. I like owning less but having the exact things I want and need. I like the green electricity, and I love how much ‘out’ there is. No vacuum cleaner required. No television. No hot and cold running conventionality. I can’t claim it’s been easy all the way, there have been a lot of challenges and a great many things to learn, but that’s part of the joy of it. Challenge is good. Without challenge, there’s precious little scope for growth.