I rummage around in the trunk of my car in the parking lot, searching for an outfit. It’s 7 am, and I pause as a woman in high-end workout clothes walks behind me. Then, I continue my search, moving aside clear plastic bins to find the one with jeans, then the one with long-sleeved tops. I stuff everything into my backpack, ready to spend the entire day at the gym, using my computer, writing, working out, showering.
All things I can’t do on the sailboat in the San Francisco Bay where I live.
Every day, this is the moment when I feel the most exposed — like I’m a homeless woman rooting around in the mess of my trunk.
But this is where I have to keep my clothes because everywhere on the sailboat is stuffed with tools.
I’ve lived on a sailboat for 18 months now, to save money on rent in one of the most expensive housing markets in the United States. Here are some of the ways it has changed my life.
1. I’m opting out of consumerism.
Sometimes, it seems our country runs on the bedrock of buying. Everywhere, we are blasted with commercials, billboards, and magazine advertisements that encourage us to purchase the latest and greatest. We compare ourselves with our neighbors and friends, wanting to compete and have even more awesome stuff. Our cabinets are crowded, our garages are overflowing, and while all that stuff keeps our economy afloat, it pushes us as humans under emotionally — physically and psychologically.
I’ve noticed that I feel so much better not buying stuff. And when I do need something, I scrutinize it. How long will it last? Do I really need it? Does it have more than one purpose in my life?
For example, my eyes water terribly when I’m cutting onions, but instead of buying onion goggles from some cooking store, I put on a snorkeling mask, and my problem was solved! I didn’t have to add another item to the already cluttered boat, I didn’t spend money, and the snorkeling mask proved it had more than one use.
2. I’m closer than ever to nature.
Living on a sailboat puts a person in direct contact with nature. When I’m cooking at the stove, fresh salty air comes in through the companionway. When it’s windy outside, the sailboat moves in its slip. At night, the crisp, cold air streams in through open hatches, and I’m always aware of what temperature it is outside. When it rains, I enjoy the pitter-patter of the droplets as they ping the cabin house. Sometimes, when we anchor out at night, the sailboat rocks back and forth as the tides change and with the wakes of passing ships.
I notice the artificiality of normal homes now so starkly. Whenever I house sit or stay at a relative’s place, I can’t feel the temperature of the outside air. It’s not as easy to tell when there’s a light drizzle, or if a breeze is carrying the scent of the nearby pine trees. Inside a house, the temperature is always the same, highly regulated and controlled.
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This is something I never used to notice before or give a second thought to. But now, in a home, my body craves being in touch with nature, and I long for the boat.
3. I am more aware of environmental impact.
Our average utility bill on the sailboat is $5-$10 per month. When we’re moored at a slip, we plug into shore power, but when we’re anchored out or sailing, our lights are powered by the battery. Just an hour or so of using the boat’s engine charges the battery so much that we can live off-grid for days. Our stove runs on a propane tank that lasts several months. And most of the time, our travel is powered by the wind.
I’m so happy to be living mostly off-grid and feel like I am doing a tiny part in helping the planet.
4. I’ve become extra frugal.
Living on a sailboat has helped me batten down my expenses. We don’t have cable or subscription services like Netflix or Hulu. All of our movies and shows come from the local library. We cook onboard most of the time, saving a lot of money we’d otherwise spend going out. And when we do go out, we focus on awesome happy hours and cheap hole-in-the-wall spots.
When we push off from the marina and live a life of sailing for good, we think our annual budget will be $15,000-$20,000 for two people — way cheaper than rent in any major U.S. city.
5. I’ve gotten used to living in a small space.
The sailboat my boyfriend and I live on probably has 150- square feet of living space. It’s a 41-foot boat with two masts, and inside there’s a small kitchen and dining table, a living room with two settees, a bathroom, and a bedroom.
It’s perfect for us.
Now, when I stay in a house with my boyfriend, we seem so far apart. I lose things in all the different rooms. We long to be back on the boat where we can chat anywhere and anytime without having to yell across the expanse of a house.
It’s probably good we’ve learned to live together in such a small space, as it expands our options in the future.
Overall, I’m really happy to be living in the sailboat. I love saving money on rent while also setting aside cash for the future for when we sail full-time. I can’t wait for the day when we loosen the ties and shove off to explore the world.