I swear I have been passed on the road by a shiny Hummer with a ‘Think Green’ bumper sticker. All this enviro-speak is very trendy but when if comes to giving up personal comfort, well yeah but…! I saw a photo recently of a fat man jovially sporting a T-shirt saying “I beat anorexia.” Yeah, it’s funny, but underscores how we love our extremes. We want to drive 300hp SUV’s and also get fifty miles a gallon. People’s vehicles are bigger than ever and obesity is worn by many as a badge of well-being but I’m just not that interested in global stupidity, I’ve got a full-time job dealing with my own.
A growing number of folks are taking pride in living fully by enjoying a fresh awareness of how little they need. Perhaps in result of recent economic events, it is a refreshing turn away from our perversion for lemming gluttony. After living in a boat for years I can claim the benefits outweigh the inconveniences. Not much room for clutter here and if something aboard hasn’t proven its worth within a year; it’s gone. Use it or lose it! Forty-one feet up one side of the boat and the same down the other gives me eighty-two feet of untaxed waterfront property. I can change the view and the neighbours any time I want and, Yeehaw! You won’t find a damned lawnmower anywhere in this boat. Yes, I’d love to have a workshop aboard and I can think of other essential amenities but soon enough I could could end up with an aircraft carrier and still be wanting a little more room. Some of my happiest memories have to do with canoes and rowboats and backpacks; enough said.
I recently bought a teardrop trailer and that has led me onto some interesting paths of research. There is a quiet trend toward downsizing homes, vehicles and RVs with folks taking pride in learning how little they realty need. That path helped me discover the tinyhouseblog.com which is a site dedicated to compiling stories about people who are discovering the joy of living in as small a space as possible. Boats, trailers, gypsy wagons, yurts and small buildings are all there. Not only are many designing, building and living in sensible homes, they are joyfully discovering the freedom of shedding the burden of being owned by mountains of “Stuff”. It is a trend which I hope gains momentum and flies in the face of consumerism. That is an insidious religion we have all been programmed to embrace. We worship in the malls and plazas that are our mosques and cathedrals. Blind consumerism is as evil and deadly as any other fundamentalist dogma.
For years I have noted some folks stepping backward when they learn that I live in a boat. I can almost hear the thought at times, ‘He’s one of those!” That’s fine, your waters are too shallow for me; I doubt we’d have become friends anyway. This old boat hippy does however firmly believe that the price of freedom is responsibility. No-one has the right to impose their personal preferences on others. I maintain my boat so that it is always tidy and seaworthy and self-sufficient at all times. There’s no point expecting respect from others unless you demonstrate you have some for yourself. I’m also learning that perhaps it is better to do big things in a small boat instead of little things in big boats. It is too easy to lose sight of the plan if you starting getting bigger boats and acquiring more stuff. Soon you are buried in a hole where your possessions own you. I know all too well! Not so long ago entire families went off to see some, or all, of the world in boats that were seldom over 30′ in length. Now the average cruising couple often has a boat at least 40′ long. Interestingly, each day’s dead reckoning is still calculated at a speed of 5 knots.
Minimalism offers the joy of being able to go now. The encumbrance of stuff and where to keep it all, and the associated debt, is gone. I have wasted a huge portion of my life preparing boat after boat. Many of those have gone on to sail away over the horizon with a new owner. The first boat I owned could have taken me anywhere. I can’t openly admit any of the excuses which have kept me tied to the dock and which I thought were so important at the time.
“When in fear or in doubt, raise your sails and bugger off out”…Tristan Jones
Emotional depression is an epidemic in the Western World. Sadly it is, I believe, a symptom of a huge malady relating directly to our consumerist culture. We all feel inadequate if we don’t look like this, smell like that, drive one of those, live in a faux castle and surround ourselves with other similarly deluded souls who desperately try to maintain a facade of bottomless wealth. Of course we can never catch up to those expectations imposed on us by a lifetime of spin doctors and marketing wizards. So very many of us become bogged in a swamp of despair because we have been convinced that we just don’t measure up. Rising crime rates, fiscally foundering governments? It is only an emulation of the mindset so prevalent in our own homes. If you have no self-love, it it is damned hard to respect and love anyone else. If the nation’s individual personal finances teeter on bankruptcy, how is it surprising that we have a national deficit?
I’m bending toward people who live in so-called third world conditions. There is a lot to learn from them. For all they don’t have, sometimes not even shoes, they have dignity and self-esteem. They can look you in the eye and actually smile. They understand, because they live so close to the wire, that you only have the moment. They are not emotionally constipated by worrying about investment portfolios or many of the problems of the future. They have not bought the myth that they are somehow immortal. If they can feed their children today that is their best expectation; feeding them tomorrow, a bonus. Most of the world lives like this; we are the privileged few. If only we could remain aware of that single fact as our middle-class erodes.
People who are not busy trying to build a personal empire have a lot more time and mental space to be philosophically and spiritually aware. A documentary I recently enjoyed, ‘La Camioneta’, is about the new life of a recycled American school bus as it moves from an auction yard in the US to a new home in Guatemala. A man there, who has a small business refurbishing buses for local commercial use is asked why he decided on his particular career. I paraphrase his reply in part, “The thing about a bus is, even if the passengers are not all friends, it is a place where for a little while, people share their journey through life together.” That thought is profound. Consider that the whole planet is a place where we must share our journey through life. There is so much we can do to make our journey together better for each other.
I woke up yesterday morning in a new year. The world was still here and so am I, not even hung-over or under. Again today, it is the usual drippy, grey dawn where thick darkness gradually gives way to medium gloom. By mid-afternoon the day will slowly slink back into a palpable darkness which invades your being a bit more with each breath.
So in this new year I have a great boat and a little trailer with which I intend to use the remains of my little existence to go unravel some of life’s mystery and rediscover basics we have left behind. (“Something to do, someone to love, something to look forward to while doing no harm”) No matter how much philosophizing and analyzing one does, a balanced life can’t be refined better than that…. in my opinion.
My little odyssey will be described in part through this blog. In some small way, I hope my discoveries help enlighten others. The journey began long ago. Soon I must shut-up about “Gonnado” and actually leave town. The blogs will continue. Bring some good boots along if you like but, no bigger than you need.
By the way, Happy New Year!