Most people have pictured this at one time or another — settling down in a comfortable house, with a playroom for the kids and a big yard for the family dog. You start out wanting comfort, but then you want more — the latest technology, the prettiest yard on the block. The American Dream, Keeping up with the Joneses — hardly anyone is immune to the pressure of having it all.
The late George Carlin once said, “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”
All joking aside — Americans are sleeping in houses bigger than ever before. In the past 40 years, the average house size has grown by 1,000 square feet, yet the average size of a household is declining. Everyone has more space, so what’s the bad here?
No matter how modernly efficient these homes are, they are still energy gobblers. One major side effect of all the electricity used to heat, cool, and power a house this big is 28,000 pounds of CO2 every year, which only exacerbates the very real threat of global warming. On average, a typical homeowner uses over 15,000 gallons of water and produces 1,600 pounds of trash every year. If you’re beginning to feel like recycling isn’t enough, you’re not alone.
Some people have decided in favor of downsizing in order to reduce their impact on the environment. The tiny house movement has gained attention over the years, but another equally green lifestyle has been happening for quite some time now…out on the water.
Live-aboards — the term for anyone who has given up the literal roof over their heads in favor of living on a boat. Tucked away inside every marina, live-aboards enjoy a full, adventurous life, just in a smaller space. In some ways, they are no different from the typical homeowner: they work 9 to 5s, keep pets, and even use wireless internet. Except that they’re surrounded by water as they do it.
Stop picturing a dirty, uneducated pirate – sailors come from all walks of life, but one thing they have in common? A sense of adventure, an aversion for anything that’s strictly normal.
They have completely lost sight of land for days on end, weathered the worst storms, and fish their dinner straight out of the water. They deal with far less living space than most and spend a great deal of time optimizing their resource and energy use.
Boats can have modern conveniences, just not an inexhaustible supply of them. Water comes from a tank that periodically needs refilled, so boat users are much more aware of their water usage, and the end result is truly impressive: 15,000 gallons a year plummets to less than 2,000. Renewable energy sources are viable options as well — two 50 watt solar panels (about $100 each) can provide 100% of a boater’s power needs for an entire summer. A solar-powered house, by comparison, costs thousands of dollars to achieve, and you won’t see a return on your investment for at least 20 years.
This green way of living comes with a price — not monetary, but a sacrifice of convenience. Depending on the boat, typical amenities are not always accessible. Refrigeration is more of a luxury than a necessity, so eating anything that didn’t come from a can, even sprouts of all things, tastes like a gourmet meal.
And just how does someone fit all of their possessions into a 30 foot sailboat? A change of mindset regarding “stuff” is vital: in order to occupy a place in your home, something has to be absolutely crucial. That, or be very special. There is always room for a family photo or your 2 year old niece’s latest illustration. Boat life is all about economizing, and while sacrifices must be made, you gain a lifestyle that is not only kinder to the environment, but is free from the rat race of constantly remodeling and upgrading your life.
You spend less time worrying about replacing a perfectly functional TV or getting new window treatments. You learn to savor that cold beer as the sun shines down on the deck. And you’ll know that your life respects the world around you, giving it a chance to still be beautiful for future generations.