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The Meaning of Space: Thoughts From a Former Tiny Home Mom

The Meaning of Space: Thoughts From a Former Tiny Home Mom

Since leaving our home in the country to live and travel on our 47 foot sailboat, I realized I had left behind something in that 1200 square foot house that I didn’t know had a purpose in my life: empty space.

It was obvious we were giving up empty space when we moved out of our house and onto our boat. We were trading our open floor plan home for a boat just big enough for five people to eat, sleep, cook, play, and travel in. We were forced to drastically simplify, and as overwhelming as it often was, we loved it. Every item given, sold or tossed was like a window opening allowing fresh air to flood our life. After months of sorting through every item in our home, every paper, every cluttered drawer and corner, we finally drove off that early morning in November to begin life on our boat with all of our belongings in the back of our Chevy Suburban. It was liberating. We turned our attention from building a house to building faith and from gathering things to gathering memories. We drove off with hope, energy, a countryside before us and a sea calling us.

In our house on land, I thought the empty spaces that filled the hallways, the doorways, and the corners of the rooms were just holes that attracted the gathering of miscellaneous clutter. These holes I thought were useless, I filled with things that weren’t part of my daily life but somehow still could not give up. I could easily hide a stack of papers in the corner to be sorted later, a box of knick-knacks to put somewhere, someday. I could place them aside and not have to face them right away. I could let them sit in a dark corner, and I could live my life right beside them, while the empty space between me and it gave me room to process their importance, their place in my life. I thought the empty spaces were hindering my ability to live a peaceful life, and downsizing my belongings would reveal the life I desired. I didn’t realize that the material things that filled the spaces of my home were simply a tangible picture of my inner life. I didn’t realize that clearing the clutter was only the beginning of the real work that would begin in the soul.

Our days were busier than ever as we settled into the cabins of our boat. Eventually, the dust settled and we began to feel at home within those wooden walls. The slap of the line on the halyard during a storm, the creak of the line from the mooring ball rubbing against the hull, the rocking on a windy day. The sounds, the smells, the feel quickly became familiar, but the feel of the tiny space was harder to grow into, like a shoe that didn’t quite fit. It seemed we were always stubbing our toes on the ladder to the cockpit, bumping into each other in the hall and tripping over the winches on the deck. Even more painful was bumping into each other’s hurt feelings when emotions were running high.

Eight months have passed living life as a wife and mom inside a tiny space and traveling to unfamiliar places. In the last eight months I have tasted days on the salty sea where the sun was shining and the sapphire depths overwhelmed me with its beauty. I have tasted bitter tears on hard days when exhaustion reigned supreme and my strength to find good in the journey faltered. I have been near quiet shores where my spirit was renewed and I have been in the midst of storms that made me tremble. I have lived shoulder to shoulder with my husband, sharing every mundane moment and every high with him. We have brought our children in close and revealed a little bit more of the world to them. Through everything, I learned something. I learned what the empty space was for.

I learned the empty space around us cushions us from the emotional bumps and bruises we face in life. Big emotions take up space just like a couch or bed. They can be felt and touched. The empty space between bedrooms, in hallways, in closets and corners of the living room give us room, air to process the big emotions that tumble and flow throughout our days. Emotions like disappointment, grief, doubt, fear. The space around us provides places of retreat when emotions are hot, for the members of a family to be alone when the work of the soul requires solitude.

Living in a smaller family home is much more than living in fewer square feet. It is even more than relinquishing the material things in our life that hold no purpose or value. That is a crucial step, but not the most important. Living in a tiny home is challenging and rewarding not only because of the smaller space, but because at its core, it is an invitation to embark on the work of decluttering the soul, of laying bare the inner self. Living in a tiny home is an invitation to walk deeper into the emotional lives of our family.

That can be hard. It has been one of the most significant challenges for me on our journey. In the hallways and corners of my soul I stacked emotions, wounds and memories that took time and solitude for me to process. In the hallways of my heart I stored practices that I kept just for myself like journaling and listening to music alone. Living in a tiny space, the empty spaces I didn’t know I craved were gone. It often felt like my emotional skin was being rubbed raw against the people I loved the most, and unfortunately I too often took it out on them. As a hardcore introvert I needed solitude, but in a small space there were few places where I could be alone, where no little eyes could see me, ask me for a snack or to play. There wasn’t a consistent place where I could process, in solitude, the many emotions I encountered traveling, to let myself feel them, breathe them out, let the tears roll, or bask in a happy memory. Instead they piled up like derailed train cars creating emotional messes that eventually caused family tension. It often felt like I was putting out my emotional fires instead of having the space to naturally let them flow through me.

Now we’re transitioning to life on land and trading a transient lifestyle for one with roots. We’ve come back for many reasons, but not because living in a small family home was impossible. It was challenging, rewarding, liberating and sometimes exhausting. But I learned that living in a small space requires the work of daily inventory of the self. It requires that you ask for what you need and for what you want. It begs that the work of the soul, the spiritual life, be taken seriously. I learned that we actually do need space, but that that space doesn’t have to come in the form of a large spacious home. The space we need can be in the form of a plot of untouched land, or hiking trails, a place to walk and breathe and ponder. The space can be in the form of a barn, a lake, or even a closet. It can be unglamorous and empty, as long as it is a place where we are allowed to feel freely.

I wouldn’t trade anything for the eight months I spent living and traveling on a sailboat with my family. Living in a small space was worth every challenge, and even though we will soon be living in a not-so-small home, the education I received in those 47 feet will stay with me for a lifetime.

This post was written for inclusion in the June collection of the Small Family Homes Blog Community. Read below for more writings on the truth about living small from our community of writers. Check back next month for a new topic and posts in the series and follow our community board on Pinterest for the latest small homes and family minimalism pins!

Minimalist Meg– “The Truth About Living SMALL” : What does living in a small space look like for a family of 4? Probably not a whole lot different from you.

Little Bungalow– “Less Space, More Happiness” : In a small home, less space doesn’t equal more happiness. Except, of course, when it does.

600 Square Feet and a Baby– “The Truth About Living in a Small Family Home” : Living small as a family of four is sometimes uncomfortable, a bit awkward and never boring. Sharing the awkward and imperfect of living small with 4 humans that you always wanted to know (or maybe you didn’t.)

Shelley Vanderbyl– “Five Things You Don’t Need in a Small Home” : Gatekeeping is about recognizing what things you don’t need or want, and trying to keep those objects from coming into your home.

The Streamlined Life– “The Truth About Living Small: Less Possessions, Greater Value“: Just because you’re a minimalist family doesn’t mean you aren’t sentimental.

The Justice Pirate– “What Small Home Living is Like” : No matter if I lived in a cardboard box or a small home, I just like being with my family, who are my home.

Our Nest in the City– “The Truth About Living in a Small Family Home” : My post gives three challenges to living in a small home with our family of five, and counters them with three ways we “cope” and thrive despite it all 🙂

Fourth and West– “You Can’t Have it All” : Small space living requires compromise and sacrifice.

RISING*SHINING– “The Truth About Living in a Small(ish) Family Home” : A smaller home is why we’re able to live such a full life.

Family At Sea– “The Meaning of Space: Thoughts from a Former Tiny Home Mom” : After moving onto a boat, I thought the hard work of decluttering and downsizing was done, but I didn’t realize that living in a tiny space was the beginning of the real work of the soul.

Real Food Simple Life– “The Realities of Living in a Small Home with a Big Family” : A look into the benefits and challenges that a family of 6 (going on 7) experiences living together in an 800 square foot home in Scotland.

Tiny Ass Camper– “I Didn’t Know Tiny Living Was For Me” : My thoughts on the give and take of living tiny.

Family Pedals– “Location Trumps Size” : The truth is, it has been our home’s location–not size–that has determined our happiness in a given space.

Birch and Pine– “It’s Not Always Easy” : Living tiny often means defending your own life and choices: daily.

 

 

 

When One Adventure Ends and Another Begins

When One Adventure Ends and Another Begins

This week my thoughts flow toward the idea of transition. This week approaches the Biblical time of Shavuot, some may know as Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks. It is a very important time of the Biblical year. Shavuot is the fourth of the seven Biblical feasts. It is represented by the main candle in the menorah and it signifies the center of the year, all activity flowing from it. It separates the spring feasts from the fall feasts, and because of this it marks an important time of change. It stands solidly each year as our doorway from one season into the next.

It is in this time we also find ourselves transitioning from one incredible season into another. So much has happened since we began the journey back up the coast of Florida from the Bahamas preparing to leave s/v Gromit for the Summer. We knew we wanted to spend the Summer on land with family and friends, but as we traveled back North to Green Cove Springs, Florida, we felt it was time for even greater changes.

We had about two solid weeks of travel (it took longer because in reality we didn’t travel everyday) to make it to the marina by the middle of May to pack and return to Houston by the end of May. It was a long few weeks. As we made our way to our destination, preparing to be on land again, the joy we once felt in cruising together, exploring the coast line, and seeing new places slowly began to fade. Our fridge dying in the Bahamas, while seemed possible to do without at first, now seemed unbearable. I longed to go to the store and get produce that would last more than two days in the hot cabin, but we didn’t want to fix the fridge just yet, knowing we would soon be visiting land. Our seven fans throughout the boat began to malfunction intermittedly. Haven, our one year old, was blossoming from babyhood to toddlerhood, but we were constantly relegating her to her crib because she loved to climb. It seemed it was all too easy for her to get into everything we owned, even with babyproofing, and she didn’t have the space she needed to explore freely. We were hot and tired and not sure what was next for us.

We started discussing options for a new season for us. Liveaboard and stay stationary? Being in one place at a marina would at least give us some stability and familiarity. Would Mike go to school and change careers? Which school and where? Would we live on land somewhere else for a while? We discussed every option you could think of. Through an interesting chain of events, Mike began talking with his former boss and co-worker, and decided to accept a job at the company he previously worked for, a job that he had about five years ago and really enjoyed.

At first I (Brittany) was really hesitant when Mike was discussing taking the job. I was looking forward to visiting family in Houston, but return to a job and house? Give up cruising? Stop traveling? It took some time to process what this transition would mean, and unfortunately, a lot of my hesitation stemmed from what others would think. Would they think we’re giving up? We couldn’t handle this life? Weren’t strong enough? Would they think we didn’t like it, were secretly unhappy and just putting on a show? In my heart I knew none of these things was the truth. I felt stronger than ever. We had traveled down the coast and across the Gulf Stream to another country, and back! We had faced challenges of many kinds, and had not given up. We had experienced the highs and lows cruising brought us. Without worrying about what anyone else might think of us, I had peace about this transition, knowing that God was simply bringing us into another season, a new time that didn’t involve the boat we had come to call home.

So here we are. We’re buying a house in a neighborhood with a backyard and monthly bills. Mike has a job and we’ve got the family car. We’re transitioning back to land life, and we’re actually really excited about this new season, about starting over. In fact, it was one reason we decided to say “yes!” and take the crazy leap to cruise in the first place- we always knew we could start over. And now that we are, we’ve learned that life is much more flexible than we once thought. You can go and sell everything and come back and land life will be here waiting if and when you want to come back.

But there’s one thing I won’t be able to do back on land. I won’t be able to fully express how much cruising and our boat s/v Gromit has meant to us. I know my landlubber friends and family will never understand, try as they may. I think our family has deemed us “back from the dead” or like the prodigal son returning from a wayward, rebellious journey. I think others may believe that we’re glad to be back because cruising wasn’t worth the effort. Nothing could be farther from the truth. And I know that only those salty, adventure loving sea lovers, all those wonderful cruisers and liveaboards we met on our travels can understand what I mean when I say it was worth it. Gromit will always hold a special place in our hearts. She kept us cozy and protected. She steadied the swell of the sea and carried us to our destination. She was our home.

As we neared the marina in Green Cove Springs, Florida, Mike pulled our dinghy up on the davits for the last time. We both felt that little painful stab of sadness when something life changing and amazing is coming to a close. We’ll never pile the kids in that dinghy again, see their smiles as the waves playfully splash over the bow. We’ll never pull up to a new port ready to taste land and see what adventure awaits. At least, not for now and maybe not in that boat again. We’re not ruling out cruising forever, but we’re committed to following God wherever His Spirit leads. It may lead us back to the sea one day, it may not. But for right now, we’re looking forward to all God has for us here.

For there is always a new adventure with God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflecting On Our Purpose Before We Leave the States

Reflecting On Our Purpose Before We Leave the States

 

Walking in Norfolk, Virginia

There have been a few stops along our journey cruising down the east coast of the United States, that my husband and I have paused long enough from traversing the constant challenges of this new way of being, to sit and stare at each other in amazement and ask “how did we get here?”

It was only one year ago. Only one year ago that the thought of sea, sand, salt and wind came into our hearts. The idea that God had more; more life existed just beyond the edge of our comfort zone. Just beyond the edge of the familiar. Something we couldn’t name, but only imagine. Something waiting for us to discover.

And now here we are. A family of sojourners on the sea.

Discovering the sea

Nearly five months in; just over 1,000 miles traveled and we’re still new and often clumsy, like toddlers learning how to walk. We’ve slowly made our way down Florida’s east coast, and now we’re preparing to leave the States for the first time as cruisers. Bahamas bound!

But what is our purpose here? What is the reason we call this boat home? What is the reason our sights are set on distant islands? Is it a selfish pursuit as some thought before we left? Is it dangerous as others claimed? Are we missionaries? Are we on a sabbatical? Are we running away from our responsibilities? We’ve heard it all.

The truth is, this wasn’t our dream. This wasn’t something we planned, or thought of, or dreamed about as the years of our life ticked by. I can’t explain it any other way than to say it was an idea birthed in us by God. An idea that sprouted and grew when it seemed leaving everything behind was against all common sense.

It was only 11 months from conception to reality. 11 months from hearing God whisper to unpacking boxes on a sailboat in Virginia.

Our little floating home

 

Our purpose at the beginning of this journey and our purpose now is to follow God wherever he may lead. To live our lives in reckless pursuit of the knowledge of God and to abandon our lives to what we discover in that pursuit. Living and traveling on a sailboat was the path God placed before us, and we followed. In doing so, we had to cling to our faith with each new step, and little by little, we saw evidence of God’s hand in the process. From the selling of our houses, to the finding of our boat, to the timing of our leaving, God was leading us deeper into trust in him, and expanding our vision of who he is.

Throughout the first few months planning this adventure, God spoke to me about Abraham. His story spoke loudly to me. God told him, “Go, and I will bless you.” (Genesis 12:1-3) God promised him a purpose for his going, an outcome Abraham could not fathom at the start of his journey. But he believed God and became God’s friend (James 2:23). But first he had to obey and go.

Abraham’s story is my story. It’s the story of all people who are willing to believe God. To believe God can and will do incredible things for those whose hearts will trust him.

For me (Brittany), time away from all that is familiar has forced me to draw my comfort from other places. It has forced me to look at my weaknesses and required me to accept the things that are difficult, but I cannot change. This isn’t easy. I can’t change the way some may feel about our decision. I can’t tell them when we’ll be back because I do not even know that myself. I can’t reassure them that we’ll never get hurt, either. Cruising is not always easy. But I am using this time to draw deeper into God’s word, and I know with certainty that my purpose is rooted in exactly that. The more I meditate on his truth, with the beauty of his creation all around me, I am filled with a single minded mission: to tell others the story that God is telling. His story is a story for all of us, and it is overwhelmingly good. It’s his story, his purpose that I am on a mission to discover- in his word and in this journey. And everyday he writes a little bit more: Another gorgeous sunrise. Another day when a stranger becomes a friend. Another port left, and another one reached.

A fellow sailor

It required faith to leave. It requires faith to remain. There is much ahead, but we can only take one step at a time.

So far, we have been rewarded with sunsets akin to wildfires, playful dolphins leaping right before us, friendly faces, humbling generosity from others, and moments when we knew the presence of God was with us. We are challenged and inspired to be a family that can work together better, traveling the emotional seas of raising children, being a wife or husband and maintaining our own identity and space with grace and love.

I look forward to the connections we will make with people, cruisers and locals, people who we are always on the lookout to encourage and tell God’s story to. Connections that encourage us too. Connections that could turn into life long friendships.

We are grateful to be on this path. It is one that we hope to be on for a long time. We pray often that God will direct our steps, and we are confident that he is doing just that, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Some may be thinking, do you need to sail around the world to follow the call of God? Of course not. You must hear his voice for yourself, walking in relationship with your Creator. He could speak to you in an office cubicle, in a minivan, at school, or at your kitchen table.

But…

There is something wild about God. He lives in the deep places; the places only arrived at by faith. He isn’t far away, but he isn’t safe either. He often calls his people to follow him, where he is, to places mysterious, perhaps dangerous, but always full of wonder. That is where we want to go. To the unknown places where there is more of God to be revealed. More exquisite beauty, more people to connect with, more creatures to marvel at, and more of everything that God wants to share with us.

 

Thank you for following us on our journey! Connect with me on Instagram @familyatsea or on Facebook! Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!

On The “Road” Again! (And The Question We Keep Asking)

On The “Road” Again! (And The Question We Keep Asking)

Goodbye St. Augustine

After nearly a month, we finally left St. Augustine behind, ready to continue further south and venture into new areas. We didn’t intend on staying in St. Augustine for that long. It was the longest we had stayed anywhere since traveling. By the third week, I was feeling the drive to go.  The slow draw to remain comfortable was feeling very uncomfortable and my wandering heart was ready to say goodbye. St. Augustine wasn’t the place for us and we both knew it.

The main impetus to our delay was the recertification of our life raft. Our boat came with a life raft, a piece of emergency safety equipment intended to use if our boat sinks, but its recertification date had long expired and it needed to be updated. Getting it recertified meant that we could know, for a certainty, that it would work when we needed it, and that the provisions included with it were fresh. This is a huge expense, but a necessary one.

When you think of a life raft, most likely you’re thinking of a large yellow inflatable inner tube, the kind you might see in movies like Captain Ron, but true life rafts are nothing like those. In fact, they are quite impressive! It has a tent to keep the sun and rain off, stabilizers around the bottom, a door that can roll up or close and drinkable water on board. This one can hold six adults, so it would be plenty of room for our family.

A picture of the life raft we have on board, fully opened

It took a couple of weeks and a long drive into Jacksonville, but we finally got our life raft, updated and ready to attach to our deck in case of an emergency. Hopefully, we will never have to use it, but we have peace of mind knowing that it is there.

One of the best treasures we found in St. Augustine was not a particular place, but people! Erica and Scott and their two children had become good friends, so when they asked if we would like to travel with them south at the end of the month we said yes! Unfortunately, the day we were to leave was the beginning of another cold snap, but that day finally came for us to pull up anchor and follow m/v Wanderer down the ICW. Our first stop: Fort Matanzas. (Follow Erica and Scott “The Boat Fam” on IG @theboatfam and YouTube!)

Hello m/v Wanderer

It felt good to be moving again. It felt good to feel the power of the engine and the movement of the boat through the calm water. It felt good to gather my girls in the cockpit and help them with their school workbooks while we ate snacks and watched for dolphins. It felt good to help Mike at the helm, watching the horizon in front of me, feeling the wind in my face and seeing the changing landscape pass by me. It felt good to be traveling. And by the afternoon, we were at our destination- an anchorage near a hundreds-of-years-old fort.

Fort Matanzas is on an island and is part of the National Park Service. From their website, “Coastal Florida was a major field of conflict as European nations fought for control in the New World. As part of this struggle, Fort Matanzas guarded St. Augustine’s southern river approach…” We were looking forward to visiting this monument, but sadly the ferry service taking visitors to the fort was closed when we arrived. Even though we could have easily driven our dinghy to where the fort was, that was actually a violation, since you could not step foot on the island without being accompanied by a park ranger!

Instead, we stopped with our friends to a nearby sandy shoreline and explored.

Fort Matanzas

Easy does it!
Light is good for the soul

It was cold but the sun had finally shown brightly. The light was warm and refreshing. The beach was open and inviting. The children ran and inhaled fresh salty air. It was good for everyone, and a great first day of traveling after having been still for so long.

Wild and free!

Where will our journey lead us?

In the morning, we’ll pull up anchor and set out again. We’ve come so far now, and as we head farther south, this question keeps coming to the surface of our hearts: where will our journey lead us? Where is God directing us and why? There is so much goodness in God’s natural world, so many wonderful people we’ve met so far, but there is more our hearts long for. We long to be fully saturated in the will of God, and to help others know the wonderful truth about him. We long to glorify God by finishing the work he has for us to do.

We don’t want to waste this time he’s given us. There is too much at stake. Since our moving aboard in November, we have learned one thing: we are not content to be tourists. We have been given this beautiful gift of time and travel, and we want to know that we have spread the knowledge of him around the landscape of this earth like a fragrant aroma slowly spreading itself throughout a whole house. But how will that be accomplished? What form will that take?

As our journey continues, so does the shaping of our desires. As the miles keep passing, so does the time that we know is so short. As our days are filled, so are our hearts in his word. And so we ask…

Where will our journey lead us?