Tiny House

Needs and Wants

Living aboard makes you grossly aware of the difference between needs and wants.

A need is something that you must have to survive. A want is everything else that you would like to have but can survive without.

While we all learned about needs and wants growing up, we were never truly penalized for surrounding ourselves with wants disguised as needs.

When living aboard, this lesson is brought back to you with an iron fist. Boats are smaller than houses, and thus you will not have all the space you would typically have available for collecting false needs.

Yes, you could always put up an extra shelf in a boat to display your favorite nick knacks, but this fine display will only last until the next yahoo comes barreling through the harbor and creating a huge wake. Your boat will pitch and roll, causing all your delicate trinkets to fall over and break.

If you bring all of your false needs onto the boat when you first move aboard because you couldn't bring yourself to part with them; the boat will help motivate you to get rid of them. Either the boat will break them, or you will get frustrated with the lack of space and willfully choose to discard them.

The true need for space will soon overpower the false need for stuff. You will quickly learn what you really need and what has been shoved down your throat by the corporations as something you need. This distinction may take some time, but eventually, we all get there.

Once we reach this point, we begin to see what is truly important in our lives, such as personal enrichment, well being, and happiness; all of which do not require the purchase of the latest "As Seen on TV" item.

The smaller your first boat is, the quicker this lesson becomes apparent. I started out alone on a 45 foot sailboat, and it took me a few months to realize that some of the essential items I brought into the boat were not as necessary as I had first thought. Once this enlightenment had been reached, these items were quickly carted off the boat and sold at a local swap meet. On the other hand, one of our neighbors started off on a 27 foot sailboat as a couple with a dog. They reached these understandings in a matter of weeks, as space for them was a significant premium. They have since moved up onto a 34 foot sailboat where their enlightened views have carried over, making them feel spoiled by all the space they have around them.

Living in a marina will buffer you a little bit as extra space can be had quickly. Many liveaboards have a large dock box located at the foot of their slip where they fill it to the lid with junk that they hardly ever use. Once the dock box is filled, they then begin to open up storage units which further allow them to accumulate clutter. While they do live in a tiny space, their storage capabilities are still vast. They will sometimes continue to hoard items that they can't bear to part with until they realize how infrequently they visit their storage bin on shore and how much it is costing them a month to keep their junk.

I was also guilty of this practice. I had a shed in my parents yard filled with junk from my apartment that didn't fit in the boat when I moved off of land. This shed was full of junk that I never touched in 5 years! Then a tornado came through my parents yard and wrecked the shed. I had the choice to either rebuild the shed or discard the shed and all of its contents. My first thought was "I need this stuff" and then I realized that had I truly needed any of this stuff, I would have brought it to the boat by now!

And so, the shed has been dismantled and the contents discarded. I have not missed a single item that was in there.

To further make it apparent what we really need vs what we want, you need to cut your ties with land all together. This will make it impossible to have a secret stash somewhere outside of your boat as you will be forced to become fully self sufficient. Every need must be within your hull, and every want will be stealing space from a need.

Maddie and I have decided to cast off the docklines and go cruising. In doing this, we have further downsized our belongings. There is a major trend in the items that have been removed, they are all appliances! We have taken off hair dryers, toasters, blenders, and the like because we will not have the electrical means to power them. Instead we will use towels, pans, and knives to do the same work. We were concerned that not having these appliances present would make our lives harder, but the truth is we haven't noticed a difference. Maddie has cut her hair shorter to make washing and air drying easier, we use the same pan that we cook our eggs in to make toast, and we don't fret the need to finely chop vegetables on a cutting board while cooking. All of these appliances took up a lot of space and caused us headaches as they would draw immense amounts of power, sometimes causing the breakers in the boat to trip! Instead, we have traded all that noise and stress for peace and tranquility where we achieve the same end result without the clutter, cost to purchase and operate, or fear that the item will breakdown from exposure to the marine environment. Instead, we are able to lead our lives happily and carefree, without all that stuff in tow.

Keep it Simple

On a sailboat, everything will eventually come to an end. Either it will corrode, break, or fall overboard.

Tools, plates, cups, and trinkets will eventually find their way to the bottom of the sea. Safety lines will prolong the inevitable, but at some point, an accident will happen and it will go over the rail

Gadgets and electronics can fall overboard, but they are at greater risk of corroding and breaking. The marine environment is a wonderful place to watch metals decay as the salt and humidity will eat away at the metals involved. Electronic gizmos are like Olympic athletes who will dash at record speeds to their demise. Salt will destroy the tiny circuits that will make them operate and will instead fail you when you feel you need them most.

If you fill your boat with many electronic devices, you will simply live a life of sadness as they all begin to die on you. You will mourn their loss as you shell out more money to replace them. This costly cycle will continue as your cruising budget turns into an electronic purchasing account.

You will also need more power production as all these devices will pose a considerable electric draw. The more you have the more you need, and you will begin a downward spiral towards a life of obsolete or broken electronic devices. Instead of cruising, you will be funding the lives of electricians around you as you constantly pay them to repair your equipment.

The alternative is to simply keep it simple. Instead of air conditioning powered by a generator while at anchor, why not have enough hatches to allow proper air flow. Instead of a water maker, why not set up a rain collector. Instead of a refrigerator, why not have a well insulated ice box.

We are starting out our trip with very few electronic devices on board. We have the interior lights, but we have flashlights and solar charged lanterns should they fail us one day. We have a GPS, but we also carry and know how to use a sextant and paper charts. We have a refrigerator, which I have made some modifications to make it more of a "fancy icebox" with a chill plate present.

Should our electronic devices fail, we will simply carry on using the simpler backup plan. This will allow us to cruise with less worries and less headaches. Repairing the electronic devices when we want rather than when they break.

The last point to remember is "the less you have, the less you have to break" and this could be no truer than on a sailboat. When I hear other sailors complaining about all these components breaking down on them, I think to myself how glad I am I don't even have that component!

Debt Cycle

Our modern society lives on and for debt. If you have debt, you are more likely to conform to the norms of society and you are viewed as a normal person. Debt will ensure that you will show up to work on time, and that you will work hard for the promise of payment. You will also buy things that you need to work, in order to pay your debt. The best part of this is you will buy these things with debt.

That's right, you will go to work to pay for your debt, and you will make more debt to pay off your existing debt.

When I worked as a dentist full time, I would listen to the things my patients would say. I would see these people twice a year, but the stories they would say all melted together as they were all the same story. They would buy a car to get to work with debt. They would get excited when the car was nearly paid off because they wouldn't have a car payment anymore! Then they would come into their next appointment in a new car because they traded in their paid car for a new one with debt. Over and over the cycle repeated itself.

The car was just a toy to the bankers, who have these people on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars with the houses they financed. These people have to work every day to pay their mortgage, precluding them from ever taking a long vacation, one which would allow them to realize what happiness really is.

I myself was caught up in this rat race as well. I had graduated from dental school with a significant amount of student debt. Each month, I had to pay a little over $2,000 in student loan payments. Then I bought a new car to get to work, which added on another $400 a month. I needed somewhere to live, luckily it was an old boat that I was able to pay for and not owe for the rest of my life, but the slip fee was still $500 a month. This means that if I stayed home, I had to pay $2,500 a month. If I wanted to get to work, I would need that car and it would cost me.

The first $2,900 I made each month was already spent. This may sound dismal, but the fun is only starting! I worked for this money which means that the tax man needs his cut of it. Between state and federal taxes, I was paying nearly 40% of my income in taxes. The $2,900 that I had to earn to pay these simple payments would cost me another $1,160 a month in taxes.

At this rate, my first $4,060 was already spent! I haven't even gone out to buy groceries yet, but I've managed to spend $4,000 a month. Believe me, this was a huge motivator to not take vacations! When Maddie and I would go on our month long cruising adventures, I would save up not for the trip, but for all the bills I would have to pay while not working.

Going to work each day cost me $48,720. This is a deep hole to dig myself out of, and it was not that deep of a hole compared to other people I know. I chose to live on a 50 year old boat, so it was very inexpensive to purchase. Those who live in McMansions are far deeper in a hole then I am. They are also tied in to additional taxes as they are subject to state and county property taxes.

I remember in school being told that it is a good idea to have a mortgage because you can deduct the interest on your income tax form. I couldn't understand why that was good, because you still had to pay a monthly payment with interest! The system is setup very well to keep us from seeing what it really is and who it serves.

Maddie and I are ducking out from the rat race and instead following a the path less traveled. Both of us have stopped working, which greatly reduced our income levels and the associated taxes that go with them. We have saved up some money and will be living on a very strict budget that may seem ridiculously low to most, but still rather high in our opinion. Following this plan we will slip out from society and explore the world on a shoestring budget where we don't have bills or monthly payments due.

This ducking out was not easy. The whole world is setup to make sure that you feel crazy to do such a thing! We had to get rid of our cars, and stop going to work. This took out the car payment, but it didn't get rid of the student debt.

Luckily, there are student loan refinance options which base the payment on your income, and if your income is low enough, you don't have to pay. There is no free lunch, and interest will continue to grow, but we will kick that can down the road and see where it leads.

With the student loan payments cut down to $0 and the car payment gone, all of a sudden, we don't need to get up in the morning to rush to work! There is no monthly quota of $4,000 coming due, and instead we can focus on being happy and exploring the world.

The first day felt really weird. I got up early in the morning but didn't have to go to work. Instead, I worked on the boat to get it ready for our trip. This continued for a few days, until I would wake up in the morning ready to work on the boat and not even thinking about going to work. After the first week, I began to forget what day of the week it was because it didn't matter any more. I stopped dreading Monday and didn't care if it was Friday, because everyday was about doing what we wanted to get done that day. We would set goals for each day, and strive to complete the goals early in the day so we could have the rest of the day to do whatever else we wanted to do.

After 2 weeks of this, something clicked in my mind. Now I can't fathom how I used to run the rat race! I was always tired because I didn't have enough time to sleep at night. I used to get up at 530am and get home at 9pm. Somehow I would squeeze in a few projects at night on the boat and get to sleep around 11pm. I was exhausted but I knew no different. To me that was life, now I understand that my old life was crazy!

I see why corporations only give you 2 weeks of vacation per year. If you know you have to return to work, you will start gearing up for it in your mind and you won't slip out of the system. In my case, at the 2 week point, it clicked how ridiculous the entire system is and it made the choice to stop going with he flow all the easier.

Now Maddie and I work on the boat as we prepare to go cruising full time. We will work odd jobs, rigging jobs, teaching jobs, or dental jobs as we go, working for a few days or weeks and living in a vacation instead of the other way around.

Energy Independence

Home solar companies often tout the dream of being energy independent, where you produce what you need and don't consume any energy from the grid. This sounds great in theory and is actually very easy to accomplish. The problem is that these companies are not really addressing it in the best way, merely the way that will make them the most money.

Solar companies will cover your huge roof with solar panels, creating massive systems that will measure in the kilowatts! These systems will hopefully be able to match a percentage of your energy consumption by feeding into the grid during the day when no one is home and then drawing back from the grid by night when the solar panels are not operable.

The dream is that this plus during the day and minus during the night will cancel out and make your draw from the grid 0. The problem is that these solar panes are massive and yet still struggle to meet your energy needs! They feed into the grid by day instead of into a battery bank because the power demands are far to great for any battery bank to contain. While these companies talk about being energy independent, there is still a power line from the grid to your house that you are depending on at night.

To be truly energy independent, you need to cut the cord and address the situation from a different vantage point. The solar companies are trying to sell you a ton of solar panels. These panels are expensive and they want to sell you as many as they can. Instead of telling you the truth about energy, they tell you to buy more because it will make you happy and that you are saving the environment.

The truth to energy independence is not more, but less. Think about it for a moment. If you need a 30 kW array to meet a percentage of your needs, you have a serious problem! This means that for every hour of peak sun, your array is producing 30kW. There are roughly 4 hours per day when your array will be at its peak, so your 30kW system will produce 120kW during that time alone. Somehow this is not enough power to meet all your needs because, just like with the solar panels, your house is filled with many more things that are supposed to make you happy as well.

Instead of having more, things that require more panels to maintain, the easier and cheaper option is to have less. If you have less appliances, then you will also need less power and less panels. If you get down far enough, you will even be able to run everything off of batteries and be actually energy independent.

On the boat, we have a 300W array, or 0.3kW when compared to house standards that feeds into a 6.3kW battery bank (525ah @ 12vDC). This array feeds the batteries which charge up during the day and run the entire boat by night. By 10am, which is when the peak power production begins, the batteries are full charge again. This means that the power consumed all night by the boat is completely replenished by 10am. In reality, we could get by with a smaller solar array that would then finish charging by around 3pm. On cloudy days, the extra solar space means that we are still able to charge up and keep on top of our consumption, even though the sun is not being captured as efficiently.

How do we live on such little power? Simple, we have few things that consume that much power. Our biggest power draw is the refrigerator. This beast draws between 2 to 4 amps per hour, or 24W to 48W per hour. During the day, the panels are able to supply it with all the power it needs, but at night, this power hog falls onto the batteries for fuel. Having a large battery bank will allow us to continue to power this creature on a series of cloudy days, when the solar array is not as capable of topping off the charge while the refrigerator continues to draw.

Aside from the fridge, our only other sources of power drain are the lights, water pumps, and navigational equipment. These can also consume their fair share of power, but they only do so for a short period of time. If they are not being used, they do not drain the batteries. The fridge on the other hand runs non stop, every day, and draws on the batteries for its entire life.

In the end, a simpler life means less associated costs as well. We only needed to purchase one refrigerator. We also only needed to purchase 300W of solar power. If we had a washing machine, dish washer, home theater system, and every other consumer of electricity imaginable, then we would also need to shell out all the added money for a huge solar array.

Energy independence isn't about buying more things, it is about needing less.

Last Window

The big windows are a handful to manage alone. This meant that I needed to find a time that work with someone else who was willing to lift a heavy window onto the house multiple times as we get the fit perfect. As you can imagine, it took a while for that golden time to come to be.

My father helped me with the large window on the door side of the tiny house while the other side remained with a large hole and no window. The side remained windowless as I installed all the siding and even began the trim work. Then, there came a day when Maddie, my wife, was available to help with installing the window.

With the other window installed, the outside is looking much more complete and the inside is looking more like a home!

Installing the window was not difficult, nor time consuming, but the window was bulky and having two people made it proceed much quicker and easier than if I tried to struggle alone.