Wednesday, April 30, 2014


St. Helena, CA

Our beautiful quilt from Target.
Our wee cottage in wine country came unfurnished, so in anticipation of move-in day, we made a preemptive trip to Napa (the city) to make our first land bound purchase: a bed. After four years of living on a rough-and-tumble boat and four months of road-tripping, my kid-before-Christmas anticipation of having a comfy bed was certifiably whack-a-doodle.

So item #1 delivered a few hours after our arrival: a bed.

Our commitment to living small made us ponder what else was truly necessary in the aptly named bedroom, and in the strictest sense, the answer was nothing. But, hey, even a dorm room has more than a bed, so, not to be outdone, we got four more things, two nightstands and two rugs.

IKEA in Sacramento had Expedit cubes on sale for $9.99, so we bought four and stacked them, perfect beside the extra-tall bed. And not bad @ $19.98 per nightstand.

To outsmart the need for an annoying bedskirt, I got a King-sized quilt for a Queen-sized bed, and instead of buying a dresser to accommodate a few items of clothing, we got a $30 rack (on the right), also from IKEA.

That door mirror came with the place, but alas, no hangers. We bought 30 hangers for $3.51, which is a handy clothing control feature. No hanger for that new shirt? Something's got to go!

We put hooks behind the bedroom door to hang our coats and jackets.

The just enough bedroom:

1 bed
2 nightstands
2 rugs
2 bedside lamps (not found yet)
1 wire rack
30 hangers
10 hooks

Today, I am grateful for: my light and airy, just enough bedroom.

Napa vines at work.

MORE ABOUT: downsizing | living small

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


St. Helena, CA

When we started plotting our escape from land life, one of the toughest challenges was ink on paper. We had to dispose of piles of books and miles of files. Then we had to dodge, stop and divert shocking amounts of junk mail, a task that we tilted at for more than two years (read about it here).

Now that we're back on land, I'm trying to arrest a new flow of paper into my life by using lessons learned in the paper trenches. Come along. It's not easy and requires continued diligence, but I know from experience, the less paper you have, the lighter you feel!

1. Slim down your paper files.

This was a tough and time-sucking task when we were downsizing. I had files that were 20 years old. Doing it all at once was intense, so take your time -- even if it's one file per day. Be brutal. Here's advice from on how long you should keep files and what you should keep. And here's info on what papers to shred. Many businesses including banks offer free shredding. If it doesn't have to be shredded, recycle it.

2. Go paperless.

Start right now. Request paperless statements and bills from utilities, banks, credit cards, retirement accounts, etc. Many stores are now offering to email receipts, and I was happy to find that our local library sends records through email. Any time someone tries to hand me a piece of paper, I ask for other options. Doctors, dentists, pharmacies, I ask them all. I opt out at the pump or the ATM unless I absolutely must have that piece of paper. If I accept it, I try to do something with it immediately, file, shred, recycle. Otherwise, I'm making homework for myself to do later.

3. Curb the junk mail.

Junk mail is the spawn of Satan, tenacious and prolific. It hunts me down and then reproduces itself when I'm not looking. The National Do Not Mail List is a good starting point. It offers ample options for what you want (nothing for me) and don't want to see in your mailbox. Then, I directly contact companies that are legitimately sending me mail I don't want. This is time consuming but worth it. Some companies offer to send catalogs less frequently if you just want to stem the flow.

4. Don't keep books you don't need.

Unless you're 20 or younger, you probably have a fondness for ink-on-paper books. That's okay. Keep the ones you want/need. However, admit that there are many that you neither want nor need, and get them out of the house. There are a lot of options for doing this, including selling them on I've found it's not worth the trouble unless they are worth more than $5 each. Otherwise, many used bookstores buy used books, or you can donate them to libraries, schools or charities. 

5. Purge magazines and newspapers regularly.

This one takes continued, relentless dedication. Start by canceling subscriptions for publications that are no longer relevant. Then set an expiration for unread literature, such as one week for newspapers, one month for magazines, and then get them out of the house. If you balk at recycling or throwing them away, trade them with friends or give them to a doctor's office or library.

Now, take a deep breath. I told you it wouldn't be easy. Reward yourself for reducing the paper weight!

Today, I'm grateful for: bare feet. It's deliciously warm in wine country today!

MORE ABOUT: downsizing | living small

Monday, April 28, 2014


Our old house mid-downsizing.
St. Helena, CA

In 2008, Chip and I started to seriously "downsize," not as a philosophical exercise but as an extreme sport. We were moving from a 1400-square-foot house (shown on the right) onto a 300-square-foot sailboat. Job number one was to get rid of all our stuff.

It was a daunting task, and in preparation, we had started several years earlier by stopping the escalation (although you can't tell from that photo).

We stopped buying stuff. I'm not talking about food and basic necessities. I'm talking about the scarf hanger at IKEA, the decorative pillow at Target, the grill tool set at Home Depot. We're all inundated everywhere, all the time with things to buy, stuff that by its very existence makes us wonder how we ever lived without it.

But it is possible to get off the treadmill -- and to stay off. Now, after four years of sailing, we are furnishing our small 512-square-foot cottage in wine country, and we want to own just enough. Staying out of the escalation game requires constant diligence, but when we do need to buy something it has to meet certain criteria.

1. I need it.

Boy, that's the basic lesson here, and when I learned to tell the difference between 'need' and 'want,' it revolutionized my buying habits. Keeping a running list of things I actually need helps me stay focused. The hard part is, in the heat of the Target aisle, not letting desire convince me that a 'want' is really a 'need.' That's when I step away...

2. It called me back.

I employ my own waiting period as if I am buying a gun. I leave the store for a cooling off period to see if the item really sticks in my head. Impulse is when emotion overrides judgment, and by walking away, I completely disengage the emotion and therefore the impulse. After I've left the store, I almost never remember what it was that seemed so urgent.

3. It is well made.

Do a quick inspection. Is the fabric high quality? Is the workmanship solid? Does it get good reviews? The marketplace is flooded with inferior products that are practically disposable. It's called planned obsolescence, and we try to avoid the replacement trap. It's not a good deal if it falls apart next month. We do research before we buy and inspect items thoroughly before pulling out the cash.

4. I would pay full price for it.

Sale items are so tempting. It's only $5.99, marked down from $29.99! But would I want it at the full price? If not, it's probably not worth $5.99. Seriously, it's not a bargain unless it meets all the criteria -- and being inexpensive doesn't make me need it, remember it or raise its quality. And, it's even harder when someone offers me something for free, but the same rules apply. However, if it does meet all the criteria and it's on sale or free? Score.

5. It is fantastic.

Okay, if the item has made it over the first four hurdles, this is the deciding factor -- and one that has saved me hundreds of dollars. Chip and I made up this rule for clothing, but we now apply it to many things. Our closets and drawers were full of clothes that fit but didn't inspire us enough to wear them. #fail Now, we don't even try it on unless, oh my, it's amazing. And remember those dishes we bought for our cottage? They met the first four criteria -- and they're fantastic.

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less. --Socrates

Today, I am grateful for: California sunshine, which meets all five criteria.

MORE ABOUT: downsizing | living small

Friday, April 25, 2014


St. Helena, CA

Our driveway.
I miss living aboard when …
  1. I find, once again, there is no turquoise water outside.
  2. the animals out there are cats and dogs instead of dolphins and starfish.
  3. I hear people use words all wrong, like 'swell' and 'anchored.'
  4. I see the same thing outside the window -- day after day.
  5. someone asks me where I'm from, and I have an answer.
  6. the neighbors are annoying, and I can't pick up the anchor and move.
  7. people judge me by clothes and makeup and whether I brush my hair.
  8. I don't hear friendly voices on the radio.
  9. I have to wear shoes.
  10. I don't step into the cockpit in the morning and feel the fresh, salty breeze against bare skin.
I'm happy to be on dry land when ....
  1. I go entire days without using the verb 'pump.'
  2. I take a shower without wearing shoes.
  3. my bedroom remains perfectly still and quiet -- all night.
  4. the radio plays music.
  5. I only check the weather for wardrobe purposes.
  6. people no longer suspect me of stealing toilet paper.
  7. I remember there's no crap under my bed.
  8. I don't smell anything.
  9. after a long, hot shower, I sink into a poofy bed with clean sheets.
  10. I have no underlying sense of impending doom when a glorious storm front marches overhead.

Today, I am grateful for: Napa Valley clouds.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


St. Helena, CA

My commitment to staying small has reached miniature proportions. This wee chick and I keep watch as the tree outside the kitchen window bursts into lime green splendor.

After four years of blue on blue on blue, I'm feasting on a different spot on the color wheel.

Today, I am grateful for: the world's tiniest chicken and wine country green.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


St. Helena, CA

When we were searching for a rental house, we looked at a beautiful cottage here in St. Helena. It was tucked behind the house of an elderly Swiss couple, Teresa and Rudy.

Rudy had recently suffered a stroke, and Chip, being Chip, wanted to do some chores for them. We stopped by today and chatted about life and wine and sailing. Rudy was interested to hear of our sailing and told of a long trans-Pacific sail he took with his nephew in 2000. He showed us photos, an actual album, and watched with delight as we looked at them. Then he shuffled across to a corner bookshelf, rummaged around and came back with a small, worn spiral notebook with weathered pages. Printed on the front it said, "Nothing Happens Unless First a Dream." Inside, in a careful hand, all capital letters, was a log of 58 days at sea.

He loaned it to us, so from our landlocked cottage, we can feel the wind pick up at 4 a.m. on day 35. We can taste the fish stew Rudy cooked for dinner after seeing the first ship in more than a week. Do you think we miss being on the water yet?

When we first met Teresa last month, she told us Rudy was a baker and confectioner before retiring.

"He gets frustrated since his stroke. He can't do what he used to."

"Can he still bake?" I asked.

"He can't bake bread, but he can still break it," she said. "That's what's important."

Today, as we were leaving, Rudy shuffled into the garage, past a sprawling world map taped to the wall.

"I still shudder when I look at how huge that ocean is," Teresa said, looking at Rudy's route marked with a highlighter.

Rudy came back out and handed me a white paper bag.

"I baked this loaf this morning," he said. "I can't work the dough like I used to, but it's okay."

Cross an ocean. Bake a loaf of bread.

Nothing happens unless first a dream.

Today, I'm grateful for: bread and fellow dreamers.

Monday, April 21, 2014


St. Helena, CA

I was reading recently about Dave Bruno and the 100 Thing Challenge, a downsizing challenge where you pare down your belongings to 100 things. Having just moved into our small place with almost nothing, I kept thinking, "100. That's a lot."

On the other hand, that 100 things could add up pretty darn fast, in the kitchen alone.

But living on a boat for four years gave me a new understanding of what is essential. When we first moved onboard, we pared down our galley supplies to an imaginary bare minimum. I realize now that those "bare necessities" were not what I needed but rather what I could fit in the space.

Now, with unfettered space, I have made a commitment, not to filling the space but to having just enough.

So now, with a fresh start, here's what we've got:

Good thing the last tenants left that space-saving shelf!
We've opted not to use a dishwasher since that would require a lot more dishes. And technically, we could get by with two of everything, but we want to have guests, so we've opted for four. Two at a time, folks!

Four place settings of flatware and some kitchen tools. We have a Brita filter, a coffee pot, a grinder, an iron skillet, a saucepan and a cake pan.

And finally, because we don't have many things, we decided they should be pretty. We found these dishes on clearance at Pier 1.

Complementary but not matching, just like us.
The kitchen is done, and we've topped out at less than 50 things (although I counted flatware as one thing). This is considerably less than we had in the tiny galley on the boat, but it feels just right.

Today, I'm grateful for: my beautiful square plates.

MORE ABOUT: wine country | downsizing | living small

Friday, April 18, 2014


St. Helena, CA

If you've been with us since 2008, you know in graphic detail how hard we worked to get off the grid. For months -- years even -- we struggled to dispose of and redistribute a houseful of belongings. It was a painstaking process that I wrote about extensively in my old blog.

And now, after four years of living off the grid on our 38' sailboat, we have once again taken up residence on land, but I find that many things have changed. Well, not many things. Just me, really. I've changed. My understanding of 'need' and 'want' have shifted. I now know the difference between 'necessity' and 'luxury'. Things I used to think of as necessities, like hot water? Water is a necessity, but hot water, that's a luxury. Things I used to think I needed, like a closet full of linens? What I 'need' is one set of sheets, two bath towels and a hand towel. There's a washer and dryer here, yet another incredible luxury, not a necessity.

We moved into our empty, 512-square-foot cottage with what fit in our VW Jetta: an IKEA rug, two unassembled barstools, sheets, towels, four suitcases, some dishes from Pier 1 and some cleaning stuff from Target.

It's kinda echo-y in here, but the rug helps. We ordered a bed, and it was delivered soon after our arrival. A bed. Aaaah. Total luxury.

It might appear that I am leading a spartan life, but the reality is quite the opposite. This tiny cottage is filled with luxuries, and I am filled with gratitude for my few things, a gratitude that I didn't have when I lived in a house three times this large with ten times as much stuff. Less has come to mean more.

We have made a commitment to staying small, staying out of the escalation game and staying in the gratitude game.

I wish I thought this would be easy, but I'll write about it here, so we can all learn together.

Today, I am so, so grateful for a bed and two chairs.

MORE ABOUT: wine country | downsizing | living small

Thursday, April 17, 2014


St. Helena, CA

Wine country has wowed us and wooed us -- and we've decided to stick around. After four years of living onboard our 39' x 13' (at its widest point) bobbling home, we are shopping for a land vessel, and by that I mean a place to live on land.

"Here ya go," the property manager said as he opened the front door of a wee cottage measuring 512 square feet, a little bigger than the average two-car garage. "It's pretty small, but it's got wood floors throughout."

I stepped into a seemingly palatial cottage, and by that I mean 33' x 14' of squared off living space.

"The kitchen is rather small," he said apologetically as I gaped at miles of cabinets on three sides of the room. And by that I mean there were 10 drawers and 30(!) cabinet doors. Which cabinet would I choose to hold all my kitchen items: two travel mugs.

"Here's the bathroom. Pretty basic," he said as I looked at the faucets marked H, knowing that if I turned them, hot water would come pouring out. And the toilet was one of the magical kind where you simply touch the handle and the waste vanishes. By that, I mean I don't have to crouch over it, pumping, switching from dry to water in just the right proportions. By that, I mean "vanishes" as in "flushing" does not put the waste under my bed until I find a way to pump it somewhere else. By that, I mean I don't have to mentally track how much of that waste is stored under my bed until I find a place to remove it before I'm full of you-know-what.

"Small bedroom," he laments, as we walk into a sprawling 14' x 10' room. "This first door has the washer and dryer."

I nearly dropped to my knees. A washer and dryer?!? IN THE BEDROOM. I no longer have to pack up my dirty underwear in a waterproof bag, put it in the dinghy, motor to shore and shlep it an untold number of miles to a ratty laundromat. I no longer have to hoard quarters as if they're $20 bills or sit for hours in a sweaty room, creating more dirty laundry while I wait for a washing machine to open up and then for it to slosh around for 26 minutes, infusing my clothes with the cloying perfume of the last person's detergent.

"The other door is the only closet," he sighed sadly, as I stepped inside. And by that I mean, I STEPPED INSIDE IT, with my entire body, and I stretched out my arms and could not reach either wall or the ceiling. Breathtaking.

"I have to warn you," this high-pressure salesman said, "because of the drought, they're about to impose water rationing. Only 65 gallons, per person, per day."

The poor man must have thought I was insane as I doubled over with laughter, and maybe "cruiser" and "insane" are synonymous. We are the folks who eschew the comforts of land and travel like it's 1899. Our 170 gallons of water onboard lasted us comfortably for two weeks. And by that, I mean bathing daily, washing dishes, cooking, cleaning. That's 6 gallons per person, per day. So, 65 gallons a day? Maybe he got the decimal in the wrong place.

We were still trying to imagine living in a place that didn't move, a place where we would anchor down for, oh, how long?

"What are the lease terms?" I asked.

"That might be a problem," he replied. "We only do month-to-month."

"We'll take it!"

Now about those empty rooms. Maybe we can open a bowling alley?

MORE ABOUT: wine country | downsizing | living small

Friday, April 11, 2014


St. Helena, CA

I used to think that Cheetos orange was a color that didn't appear in nature. Then I met California poppies or Eschscholzia californica, which, personally, I think deserves the distinction of have a double 'sch' in its name.

But spring in wine country is graced with other magnificence as well, a rainbow of color, really.

Just today, I took a short walk and brought these home with my camera, unedited. Really.

Some day, this wee little cluster of grapes will enjoy a second life in a bottle of Beringer.