An essay by Alisa

I come from a long line of minimalists and boat-dwellers (on my father’s side, but my mother was also one, I believe), so it’s not surprising that I feel best living in a small space, owning few possessions, no major electronics, and working from home most of the time, allowing me time to garden, read, paint, draw, hang out with my teenager and his friends, sew, cook, and just think!

After 24 hectic years in the San Francisco Bay Area, I returned to my childhood home, Bainbridge Island, in 2005. As a child I the early 70’s, I lived aboard a 34’ sailboat with my parents and my brother in Eagle Harbor. After living on the island for 4 years, my parents divorced in 1972, and I followed my dad, his new wife, her three kids, and Lhasa Apsho to a huge house in Omaha, Nebraska. We lived in an affluent neighborhood (for the schools) and lived your typical American family life, which nearly killed my dad and step-mom with resentment and frustration. My dad harbored the secret fantasy of living on a boat again, while my step-mother refused to live in such a small space. Flash forward to 1985, and I’m driving across the country on college graduation day, to live on a historic wooden sailboat in Sausalito, neighboring my parents’ new 50’ sailboat (dad won that argument). One by one, we kids all followed them to the Bay Area.

Morning at Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island

This is dad’s boat, WuWei, which became my brother’s boat and will become my son’s boat…many happy memories of sailing with my family, including our annual Thanksgiving sail from Sausalito to Scott’s restaurant in Oakland each year. Nothing like pulling up to a restaurant to eat in your 50′ boat! Not to mention all the great memories Jack has aboard the boat as a young child (that’s him, the little blondie, along with pics of my brother, Rich and my big dad, David).

The family boat

When you live on a sailboat, you shop for fresh food daily, you store very little food or other belongings (they’ll all mold anyway!), and your world becomes nature, visiting with your neighbors, and observing the subtle and ever-changing landscape of your surroundings. You enjoy the sounds of the blue herons splashing in the water as they dive for fish, watching ducks and seals bobbing by, and following the moon as it sinks over the horizon from the cockpit each night. Soon however, I moved to the city and got caught up in home-ownership, car payments and the rest of mainstream consumer culture.

So about 5 years ago, I made the decision to return to Bainbridge Island. I had grown weary of the traffic, the competition for survival, the high cost of housing, and while I worked full time at the Oakland Unified School District, my son was being harassed each afternoon following school. I honestly didn’t know if he’d make it home from school each day, while I was stuck in an office earning enough money to pay our huge mortgage and shop mostly for recreational purposes on the weekends. I knew that living on an island would certainly curtail my propensity for our habit of recreational shopping; and it did. (We no longer lived 5 minutes from the local Super Target).

Our modest little home

My son and I now live in a tiny, beautifully gardened, trailer park, which I dubbed, “The Artist Colony”. I spend a lot of time sitting on my cozy front porch, visiting with our neighbors, and tending to my potted peppers, peas, eggplant, tomatoes and abundant flowers. Because we live one block from town, and just a few blocks from the Seattle Ferry, my son is free to come and go with his friends, as I did as a child. It’s a sweet life for this social worker, artist, gardener, mom, writer, and dreamer. Although I still work full time, I work mostly from home, and set my own hours, so I’m free when he needs me or just wants to talk.

Peace in my living room

I’ve chosen recently to eat a mostly raw and vegan diet, further simplifying our lives. My son walks to school, he has abandoned the mall in favor of fishing and exploring the local beaches and woods, and I get my weekly veggies from a local CSA ( I get most of my books from our excellent library. I’m developing my own business ( I belong to a close-knit Buddhist group, and most of my social activities are centered around spirituality or sharing meals with friends and loved ones.

So, all this said, I’m still a city girl at heart. But if I ever do live in a big city again, I can assure you, I won’t live in a huge home. In fact, my goal is to purchase, and live aboard, a funky houseboat in some city marina, near a farmer’s market, public transportation, and local playhouses. I’d also be hard pressed to buy much of anything at retail. I love the challenge of finding clothing and household bargains at the Goodwill and Value Village (and the myriad of other consignment, discount, salvage, anitiques, and thrift stores around the Puget Sound).

I consider this minimalist living to be a great adventure, and the more independent I am from consumer culture, the freer I feel (and the lighter my conscious). I’m happy to say that my son appears to have received the minimalist family gene; he’s wrapping up his education as soon as possible, with a plan to live aboard my brother’s sailboat (which previously belonged to my father, following his divorce from my step-mother, who preferred land dwelling), and to maintain a simple lifestyle as well.

Jack on my dad's boat, age 4. Soon to be living aboard!

Next, we’re turning off the cable and consolidating the cell phones


3 responses to “Minimalism

  1. Gina

    Thank you for a very interesting and thought-provoking essay. I’m often torn between my love for city living and my desire to streamline and live simply.

    You have given me some food for thought about how I can balance the two. Thank you.

    • Hi Gina, YES! And maybe we can have both…?! I have a good friend who lives communally with others (a partner, children, co-parents) in the heart of the busy Mission district in San Francisco. They built a 3rd house (sustainable/green) in the back yard, where they also raise chickens. My friend drives a little electric car for her work commute, and everyone helps raise the kids. I love that as a city-dwelling model, and aspire to live more communally one day myself, back in the city, where my heart also sings. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying this little slice of paradise on Bainbridge Island.

  2. Pingback: 2010 in review | August Lake

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