Whether its on a sailboat, in a hotel room, an apartment, or a dorm room, most people will encounter “living in small spaces” at least once in their lives. It’s all fine and dandy if you’re on your own, but living with others in cramped quarters can create difficult situations for even the most socially adept.
For most of our married lives, and with children, Eben and I have found ourselves in quite a few tiny homes. Our relationship has survived, and thrived, with us living (full-time) in hotels, a 33ft boat, a 41ft boat, more hotel rooms, and a 23ft travel trailer. Not only are we crazy enough to spend all this quality time together, but we added two little people to the mix. It’s like a social experiment to see how many clowns we can fit into this circus car.
Living in close contact has been a journey into ourselves and our relationship, learning what we need, how we express it, and how we deal with that. I think we have a healthy marriage and parenting perspective, and I attribute some of that to the fact that we have really been living with each other for so many years (what’s the saying, “one year on a boat is equal to seven years of marriage on land”?)
Living in a small space means you are going to be in each others “bubbles” quite often. Learning to communicate effectively is probably the BIGGEST key to navigating each other, literally and figuratively. There will be times where you will physically have to step aside to let the other person by, or you will bump into each other trying to get something done, a polite “excuse me”, or “sorry” can go a long way in preventing frustrations.
Be clear. If you know what you want or need, be clear about it. No sense beating around the bush, it will just lead to confusion and misunderstanding. If you can outright say what it is you want, it makes your partners job a lot easier, they don’t need to de-code your actions.
Arguing is normal. You are different human beings (with different needs, wants, thoughts and emotions) trying to co-habitate in a small amount of space. Things are bound to flare up at some point, but DO NOT let them fester. Sitting on hurt feelings, thinking it will pass, is just fooling yourself. Instead, it will jump out when you least expect it. Example: Eben and I were arguing about a parenting move, and all of a sudden I’m bringing up something that had happened weeks prior that I thought “had passed”. A trick we used (that Eben learned from his parents) is every night before going to sleep, we ask each other for forgiveness if we have hurt one another. This way, if we have something that has been on our minds, well here is a chance to discuss it and move forward.
Learn how your partner communicates. Eben and I are VERY different communicators. He is quite vocal, prompt, and uninhibited, where as I need time to process and am quite intimidated by confrontations. Knowing how each of us responds to a situation allows us to communicate (and listen) to the other better. He knows that I will struggle to bring something up unless prompted, and I know that he needs to discuss things as they happen to feel resolve. Because our communication styles are different we have learned that sometimes you have to set aside your “communication comforts” to help the other person feel “safe” in the conversation.
We are all different people with different needs when it comes to personal space, learn what your roomie needs and respect that. Some people need some alone time, while others are full-time social butterflies, accept that there are differences and be ok with them. As a parent I have had to give up a lot of my “privacy”, but I still have some boundaries, and I make sure that everyone in the family respects that I would prefer NOT to have an audience when I am pooping. And they do, most of the time.
Empower and Praise each other.
Everyone likes to be complimented, praised, and thanked. Its good for the soul and can only bring positivity to the situation. Instead of dwelling on someones faults, why not look at the good that they are bringing to the living situation. Eben sewed me some bags for making storage easier, it may seem small but I have thanked him several times, it has helped our living situation. You did the dishes, “thank you”. You installed the flooring, “you’re awesome”. You cleaned up the cockpit, “thank you”. You made us some money, “thank you”. Every one of those Thank You’s is worth saying, and every accomplishment is worth celebrating if it brings a smile to someones face.
Clean-up and make it feel like home.
Feeling comfortable and happy in your living space is definitely going to affect your mood and how you interact with others. So make sure that you feel good with your tiny home. Make your small-spaced life easier by adding those little things that bring joy to your life. Keeping that space clean can also affect your being. Clutter can be stressful, a cause for arguments, and even physically dangerous in small quarters. The last thing you need is to be tripping over stuff, losing stuff, tripping over SOMEONE ELSE’S stuff (even more frustrating), breaking stuff, etc, all because it just wasn’t put back to where it belongs. In a tiny home everything has its place, and a good rule is, once you are done using it, put it back in its rightful place. As easy as that.
Just because you live in a small space doesn’t mean you have to be in it 24/7! Need some space? Step outside and get some. Go for a walk, go discover a new spot, or just go sit somewhere alone for a few minutes, it may do you some good.
Don’t forget to laugh.
It may feel ridiculous that in the middle of the night you actually have to crawl over your partner to get to the bathroom, but why get upset over that, just laugh about it. It is funny, and would be a hilarious sight for an outsider to watch. A good laugh is good for the soul. And even better, laugh about it with your significant other, “oh sorry, I just accidentally kneed you in the head, just trying to make my way to the head (boat bathroom)”!
This is a crazy adventure, you are living somewhere small, enjoy it. It won’t always be like this, the kids grow up, scenarios change, finances change, life changes, enjoy the small spaces and the lifestyle you currently have. The spot you are living in is temporary (even if it last for years and years) you will not forever be in that same spot in that same situation. So yes, my kids are all up in my space, but I invite them to be, because one day they will feel like they are too big to come cuddle me in my bed every morning. And Eben, he may build be a big house one day, and I can 100% guarantee that at some point I will miss bumping into him in our boat galley (kitchen) as we try and manoeuvre our way through making meals for the family. I am grateful for the NOW, no matter how small it may seem, it is awesome. And even if it is small, it is still much bigger than some others have. We’re fortunate.
Side Notes To Keep In Mind
If the relationship isn’t in a good spot to begin with, moving into cramped quarters won’t fix that.
Maybe the dream has always been to sail the Caribbean, but taking a rocky relationship and cramming it onto a boat is not going to solve your previous problems, more likely than not its only going to aggravate them. Now you’ll just be fighting in the tropics. We’ve all seen those couples, on vacation but clearly not enjoying each others company. The palm trees and sandy beaches don’t change the fact that you still have to lay next to this person tonight. So maybe get your s#!t together first, and then go and enjoy your vacation together.
Be aware of outside stressors.
The sailing and traveling lifestyles are full of the extra stressors that can affect how you interact with one another. You may have been the best of communicators and the perfect small-space roomies before taking off, but travel is going throw a ton of new triggers at you that will cause you to act differently. Think about it, not only will you be living smushed together but you will be discovering new countries, different foods, foreign languages, illness, etc. (And in sailing add to that the stresses of the weather, new life skills of anchoring, the boat head, the mechanics, and how any good mistake could sinking your home!) Being thrown in a new situation is stressful, so be there for one another.