Real Life Minimalists: Bethany

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

I think you’ll love this story from Bethany. She tells us how her family pared down to spend their summer on a sailboat, and are now applying the same minimalist principles to their home life. Visit her blog to read more!

Bethany writes:


Sailing to Nirvana

Ever since we met a minimalist couple three years ago, my husband and I have been slowly trying to adapt that kind of a lifestyle. We got rid of our television and have not missed it. The microwave and toaster went next. Our house has long had less clutter than most.

Our lifestyle got a kick this past summer, though, when we lived aboard our 29-foot sailboat. My husband and I, along with our 4-year-old daughter, kept three outfits apiece. The v-berth became our daughter’s bedroom, and she only had the toys that would fit in that room (along with her bedding). We had 2 cast iron pans–a skillet and a saucepan, our french press and kettle, three dishes, three mugs, and three forks. We also managed to bring our cat along, without feeling cluttered!

Living on the boat, with so few possessions, we found that life became much easier. Housework took five minutes every morning. We had time to talk, to play, to pursue hobbies. With so much less going on in our lives, we were able to truly live in the moment. Our daughter, who has sensory processing disorder and a language delay, made tremendous strides during this time.

Our summer ended prematurely, when our boat ran aground and began taking on water. We made it safely to port, but we had to return home while it was repaired. Immediately, we felt as if we were drowning in stuff. I had no time for hobbies, as housework took over my time.

Frantically, one day, I began filling the car and made my first trip to Goodwill. My first of many. Gradually, we pared down to a few, prized possessions. I considered limiting us to 100 possessions each, but settled on 400-some total, for the three of us. It’s not the counting that is important, and we have no set number. It’s the fact that everything we own, we own for a purpose. There is more I would like to eliminate, but, for the most part, I am happy with where we are.

Our greatest accomplishment, as minimalists, is our kitchen. When our stove died, after 12 years, the saleswoman at Sears told us that we were lucky to get 7 years out of a modern stove. That was unacceptable. We searched Craigslist and found a 1930’s Magic Chef. It was beautiful, and it had no computer to fail. We bought a matching table and hung our two pans, our spatula, and our oven mitt on the wall. The finishing touch was the refrigerator, which we found at a pawn shop. It, too, was from the 1930’s. It tested out as being much more efficient than anything modern, and the freezer is inside the refrigerator. We plan to fill the freezer with ice this winter (we live in Michigan, so we can freeze the ice outside), and unplug it. It doesn’t hold a lot of food, but that is all right, with our lifestyle.

Our other great accomplishment is our daughter’s room. We bought our–too large–1100 square foot house, because we wanted a child and “kids need room.” How mistaken we were! Our little buddy follows us around, and really is content in very little space. Her room is her retreat, but she once had more toys than she could use. She would throw them all over and not really play with any of them. We’ve pared down, so that all of her toys fit easily into a small toy box. She had a train table, on which she sets things, and a doll house in the living room. We have a few toys for guided play, that stay in a closet in another room. She slept on a mattress on the floor for quite awhile (now she has a twin bed that she loves) and has five outfits. Our pal is much happier with this arrangement, as she actually plays with her toys now, often for hours.

Minimalism has taught to us to take our focus off of possessions, to stop multi-tasking, and to stop spending our energy on pursuits that are not important to us. We’ve re-examined our priorities, and we are definitely ready to spend all of next summer, living simply, on our boat.

Read more about our adventures on Moonraker (and in minimalism) at

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

53 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Bethany

  • Ruth

    I love how your daughter played more happily with less toys. Our son had very few toys for the first few year…yes he followed us around all the time! Now he is older he has more (mostly lego) but we go through them a few times a year to declutter. He once said to me that ‘it is hard to know what to play with when you have a lot of toys.’ So I think kids prefer less choice.

  • Sarah

    I love your story! It sounds wonderful and very natural how you’ve come across minimalist living and then started the same process in your family as well. And I’m not surprised to read that your daughter thrives in a less cluttered environment, I’ve noticed that about children in general, and especially the ones with special needs. I often feel they are teaching us adults about the importance of simplicity and balance in our lives.

    Happy summer on your boat!

    • Yes, I’ve also noticed that children with special needs really do seem to crave simplicity. I teach special education (during the “off-season!”), and I’ve tried to bring minimalism to my classroom as well. You wouldn’t believe it, but that’s been harder than bringing it to my home!

  • Nice story. Your blog looks good – you seem to be having some great adventures! Good luck!

  • Another fascinating read. Keep up the good work !

  • Great story, thanks for sharing. You are very inspiring!

  • Your story is so interesting :D My parents always use to tell me how things made back when they were kids were much sturdier and long-lasting than the stuff that’s made today, and I never really believed them until recently. It’s amazing how a fridge from the 30’s can still be running today.

    I hope you, your husband and your daughter have a very happy clutter-free life :)

  • A

    Lovely story, Bethany! I lived on a boat as well – 41′ with 5 other family members – and know firsthand what a minimalist it makes you! My sisters shared the v-berth and it was a mess due to their clutter. My brother, though, slept in the “living room” and I slept in the galley seating area. My parents shared the aft cabin. With so many people in such a small place, we had to learn to keep it simple! (Well, except for my sisters.)

    Regarding your choice of appliances – I love it! My husband and I also decided to avoid purchasing anything new for the reliability reason and for another: items come pre-scratched, so whatever dings they get from you are camouflaged by the experience the furniture already had. A bonus for us is that they’re also smaller. In the furniture and appliance world, the manufacturers still think bigger is better. It’s not!

    • Wow, 7 on a boat! I’m impressed. Especially having kids sleeping in the galley and other areas that have to be remade in the morning. And I can see how the v-berth could get cluttered. Beanie sleeps there in our boat (husband and I sleep in the galley), and we’re leaving some toys here at the cottage. It fills up fast!

  • What adventures your daughter has already had in her little life! Much better than playing with some plastic toys. I agree about the counting…100 just sounds like such an accomplishment! However, do we ever REALLY have just 100 things when we take EVERYTHING into consideration? Much better to just live with what’s right for you and your life (i.e. lagom). Enjoy your next sailing adventure!

    • That’s what’s cracked me up about the people who claim to have 100 possessions–there are so many exceptions! We could all claim to have 8 possessions if collections counted as one thing, shared items didn’t count, furniture didn’t count, etc. I think the problem is that we all want to quantify, to say “Look, I have X possessions, so I am a minimalist!” But minimalism, by nature, can not (and should not) be quantified. And it’s all about being free from needing to live to please others.

  • Amber

    I enjoy reading about your minimalism journey here and at your blog. Thanks for the inspiration! The very thought of spending a summer on a boat makes me feel so happy I could almost cry. (sigh) Back to the aspiring minimalist grind.

  • Your kitchen sounds so home-y. Ol’Grandma sure never needed a microwave, blender, food processor, bread machine, crockpot … or anything else that plugged in, for that matter! Maybe that’s why I love that old kitchenware so much … those well-worn utensils take me back to a much simpler time and place.

    And when it comes to clearing out and decluttering, minimalizing that collection of dearly loved kitchenware will be the greatest challenge of all!

    • I used to have the most high-tech kitchen ever! Getting down to where we are was really a journey. We would put items in “purgatory.” Thing that we were considering purging would go into our guest bedroom for a few weeks, so we could be sure we really didn’t need them. That helped a lot with the paring down.

  • Natalie

    I love the idea of living on a boat. Like a mobile home, but on the ocean, so wonderful!

    Regarding the quality of appliances, I saw an interesting documentary recently. I usually laugh at conspiracy theories, but this one I’m inclined to believe in!

  • Renee

    I think this is by far my favorite Real Life story! We have been looking at campers for vacation reasons, and even though we just built a modest home a few years ago, we have the desire to seriously downsize to something that basic and simple for every day living. I would love to experience that simplicity first hand!

  • M

    I love the idea of buying vintage appliances. They are often much sturdier and their appearance is so charming. When we bought a house in 2004 we decided that the fridge seemed to be on its last legs and we determined that because it was probably original to the 50-year-old house. Well, thinking that the fridge would surely die any day, we bought a new fridge and placed the old one in the laundry room (the kitchen and laundry rooms are side by side) as a backup fridge. 8 years later, the original fridge is still running like new and we are SO glad that we kept it. We are able to stock up on foods when they go on sale because we have more fridge storage. Sure, the old fridge is small, but it still works great and it is just so vintage-cute:) We host a lot of dinner gatherings and family events at our house, so the extra fridge capacity is really a necessity for us.

    • M

      I forgot to mention that if we ever move, I have already told my husband that we will be taking that little vintage fridge with us. It is candy-apple red and just so awesome:) We’ll leave the big new fridge with the house:)

  • Sally

    I was very touched by the words that you used to describe your daughter “Our little Buddy” and “Our Pal” that says so much about your relationship with her. It sounds like you have a lot of love, compassion, understanding and joy for your daughter. Keep on doing that. You’ve quite lifted my spirits with those words.

  • Sky

    What a great post! You and your family really have it together and know what’s important in life.
    Very impressive!

  • Layla

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve always wanted this sort of freedom and simplicity, like what you describe.

    My parents had a similar experience with their appliances – they were told it’s surprising the washing machine lasted so long, and new machines aren’t designed to last that long. You would think some entrepreneur would come along and start a company that makes good quality, simple, long-lasting washing machines and stoves, and blow all the other companies out of the water.

    Another thing I found fascinating was that the old refrigerator was more efficient than new ones. It makes me question all those “trade in your old refrigerator for something more efficient” ads. There’s so much pressure to upgrade everything!

    Anyway, reading this is making me want to live on a boat :)

  • GreyQueen

    Oh, what a wonderful post. I love it that you’re deliberately sourcing vintage appliances. I rented a flat once with a very old cream-coloured gas stove. It was eccentric; the oven had two temperatures (off and full blast :) ) the grill didn’t work at all but the burners did. My gas fitter told me that he’d converted “loads like that” when the UK went from coal gas to natural gas in the early 1970s. One day in the library, a chance encounter with a book on retro adverts showed me that my cooker was new in 1947. It actually ended up in a small country museum…………..

  • Arthur

    When I tłook my best friend to sail by Baltic Sea first time he asked my: why we should do this? I said : ” you ll see, life will be simple again. ” well sailing is essence of minimslism.

  • Shelley

    What a great post and a new perspective on a minimalist lifestyle. I have a friend who lives on a canal boat and although not as exotic as a sailboat I love the idea of the freedom it gives you.

    I totally agree on the appliance thing, it’s so frustrating that things are not made to last. I have had my dishwasher for 10 years and every time it breaks I have it repaired. I’ve spent more on repairs over the years that it is worth, but I can’t bring myself to buy a new one – it just seems too wasteful.

    Enjoy your adventures!

    • What frustrates me is when brand new appliances, electronics, etc. are defective right from the package. It happens so often that we expect it. We actually quit buying coffee makers (and use a French press instead), because we couldn’t get one to last more than a few months.

      • GreyQueen

        Yup, yesterday my Nan had a new Hotpoint fridge-freezer delivered and it was defective; thermostat doesn’t work. C’mon, you manufacturers, this isn’t rocket science. Nan’s previous fridge lasted for 30 years of constant use and these days you’re doing well if you can get more than 5 years’ life out of one.

  • What an inspirational story! I really enjoyed reading your post. It sounds like you really have your priorities straight. A lot of people dream of living on a sailboat; how wonderful that you were able to experience that with your family, but reduce your stress by bringing a minimum of possessions. You are so right about vintage kitchen items – they don’t make things like they used to!

  • Kurkela

    Been living on the boat, too. And oh how bad it was to come back to the hard ground… I can truly subscribe to almost every word you have written, especially in regard to the modern appliances that keep broking and are not built to last, and to the old ones that keep going with no end in sight.
    Happy people do not consume – this is an old marketing and advertising law. On the boat we feel happy and free, and this is why we need so little.

  • Anna D.

    One of my favorite stories thus far;)

  • Linda D.

    I was just wondering what kind of hobbies you did on your sailboat?

    • Well, writing is the big one! ;-). And rwding, especially e-books. We play cards and other low tech games, we cook (from scratch!), we watch foreign films (thank you, Netflix!) after Branie’s bedtime, and–for an anniversary gift–we’re getting fencing gear in July!

  • Angela K. Marvin

    I loved this post! I LONG to get to the minimalist point where I could be content with no TV and only three outfits. (I’m working on it! Hee hee.) Also, I love the idea of life on a boat — Parrothead here who would love to chuck it all and live a life on the sea. ;-)

    The vintage appliance is inspired, too; I can’t for the life of me understand why everything must be of inferior and disposable quality today, and that includes cars, appliances, clothing, and even relationships! Sad. I’m glad there are other fellow-minded minimalist/simplicity types who appreciate quality and substance, though. :-)

    Can’t wait to check out your website/blog!

  • Great post, Bethany. You have made a wonderful transformation in your lives, and it sounds like you were already minimalists at heart anyway! This is one reason I enjoy travelling with our campervan, as housework takes only a short time each day, and there is much more time left for relationships and experiences.

  • April

    I really like your blog. There are many great articles… I especially like the one on “mommy wars”. I’m currently living in MI too. There is so much beautiful nature here and it’s so family oriented. I find minimalism easier here :). Living on a boat all summer sounds so peaceful and fun!

  • […] My Real-Life Minimalist Post, on Miss Minimalist This post written for Miss Minimalist, so technically it wasn’t a post on this blog, but it’s what brought most of you here. […]

  • Tina

    Love the posts about living in a small space with very little.

  • […] years ago, during the summer of 2012, I wrote a guest post for Francine’s blog at Miss Minimalist.  At that time we were in the beginning of our […]

  • […] week we have an update from Bethany, who was first featured as a Real Life Minimalist in June 2012. She shares with us the exciting changes of the last two years, and invites you to read more about […]

  • Tina

    My son once told someone our stove was 25years old. They said they bought a new one every 5 or 6 years. I like things to last and buy the simpler models when I can. We are thinking of looking at a rummage sale or thrift shop for some newer night tables. My choice would be to keep the ones we have and maybe paint them but my husband likes to buy new things.

  • Tina

    I just realized I have no clothes with patterns on them. Everything I own is a solid color. I just remembered I bought some cocktail rings years ago for very little for Halloween. I think I will wear them one at a time as accessories to an outfit.

  • Tina

    My daughter had friends over for lunch and painting. She invited me to be a part of her group. I enjoyed the drawing, meeting a few of her friends I hadn’t met before, and the conversation. I think there are a lot better things to do than watch Tv or shop.

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