Downsizing to a Narrowboat

It’s been a while, but I’m getting back on the horse, or perhaps the boat? Either way, I’m here to write a little more about our adventure so far. Lockdown has been tough for all of us and frankly, if my biggest worry is my plans being set back a bit, then I’ve probably done pretty well out of it. We had hoped to move onto Sumo in September and spend a couple of months exploring, before battening down the hatches and cozying up in front of the stove for the winter. As I initially refused to believe, but have remarkably quickly learned, everything to do with boats takes longer than you think.

Saloon and galley of a liveabord narrowboat
Our under gunwhale bookshelf has been one of the most useful bits of storage we built.

Anyway, Onto the Good Bit…

The last time I checked in here, I had literally just bought Sumo. I had a whole business to close down, a life to uproot, pack up and unpack and a great deal of DIY to attend to. Amazingly, bar a few little snags, it’s all finished. I love the home I’ve created and even though I haven’t had a chance to live there for more than a week at a time, I can already tell it’s going to be a lifestyle I enjoy. So, instead of focusing on being stuck on dry land, for now, I’ve put together a, hopefully helpful, guide to how I downsized in order to fit onboard.

How to Downsize Onto a Narrowboat

I’ve always been terrible at hanging around in one place too long. Since moving to Brighton, I’ve had 14 different addresses. That’s just shy of two house moves per year. So, I thought that I was pretty well versed in keeping things minimal, packing up my stuff, and moving around. This is totally the case when it comes to moving from room to room, but moving onto a boat is a little bit different. The space you have on a boat is not like the space you have in a home.

You Don’t Need That Dress

My biggest problem in downsizing was clothes. What I thought was a single rail of clothes and a small box of shoes, was actually, when all accounted for, an absolutely laden, heaving, almost breaking rail of clothes, a storage trunk full of underwear (and a million pairs of plain black tights), a whole coat rack full of coats, scarves, hats, and no less than two racks full of shoes. That’s not including a case full of fancy dress and an almost bin bag full of silk scarves?! In a house, this all fitted, on two shoe racks, a coat rack, a rail, and a suitcase that got shoved under the bed and brought out when I needed to make myself look like an idiot for Halloween. This just wasn’t going to fly for boat life.

On the boat, I’ve got 3 drawers and 2 cupboards with shelves, with a third of the useable shelf space taken up by a calorifier. I’ve also got to share that space with one other person, who has a wardrobe at least as ridiculous as mine. Needless to say, a huge charity shop dump was done, where my wardrobe shrunk by more than a half. I’m also super lucky to have parents with a loft, so my summer wardrobe is tucked away in there. Incredibly all of our clothes now fit on the boat, I haven’t missed a single item of clothing and our shoe collection has been pared down to one rack which fits so satisfyingly neatly under our internet shelf by the front door. We did it!

If I had to surmise my wardrobe minimising efforts into three useful points, which nobody has asked for, but I’m going to do anyway, those points would be:

  1. If you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it.
  2. Organise into a seasonal wardrobe. Then beg a friend or relative to store it for you.
  3. Failing that, vacuum bag it and relegate it to ‘deep storage’ (that bit of the boat that is full of spiders and you never go in).

All Plants are Not Equal

Like many other millennials, I have a houseplant addiction. I’ve always rented, so pets weren’t on the agenda, except Spicy Bean Boy, the most spoiled hamster in the world, and two guinea pigs who I co-parented during my final year of University. Anyway, the hairy hole in my soul that so longed for a dog was filled with plants. By the time it came to move out of my most recent house I had accumulated so many plants that they had spread throughout a three-story house into just about every room. Thankfully I had a shop downstairs, so during the final week of my sale there, I was able to find a home for all of the plant babies who didn’t quite make the cut.

House plants being watered in a narrowboat sink.
My collection of plants almost fits in the sink now, it wouldn’t fit in a car before.

If you’re struggling to decide which of your green children to bring with you then here are some things to consider:

1) Is this plant likely to wither and die if exposed to a little too much: hot, cold, light, dark, damp, or dry? If the answer is yes, do what’s right and find it a home that it’ll thrive in. Fussy plants, generally speaking, don’t like boat life.

2) Was this plant a present? If it was, then you can cast aside all worries about it not thriving on board a boat because it is your duty to make sure it lives. Sorry.

3) Will you actually cry if you have to part with it? If your plant wasn’t a present and probably won’t survive on the boat then it might be time to say goodbye. That is, unless this plant, in the words of Marie Kondo, sparks joy. In which case just keep the damn plant.

Boat Furniture is Different From House Furniture

I had luckily rented houses that were more or less fully furnished, so I didn’t have to wave goodbye to all that much. If you do have a ton of furniture though, unless you’ve bought a 60-foot widebeam, it’s probably not all going to fit.

Your bed is going to be the first thing you’ve got to say goodbye to. We were lucky that our boat had a space that was the perfect size for a proper small double mattress, so we’ve got the real deal and it is wonderful. Generally speaking, most boats don’t have space for a mattress much bigger than that, unless you’ve blocked off the bow doors and go for the whole-width, king size thing. If you have got that, I am a little jealous.

Inside of a traditional narrowboat
The original mouldy sofa
Painting and repurposing a narrowboat sofa
Half way through its glow up, you can see the storage drawers here.
A re-upholstered narrowboat sofa
The golden sofa in all its glory

Boat sofas are an interesting thing, and having spent a great deal of time religiously stalking following narrowboat interiors on Facebook and Instagram, there seem to be three distinct camps.

1) Custom Sofa. There was an enormous (and hideous) L-Shaped sofa with built-in storage and a fold-out arm when I bought the boat. It chopped up the living space, made it look small, and the cushions were vile. So, it came out, got a bit of a revamp, and went back in as just the leg of the L. Having the storage means we can put all of our outdoorsy clothes in the base of the sofa and forget about it. We can also lay the cushions out and make a full-size double bed for when we’re finally allowed people to stay. The only thing we miss is having an arm to lean against, but an arm will be made as soon as I find a way to do it…

2) Chairs Instead. Being able to pick up and move stuff around is incredibly useful. I toyed with the idea of chairs for a while, but the allure of all that storage space under the sofa was just too strong. If you don’t have as much crap as we do, then chairs would be great, They’re comfy, they’re easy to move and you don’t have to argue about who’s taking up most of the sofa.

3) Modular sofas. If you like cuddling up, don’t need that extra storage space, and want something that won’t take hours to put together, then lots of people have cute little sofas that come in pieces and click together. These look great, don’t take up masses of room and you don’t have to DIY them yourself. You can even get some with built-in storage, or that fold out into beds, but they were a little out of budget for us!

The only furniture that we bought onto the boat were two simple stacking stools that were earmarked for the breakfast bar. If we’d bought anything else I can’t imagine how cluttered it would be, so think carefully before insisting you bring your heirloom china cabinet.

USB Chargers Are Your Friend

The final thing that required a little effort to downsize was our electricals. Do you know how much energy a hairdryer uses?! If you’re going to be on a marina with shoreline hookup (which hilariously we have been since buying the boat) then this won’t apply to you as much, but if you’re planning on being out and about relying on solar and your engine, then take heed. Get rid of those electricals you don’t need, and the ones you do need, get USB chargers for.

Boats run on 12v electrics and a USB port delivers 5 volts. This means that you can easily and safely run up to 2 USB ports off a 12-volt plug. If you’ve got an in-car phone charger, then you’ll already know that. Whilst you can buy nifty plugs that change your 3 pin 12-volt plug to a car lighter socket, you can also get your hands on USB sockets that sit flush with the wall and work with your 12-volt wiring. I have a habit of losing the most useful things, so I went with option two.

We replaced all but one of our 12-volt plugs with double USB sockets and it has been great. So great in fact that I’m debating taking the plunge with the final 12-volt plug as well, but it has such a nice brass socket. We can charge phones, the internet thingy, Bluetooth speakers, cameras, torches, fairy lights, well literally anything that has a USB charger. It was a super simple DIY job and once we’re out and about on the cut, it’ll make loads of difference to our energy usage.

We Fit Aboard

That was pretty much all the downsizing we had to do. Other than one enormous cheese plant which made itself at home in my parents bathroom, and my aforementioned summer wardrobe, everything else is on the boat and tucked away. We even have a spare cupboard space left in the kitchen. What were your must-haves when you moved aboard? What things are you looking forward to throwing away when you make the move?

Published by anidiotaboard

One idiot sharing her story of moving aboard a floating 44ft home.

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