Transitions are hard. And even though I've packed up my life and moved a good number of times, it never gets easier.
Garrett and I had been on a waiting list to move onto our boat for about a year and a half (yes, a waiting list; it's actually really hard to get permission to live on your boat in the San Francisco Bay Area) and finally got the news that a slip opened for us at the end of February. We gave our 30-day move out notice to our apartment landlord two days later.
Our liveaboard status kicked in on March 1, and the last day of our apartment lease was March 31. For those 30 days, we lived between both places.
March was a tough month. I had a baseline of anxiety buzzing through me the entire time. Not so much for what we were about to do—downsize our entire life to live on a sailboat—but for all of the things that we had to tackle first.
Over the course of four weeks, I packed 12 boxes and shipped them east to store at my dad's house. Garrett spent 40+ hours fixing a leak (that exposed damaged wood that led to him taking apart the boat to replace...more on that later). We sold some of furniture and donated a lot. We got a storage unit and turned it into a closet. We moved things onto the boat, added some touches to make it homier.
Whenever I was on the boat, I felt excited for our new adventure. Whenever I was at the apartment, I felt sad about ending our San Francisco chapter. My emotions were on a constant roller coaster. Garrett, of course, was fine.
He handles moving much better than I do.
Now that the move is over and we've been living on our boat for 2+ weeks (and loving it, woohoo!), I can look back at the move with some clarity and recognize the things that helped me—and the things that didn't—make the transition smoother.
1. Only make one major life transition at a time (if you can)
Because I spent 30 days feeling an ever-present pressure to be making some sort of change—donate this, keep that—I latched onto the things that remained constants in my life, like work. I looked forward stepping into my office every day, knowing what was expected of me and what I could get done between the hours of 9(ish) and 5(ish). Everything outside of working hours was fair game for moving, so I really cherished the time that I could devote my mental energy to something different, something I knew how to do and something that I could do well.
I also made sure I kept up my weekly routines: volunteer Tuesday, voice lesson Wednesday. However, I did have to call out of both of these commitments the last week of our move, because there was still so much to do. I was fine with that, though; accepting that I couldn't keep up with everything, and deciding what had to give. But for the first few weeks of the month, stepping into spaces that I knew and felt routine gave me comfort in a time of chaos.
Had I done a total 180 with my life: move out of apartment onto sailboat, change jobs, give up extracurricular activities, I would have lost it. Sure, it's possible to change everything at once, and lots of people do it, I just don't think that I can be one of them! Going through one major transition at a time is enough for me.
2. Purge, but don't get rid of everything - you can do that later
Moving is as great a time as any to rid yourself of the possessions that you don't need or use. Both Garrett and I are guilty of holding onto things for longer than we should (I'm pretty sure I had a shirt or two from college left over in my closet), and honestly, we probably would have kept those items if we were just moving from one apartment to another. But downsizing to move onto a sailboat became a whole new challenge for us, one thats main focus was to give up the things we didn't need.
It was amazing, how much stuff we had. We lived in such a tiny apartment! There are only two of us! We've only been in San Francisco for four and a half years! I did the KonMari method to my closet years ago!
In the end, I'm not sure how many bags I took to goodwill, or how many furniture pickups I scheduled through the city. All I know is, we got rid of a lot. But not everything.
One of my favorite pieces of advice I got (see below for more) was "don't be afraid to keep some of those things you may think are excessive. It's about what you use. Not how much stuff you have." I loved that last part: it's about what you use, not how much stuff you have.
Instead of getting rid of things just to get rid of them, I used that piece of advice to approach things with the questions, "do we use this? Will we use this on the boat? Will we use it when we move off of the boat?" This gave me peace of mind, and helped me organize things into piles: donate, sell, keep in long-term storage at dad's house, keep in short-term storage unit, bring onto boat.
All said and done, I think we did a pretty good job of it, but there's still more we can downsize. Like my kitchen utensils—I don't need 12 dinner forks and 12 salad forks on this boat. Half, or even a quarter, of that will do. But I'd rather start with too much than not enough and end up having to rebuy some of the things we decided not to keep.
3. Reach out to others for advice
I tend to be a more private person and try to handle things on my own. Asking for help doesn't come easily for me, but always proves to be worthwhile in the end. Simply talking certain things through with family members (like what to keep, how to manage timing the move, and so on) eased a lot of the anxiety I was internalizing and helped me make decisions with a clearer head.
One thing that really helped, too, was reaching out to people who have gone through this specific transition to liveaboard life themselves. I joined the Women Who Sail Facebook group (which is almost 15k members strong!) and posted a message asking for "any tips or tricks about the moving process, creative ways you make use of small spaces and storage on board, making your boat feel like a home, but still ready to sail...anything, really!"
I got some great, tangible advice that I quickly put to use, like:
- Have his and her cupboards
- Measure your spaces before buying boxes and storage
- Find a home for every object now while moving in
- Get the hanging version of the DampRid product - it'll make sure your clothes stay mildew-free and smell good
- Get a label maker and label, label, label!
- Make a complete inventory of everything you have on the boat and where you've put it
- Don't be afraid to keep some of those things you may think are excessive. It's about what you use. Not how much stuff you have.
Exercising the advice from other liveaboards, trying to keep only things of use, and sticking to my constants in this big time of change really helped me get through it all. Honestly, the move was so wearying that actually living on the boat has been a breeze so far. I'm happy to report that Garrett and I are really enjoying our liveaboard life, and can't wait to share more of it with you soon.