It’s not easy being green – unless that is, you live on a boat. Part III.

| 17th September 2013
In the third of a series of four blogs Clare Kendall discovers how living on a boat can make you less of a consumer......
No-one can move onto a houseboat without the brutal process of self-editing

You don’t need to be a social commentator or psychologist to see that shopping has become an addiction in most developed modern societies. We are, apparently, now incapable of letting a single weekend go by without rushing off to retail outlets, wallets flapping.

Not so if you live on a boat.

Space restrictions put a stark end to consumption for its own sake. As with water and energy usage, it becomes an activity defined strictly by immediate need. As one boater said to me recently: “If I want to buy something, I have to think about what’s going to go to make room for it.”

In The Houseboat Book author Barbara Flannagan describes this;

 “No-one can move onto a houseboat without the brutal process of self-editing. Houseboaters practise the art of leaner living. Their home is not a museum of past lives and future aspirations, but an expression of who they are, pure and simple.”

Curiously most boat owners seem to feel this is a blessing rather than a curse.

Sally Constant, 47, has lived on a 60ft narrow boat, Adrastea, for the last four years. Before that she had a wide beam.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago,” she explains. “I was working full-time and living in a three bedroom house. I had one of those moments when you think ‘What am I doing with my life?’. A health scare like that tends to put things in perspective.”

Sally is a freelance ambulance driver instructor and paramedic.

“It’s quite a demanding job to do full time,” she said. “I wanted to find a way of living differently so that I could work less. I had been on narrow boats but thought they were too small to live on so my first boat was a 60ft by 12ft wide beam. After a while though, mainly from spending time on other people’s boats, I started to see that they weren’t cramped, cluttered spaces but small, cosy spaces, giving you a big hug.”

No-one can move onto a houseboat without the brutal process of self-editing

Sally says she has become considerably less materialistic since moving onto a boat.

“Obviously moving from a three bedroom house I had to down scale a lot but I found the process very cathartic. You don’t have much space on a boat so the things you do have in your life tend to be things that are really special to you. In particular, there are very few flat walls so you can’t have the sort of shelf space that people have in houses.

“I have a totally different relationship with material things now. If I don’t need it, I don’t get it. Nowadays, I’m much more interested in the world around me. Last night I sat and watched an otter eating its dinner. I wouldn’t change anything about my lifestyle at the moment.”

I am currently in the process of buying a boat to live on myself. In researching this project, and for this article, these sentiments have come up again and again. Since the onset of the recession hundreds of people have been forced onto boats through sheer economic necessity or following a divorce but I have yet to hear a single murmur of regret.

Gerald Walmsley, 65, who lives on a narrow boat in Wiltshire with wife Ann, claims his boat living lifestyle even saved his life.

“Last year I contracted a virus which became very serious,” he says. “I was hospitalised and within two days was on a life support machine. My wife, Ann, was told to brace herself for the worst.”

Fortunately Gerald did recover.

“The doctor said that the thing which had saved me was that I was unusually strong and fit for my age. He said it was a direct result of my healthy life style. I would probably be dead by now if I didn’t live on a boat.”

Gerald’s wife Ann echoes his sentiments. “You’re out in the fresh air all the time and you need to be physically strong to work the locks. I want to be able to live this life for as long as possible so I’m much more aware these days of my health and diet.

“I find increasingly that I’m fitter and stronger than young people on rental boats and I’m 61!”

Only two months ago a study published by the Institute of Economic Affairs reported that retirement was  ‘bad for the health’, increasing the chances of suffering from clinical depression by 40% and  suffering from a physical condition by a colossal 60%.

“I think most retired couples just vegetate,” says Ann. “We get up in the morning and may decide to do a flight of 12 locks!

“You fall into bed at night with what I can only describe as a sense of job satisfaction.”

Clare Kendall is a multi award-winning photojournalist based in Wiltshire. Her work focuses heavily on ecotourism, environmental and social justice issues. For more visit:

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It's not easy being green - unless that is, you live on a boat. Part II.
In the second of a series of four blogs Clare Kendall discovers that fuel consumption by boat-dwellers is comparatively low and that energy is often more accessible than it is for those of us who live in buildings.......
It’s not easy being green – unless that is, you live on a boat
In the first of a series of four blogs Clare Kendall examines the interactions between the boat dweller and the substance that keeps them afloat.....

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