Learning to Live Small

How do you shoehorn a house full of artwork and oriental rugs into a small sailboat? You don’t. Instead you learn to “live small.”

During the three years I spent living on a sailboat, a story captured in Sailing Down the Moonbeam, I learned that life is richer if you aren’t trapped—controlled—by “stuff” that has to be maintained and insured and protected.

I was recently asked to talk about living small with half a dozen elderly widows in a retirement community. I hoped that the lessons I learned as I navigated from house to boat would offer some insights for people whose boundaries are shrinking.

The flow of insight went the other way. The widows all spoke of coping with loss … husbands, homes, the souvenirs of a lifetime. One described the religious artifacts she had collected, but was now donating to a museum. Another spoke of her prized antiques, few of which her children wanted.

Each of the women had something unique that she had collected and was now giving up. But I heard no sense of sorrow or regret. Near the end of the hour, the oldest woman, frail and nearly blind, spoke up. “You know,” she said with a quiet smile, “It isn’t about having things. It’s about collecting things. It’s collecting that keeps you alive.” Everyone nodded.

They’d come to hear me because they were still collecting. Life stories instead of bibles or teacups. But still collecting. They already knew that even if you live small in terms of stuff, you can still live large in life.


  1. Mary,
    I so agree with not collecting “stuff” but collecting memories instead. I look forward to your “My Gutsy Story.”