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Once upon another lifetime, I sailed through life—yes, literally—on a boat. With my husband and our toddler and infant, we were a young family at the time, and although living on a boat constitutes some different logistics than living in an apartment or a house (such as having to pump one’s water from the sink, pump the toilet to “flush,” and folding up the dining table in order to fold out the bed at night), some of the more everyday lessons apply to living on land as well.

In my ten years of living on a sailboat, a typical bad day was a dragging anchor, a ripped sail, and our toddler throwing a vital tool overboard. At sea as on land, it always happened in three’s. That chapter in my life impressed certain truths upon me, and although many of them were elicited from a sea or boat-related experience, the underlying moral of the story applies equally well to my life on land today. I now find these truths to be self-evident:

Yes, things will hit the fan—not maybe, but certainly.

Murphy’s Law is unavoidable, etched in stone. I learned that things will hit the fan. What can go wrong will go wrong. Murphy’s law will seek you out and it will usually compound as a threesome. The boat engine will die while entering a narrow channel, a vital navigation part will break for no apparent reason, and the fuel tank will spring a leak and slosh diesel fuel all around the boat’s interior. And if it can happen on a boat, it most certainly will happen on land. In a rush to get to work, the coffee maker breaks, your pants zipper malfunctions, and the car tire is flat. We all know that the washing machine and refrigerator will break down the same week the car does, and that water heaters flood garages and laundry rooms. It doesn’t do any good to fight it. Yes, a primal reaction will be to scream. Go ahead, let it out, then breathe and tackle the solution, or solutions, head on.

Plan B is your friend, so be ready!

On a boat, one always has a Plan B. There are spare parts in triplicate along with many sorts of tools for the myriad of equipment that will eventually succumb to the salt air and seawater elements. Nothing lasts forever. But sometimes a quick repair isn’t the magical cure-all, and a broken part can cause a major shift in plans: a delay in departure, a change of course, or simply doing without for a while. I eventually learned not to cry over spilled milk, realizing that there can be other solutions. Above all, be flexible!  Sometimes plans change due to no desire or fault of your own, and it’s uncanny how something even better comes from veering off course.

Clutter is not your friend.

I don’t understand hoarding and I don’t understand knick-knack overload. Living on a boat, I became an anti-clutter fiend. Boats have no room for knick-knacks and free standing stuffed shelves. When the weather turns bad, or just obnoxious, you don’t want to get bonked in the head by a flying object. Besides, they are dust collectors. Sailing into a harbor, items did come out of their storage spots (especially the kids’ toys), and hang around the cabin for a few days while we stayed put. However, everything would go back into its proper slot once we set sail again. This same habit has served me well on land, and proven to be the secret to a clean and pared-down house.

There are two or three sailing knots to use for anything and everything—on a boat or on land.

I have just two or three, simple, nautical knots that have stuck with me, and they function well in a variety of circumstances and everyday life. Whether it be for camping (tying a laundry line to a tree), attaching something to the top or back of the car, on a stroller, or at the playground with your kids, these knots have become handy and second nature to me. I certainly wouldn’t expect the non-sailors out there to pointedly learn nautical knots, but to have mastered some sort of handy, easily remembered knot can really be helpful in living with children.

Live frugally, avoid debt.

One can live frugally and be quite satisfied. True, in modern society one does need credit cards, but my husband and I have learned to be disciplined and incur minimum monthly charges that can be paid off each month. Having once had no monthly rent, mortgage, or electric or water bills, living solely on a cash basis while living on our boat, I do realize that life on land is not that simple. However, by keeping things structured, disciplined, and as simple as possible (only one or two major credit cards, no individual store cards; paying bills immediately; not purchasing unnecessary stuff), you keep your obligations under control, and can better handle life when trouble does hit the fan!

Take a leap of faith and cross that ocean, or whatever that great divide is.

Cliché as it is, yes, do get out of your comfort zone. Don’t snub the unknown. Great secrets await your discovery. If you can’t travel, go meet someone of a different nationality in your community. Try a new class or activity. Sometimes you don’t know you have an interest in something until you try it. Embarking on a sailboat changed my life, and it still affects me today, 30 years later. Dare something new. It can change your life.

Conserve water.

Always a mantra in California where I live now, honed by my years with such limited access to fresh water, conserving water where we live today in “droughtful” California is a no brainer. We couldn’t let water run from the faucet while brushing our teeth on the boat, so why do it on land?

No matter where and how we live, our life experiences form a good part of who we are, and why we react the way we do to people and situations. Ten years of a life on the sea are my excuse. That’s what I tell my grandkids.

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