What do you think of when you hear the phrase voluntary simplicity? White walls and sparse mid-century modern decorations? If you walked down the dock past my minimalist home on the water, you’d see the opposite. You’d see me entertaining dockmates in a warm, inviting cabin, you’d smell my favorite carrot cake cooking in my tiny convection oven, and you’d hear the radio playing Prairie Home Companion on a Saturday night. Chances are, I’d invite you in.
So what does voluntary simplicity mean to me? The concept runs deeper than displaying a sparse aesthetic. Part of it is pinpointing the fine line between what I truly “need” versus what is holding me back from enjoying life. Another critical piece of my interpretation, and one I’m excited to share with anyone who will listen, is my goal to eliminate and reduce toxins from my environment.
Think of it: a simple gallon of vinegar costs pennies, is less toxic, and more effective than household cleaners you buy at a store. What a lovely convergence of frugality, purity, and utility!
My simplicity toolkit is brimming with similar ideas, but at the core of this lifestyle is the belief that the old, simple ways are the good ways. The natural, whole foods our grandparents ate and the wool fibers our forefathers wore will bring us greater health.
These are my two biggest-impact non-toxic lifestyle choices onboard the good ship Merry. My hope is that landlubbers and liveaboards alike will find value in my advice!
1) Bring a little land onto sea. I grow potted plants onboard in every nook and cranny I can find. Why? The EPA estimates that indoor air is 70% more polluted than the outside air of large cities. Check out this video. For those of us who liveaboard, small spaces can worsen the problem. We all know plants convert CO2 to Oxygen. However, certain amazing plants also do a hero’s job of absorbing toxins in the air.
Luckily, one of the top toxin-gulping species in the world also happens to be the easiest to grow in dark galleys and berths belonging to absentminded captains who forget to water. This little guy will happily absorb massive quantities of CO2 and toxins and ask little in return. Just remember to take a wet rag to the dust on his leaves every couple months. He needs them clear to keep doing his job.
2) Beware toxic berths! Chances are, you are sleeping on a slush of formaldehyde and flame retardant chemicals. In the U.S., 95% of our mattresses are required by law to be sprayed with this mix. A queen mattress typically contains over 1 pound of the stuff, and with every toss and turn over years of use, dust and gas is released. In studies, two groups of babies slept—one group on untreated mattresses, and one group on flame retardant chemical (typical) mattresses. Can you guess which group ended up with lower IQ’s?
So, how to legally get an untreated mattress? Buy wool. Wool is the ONLY type of mattress that doesn’t get a dousing, because the sheep hair is extremely naturally flame retardant.
Top this with hemp sheets. Hemp naturally requires no pesticides to grow (bugs don’t like it) and very little water compared to cotton. Also, hemp sheets were not sprayed with formaldehyde. Even organic cotton sheets usually are sprayed to make them “wrinkle free.” This is as absurd as ironing underwear!
As I continue to make progress toward greater simplicity, each choice is an opportunity. Rather than purchasing an expensive air filter machine, I use cheap, readily available, easy-to-grow plants, which require no filter changes, are multiple times more effective, and cost only a few drops of water a day. Rather than relying on synthetic fibers sprayed with IQ-sapping, cancer-causing flame retardant chemicals, I use good old fashioned wool, the only fiber which is naturally fire retardant and whose fibers have been keeping mankind warm for centuries. And hey—I need all the brain cells I can get!
This is Merry’s first post as a contributing writer for Sailing, Simplicity, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Click here to read a post she wrote as a guest blogger shortly after her adventure aboard SV Daphne. We continue to review guest posts, so email if you are interested.