“Living on a houseboat becomes this force that makes you live a sustainable lifestyle.”
Millicent Beesley and her partner Juliano Chapon have been living on a houseboat for only two months, but even in this short period of time, it’s visibly noticeable the changes it has brought into their life approach. It started off as a joke, and it later then became reality. “He told me I was a nutter when I mentioned I wanted to go for a houseboat viewing,” says Millie while laughing. Living on a houseboat is a change to your whole attitude towards your life, and not only beneficial to a minimalistic lifestyle and being close to nature but it also benefits the environment itself. “There’s a lot of things that come with the boat lifestyle, which we weren’t aware of but was very appealing to us” says Juliano.
Although the financial side is a big bonus, there are certain aspects of a boat lifestyle that attracted the couple. It’s living a minimal life; living with less stuff and consuming no more than they need or have to. “We are both engineers and our daily work is to figure out ways to deal with consuming less energy, such as designing a building that has less embodied carbon. This is a massive issue, perhaps the biggest issue of our generation. Everyone can – to an extent – buy and consume a lot less living in a flat, but when you’re living in a boat you are more forced to do it” explains Juliano.
“This is a massive issue, perhaps the biggest issue of our generation.”
Living in a developed G7 country does make it difficult to live a sustainable lifestyle, people can very easily and unknowingly fall into the trap of constant consumption, from buying a new phone to buying new clothes to simply forgetting to switch the lights off and showering every day, and then all of a sudden you’re killing the planet. “Living on a houseboat then becomes this force that makes you live a sustainable lifestyle,” explains Juliano while Millie nods her head in agreement. This lifestyle change does not only apeal for Millie and Juliano but to many other houseboat residents as well.
Things that influence how to live a sustainable lifestyle is consumption, from the amount of plastic is bought, to how much water is used to even how much energy is consumed in someone’s everyday life. “When we got our first electricity bill it was about 200 kilowatts which is very small for a month consumed by two people. Compared to when I was living on my own in my house, I would consume up to a thousand kilowatts a month. So, I consumed five times more just to live. It doesn’t stop with electricity, because water is the same thing. We don’t realise it but just with flushing the toilet, so much drinkable water is used to simply wash our poo” Juliano says while laughing.
There’s energy spent in making the water potable, in other words to make it drinkable and there’s energy used to move it out into a water treatment plant and also to move it back to form it into drinkable water again. Therefore, all of this infrastructure that we need, which is important, because that is how we understand society requires a lot of energy. “It’s not the main reason why we chose to live on a boat, we are not eco warriors, but it does certainly make you feel better about the life choices and the decisions we make.”
Living on a boat – as everyone can imagine – can be very cramped up and Millie explains how, you become more aware of what you buy, and having less to choose from throws you into the deep end of consuming less. You become more conscious about what you will be able to fit into the boat and what you really need, and thus luxury becomes less of a priority. “As weird as it sounds, I’ve basically got a different head on my head when I go into shops now.”
Shopping and buying new things do have a positive mental impact on people, but when you don’t have any space, it doesn’t make you feel sad but rather happy that you don’t need to deal with the hassle of trying to find or make space for all these unnecessary things. “it’s almost like we’ve moved choice” says Millie.
“I was so foreign to the idea that people actually lived on boats, it blew my mind.”
Although living on a houseboat is eco-friendly, the lifestyle however may not be the right choice for everyone. A houseboat has certain aspects that needs to be thought about that no one would need to put second thought into or even consider if they were to live in a normal house. Juliano, comes from a country where narrow boats do not exist, brazil, and he describes his experience as “I was so foreign to the idea that people actually lived on boats, it blew my mind.”
He believes there are certain subtle things that come with the houseboat lifestyle that can be off putting and unnecessary for most. Therefore, there needs to be a certain type of desire and love for the lifestyle. “There are couple of things you have to think about that you normally wouldn’t, like refilling you water tank, and emptying the toilet. Things that you don’t have to do in a normal property” explains Millie as she stirs her coffee and laughs. Only have lived in a houseboat for a couple months, the couple are still learning and adapting their daily routine to this new lifestyle they have chosen for themselves. “We only just figured out winter,” jokingly explains Juliano.
In contrary to the ‘negative’ aspects, moving into a boat is almost like switching communities and living in a village in the middle of London. “We’re in a community, everybody knows each other, and we keep the mooring rent reduced by organising it in a way where the landlord has to talk with one person who was voted for within this community, and that person represents the whole mooring.” Having a lifestyle choice in common with somebody creates an automatic bond, even if it is with a complete stranger.
It would be difficult if someone was to move into a houseboat purely for financial ease, as there’s so much that will be incorporated into your daily life, it’s very like to frustrate you if you don’t necessarily enjoy it and it becomes more of an inconvenience rather than a daily norm.
Regardless of the lifestyle, financial aspects do play a huge role in whether somebody is willing to give up a luxurious lifestyle to an eco-friendlier one. It is a commonly known fact that the house prices, even just renting, is ridiculously expensive in London, thus a lot of Londoners have resorted in either moving towards outer London, or guardianship homes or for a more close-to-nature lifestyle chose to live on a houseboat.
Many could argue buying a ‘normal’ house is far wiser than spending all the savings in your bank account on a boat, however it is definitely a lot cheaper. Especially when a £450k house is considered to be a reasonable and affordable price in London. Whereas a good condition houseboat price can differ between (depending on the size) £50k to £100k, which is still reasonably a lot cheaper compared to a normal property
However, that is not to say that living in a houseboat is completely cheap but is definitely the cheaper option. According to 2017 studies it has shown that there is approximately 60 per cent rise in registered boats. There are over ten thousand people living on a houseboat all across London.Moorings have never been this busy in London, and they’re struggling with water quantities. For those who are familiar with how locks work, every time someone uses a lock, a lot of water is lost from the system, and because there are so many boats moving through locks – due to the fact that people are choosing to live on houseboats – this means some locks are closed for weeks just to hold back the water.
The annual living cost can vary depending on the type of boat you own, if you want a mooring location or prefer on the move, the mooring location itself, Fuel, insurance, boat safety certificate and boat licence, general routine maintenance. Mooring prices varies depending on location if you are closer or in central London, then it will be a lot more expensive. But on average the mooring price is £2,000. This also indicates, as you are considered to be a resident, you will be paying council tax.
There is also a cheaper option to mooring, which is being on the move and only paying for a moving licence, where you would be moving your boat along the canal every couple week. Although, just like everything there is a downside to this, you don’t have a postcode, therefore this may mean saying goodbye to applying for a bank account or any form of credit.
Regardless if you are mooring or on the move every boat owner needs a boat licence where the cost differs from £510 to £1,100 per year, and this cost depends on the length size of your houseboat. Compared to a normal house a houseboat is exposed to not only more harsh weather conditions but also the risk of accidents and damage. Therefore, as well as the licence, insurance is a for a houseboat, which is about £200.
However, regardless of the financial aspects or the eco-friendly lifestyle, the couple are both thrilled to be living on a houseboat. They’re happy to expand their family and continue to life on a boat if they were to have kids. “How fun would it be to grow up on a boat. As a child it would be wonderful.” Although living in a normal property with a child would be a lot easier and safer. “It’s fine if you were to drop your groceries in the water, but you can’t drop your child.” Most houseboat residents would rather prioritise the safety of their child and thus, more likely to move to a normal house if they were to have kids, and Millie and Juliano agree on this.
The short period of time Millie has lived in a houseboat has changed her thoughts and approach towards consumption, and space for the better. “If I was to live in a normal house again, my attitude towards it would be different.” Living on a houseboat does make you more conscious in regards to consumerism and the environmental impacts it has.
Londoners are obsessed with property prices and finding the cheapest way to live, therefore, there are many Londoners who choose to live on a houseboat for a more affordable lifestyle. However, for someone who find comfort in what we consider a ‘normal lifestyle’ is to an extent a luxury, therefore moving to a houseboat purely on financial reasons will most definitely be a challenge. Millie and Juliano both who have a fairly above average income can easily afford a property, however, their main goal was the sustainable, minimalistic lifestyle and getting away from the consumerism trap that a lot of people who live in a developed country fall into. Even though, the financial aspects play a huge role in living in a houseboat, the lifestyle change is not for everyone.