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How do you handle a tiny living space? We asked a Below Deck crew member.

Reality show fan favorite Courtney Skippon gives tips on how to survive whatever winter throws at us.

Sarah Lawrence for Vox
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Winter will suck. We gathered some of Vox’s coziest minds to help you make it suck less.

When New York City went into a shelter-in-place directive in March 2020, I learned that I am impossibly terrible at living in a confined space. New Yorkers don’t expect to spend 23 hours of their days inside their apartments, and doing that in 750 square feet from March until the end of April is not something I recommend. I went stir crazy. I was anxious about my toilet paper. I was irritable. I was sure I contracted coronavirus at least six separate times, all at night, all after I went to the grocery to buy some fruit. I was, I’m guessing, not a fun roommate to be around.

And now, with the way the pandemic is intensifying and the lack of clear and forthright leadership from the US government, it looks like another set of lockdowns might be looming, and my apartment hasn’t gotten any bigger.

Determined not to turn into a roommate monster and realizing there’s only so much within my control, I decided to consult an expert — someone who could tell me what it’s like to live in small spaces, someone who could tell me how not to be a garbage person, someone who was adept at dealing with garbage people, and someone who could do all of this with a service-level smile on their face.

I spoke to Below Deck’s Courtney Skippon, who answered my questions via email.

Skippon was a steward on the seventh season of the Bravo show, which exposes how exorbitantly rich people go yachting, focusing on the crew that makes these naval dreams happen. The rich guests can be demanding, the other crew members can be awful (Skippon’s season was stocked with misogynistic jerks, one of whom kicked sand at a woman steward like an adult toddler), and the working and filming hours can be relentless. Still, Skippon made it through the season as a fan favorite. If there’s anyone who could teach me how to survive a winter in a tiny space without becoming a goblin, I figured it would be her.

Below Deck must be kind of a weird experience to live through — being filmed every day, being around a group of people seemingly every hour, being on a boat — can you talk about that?

Courtney Skippon at the Below Deck reunion show.
Heidi Gutman/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Being on Below Deck was a whirlwind, and as a byproduct, it taught me lessons I feel impossibly grateful for. Among them, it gave me a much surer sense of myself and my boundaries, and — after experiencing such an absence of it — a much greater inclination toward empathy.

You worked with some people I wouldn’t ever want to work with. But unlike a regular job, you can’t leave a terrible coworker at the office on Below Deck. How did you cope with that?

Nothing bonds two people like mutual hatred (especially for another coworker). It can be galvanizing for you and other members of the team who are being tormented by the same *insert problematic adjective here* person. Take comfort in them (thank you, Kate) and your shared experience.

Bonus wellness tip: Don’t rule out the catharsis of crying yourself to sleep at night.

Do you have any tips on how to live with someone who’s irritating and not murder them?

I’m extremely docile and nonconfrontational, so in a shared space I often accommodate others at the expense of my own sanity. I encourage you not to do this. Know your boundaries and don’t be afraid to communicate them if they aren’t being respected — tell them if you need them to be quieter, or if their hair clogging up the drain floods the bathroom and makes you gag. Know when it’s easier to just put up with it and set aside some time in the day to meditate* about it. It’s also a great lesson in appreciating those in your life who don’t irritate you to the point of lunacy.

*rage-text anyone who will listen

How about that tiny bedroom situation, did you do anything to make that feel a little less claustrophobic?

Courtney and Kate Chastain laying out table settings on Below Deck.
Karolina Wojtasik/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

The best you can do is bring things that give you comfort and create a space within the shared environment that feels like it’s exclusively yours (even if it’s just a shelf in the bathroom cabinet or a bunk).

Do you have any tips from Below Deck that people living in small apartments or with significant others could use?

I try to be conscious of how I move through a space (especially when it’s small) and how that impacts others. The energy I bring into a room; how my actions affect those around me; taking time to metabolize my emotions so they don’t spill over. It’s a pendulum swing, so take accountability for what you bring to the space and consider that when reacting to the actions of others.

Sharing a space with someone is a partnership, so like any other union it requires communication and compassion. It’s a great test in compatibility — this applies to work too— so know when it’s time to call it quits and move on to something better suited.

Given that you’ve weathered your fair share of miserable winters, living in Vancouver, is there any advice that you could give Americans who are about to have a rough one?

  • Take a vitamin D supplement — a naturopath told me that Vancouverites need to be supplementing double the suggested amount year-round.
  • Get a SAD [seasonal affective disorder] light — I love waking up with the sun, so its absence can wreak havoc on my mental health.
  • Get some good-quality weather-friendly gear — going outside will be much more tolerable if you’re prepared but also cute.
  • Everyone (hopefully) learned to cook this year, but it’s always been my favorite thing to do on a rainy day with a glass of wine and family or friends.
  • Make a reading list — there’s nothing more comforting (see also: occasionally depressing) than hearing the pelt of rain from the warmth of indoors. A cup of tea and a good book in bed or at a coffee shop will cure multitudes.
  • Embrace the après ski* (*wine).
  • Online shopping gives you something to look forward to. Fill voids in your life with quality nonessentials, I always say!

And do you have anything planned this winter?

This winter I’m planning to read a lot, enjoy good wine and food with family and a few friends (if permissible), and get outside whenever (if ever) it’s not raining.

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