As long as I’m on the general subject of downsizing – and I’ve got to tell you, I was utterly over-the-moon blown away by the feedback I got on “Take It or Leave It;” thanx everyone – I thought I’d mention a few more strategies that got us through the transition. Of course keeping our possessions from accumulating, and keeping them organized is an ongoing project as we evolve, and things that once were useful or spoke to us are no longer relevant. We take on new interests and let go of old ones, we learn what we needed to from books and pass them on, and technology changes. And no matter how logical we are, those pesky emotions and sentimental attachments to items sometimes just have to be respected. These downsizing strategies worked for us in the extreme constraints of moving to a small sailboat; a looser interpretation would apply to downsizers on land as well.
On land, decluttering days were guided by British craftsman William Morris’ dictum: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” The equivalent guidance for selecting things to move onto the sailboat was given us by friend and fellow cruiser Linda Glaser: “First safety, then tools, then ‘everything else.’” Okaaaay, that puts it into perspective … Given that overarching principle, here are the tips we used.
Go “shopping at our house.” Take everything – Every. Single. Thing. out of your kitchen cabinets and put them in the basement. Then, live your normal life. When you need something, go to the “store” downstairs and get it, use it, then put it away in the cabinet. At the end of a month or so, you’ll have a kitchen (sparsely) filled with things you actually use, and a basement full of things to give away. Repeat with clothing, tools, etc.
Break up sets. I can’t figure out why people, me included, have so much angst over doing this. Honest, the karmic balance of the Universe will not decrease if you don’t keep sets together. When we had our kitchen design/remodel company, we once helped build an Indian restaurant. The owners gave us a thali set with platters, cups, and various-sized small dishes and bowls that filled two large boxes. The problem when moving aboard, though, is that the set is really not very useful for serving meals other than an Indian feast, and takes a lot of space. So if we kept the set together, we would be able to bring … nothing. Instead, only six small shallow bowls came with us. They are used almost every day as ingredient prep bowls, and remind us of the clients-who-became-friends every time they are used. That single piece is just as effective a reminder as the whole set can would be. Similarly, when we lived on land we had dinnerware to serve 14. Here, we only have room to seat 4 at our table, so the excess flatware is just that – excess – and stayed behind.
Reimagine uses for ordinary things. You are not bound to use things as the manufacturer intended. We don’t like to fish, but there are several tackle boxes aboard. One keeps nuts and bolts sorted, another holds my earrings and keeps them paired up. A medicine-cabinet organizer from CVS sits on our nav station and holds pens, scissors, and small electronics and their cords. And even though we don’t drink beer aboard, a foam beer cozy makes a nifty cover to protect the blades of our immersion blender.
Technology is your ally. We scanned photos, stored music on an iPod, and turned cookbooks into tidy computer files. Some reference books are still paper, but our recreational reading is almost all on Nook, Kindle, and iPad. Now I joke that my entire library and all our family photos fit in my pocket, and won’t ever get moldy. We keep everything backed up to an external hard drive, with a second copy ashore.
Wherever possible, make your things do double duty. That specialized multi-wire gizmo to slice hard-boiled eggs? Mmm, no. Good kitchen knife that slices hard-boiled eggs and many other things? Yes. The pillows and bolsters on our settees are really stuff sacks that hold guest linens and off-season clothing. Every shirt goes with at least two different pairs of pants, and every pair of pants goes with at least two different shirts – so if one piece gets dirty you can still use the other.
Before it comes aboard, figure out where it’s going to live. Everything needs to be stored somewhere where it won’t go flying when you’re underway, or drive you claustrophobic in port. If it won’t fit in one of your lockers, you probably shouldn’t bring it.
Finally, pay attention to scale. Things look smaller in the store than they do when you bring them on board. A fair number of cute baskets ended up being given away as they totally dwarfed the space I had envisioned them in once I got them home.
Staying organized on a boat is a different issue. It’s not one that I plan to write about because, honestly, I’m not qualified – I’m not organized! Things don’t necessarily end up in locations that land-based logic would dictate. On land, you learn to store like things with like, and store things near the place they’re used. On the boat, sure, it’s nice to put kitchen-y things in the galley, but other characteristics of lockers may triumph over location. Some lockers are dry and others more subject to temperature swings and moisture. So the dry lockers – wherever they’re located – are prioritized for sensitive electronics, papers that could grow moldy (passports and ships papers), medicine. Lockers closer to the centerline of the boat and low down are good for heavy things like tools, to minimize their effect on the sailing characteristics of the boat. (Heavy things, high up, could heel us over more). Wine also loves to be below the water line where the temperature is relatively constant. And there’s the matter of shape; we have relatively few big open lockers that could hold larger items, and lots of places to tuck smaller things. The combination of shape and size and dryness can lead to some interesting organizational challenges. So, some kitchen tools are in the galley and my bread bowl, too big for any of the lockers in the galley, is behind the settee on the other side of the boat, while a nice, very dry locker in the galley is full of screwdrivers and wire cutters and our handheld VHF radio and chartplotter, and a bit of prime storage real estate in what looks like it should be the top dresser drawer instead filled with first-aid equipment easily accessed in case of an emergency. (This is why many cruisers keep lists and spreadsheets of where things are located. Not me, though; I’m fine at making those lists, but not so good at keeping them updated. I’ve tried a couple of times and failed, and came to the conclusion that that’s just a bit too anal for me.)