The day we had our big garage sale was actually kind of a relief. It marked the beginning of downsizing before moving to the boat. We decided that we were going to keep only those things that we both agreed we wanted to have for the rest of our lives. Looking at our possessions with this newly established guideline, we found that we could be pretty ruthless, and ended up selling most of our furniture and an embarrassingly large amount of just basic junk. There were a few deals we had to cut with each other. I let Sue keep her antique wallpaper cutter as long as I could keep the 12-foot-long wooden oar from my grandfather's skiff. But mostly, we got rid of our stuff.
Pared down to minimal possessions, the new and improved Sue and Larry "Light" excitedly moved onto Safari, our first cruising boat. We loaded on board our carefully selected clothing, the three pairs of shoes allowed each, the smallest computer and printer we could find, and an assortment of cooking supplies and foodstuffs. Then came the books, the tools, the water toys, and a gargantuan pile started mounting. And there was the sewing machine, the folding bikes; and all of this was before we had even started bringing out the real boat gear. Ugh! Where was it all going to go?
The beauty of most boats, however, is that there's actually a whole lot more usable storage space than thought at first. Generally under every seat and behind every cushion and below every berth there are very large spaces to stow things creatively as well as the visible lockers and drawers. On Serengeti, as on Safari, we even have some excellent storage spaces under the floorboards.
We soon discovered that with a little creative thinking, there was plenty of space to put away even our amazing amount of stuff. Once again, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We'd done it! We'd made the move and everything seemed to fit. Sounds too good to be true? It was. The problem promptly reared its ugly head when we tried to find a particular item again. We simply could not remember where we put half the stuff.
After a few weeks of tearing the boat apart on a regular basis looking for the simplest of things, we realized we had to do something. We got more organized than we'd ever been in our lives and created order out of the maddening chaos.
We devised a system in which we mapped out each storage area on the boat and then labeled it with a letter and number to efficiently guide us to its location. ("G1" for galley 1 space storage, etc.). With this accomplished, we emptied each locker, drawer, cupboard, cubbyhole, etc., and inventoried every item, which we in turn put on a spreadsheet. In the case of the food items, we keep a copy of this sheet in the galley and cross things off as they get used. This is a great list that helps with grocery shopping, and is also a good reference to see what we actually use. Believe me it was a relief to finally be able to find everything again.
Now we've just moved onto Serengeti, our second cruising boat, and this time we're a little more boatstorage-wise as we stow away our gear. Every item is inventoried and organized from the start and every locker is labeled. Also this time we've moved with less stuff than our first time. We found that we had more than we needed on our last boat, particularly in the area of clothes and galley supplies.
The key to living easily in such a drastically reduced space from your land life is to plan carefully before you start stuffing things away. Identify which items you use most frequently and designate the easiest to reach spaces for those. In many cases you will be able to customize your space and develop your own systems for easier boat life. On Safari we added some shelves on a bulkhead to hold clear Plexiglas containers for items we used everyday, like coffee, tea, sugar, flour, etc. For cutlery and cooking utensils, we through-bolted Mexican glass containers at the back of the counter top and had these items always easily at hand.
In enclosed spaces, we stacked inexpensive plastic baskets of various sizes to fit the area. These made finding items on the bottom far easier, since taking out a full basket of items on top was certainly easier than rummaging through many jumbled items. This worked particularly well in the refrigerator, so that you don't have the door open for long and lose all that valuable cold air.
We learned that today's society overpacks a lot of products to make them look big on the shelf. You'd be amazed how much less space things require after removing their outer box, carton, or packaging. Stow your provisions to fit the space, rather than have big air gaps where outer packaging keeps items from fitting snug together. For instance, in a locker under a settee, about 40 percent more canned drinks will fit if stored individually, as opposed to being left in their cartons. Square box corners simply don't follow the shape of a boat's hull as well as loose cans do.
I think all sailors become masters at space management after a few years on a boat. My hope is that we never gather so many possessions again that we have to use these newfound skills in our next house. I'm pretty sure though that if I had another shot at it, I'd be able to get both those cars into that big garageand maybe even have space leftover to store some of the neighbor's junk.