Downsizing - Making it all fit

Long time reader and JALF follower, Eric King, recently sent us a message.

“I am moving. For all intents and purposes let's say I have to downsize an entire household of many years of stuff into the equivalent of a sailboat. How did you do it?”

 Stowing "stuff" is an acquired art.

Stowing "stuff" is an acquired art.

Since we’ve written lots about “stuff” and how to fit it into small spaces, we thought we’d tackle Eric’s question as a blog post and share it with everybody. Eric did mention he’s not moving aboard a sailboat, but downsizing doesn’t have to be just for liveaboards. It can simply be to simplify your life or move to a much smaller space. Whatever the reason, I believe it’s a 3-pronged approach: 1) sort and offload, 2) use your existing space wisely, and 3) maintain to keep it simple.

The first thing to recognize immediately is “it ain’t easy!”. Depending on how much time you’ve spent in your current digs, it becomes more and more difficult. A year’s worth of stuff? not too bad. 20 year’s worth? Ouch!

Here’s our list of downsizing tips …

1. Start the sorting process early and stay at it.

Don’t wait till the last minute because you’ll end up discarding things you might need and taking things you don’t. We began downsizing about a year before we moved aboard Nine of Cups. We sorted through boxes and tubs and closets and cupboards and slowly whittled things down to what we thought was a manageable load. Then we went through it again a month later and found there was still stuff we could do without. Believe it or not, when we went through it a few months later just before moving aboard, we actually found more to offload. What do you do with it? Give it away, sell it or discard it.

 Hanging baskets are great for taking up little room and storing lots of "stuff".

Hanging baskets are great for taking up little room and storing lots of "stuff".

2. Determine what you really need.

Answer some simple questions: What do you plan to do and where do you plan to go? If you plan to continue working, for instance, you’ll still need “work clothes”. If you’ll be living in a 4-season area, you’ll need more clothing than living in the Carib. Figure out what you’ll need and only what you’ll need and keep it. There are thrift shops and clothing stores pretty much everywhere you go. You also really don’t need five sets of extra bed linen nor 10 extra towels nor “good” china and crystal. If you haven’t used it in a year, you probably don’t need it. No super-sizing … work towards right-sizing. If you don’t need a dining table for eight, get one that better suits your needs. Either use it or lose it.

3. Everything needs at least two purposes

 Make the most of wall space.

Make the most of wall space.

Single purpose items take up precious space. We usually try to insure that everything on the boat is multi-purpose. Specialized kitchen utensils don’t cut it … we live quite well without a garlic press and a spaghetti server. It’s the same with specialty tools, electric appliances and knick-knacks. David used to kid that when we had Jelly the cat aboard, she was a pet, kept critters off the boat and, in an emergency, could be used as rations. Just kidding … really just kidding … we loved her.

4. Maximize space

We use hanging hammocks, nesting pots and pans, collapsible, silicone bakeware and other space-saving devices whenever possible. Make every inch of wall space count. We hang pots that don’t nest. We found spare space under the aft bunk and it became a wine cellar. I must admit that books are a downfall for us. They’re heavy and take up lots of room. We haven’t offloaded all the books we could have, but e-books are slowly taking over the place of the hard copies we have aboard. All photos are digitized and what used to be kept on CDs and DVDs are now on a single, large, external hard drive – with a backup off the boat. There is something appealing to the look of books in a bookcase, but if you don’t have the room, digital is best.

 Stacking may not be as convenient, but it saves lots of space. Go vertical ... not horizontal.

Stacking may not be as convenient, but it saves lots of space. Go vertical ... not horizontal.

 

Be creative with the limited space you have. Remember to go vertical, not horizontal when trying to find extra space for all your stuff. Stacking may be less convenient at times, but it certainly takes up much less space. Our dish locker is the perfect example.

 The inside of a locker door was the perfect place to hang necklaces and keep them untangled.

The inside of a locker door was the perfect place to hang necklaces and keep them untangled.

 

 

Look for hidden nooks and crannies to store things … under seats, under beds, under stairs. There are all sorts of space-saving devices out there nowadays, but be sure they’re actual space savers and not gimmicks.

5. Extras and spares

We are spare-heavy at the moment, mostly because we’ve traveled so far in areas where spares and replacements weren’t always readily accessible. When we returned to the States last year, we inventoried what we had aboard and what needed to go. We offloaded at least 100 pounds of “stuff” that enhanced our waterline significantly. Now … if you’re just moving into a smaller space, you probably don’t need “spares” at all. If you're coastal cruising, you probably don’t need much in the way of spares either. Cut down on the excess … it saves space and dollars.

Now that we’re back in the “land of plenty and disposables”, we evaluate renting vs. buying when it comes to things like tools and even vehicles. Some items are worth purchasing for current use and then disposing of when we’re through with them because storing them would be difficult. Examples: Bikes … we buy used and then re-donate to the thrift stores or give them to local kids. Heaters and electric blankets are quite inexpensive as are camp chairs and other seasonal items. We do the same thing with them as we do with the bikes, use them, then lose them.

The tiny house movement has really caught on and those folks seem to be experts in best use of space. They might provide some great insight.

The Young & Salty kids had some good ideas, too … take a look

And finally … once you get to the right size and everything fits, maintain! one thing in … one thing out!

So Eric, how’d we do?