21 September 2012

A Time and a Place

Just a few of our many mental declutterers
When we started, many aspects of this lifestyle were foreign to us and that has made for a very steep learning curve. Any skill set from our former life that transferred has been an enormous relief. One such set is organizational acumen. I am loathe to think how much more daunting adapting to this would have been had we not been such well organized people already. It really has made all the difference.

Our boat specific organizational strategies have withstood being field tested for almost a year, we feel it's time to share them. They are few in number, but comprehensive in scope.

1. Lists
We are big list makers. We were long before we were cruisers. List making is one of our most frequently employed tactics in our overall strategy for reducing clutter, specifically the clutter in our heads. Compile a list and then it's not only permissible to forget the items on it, it's smart. Do or get everything on the list and then throw it away. Very satisfying emotionally. We have the obvious ones: grocery, boat chores, boat projects, boat repairs, things we'll get for the boat after we become wealthy from monetizing this blog. We even make lists of lists we should make. 

2. Logs
Logs are new to us. We have only become log keepers since becoming boat owners. Logs, we have discovered, are really the other half of a solid mental decluttering program. The way in which lists and logs work together for us is simple. Lists are temporary; logs are ongoing. The difference is clear from the names of the activities themselves: list making versus log keeping. Logs record what's been done and when it will need to be done again in the future. We are not quite as good at logs as we are at lists, it is true. We're actually good at making logs also, just not at keeping them. This has inevitably resulted in a reduced ability to remember all the logs we've made. When we have time (see below), we will make a list of all our logs.

3. Storage
We have evolved a strategy that is an amalgamation of our separate pre-marital approaches. Jane finds it most efficient to store items as close to where they will be used as possible. I prefer to group things together by category. To be frank, this caused considerable tension for the first few years of our marriage. Equally matched for stubbornness, we would continually move and remove items around the house in accord with our various philosophies. Eventually, we came to the realization, long overdue, that what we were looking at as an "or" situation was really an "and." Since we already had doubles of almost everything, it was a small matter to adopt a dual approach to organizing our lives. One bottle of dishwashing soap on the sink, the other underneath. One screwdriver in the toolbox, another in the cooking utensil drawer, ditto hammer, pliers, wrench, hacksaw, and tape measure. One copy of every document in a file drawer, the other on the desk. One set of snacks in the pantry, the other by the TV. Problem solved. Marital bliss restored.

One might think that moving onto a boat, radically confined as it is in comparison to our former allotment of space, would necessitate a more streamlined, dare I say, "or" approach. Not at all. Not when we are two people with four staterooms. Where another family might store, say, a child, we, rather I, have stocked many of our various sundries, office supplies, and computers, duplicates of which are strewn efficiently about the remainder of the boat.

Pen, pen, pen, no, but T.P.

As with every household organizational system, there are those items that, due to their uniqueness, their singular nature, defy categorization, the denizens of the ubiquitous miscellaneous drawer. Yet, if one is willing to expand one's notion of belonging, homes can be found for even the oddest of "binfellows". For instance, we distinguish boat-related from non-boat-related items. Items in the former category, unless very loseable due to their size, live outside in storage lockers while items in the latter category live inside. Our starboard forward stateroom and forepeak contain tools, spare parts, fishing gear, bicycles, collectively known as Things for Things We Are Not Good At. In the middle of the cockpit there is a storage area of curious design we call The Tenth Circle. In the floor  is a hole presumably to allow water to drain out but that functions even more effectively as a conduit for salt, sand, and sediment that well up in any but the calmest of seas and leave an oily, gritty residue on everything we store in there. This then, through no fault of our own has become the place of Things We Don't Like to Touch. We also have the Drawer of Things that Clean Things and the Underneath of Things that Don't Break in High Seas.

4. Schedules
Is it unhealthy to have a love-hate relationship with a room?
One of the under-mentioned challenges of cruising is the amount of self discipline required to maintain such a lifestyle. Contrary to popular belief, just because cruisers don't have bosses breathing down our necks doesn't mean we are without responsibilities. In fact, we must be both boss and employee. Like everyone else, we must make the most efficient use of our time in order to stay on top of it all. Schedules are our tool of choice. Plan the work and work the plan, as they say. As we don't have a traditional five day work week, our schedule varies little from day to day. Typically, we get up anywhere from 06:30 to 10:00. This is immediately followed coffee and web browsing until no later than 11:30 when we make breakfast. If we have a shore excursion planned, we take an hour or so to get ready with the aid of the appropriate list. (e.g., one for snorkeling/beach combing, one for hiking, two for grocery shopping--a list of things to buy and a list of things to bring to put them in.) This will generally get us off the boat by 13:00. If not, we start the day's chores: blog writing, photo organizing, video processing, news gathering and such. We try to be cognizant of how easy it is to overtax one's brain with these activities, so we'll usually break them up with our second meal of the day which we call "lunner" somewhere between 15:00 and 18:00. This sometimes falls before cocktail time and sometimes after which is strictly observed at 17:00. After lunner, we do the day's dishes. That normally leaves about an hour to wrap up our work before we watch a movie or TV show at 20:00. Afterward, it's off to bed. While it makes for a full day, the schedule we have devised for ourselves is one we find we are able to adhere to without too much difficulty. It is periodically interrupted by things such as cleaning and boat maintenance but happily, these intrusions occur less often the more acclimated to this life we become.

We can hardly stress enough the benefit to staying organized in general, but especially on a boat. While the strategies we have developed have proven effective and sustainable for us, they are not the only ways to get and keep things under control. We wish you the best in your organizational endeavors.


  1. This was hilarious. I'm at Beans and Barley laughin out loud at the "some families would store, let's say, a child..." line! Ha. I would love to live aboard a boat because I LOVE to organize. And I love lists! And I even like organizing lists! Cruiser life, here I come.

    1. Seriously, if you saw all the things we list, you'd think we couldn't achieve an average score on the Stanford-Binet test if we collaborated on it. I, too, love organization. Which is to say that I resent any nanosecond of my life wasted on looking for anything.

  2. You guys have it together! OH man. I am such a list maker. It is the only way I can keep things straight. My partner- not so much. It's all in his head, and he's quite happy with that! I sit down with him to try and have the head-stuff on paper so I've got a comprehensive view, but... well it's not so effective. We muddle through I guess!

    1. The trick to living well, I have discovered, is to set one's expectations so low that even breathing consistently renders one an outstanding success.

      Most guys suck at that. Lists are like mental Viagra as far as they're concerned.

      I'm pretty sure we're all muddling through.