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Marie Kondo is a Japanese woman who has been obsessed with tidying up her whole life. She’s sold millions of copies of her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and is an organization consultant.
What spurred us to read her book? Starry Horizons is pretty small compared to the average US home. We’ve got somewhere between 550-600 square feet of interior living space (aka space that doesn’t ever take a saltwater bath) for a 3-bed/3-bath space. The average American home is 2,700 square feet with 3.38 bedrooms (sucks to be the kid stuck in the .38). That means Starry Horizons is about a quarter of the size of the average American home.
Despite that, finding things in our little home is a regular struggle, as is putting things away on a regular basis.
Thus we picked up Marie Kondo’s book. We read the book and then discussed it together before designating a few days to implement the strategies. What a perfect thing to do when you have two weeks in beautiful Chagos with no internet!
Here are some things we learned.
We were often going through our things and saying “what does this part go to?” only to realize it was for a pump or a camera that we’d replaced. When you get rid of an actual thing, you often forget to hunt down all the spare parts that go with the thing, so now you’re carrying around spare parts that will no longer be useful.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, earlier this year we were having an issue with our impellor on the generator. David thought there was something wrong with the impellors we ordered, so he ordered more. Eventually, we figured out it was the housing, not the impellor, so we have a surplus of impellors. Keeping a good inventory is important so you don’t over order.
I’m going to draw a comparison between our heads (toilets) and our clothes. We have three toilets on Starry Horizons, and the one that gives us the most trouble is the one we rarely use. Anytime we clean and air out our third cabin, David has to replace the joker valve on the toilet to get it to work properly.
Things you don’t use often, but keep on your boat – they go bad. Clothes, leather, shoes; they all go moldy. Metal rusts. You are doing these items a disservice by keeping them in a harsh environment and rarely using them.
…as fast as I thought they would. There’s a picture in my head of the “standard cruiser attire”; a threadbare tee-shirt with holes around the neck and stains from various boat projects. I was loath to get rid of tee-shirts because I thought we would destroy them on a regular basis.
In our nearly five years cruising, I’ve come to understand that not much has changed as far as the treatment of our clothes goes. We have a Splendide washer/dryer on board, so our clothes are washed just like they would have been at home. When it comes to drying our clothes, the way we treat our clothes while cruising is actually better for the clothes; line drying avoids excessively heating the materials. Additionally, we reduce our use of chemicals – the sun naturally bleaches and the clothes are static-free.
This means we had SO MANY CLOTHES. Part of the KonMari method for tidying up your clothes is to pull every last item out and divide it into piles by use. For funsies, I counted all of my tops that I had onboard Starry Horizons: 100! I had one hundred tee shirts, blouses, tank tops, jackets, sweaters, etc. Using the KonMari method, I eliminated my top inventory down to fifty tops, which is probably still too many.
Once you realize how many of any particular item you have, it makes it easier to be ruthless. I might have kept a shirt even if I didn’t really like the fit of it, but knowing that I have ten more extremely similar shirts that fit better makes it easier to get rid of the one that doesn’t.
On Starry Horizons, we’ve traveled to over 35 countries and territories. It would be easy to collect items everywhere we went. I often walk the shops and wish for more space in our lives so I could buy a beautiful handcrafted item. But the reality is that we do have limited space, and a finite budget (as every cruiser does). I’m more willing to spend money on experiences or food than trinkets to take up space on the boat.
Does that mean we don’t collect things? Absolutely not. We have items gifted to us, and occasionally I pick up a small item like a beautiful necklace or a rare seashell. Most importantly, we are collecting photographs, videos, and stories. Every blog post I write, every photo I snap, every video we make adds to the collection. There are so many memories stockpiled in the digital world, memories we’ve often forgotten. Going back to read old blog posts or watch old episodes, we often look at each other and say “wow, I forgot we did that”.
October will be five years since we launched and moved aboard Starry Horizons. We’ve sailed well over 40,000 nm by now. If we haven’t used it, odds are we aren’t going to use it in our last year on the boat.
Knowing that we have less than a year left for our circumnavigation helped us eliminate items too. We have a general idea of where we might go over the next 2-5 years, so anything that doesn’t fit in the plan gets the boot (does anyone want to buy a Southeast Asia Cruising Guide?).
Part of the teachings in the book is that everything should have a place to go. Once we eliminated items, we used Marie’s recommendations for folding clothes and then more carefully considered where to put everything. Marie is a big advocate for using drawers and properly folding items. Underneath our bed is a huge drawer, which we’d been using to store David’s shoes. His shoes didn’t take up that much space, especially in such a deep drawer. We moved them to the bottom of the cabinets, which are slanted in the back because of the hull shape. Now the drawer houses most of my clothes. I used plastic bins to store stuff I don’t wear often but need to keep, and the clothes I wear most often are folded and stored vertically in the drawer. So tidy!
Because of the weird shapes in the boat, hard plastic bins aren’t always helpful. Instead, we use soft storage bins to keep like items together and wedge the bins into all the weird spots of the boat. I recently got new clothespin bags, which are soft enough to mold to corners but firm enough to hold their shape. They even have a drawstring to close the top and a carabiner to hang it. I’m using them all over the boat!
Part of Marie Kondo’s teachings is that not only does the item need to be useful, but it needs to make you happy when you look at it and use it. With clothing, we were able to look at each item and say “Does this fit right? Do I like it? Does it make me happy?” Once again, knowing you need to narrow down your collection of 100 tops certainly helps you make harsh decisions. But I was able to part with some things that I was wearing a lot even though I really shouldn’t be. I have 50 tops now, why should I wear ones with a big stain on them?
Now, there are some things that don’t sound like they would obviously spark joy on a boat. Who feels joy over having so much space taken up by tools and spares?
ME! The joy is not in having the tools, but in having the best tool to get the job done right. For example, on a bigger scale, we have oil pumps in both our engine rooms. David certainly feels joy in not having to manually pump oil out of the engine rooms in the sweltering sun. The right tool gets the job done faster.
I knew I had too many tee shirts. I knew I’d been stockpiling too many hotel-sized toiletries. But I thought I’d hang on to them to gift or trade with local people. While I certainly have traded or gifted items, I haven’t done it enough. So many of the locals out here need clothes and personal care items but go without.
We’re headed to Madagascar next, one of the poorest countries in the world*. We’ve got a dozen bags full of gentle-used household goods we are ready to part with, and we’ve been in touch with an international organization that prioritizes the quality of life for the local people.
All the items we threw away, all of the items we’ve packed up to give to the next village community, everything we’ve reorganized and stored properly…it adds up! We’ve lost hundreds of pounds of weight off the boat, and cleared up several shelves for storage. Starry Horizons and her crew is feeling clean and ready for the next adventure!
*It’s in the bottom 10 according to the World Bank, UN, and IMF based on per capita GDP.