Downsizing: Deciding What to Keep

It is amazing how quickly your things multiply when you live in one place for a while. Every time I move out of a house or apartment it seems my possessions have been breeding in the dark corners of my closets and bureaus. How else could it be that I find things I never knew I had after only a few shorts years? Those last days before moving are the big purge, when the stress of moving overcomes nostalgia and bags upon bags are donated, trashed and gifted.

If you are downsizing to a smaller space deciding what to keep can become more complicated. Tiny spaces require a series of thoughtful decisions about what will provide the you most value. Whether your new abode will be a smaller apartment, or a boat, the principles are the same. The smaller the space, the more thorough the process will be.

Our tiny Christmas

Our tiny Christmas

When moving aboard Polynya we purged a lot of stuff, but you probably wouldn’t know that by looking at our storage unit. Maybe some day we’ll be able to live aboard without having it, but for now it is essential. Decluttering and simplifying is an ongoing process, an evolution. The initial move aboard was an act of organization by category.

a.) Things That Come Aboard

Obviously, the space aboard a boat is quite small. You simply can’t have all of things aboard that the average person has in their house. Yet, you don’t have to live in deprivation either. The trick is to choose which items will provide the most function. There will be room for a few small luxuries and nicknacks, but the priority must be given to function over form. A number of things in your house, such as furniture and artwork, are simply too large for a boat.

In a perfect world everything aboard Polynya would have at least two functions. In reality most things don’t, but the items that do are the most valuable in tiny spaces. One of our favorite examples of multi-purpose items are pyrex food storage containers. We carry a variety of sizes that can be used for leftovers, baking, mixing, and serving. One item, multiple uses.

Marie Kondo, Japanese organizing consultant and author, is an expert at decluttering using the Konmari method. This method is based on one simple question which you ask yourself about every item you own: “Does it spark joy?” As liveaboard, when we ask this question we are not only asking if it makes us happy, but does it make our life easier. We can’t bring aboard everything that sparks joy so we have to take it one step further. Does this item do something that nothing else aboard can do? Can we live without it?

Whether or not you use the exact Konmari method, this way of thinking will help you objectively choose what to keep. If you do this process correctly it won’t feel like you are losing anything. If anything you will feel happier, lighter, and refreshed.

b.) Thing That Go To Storage

Trimming the fat off your possessions can be a time consuming process. There’s no reason to just get rid of everything all at once as many of your things hold great value. Whether you keep them temporarily or for a lifetime, there will be a number of items you are not ready to get rid of. The ongoing process of evaluating these items can continue as long as you need. Just be sure you are not keeping things without valid justification. An old antique table may be worth keeping, but a box of college notebooks is probably not.

We have decided, at this point, to hold onto a few pieces of furniture, boxes of expensive kitchen equipment, and Skye’s crafting supplies. There are plenty of other things is storage at this point, some of which needs to be purged. Most of the other items in storage, however, are either boat related or seasonal.

c.) Seasonal Items

Seasonal items are things like winter clothes and gear which is swapped out bi-annually with our summer gear. We keep totes of clothes easily accessible so that when the weather changes we can trade out our wardrobe and shoes. We have enough room for all of our clothes aboard, but rather than pack everything in tightly, we are now able to keep good airflow in our drawers and lockers, reducing the chance of mildew and mustiness. Of course winter in Maine also requires solid winter gear such as jackets, gloves, hats, boots, etc. Instead of lugging this gear around during the warmer months, we just put it away in storage.

We also have a lot of extra boat gear. During the summer, we store our winter frame and when the winter frame is on, we put our sails into storage. Other than the seasonal boat equipment we have several crates of spare parts. Most of these spares came with the boat and need to be sifted through and consolidated. While we are cruising in relatively local waters we can keep bulkier spares in storage where they are easily accessed. In this sense we use the storage unit not only for long term storage, but as a staging area.

Some of the spare parts being moved ashore.

Some of the spare parts being moved ashore.

While the first step of moving aboard is complete, there is a still a long way to go in regards to organization and simplicity. As I have written before, this is an ongoing journey. I find that living in a small space has forced me to be more conscious of my buying habits. Before buying new items I consider their function, size, and long term value. I often think, “If I buy this I’ll have to get rid of something else.” This way of thinking has helped me put things back on the shelf and walk away, which is a good thing, as one of the goals of moving aboard was to spend more on experiences and less on things. The challenge of downsizing continues, but I wouldn’t trade the experience of living tiny for a house full of things I don’t need.

Are you currently downsizing or have you already done it? How do you decide what to keep? How do you keep your small space from becoming cluttered? I’d love to hear about your experiences, comment below to continue the conversation!

Matt Garand

About Matt Garand

Lifelong Mainer, and professional mariner, Matt Garand is the creator of A Life Aboard, a look at year-round living on a sailboat in Maine. Matt and his wife, Skye, live aboard in South Portland and use every available chance to throw off the lines and explore the coast.