23 October 2015

The Free Table & The Not So Free Table | Thoughts On Consumerism

There's an article in The Guardian about how stuff had consumed the average American's life. It's been making the rounds on Facebook lately and it made me stop and think. Not literally stop, mind you, as that would imply that I was busily moving around the place tacking boat project after boat project. No, instead I was sluggishly lounging in our aft cabin engaged in one of my favorite time wasters - hanging out on Facebook. Which, of course, is how I found this article. I had a read and figuratively stopped what I was doing (meaning that I sat up just a little bit straighter, not that slugs lounging in bed sit up very straight) and thought about all the stuff we've been buying for our boat, all of the stuff that we still need to buy and all the stuff we want to buy.

Well, let me tell you, that turned out to be a depressing activity! Nothing worse than adding up all of the potential costs of the stuff you need to buy along with the stuff that you don't necessarily need, but want to buy. At this point, I would have had a chocolate chip cookie to calm myself down, but I didn't have any. In fact, I haven't had any chocolaty treats on the boat for a while because I don't need them. I want them desparately, but I don't need them. At least, that's what I tell myself. And keep telling myself over and over again. It's amazing how often I stick my fingers in my ears and ignore what I'm telling myself. 

When I look at the stuff I want to buy, but don't need to buy, I'm pleasantly surprised by the types of items on the list. Things like sheets, travel coffee mugs, a messenger bag and picture frames. Generally, not too many "frivolous" items. If you had asked me a few years ago what was on my want to buy list, it probably would have been cluttered up with things like scented candles, snazzy work clothes, adorable wedge sandals, a new dining room table, a pretty table cloth to cover that new table and the latest product guaranteeing to make my hair ooze volume and shine. 

Nowadays, that kind of stuff doesn't even come close to my want to buy list for three reasons

1 - We've got space constraints

When we decided to set off on a nomadic life of travel on a sailboat, we downsized considerably. Living in a small space forces you to think carefully about what you keep and what you buy, because you can only fit so much onboard. According to the article, the average American lives in a 2,480 sq ft house (775 sq m) and that's often not big enough for all of their stuff, so they have to rent a storage locker. And that's just the average American - many folks live in much larger houses. We live on a boat which is probably far less than 400 sq ft (122 sq m) in size (it's hard to measure the square footage of a house which has pointy ends on it). Space is at a premium. You can't be a hoarder when you live on a boat!

2 - Taking a cheap & cheerful approach

When you decide to chuck in working in corporate la-la land and set off traveling instead, then you've got to take a much more frugal approach to things. At least we do - our savings will only stretch so far. I like to think of it as being cheap and cheerful. We think carefully about where we spend out money, but in a cheerful fashion. Being frugal doesn't mean that you have to live a horrible life without joy. Instead, you find happiness in experiences, not in stuff you buy. You can't fix your problems by going out and buying stuff for that fleeting moment of happiness brought about by owning a new gadget with flashing lights or killer shoes.

3 - We need less stuff

When you're not working a corporate job, trying to keep up with the Jonses and you change your way of life, then you find you need far less stuff than you used to. In fact, you find that you never did need it, you just wanted it. Coupled with that is a realization that our planet probably needs less stuff too. We produce so much stuff and we throw away so much stuff just so that we can get brand new shiny stuff. I really like the Non-Consumer's Advocate philosophy of "use it up, wear it out, make it do and do without." I'm not great about keeping this front and center in my mind, but I keep trying. Do I need it or want it? If I do need it, does it need to be shiny and sparkly and new? 

When I think about my want to buy list from the perspective of a conscious consumer, on a budget and living in a tiny floating house, I probably won't end up buying all the items on there, but I will buy some. For example:

  • Sheets - Our current sheets are fine, but they have some stubborn stains which won't come out. They're not pretty, but they're functional. Verdict - keep the current ones until they get worn out. 
  • Coffee Mugs - Our travel coffee mugs keep our coffee hot, but they make a weird burping noise at times. Strange and a bit annoying, but probably not worth replacing with brand new ones at this point. Verdict - keep and live with the noise.
  • Messenger Bag - I have a Kathmandu messenger bag which I bought in New Zealand a few years ago which I love. It's a great bag for schlepping stuff around with me and I like how I can wear it across my body (keeps it from accidentally falling in the water). It's developed some rips inside and has ugly staining on the outside, but I'm going to hang onto it for the time being because it still works and new one would cost a pretty penny. The old me would have just bought a new one. The new me thinks about how much it would cost and puts her credit card back in her current messenger bag. Way to go, new me! Verdict - keep it, mend it and try to get a few more years of use out of it.
  • Picture Frames - We want to hang some of Scott's pictures of the places we've traveled to on the walls in our saloon. Enter the desire for picture frames. This is one thing on the list that I am going to buy. Being conscious of your consumerism isn't necessarily about not buying anything at all, but about carefully considering what you do buy. Our boat is our home and we want to make it homey with some pictures. I'm never going to be the person who doesn't buy anything that they don't absolutely need. That would be silly. Life is about balancing needs and wants. Verdict - Buy them!

There are two tables at our marina - the free table and the not-so-free table. What I like about the free table, besides the fact that stuff is free, is that it's a way for the stuff that people don't want to be reused by someone who does want it, rather than being chucked in the trash dumpster and ending up in a landfill. The other day, I found a silicone baking pan (it's the red thing in the picture below). I've always wanted one of these, but have never bought one because it was too far down the want to have list and definitely not on the need to have list. But, here was one, just waiting for me and free to a good home. Win for everyone - I get to have something I want and there's one less thing gone to waste on this planet. I'll be keeping an eye out on the free table for non-burping travel coffee mugs too. 

Of course, I do spend a lot of time at the not-so-free table picking up packages of stuff shipped from Walmart, Amazon, Defender etc. But, I try to make sure these are things we need (for the most part) and can't find used or one the free table. I don't always succeed, but I'm trying.

Do you ever get stuff from free tables or free piles in your neighborhood? Do you think you have too much stuff, the right amount of stuff or not enough stuff in your home?

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  1. Lately we've been 'shopping' in our house, moving small things onto Galapagos that make it feel more like home. That included pictures in frames, hung with strong velcro. Go get those frames. And by the way, thrift shops. We have a 'free' area in the marina by the dumpster. We put our old, but still good if you have time to repair it, marine grill out there. It was gone in 5 minutes. Once I found a marine fridge there. But it had no internal organs, so it was only the shell. Rats and darn. That would have been a good day!

    1. I know some people who found an electric toilet on the free table here which worked. Pretty awesome score!

  2. Great post! We are in the process of de cluttering our houses. Have been selling lots of stuff online and we have got a garage sale coming up. Feels so good to get rid of the stuff we don't need and earn some money that goes straight in to the boat buying account!
    Love the free table idea too. I hate throwing out things that someone might find useful.
    You are so right though. The best memories come from experiences. Not things.
    Right had better get up! I'm off to catch s plane now to hike the Tongariro Crossing!

    1. I LOVE the Tongariro Crossing! Such an awesome hike - have a great time!

  3. We are preparing to move onto a sailboat, so almost all of our belongings are up for grabs. Furniture, appliances, kitchen items, clothing, and all manner of things are being spoken for, sold away, or donated to Goodwill. We're even selling our classic cars! It's a big change, but we've been wanting to do it for years, and now seems to be the time.

    1. Such a crazy time when you're in the midst of downsizing, but exciting at the same time as it means you're not too far away from moving onboard! Yay for you guys!

  4. We're downsizing as I write this! This past month we've sold our bedroom set, dining set, bar stools, club chairs, coffee table, end table, lamps ... everything that won't fit in the furnished 1 bedroom condo we're moving into. I've made several trips to Goodwill, dumping tons of clothes & kitchen items we never used. Our daughter got our china, crystal and lawn items that she wanted and several boxes of momentos went to my dad's place.

    We've always been frugal and known to "wear things out" before replacing. Our refrigerator, washer & dryer and sofas were shot .. no problem getting rid of those! My car is a banged up 2005 Toyota and my husband's truck isn't much newer. Even with our frugal ways, it's amazing to see all the "stuff" we still had to get rid of. I feel so much lighter already ... surreal, but exciting! Too bad we have so much boat "stuff" to buy! =)

    1. Great job on all the downsizing - you're that much closer to heading off cruising!

  5. On our Spanish tallship this summer we dedicated one empty bunk bed in the dorm to a "mercadillo" or swap table. Books, t-shirts, odds and ends -- few things lasted long there before someone else found a use for them. We left a battered backpack that I swear was gone within an hour, and we saw it in use with its new owner later that day ... makes you feel really good to have a win-win like that!

    1. I love it when someone can make use of something you no longer want. I just put some stuff on the free table - hopefully, they find a new happy home.

  6. Pedantically to convert from sq feet to sq metres you need to divide by 10.8. Dividing by 3.2 is for linear feet to linear metres.

    So 2480 sq ft is 230 sq metres and 400 sq ft is 37 sq metres.

    I know American homes and boats were bigger than European ones, but the wrong sizes seemed just unbelievable :)

    1. Thanks Edmund. I used an online calculator. Guess it wasn't too accurate :-(


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