Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: how cruising kills your Stuff

21 Apr
Snorkeling the Surins- Iona
rich in experiences, poor in Stuff

Standing in the dinghy and holding the toe rail of the Canadian boat, Gromit, we quickly moved from introductions to bon voyage wishes for our newest cruising friends. Totem had recently arrived in the anchorage, and these twenty minutes were all the time we’d have before Gromit and crew departed for Thailand. Would we like their Malaysian internet SIM card? How about the mobile SIM? We open up our various devices, remove the Thai cards that we won’t need any more, and make the obvious trade with a quick swap over the water.

We had reached this anchorage with just enough time for a brief overlap with the ketch Rutea. Our prior meeting with Neal and Ruthie was a flyby in 2009, as they motored out of a small bay in the Sea of Cortez while we motored in and loitered with the boats adjacent for a few minutes of greetings and anchorage tips. A touch over 20,000 cruising miles later, we finally intersected for a night in an anchorage and shared a few hours in Rutea’s cockpit that afternoon. The priority was a chance to get to know each other better, but it’s impossible to pass up the obvious swap. Before they left the next day, we did an informal exchange- our remaining Thai baht for their Malaysian ringgit. Their daughter had recently left the boat, and left behind art supplies she wouldn’t reclaim- would we like them? (Yes!)

Time for a swim!

The lovely Tenaya arrived a few weeks later for yet another anticipated (and brief) meeting. Katie, Tenaya’s co-captain, had contacted us a year or so ago for information about cruising in Papua New Guinea. I took one look at their Facebook cover page with a dinghy packed full of happy kids in Vanuatu, and knew these were my people! Another brief but sweet encounter. Some swaps naturally occurred. Tenaya is being shipped to the North Sea, and isn’t allowed to have jerry cans: would we like their deck jugs? How about the stack of travel guides for Borneo, where we’ll be headed this year? We had another Thai internet SIM left by our friend Frank, still loaded with data- would they like it?

Actively sharing from what you have happens naturally with cruisers who are far from home. As soon as something isn’t needed, we try to pass it along.

Cards in the cockpit

The relatively minimalist lifestyle makes this easier. Moving aboard means getting rid of the overwhelming majority of your Stuff: today, we live with just a small fraction of our belongings from prior land-life. The less we have, the lighter and happier we feel, and perhaps ironically, the easier it is to give away.

Back at home, our garage held storage boxes with contents we no longer remembered. Other people have storage units – multiples even – that have been filled for years, with a considerable sum as the ransom for fear they might be needed, someday. On a boat, there’s no room to keep things you don’t need, and that in itself is a gift. Getting rid of those things that you don’t need (and if you have it packed away in a box, or a storage unit, there’s not much of a case for “need”) is liberating.

Gunung Agung - Totem- Sunset

So when Kathy came back to Love Song from a trip home to the USA last week and stopped by to bring us a stack of magazines, I understood perfectly. She divided them between us and another boat; we’ll read them, trade, then move them along. When we got to Telaga, we brought a bag of clothes we no longer needed that Kathey’s boys might fit into. She had a t-shirts that were perfect for our girls.

Being adept at reusing what you have is a good skill for cruising remotely, and even not so remotely. Most cruisers have reduced dramatically in the transition to living aboard a boat. Recycling by passing along to others whatever has become excess, whether it’s a spare piece of teak or a good book, is natural.

Liberated minimalists know we feel the love when you read this on the Sailfeed website.

This article was syndicated from S/V Totem - a family sailing the world


  1. Amber

    Totally agree! I love that we just don’t have a lot of stuff and wish that we had even less. We’re also big on the clothes-swapping here on Kwaj. When my daughter out grows something, it goes to another little girl to grow into.

  2. Paul Brooke

    Couldn’t agree with you more! The less “Stuff” I have, the happier I am. Very enjoyable article.

  3. Sara Burns

    Found this blog post on Pinterest on the perfect day. We haven’t bought a boat yet, but I spent the day working on my long-term project towards living the cruising lifestyle. I’m in the process of paring down our belongings to the minimum and reducing our dependency on store-bought cleaning/personal care items. I’m looking forward to following your travels and experiences. Thank you.

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