Last night I saw a report on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams called “Living Better With Les.” In the report they featured a few viewers who have “gotten back to basics” by ridding themselves of a lifetime of accumulated “stuff.” Could it be that Americans are starting to catch on? Is Consumerism on the wane? Lord, let it be so…
Perhaps it’s my hippie roots, but I’ve always considered rampant consumerism a sickness. Like overdoing it with drugs or alcohol, Americans just can’t say no when it comes to buying useless stuff. I guess that’s why I took so easily to the Cruising Lifestyle. When Jann & I met in 1998 (doing the Baja Ha Ha Rally) and decided to go cruising, i set out to rid myself of 27 years of accumulation. Five garage sales and one flea market later, I had indeed separated myself from almost all my worldly possessions. Friends would ask me, “How did you do it?” or “You must have cried!” But actually, it was liberating, a feeling most of those interviewed for the NBC piece, also reported. Jann on the other hand had unwillingly lost all of his possessions in the 91′ Oakland Hills Fire, when he lost his house and all that was in it.
It’s hard to say which is harder, getting rid of your stuff willingly or unwillingly. Both have their inherent pros and cons. I was happy to have some control over how much my stuff sold for, though i wouldn’t recommend garage sales in the hills of Marin Country where I sold my stuff! Of course, I donated lots of it to charities, which felt good to do. We’ve done the “land-thing” and started over twice since we set off on our cruise in 1999, each time acquiring new stuff, just to sell it or give it away before setting off again. Sometimes it can’t be helped. For us it was ill parents that required a temporary move back to the States with new jobs, new apartment, and new stuff that one must get. We’ll do it again. Soon, I hope!
Cruisers are either good at doing more with less or perhaps they just learn from experience. Of course some keep their stuff in storage when they head off on a long voyage. Some have rental properties in which they’ve wisely converted a small room into a locked storage space. And others, like us, try to squeeze all their stuff onto a small boat! In fact, folks often told us that we had a 55′ boat crammed into our little Alberg 35! Cruisers know how to conserve. They know that they can only use as much power as they can put back into their onboard batteries; they often have alternative power such as solar or wind generators; they install watermakers, and don’t waste much. When they are cruising pristine islands with no trash disposal at hand, they have pot lucks around a trash burn bonfire! They NEVER throw anything overboard that can’t spend the remainder of its life as a home for a sea creature at the bottom of the ocean. They usually don’t take souvenirs off the beach
(well, maybe just a couple of pretty shells!), and never leave trash behind. And, there’s one more thing that cruisers know how to do…something that really speaks to the whole concept of Living Better with Less…cruisers know how to fix s&%t. A lost art in America, though common in third world countries. We don’t just toss it when it breaks, we fix it! Or as the old cruising adage goes, “If it breaks and you ca
n’t fix it, discover why you didn’t need it in the first place!”
I write this as I am going through our storage unit looking for all the old cruising gear that we’re not using so that I can take it up to the Annual SSCA Gam this weekend in Melbourne, FL and get into the hands of this years cruising fleet at the flea market. I’m dedicated to recycling. Sometimes I think I’m the only one around here that is.
So here’s to living better with less. We’re looking forward to getting our next boat — a catamaran (which we won’t be able to overload with stuff!), and getting back out there. I’m pleased to hear that Americans are finally catching on!