SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Disposable Society

May 6, 2013

There is no denying it: we live in a disposable society. We buy containers that are meant to be thrown away after a single use. Glass bottles and jars are emptied of their original contents and disposed of. Newspapers are read once and discarded. We trade in cars that still function as designed in order to buy another car. Given the divorce rate, it seems that even relationships are disposable. Even if we recycle as much as possible, our trash is still an embarrassment. An Argentinian who had built his 40-foot schooner out of reclaimed materials, designing the boat based on what he could find rather than worrying about finding the perfect pieces (He has a schooner because he could only find two short masts, not one long one.) once told us that "America's trash is an industry in itself." Basically, we have great garbage, which is a gold mine if you're a dumpster diver, but not so good for the planet as a whole.


Sprouts jar, salt container and new knife handle

I believe this disposable attitude stems from the propensity to have too much stuff. The more we have, the less we value what we have. Conversely, the less stuff you surround yourself with, the less willing you are to throw any of it away, even trash.

The attitude change started for us when we still lived in a house, small to us at the time, but a mansion compared to the square footage we've been living in for the past 12 years. Dave was reading a Pardey book (I forget which one) where Lin was talking about Larry sharpening their can opener. Granted, he did it out of necessity--being in the middle of the ocean without a working can opener can make one very hungry. However, there was an attitude attached to that simple act. Don't throw it away: fix it. Dave reminds me of that scene frequently, every time something breaks and I start talking about getting a new one. "Hang on," he'll say, "What if we were in the middle of the ocean? What would we do?" We'd fix it, of course.


Walküre's screen from reclaimed materials

This attitude change was recently brought to my attention yet again when the handle of the kitchen knife Dave bought in Trinidad for $5 nearly a decade ago finally started to deteriorate. He has sharpened the blade a hundred times, but I figured now that the handle was sloughing off he would finally let me buy him a "good" knife as a thank you for all of the wonderful meals he cooks onboard. But I should have known better.
"I've been thinking about that knife handle," he said apropos to nothing one day.
"Yeah? Are you going to let me buy you a new knife now?"
"No. I was thinking I could make my own handle. It's still held together well or I would build a wooden one. All it needs is a covering to make it easy to hold. So I'm going to make one."
"Out of?"
"String."
Heaven help me.


Mushroom container reused for sprouts

Dave removed the remaining soft blue plastic and wrapped the handle in cotton twine. Next, to waterproof it, he varnished the twine until it was completely soaked. After several coats and a few days curing in the sun, he started using it again. I find it uncomfortable, but he says it provides better grip. The ultimate outcome is the same, whatever opinion you believe: rather than throwing it out, he fixed it.

Working on a project the other day, he needed a utility knife blade. The nearest hardware store is a LONG walk away, so he sharpened the only blade he had left. I didn't realize you could sharpen a utility knife blade, but he ran it over his stone a few times and now it's as good as new.

A few months ago we built a screen for Walküre's companionway out of completely reclaimed materials that we found lying around the boat yard.


Nut and bolt holding on the handle

When the rivets on our sauce pans corroded and the handles fell off, Dave reattached them with nuts and bolts. (And here I thought I was finally going to get a new set of cookware.)

Early on in our cruising lives, it became a family policy to never throw away any glass container without first checking with everyone onboard to make sure they didn't want it for anything: jelly jars, pickle jars, olive oil bottles, syrup bottles, and dressing jars have all been reused for some purpose onboard. Sometimes someone calls dibs on a container before we even get it home. "I want that jar when it's empty," is a commonly heard sentence when grocery shopping with our kids. Our salt is stored in a dressing jar; Dave uses an old dressing jar with the middle of the lid cut out for sprouts; we store dry beans, tea bags and other items we want to keep air tight in other glass jars.

Plastic containers get the same treatment. Dave kept a mushroom container, punched holes in it and uses it to sprout larger beans. Yogurt containers become mixing pots and screw bins. And even though our baby has a baby of his own, we still have a tippy cup that we use as a storage container, just because we always have, so why get rid of it now?

Now, before any item gets thrown in the trash, the thrower will ask the other one of us, "Do we need this for anything?" The answer is usually yes, or at least maybe. When you have very little, you treasure what you do have and just because something breaks or has fulfilled its original purpose does not mean it's time to dispose of it. As a society, we need to break the throw it away habit. And that can only happen one attitude at a time.

A young friend of ours said he was going to take his small boat to the Bahamas this year, as soon as he could afford to get an iPad with electronic charts on it. Somewhere in my ensuing tirade, I said, "Just get paper charts and a little hundred dollar GPS." His response is the inspiration for MONDAY's post. "But how do I tell where I am on a chart if I'm out of sight of land?"

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