Consumerism and Sailing: An Almost Impossible Match

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Today’s thought comes from viewing a great video over at Doryman (and here), who links over from Annie Leonard’s site. The discussion is on consumerism, and it got my creative juices going. Not that I have an “audience”, but I suppose I have a platform.  If you find yourself with twenty minutes, grab a snack, a coffee, a whatever, and watch.

I was initially turned onto these types of short documentaries by the 35 minute film There’s No Tomorrow.  Since we don’t have cable, I don’t get to watch a ton of Discovery or Learning Channel, and these Youtube-style versions are filling the gap.

When I think on what consumerism is, I’m reminded of lessons learned from living aboard.  The plain fact is, there’s only a finite amount of room aboard any sailboat. It will be filled, in some way.  Maybe it’s chock full of foodstuffs, chock full of friends, chock full of junk, but it will be full of something. As a liveaboard, this is your environment, so you must learn to make wise choices on what comes in, what stays, and what goes.  Since your environment is small, and ever close, you quickly learn this lesson.

– You purchased the boat and it came with a typical assortment of 1970’s era life jackets.  Do you replace them out of concerns for safety, or because they smell musty, or because they look awful?

– You graduated college with your old 13″ tube-style TV.  Do you give up cubic feet on the boat to keep the TV or pitch it and get a flat screen?

– You want to refresh the look in the main cabin, but do you throw away the old cushions and replace, or recover what you’ve got.

It’s easy to think that these questions revolve solely around money. If I can afford to replace the life jackets with newer, safer models, I should. The TV probably uses more power than I can spare, and the cushions are full of evil chemicals; replace them all.

As a sailing consumer, we need to think about the other aspects of those decisions.  What is the impact of getting this _____ onto the boat, and what is the impact of taking _____ off the boat.

 

The Decision Two-Step

For things coming on:

  • Does this item serve a necessary purpose?
  • Will this item serve multiple purposes?
  • Where will this item live? Is there a space aboard for it?
  • What is this item replacing?
  • What additional work will having this item bring on me?
  • Will I get a substantial relative value from having this product aboard?

For things going off the boat:

  • Where is this item going to?
  • Can this item be reused aboard my boat?
  • Can this item be used aboard someone else boat?
  • Can it be recycled? (And where will I do that?)

Here’s an example from my Tartan 37.  The head was vintage 1980, with a substantial amount of plumbing missing.  I was overseas and getting parts would be problematic.  I wanted a bulletproof system, and went with a camper potty.  For the inbound toilet:

  • I had to “go” somewhere, so it was very necessary
  • It had its own water tank, holding tank, and seat, so I didn’t need to buy multiple pieces to create a system
  • It would be in the head, exactly where the old toilet bowl was and was measured to fit
  • It replaced the non-functioning marine head
  • I would have to purchase holding tank treatment and a spray bottle of cleaning solution, and later chose to keep some air freshener in the space. These were consumable goods that needed a life cycle decision of their own
  • Compared to ordering, shipping, installing, and maintaining a marine head system, this would allow me to do less work and have a lower potential for system failures, therefore provided substantial value

For the outbound toilet

  • The toilet had a number of copper fittings which could be recycled: off to the metal scrap yard
  • Sadly no, and what plumbing was left was of no value to me
  • In this case, no, because the head wasn’t rebuildable
  • Yes: at least the fixtures were and went to the local scrap yard

Most of your purchases should get this level of questioning before coming aboard. Protect your space, because many folks out there want to take it from you.

(Photo credit: Miz_ginevra)