Is it worth the empty space between bins (not to mention the space the containers themselves take up) to organize the galley when you've got so little space to begin with?

Does Organizing Waste Space?

It’s pretty obvious:  if you just cram stuff in, willy-nilly, you can pack more in.  So it seems that the answer to my question is that of course, you end up with wasted space when you organize.

And we all know that you never, ever, want to waste space on a boat.

So, to heck with organizing — just stuff everything anywhere you can find room for it and let’s go!

Um, no.  Actually, I’m going to argue that failing to organize wastes space.  And while organizing takes time, I think that failing to organize wastes even more time.

Recently, I’ve had a few emails that have touched on this topic indirectly.  For a new boater, who’s also trying to get familiar with all the boat’s systems and the whole lifestyle, seeing a whole category of posts called Storage and the emphasis that I put on storability in evaluating gear can be a little intimidating.

So maybe a few of my thoughts, not on the mechanics of storing food and gear, but my overall philosophy on storage (can you have a “philosophy” of storage?  maybe that’s just too Zen?) are in order:

  • Overall, I find that keeping stuff organized means that I don’t waste space by having more than I need of anything.  If things are stashed just any old place, I’m likely to not know how much of something I have and to buy more “just to be sure.”  For example, I never want to be out of coffee or toilet paper . . . so I buy more every time I go to the store and bring more aboard faster than we could ever use it.  And that means less space for stuff we would use.
  • Trying to find something that you “know” you have but that doesn’t have a designated spot is a huge waste of effort.  Going through every locker on the boat just to find that one can of marinated artichokes takes time and energy that you could be spending on fun stuff.  And if you don’t find it, it’s an even bigger waste.
  • When things aren’t organized, you tend to forget what you even have.  And then food spoils, containers break and so on.  Money wasted and more time spent cleaning things up.

All that said, I don’t want to give the impression that organizing will eliminate waste, expense or time spent . . . it will only lessen it:

  • Try to find bins and containers that fit tightly into the spaces available, but just accept the fact that there will be some “wasted” space.
  • Good storage bins are not cheap, but cheap ones will cost more in the long run as they will break, you’ll lose supplies, have to spend time cleaning the mess up AND you’ll have to buy new ones.  Considering how much food can be wasted due to breakage and spoilage, I think it’s far cheaper to invest in good plastic containers right off the bat than try to get by without any or with only flimsy ones.
  • It will take a while to organize things at first, buy storage bins and other containers, move things around and re-organize as you discover flaws in your first plan.  But overall, it will save time and frustration on a daily basis!

I’ve also been asked about keeping a master list of where everything is stored.  The first year that we cruised, I tried to.  I found that, just as in my house, I quickly knew where I stored everything and abandoned the list.  However, I also know of other cruisers who have done this for years — so I have to say that it really depends on what you feel comfortable with!

TupperwareThe photo at right (in a post about Tupperware Modular Mates) is the one that sparked a number of questions about having things “look nice” versus packing in as much as you can.  To me, it’s not just having things look nice, it’s being able to quickly find what you want.  And while every inch of potential storage space is precious, being able to locate what you do have is even more precious.

Consequently, to me, having the space to actually see what you have isn’t wasted at all!

Your thoughts?  Do you feel like you’re wasting space if you don’t have every inch packed full?

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  • Gil Lhotka
    Posted at 06 May 2013 Reply

    I just went through an exercise this weekend that really made your first point hit home although it wasn’t in the Galley. I had to do some work in the rear head and it required emptying out the entire contents of the small storage area behind the head. As I pulled toiletry items out, I was surprised to see how many of those small “hotel shampoo” bottles we had, there were 3 different hair care products that all do the same thing and this was the case at least with 4 different types of products. And that was just in a small 3 foot by 8 inch storage area.
    So… Point well taken, had that been more organized, we would have maybe had a backup to something if we had run out, but not multiples just stored because we got some “just in case” The clutter made it harder to find something every time we needed something from that area. The good news is that when we put it all back, we have a great opportunity to organize it.

  • Jan Saukko
    Posted at 06 May 2013 Reply

    Personally, I like square and rectangle containers better than rounded containers, because they use the wasted space that round containers leave. I also like the containers that have locking lids. I have some locking bins under the floorboards with handles on the lids. Much easier to reach down and get them out. These bins are numbered and I keep inventory in a note book, with a map, so I know exactly which bin to go to when I need something. Now, if I would only keep the list updated!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 06 May 2013 Reply

      That sounds like me! I started out with a location list, but too often found that I’d moved something and not changed the location on the list. I finally just gave up!

      • John Meyer
        Posted at 07 May 2013 Reply

        Come on Carolyn – Where’s that old mid-west spirit of stubbornly never giving up? 🙂

        BTW – Don’t you think 55 gallons of Krud Kutter is a bit excessive? (See ad under Recent Articles) 🙂

        Great website. Enjoy it immensely. Hope to see you in Mexico some day. I’m in San Francisco – (Ex-Minnesota)

        • Carolyn Shearlock
          Posted at 07 May 2013 Reply

          The lovely people at Google choose the ads . . . the robots must have seen the Krud Kutter article and figured that if a little is good, why not try 55 gallons??? I’d say “whatever floats your boat” but somehow I think that 55 gallons would sink it!!

      • Jan Saukko
        Posted at 07 May 2013 Reply

        The list for things under the floor boards seem to be working ok. I need the list to know which bin to go to, so because I have the list in hand it’s easy to update it. Now, for things in the cupboards and hanging lockers, it’s too easy to get into them without a list, so if I don’t have my notebook in front of me, it doesn’t get updated. But, labeling the containers helps. And yes, these bins get moved around a lot, competing for “prime real estate.”

  • Sherry Day
    Posted at 09 May 2013 Reply

    I found large square containers at Costco that are filled with organic animal crackers. The grandkids ate the crackers and I have wonderful storage for potato chips and tortilla chips! I can get two bags of chips in one container. They fit well in the bilge storage area as well as the lockers next to the galley. And best of all, the chips stay crispy and are not crushed!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 09 May 2013 Reply

      Had to laugh — in Mexico, I once bought the premium brand of juice (more expensive than the generic that we thought tasted just fine) for 6 weeks to get bottles that were just the right size for a locker! 🙂

      • Claire McCloskey Ford
        Posted at 25 December 2014 Reply

        We’ve all done it!

  • Dave Skolnick (S/V Auspicious)
    Posted at 09 November 2014 Reply

    Well spoken Carolyn.

    For me, it boils down to:
    If you can’t find it, space is wasted.
    If it rusts/goes bad/leaks, space is wasted.

  • Justin
    Posted at 19 November 2014 Reply

    I was reading this and wanted to share an idea I came across to resolve the issue of finding the correct size box for all the unique lockers on a boat. There is a material called “coroplast” it’s like a plastic cardboard. I used this on my boat to make custom boxes that not only fit my locker size but also fit the shape. Cable ties work well to stitch/hold the box together. There are also a few glues that work but I have had less success with glue. If you Google the material you can find different tips on fabricating with it.

  • Ed Robinson
    Posted at 16 July 2015 Reply

    Tina Barnes-Weida

  • Stephen
    Posted at 22 September 2016 Reply

    Coroplast is the material used to make semi permanent plastic signs and should be available at any local sign shop in a couple of weights. You may even get used Coroplast if the writing on it is OK. Realty signs are commonly made of Coroplast.

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