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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Storage lockers: Can you find what you're looking for?

As we RVers add years to our experience we also add stuff to our cabinets and lockers. Sooner or later we arrive at one of two choices: (1) Buy a larger rig to hold all our stuff, or (2) When something comes aboard, something has to leave. The difficulty comes when you decide what the something is that needs to leave? You may think that the back-up left-handed screwdriver is more important than the slippers painted to look like a trout that your wife presented to you on Father's Day, but we both know which one will go first.

But I'm luckier than most, having transitioned from a 33-foot sailboat where I learned the hard lessons of storage--before I became a fulltime RVer. Since I wanted to keep my boat down to a size easy for me to handle alone, it would limit the storage space for my stuff. I also quickly learned that if I was going to store stuff, I needed to be able to find it when I needed it–or I would end up buying a duplicate, obviously a waste of time searching for the part or tool, a waste of money duplicating the item, and a waste of storage space that could be used for something else.

I purchased specifically-sized clear plastic containers that would stack and fit like a 3-D jig saw puzzle into my various cabinets and below decks so as not to waste space. I took everything off the boat and organized it on the dock by category.

My categories of what I needed, like tools, spare engine parts, rigging and sail repair, winter clothes, and canned food were easy categories. I could pile up each category to see how much space it took, find an appropriate-sized plastic bin and locker that would fit the bin, then list them on a page in a three-ring notebook.

But the important part was listing every item in the notebook. It was a lot easier to find my slides of the Wednesday night beer-can race series as a notebook entry, discovering they were in box 3 in the Photographic compartment (which was in locker S-4) than it was to go through all the boxes in the bin labeled Photographic–if I could remember which locker the photographic bin was in.

But with my motorhome, it was even easier. None of my storage bins was in the bilge below decks, but in the “basement” of my rig and much easier to get to. But when you look in the basement locker compartments of most motorhomes and fifth wheels, even if everything is organized in containers, how many containers have to be pulled out and looked through? And what about that stuff that was difficult to categorize, or ambiguous as to what category it fit into.

That was solvable also when I got my first computer (yes, I was boating and fulltiming before computers were commonplace). I not only listed every item in a container in a file on the hard drive (most of the time alphabetically because it was an easy two-click operation), but I also taped a label on each box with the category and a box/bin number. Then I took the whole list and sorted it alphabetically. Now all I had to do was search on the computer for what I was looking for and I would be rewarded with the exact location of the item.

When I think about how much time I had spent previously looking for things, the time it took me to organize and categorize all my stuff was well worth it. And for anything new that came aboard, a reverse search would determine just where it would live.

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