How to Downsize Your Suburban Life into an RV

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How do you live full-time in a space that was designed for occasional camping?

Not everyone gets giddy goosebumps when they think about downsizing and organizing. I am one of the lucky few.

As a child, I can recall dumping out drawers into huge, heaping piles in the middle of my floor. My grandmother would sit in a corner of the room visiting with me, while I sorted and purged and eventually brought my room slowly back into a state of sanity.

Taking a mess and turning it into manageable space is something that I saw as a fun challenge. Although my tactics have changed, I still enjoy the process of maximizing available space while also reducing unnecessary clutter.

RV = New Challenge

Our family’s recent move into full-time RV living upped the ante. While the space in our 41’ RV is large by recreational vehicle standards, it certainly allowed me to be stretched in the areas of stuff, storage and space.

I’ve never had a hard time letting go of unwanted or unused items, but the number of unnecessary possessions that we had obtained in our 15 years of marriage and the amount of time it took to sort though them wore me down. 

Frustrating and Freeing

In many ways, the process was both annoyingly frustrating and therapeutically freeing.  My heart did not want to own so much. It weighs on you in unseen areas and seems to suck energy out of you just by being there.

The challenge for me was not in releasing the unwanted items, but in facing the things that I wanted, that I enjoyed. 

A pull, a silent whisper of security seemed to beckon from the lifeless stuff that was around me. 

Who Owns and Who Possesses?

Perhaps “possessions” is the most accurate term that could describe our things. The irony is that we may fail to see who owns and who is possessing.  This can be almost impossible to judge until the moment in which you are faced with giving it up.

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I discovered that traveling light is harder than it seems. Letting go and lightening the load isn’t difficult if there is no attachment. However, memories and sentiment muddled things for me. 

Through the process of purging, I learned that I often held onto things too long.

Incremental Downsizing

Thankfully, for our family the downsizing process was progressive. First, we moved out of our 5 bedroom home on 5 acres and into a house 1/2 the size where we lived for a year before moving into our RV. Fixing our eyes on the goal, we were able to downsize intentionally, yet incrementally.

Once we sold, purged and gave away everything we deemed unnecessary, we still stood face to face with more stuff. Because we don’t yet know how long we plan to be on the road, we felt more comfortable storing rather than selling all of our extra items.

Deciding what to do with that which was worth keeping but not essential, unlocked a new labyrinth of questions:

  • How long did we foresee ourselves living in an RV?
  • What options for storage did we have?
  • How much would those options cost?
  • Should we purchase a storage trailer and park it with friends or family?
  • Should we pay to use a storage unit in town?

In the end, our decision was made easier because of a generous offer from a friend to store our extra items on his property, thus removing the burden of a monthly fee.

Keep the Cream

If our possessions were milk, I could say that since the dream of living full-time in an RV became a goal for our family 2 years ago, we’ve skimmed off the most precious and useful cream to take with us.

Fortunately for us, we were able to simultaneously move into our RV while also packing up our remaining items for storage. This proved useful for making decisions based on both realistic preferences as well as space realities.

Clothing

We have 4 children and limited dresser storage, so clothing was whittled down to the bare minimum with each child receiving 1-2 drawers in which to keep their clothes. 

Books

Books are an important part of our family culture, so we held a family “book auction” prior to storing any books away and with poker chips in hand, each child was given the opportunity to “purchase” their most treasured stories for the RV.

We also gifted our older two children Kindles for Christmas and now often opt for audio books through our Audible.com account which we can all enjoy without taking up extra space.

Toys

We opted to focus on toys that were less age specific and gave each child the option to pick their favorites. Winners included:

  • Legos
  • Train tracks
  • Magmagic
  • Keva blocks

As an added bonus, all of these toys can continue to be enjoyed even if pieces get lost or broken.

Our older two kids each had the extra opportunity to select a few personal items. My 10 year old daughter opted for some yarn for finger knitting projects and a small amount of art supplies. My 12 year old son picked his pocket knife.

Kitchen

Prior to moving into the RV, the kitchen was the area that I personally had spent the most mental energy milling over. My husband and I both enjoy cooking.

Apart from acquiring some favorite appliances (i.e. homemade ice cream machine, stand mixer, juicer, VitaMix and InstantPot) over the last several years, I’ve also incorporated many non-space friendly practices into my kitchen:

  • Fermenting Kombucha
  • Sourdough starter
  • Milk and water kiefr
  • Yogurt

All of these need to be cultured in a warm environment and with several feet of space between them. I knew this was likely to be a minefield for my RV kitchen.

I had to face my situation realistically.

The Faith Takes Flight family.

The Faith Takes Flight family.

Kitchen appliances all tucked in.

Kitchen appliances all tucked in.

Bedroom drawers all organized.

Bedroom drawers all organized.

Culling the Herd

Which of my appliances did I really need? Or better yet, which of them would be hardest to go without?

Which cultures did I use the most? Could I continue to use them all by cutting back on how often I made each one or should I cut back all together?

What Remains

In the end my InstantPot, VitaMix and Juicer won out in the main appliance category because of:

  • How frequently I use them
  • Their versatility
  • A shelf in my pantry that allows them to sit close to my kitchen island

Second string winners included the popcorn popper and electric skillet because I was able to find space for them which was still easily accessible from the kitchen.

I opted to cut back my cultures to those which I used the most and stagger when I make them so that only one at a time needs to be out on the counter.

Test Run Results

We will be living in our RV for the summer within a short distance of our items tucked away in storage. This provides the opportunity to make adjustments to our decisions - such as the ice cream maker that we initially planned to bring. 

When we realized our freezer would not have enough room to hold ice cream on a regular basis, we knew the ice cream maker wasn’t going to make the cut (it was also being stored under the bed since there was no good place to keep it in the kitchen).

Over the next few months we will continue to tweak and adjust as necessary.

Small Doesn’t Mean Deprived

This is our new home.

Just because it is small, we don’t want it to feel like an exercise in self deprivation.

It’s important to balance that which is needed with the reality of that which brings joy.

Universal Yet Individual

While some aspects of the stuff, storage and space decisions are somewhat universal for those looking to simplify, others are intensely individual.

I don’t expect you to bring along a Kombucha scoby just because I found room for mine!

Our Goals

When it is all said and done and we pull onto the road with our stored stuff no longer visible in the rearview mirror, I want to remind myself that we seek to:

  • Collect the things which cannot be lost
  • Aspire to gain that which few find
  • Give away that which we do not deserve - memories, freedom, and grace

After all, the next thrift store down the road is bound to have anything else that we may later decide we can’t live without!

Have You Downsized?

If you have, how did it go for you? What didn’t make the cut?

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1 Comment How to Downsize Your Suburban Life into an RV

  1. Picture of Cheryl GoldsteinCheryl Goldstein May 25, 2016

    Great post! Thank you for sharing.
    We are at the same stage of transition as you guys, but our kids are older and are not coming with us. We are trying to avoid storing things but that is becoming the biggest challenge.
    I look forward to following your adventures.
    Best of luck.

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