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Downsizing For RV Life: How To Unclutter and Organize Your RV

This blog post comes from the Unclutter Your RV webinar with Donna Smallin Kuper. You can find the whole webinar here. 

Unclutter Your RV

So, in July 2013, when my husband Mike retired, we got this crazy idea to sell our house and our belongings and become full-time RVers. I say crazy because we had never even been RVing before! We used to do motorcycle touring and we loved that. After being limited to just 2 saddlebags on my bike for 2 weeks, I figured how could I not like touring with my entire closet, kitchen and bed? 

One of the best things about selling everything to live the full-time RV life is that it gave us an opportunity to free ourselves from the PHYSICAL abundance of our previous life. Like everyone else I know, we had a lot of stuff that we used to think was necessary to fill a home. But we decided that we could either have the stuff or have this adventure. 

I have not regretted letting it all go. I love to tell people who ask what it’s like to be full-time travelers, “We love it. We have everything we need and nothing we don’t want.” And that gives us time and space and money for the things we love to do and the places we get to see along the way.

So that’s a little about me. 

Now let’s talk about you. If you’re a full-time RVer, you’re in luck because these tips are for you. If you’re a recreational enthusiast, you’re in luck because a lot of what I’m going to share will help simplify your life too.

Let’s get to it.

Declutter First, Then Organize

Trust me. It’s easier to get organized and stay organized when you have less stuff. You heard it here: You don’t need a bigger RV to store your stuff – you need less stuff. Declutter first, then organize.

Here’s a quick exercise to get you started. Look around. What one thing could you easily let go of right now? Something you really don’t want or need? It could just be a piece of trash – an envelope, a receipt, a used paper napkin. What? What do you see?

How about all those Amazon envelopes and boxes you’ve been saving? Yes, it’s good to have mailing supplies on hand, but let’s not be ridiculous about it. For most people, a couple of Flat Rate envelopes and Flat Rate boxes are plenty. You can use the USPS.com site to print postage right from your computer and drop off your package so you don’t even have to go into the post office. 

Keep Or Toss? Decide To Decide

The big reason why clutter builds is this – it’s because of postponed decisions. You can’t decide whether or not to keep something or what to do with it. So you just set it back down or turn your attention to something – anything – other than decluttering.  And yes, smile. You’re on Candid Camera.  

As you go through your stuff, decide to decide. Commit to making a decision one way or the other. Don’t be like that squirrel you see in front of you in the middle of a highway. Decide to decide. Keep or toss?

Ask yourself: Do we use this? Do we love it? If no, give yourself permission to let it go. Buh-bye!

My favorite question for myself is this: Would I buy this again today if I didn’t have it?  

If you have a hard time letting go of things, try this: Instead of trying to figure out what goes, start by figuring out what stays. What are the things you love and use and could not live without? That’s what’s important to you right now, at this point in your life.

Here’s a little tip: If you have to think about it, it’s not important to you.

Turn Clutter Into Cash

When we sold our home and everything in it 7 years ago, Craigslist became my best friend. We also had an estate sale, which I highly recommend. Since then, I’ve sold a number of things we thought we had to have, but as it turns out, we didn’t. My go-to now for selling things is the OfferUp app, though I’ve used Mercari and other apps, too. OfferUp is great for selling items locally. Mercari lets you sell things nationwide. Mercari accepts credit cards and Paypal payments, you get a shipping label when your item sells, and for this convenience, Mercari takes 10% off the top.

Sharing is Caring

Donating is the fastest, easiest way to remove clutter. The way I see it, sharing is caring. Because somebody, somewhere could really use what’s just taking up space in your RV. 

I usually just toss clothing and shoes into one of those donation boxes you see everywhere. Or, if I have household goods as well, I find a Goodwill donation center where I can drop off a few bags. But I’ve also enjoyed giving away things through my local Buy Nothing Project community. The Buy Nothing Project encourages neighbors to freely share from their abundance through listing items they no longer want or use in hopes that someone nearby could use it. Once you’re on the road, you can also use BNP’s traveler’s network to borrow from locals items that you may only need for a short time, which makes it easier to let go of more! 

Some donation centers are closed right now due to pandemic-related restrictions. Thankfully, there are programs such as ThredUp and GiveBackBox that can accept your items as donations or on consignment, and help you clear out your storage! 

But What About Paper Clutter?

You’ve heard of the Pareto principle aka the 80% rule? Here’s how it applies to paper – 80% of the paper we save we never look at again. 

You probably use online banking, so I don’t have to tell you that you should be getting online banking statements, depositing checks, and making most of your payments online. 

The only paper you need to keep is anything you need to save for legal or financial reasons. Like…tax records. Business receipts. But you don’t need to save the paper – scan it into a digital file. I scan all my receipts to the free version of the Shoeboxed app, a process and program I’ve used for years.

Paper maps and travel brochures – listen. Take only what you really need. Leave them behind for other travelers. If you go there again, you’ll want the newest info. If it’s hard to part with, scan or photograph the info you want to save. 

Five Steps To Organize Your RV

1. Store Like With Like

Gather like items so you can see what you have and if you have too many of one category, pare down to what you really need. When you need to find a home for something, keep it with like things. That way, you’ll know right where to find it.

2. Containerize

In my pantry cupboards, I have Oxo pop-top canisters – they really do save space. I also have a lot of clear plastic shoe storage boxes that I repurposed when we hit the road. I like them because they’re small and stackable. I use them under the bathroom sink to store first aid supplies and other items. We also have a box of glues. Is it just me or do RVers need a lot of different kinds of glue??? 

At the end of this webinar, there’s a link to a blog post I wrote with photos of my closet. In there, you’ll see that I have open fabric cube boxes in the closet – one for storing scarves and belts, one for bathing suits. Think of drawers as containers too – you might have a sock drawer, an underwear drawer, a junk drawer. Yes! It’s okay to have a junk drawer as long as you know what’s in there and can find what you need when you need it.  

3. Consider Frequency Of Use

Keep frequently used items accessible and near to where you use them – think of things as Hot, Warm, Cold based on how often you need to access them. I have a couple of standing mesh metal baskets on the floor under my laptop table where I keep my essential work stuff, which I consider “Hot.” But I store all of our tax returns under the motor home in a lidded plastic container that’s sort of a pain to get to. I rarely need it, so I consider that “Cold.” In a cabinet, store things you use often in front, things you use rarely in the back. Same goes for underneath your RV – choose the most easily accessible bins to store the things you access frequently.  

4. Maximize Storage Space

What I sometimes see when someone opens a basement bin in their RV is an open box with a bunch of stuff in it and a whole bunch of wasted empty space above it. I recommend measuring your space front to back and top to bottom so you can get the perfect size containers and really maximize your storage space. Inside, I use 3M Command Adhesive hooks for hanging things like a frequently worn sweatshirt or robe. We use the inside of our shower to store two mesh hampers. I’ve seen people cut hanging shoe bag organizers down to size and hang them around the sides of their bed or just inside the entrance.  

5. Label Everything

You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget which bin in your now-tidy and organized closet contains that important, useful item you suddenly need now. Take the time to label your storage containers so that when you need something from them, you’re able to find it quickly. Remember the categories you worked on in step 1? Those categories can be a good starting point for how you want to label your bins. 

Ok... so maybe not EVERYTHING.

3 Tips for Staying Organized

  1. Have a home for everything and put everything in its place – Before you set something down, ask yourself: Is this where this belongs? 
  2. Adhere to the “one in/one out” rule. In my closet, I have a set number of hangers. If I buy something and I don’t have a hanger for it, something has to go.
  3. Conduct periodic purges – at least once a year or maybe spring and fall. If it’s hard for you to let go of stuff, then you may want to be more mindful of what you are bringing in, so you don’t have to struggle with letting it go later.

I hope you find these tips useful! Whether you’re transitioning from your sticks-and-bricks home to a nomadic life, or you’re looking to tidy and declutter your current home, these can help you make the most of the space you have by getting rid of the things you don’t need and organizing the things you keep.

Author

Donna Smallin Kuper

Donna Smallin Kuper is an award-winning organization expert and bestselling author. She has been featured on the CBS Early Show, The Daily Buzz, and Fox & Friends as well as numerous other television and radio programs around the US. Her tips regularly appear in magazines like Better Homes & Gardens, Readers Digest, and more! And Donna is a full-time RVer – she really knows her stuff! Find more of her tips and tricks on her website at www.unclutter.com.

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