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Downsizing to an RV

Are you dreaming of living in an RV full-time, but worried if downsizing to an RV is even possible for you and your family?

Are you wondering what on earth you do with all your stuff?

We can have all the best storage and organization systems in the world, but if we’ve got too much stuff, they won’t be useful at all.

Downsizing from a house to an RV can seem like a daunting task, but here’s some tips to help you in the process.

Downsizing starts with de-cluttering

Without a doubt, any downsizing starts firstly with a major dose of decluttering.

Once you’ve decluttered, you’re about 90% of the way to finishing your downsizing anyway!

We’ve moved country twice now, first time was moving from Australia back to New Zealand, where we took just two large suitcases and two small suitcases with us.

And then 7 years later, moving back to Australia again. Once again, with just a couple of large suitcases.

So we’re reasonably adept at this whole decluttering and downsizing thing now.

I’ve found that for me, downsizing needs to be a process that I go through over at least a few weeks. I don’t like having to downsize in a rush, but that’s just me.

These are my steps to downszing to an RV:

1. Scan all paperwork

Paperwork is the thing that I seem to accumulate the most of in my life. It’s so annoying, but thankfully, it’s also the easiest thing to declutter.

  • Use an office machine to scan your documents
Office printer/scanner/photocopier

I took all those annoying pieces of paper to work (when I was working in an office) and used the big photocopier/scanner/printer to scan all the documents. (No, I wasn’t using the work printer to print anything. I was just using the document handler on the machine to scan all my paperwork and email it to myself.)

It’s so much easier to use a document handler, rather than a small scanner where you have to lift up the lid every time to place down a piece of paper, then turn it over… for hundreds of pieces of paper.

All our invoices, statements, contracts, information products, warranty cards and everything was scanned and emailed to myself.

  • Rename the files

When the scanned documents are emailed to you, they will have a long and nondescript file name like: IMG938472805827274.jpg.

You must rename your files with an identifying name, or else it will be a complete headache trying to find them later. I try to stick to a naming convention that makes sense and makes looking for them a bit easier.

I use something like: Name_Item_Date.

For example, a scan of the front and back of my Australian drivers license will be:

Michelle_ AU Drivers Licence front_Exp July 2029.jpg
Michelle_AU Drivers Licence back_Exp July 2029.jpg

  • Upload them to the cloud

Next, you need to upload your files to the cloud. You could use Dropbox, Google docs, Evernote or some other cloud based storage system. Not only does that make it easy to access from any device, you’re not limited to keeping it in one physical location like a computer, hard drive or USB stick.

  • Throw out the original

Now you don’t need the physical copies of all those invoices, statements, receipts, product disclosure statements, information products, checklists, letters etc. You’ve got them stored in the cloud if ever you should need them, and you can print out a copy if you must at the time. But you don’t need to find a storage space for all that paperwork anymore.

Caveat to throwing out original paperwork – I scanned things like our birth certificates, marriage certificate and all that stuff… but I didn’t throw out the original!

I’m sure that’s obvious, but just in case it isn’t: don’t throw out the important stuff!! Things like wills, contracts/agreements, identity documents and anything else where you will need to keep the original.

  • Photos & Cards

Scanning my photos and cards is the one thing that I haven’t got around to doing.

I have a big box of photos from my childhood, right up to my 30th birthday and everything in-between. (Yes, yes, all before digital cameras really became a thing).

And I have another box of cards and letters that girl friends have sent me over the years, that I just couldn’t bear to throw away. They contain messages of love, encouragement and excitement for our futures.

At the time I was going to send them off to a photo place to be scanned, but it was going to cost a bomb.

So I did nothing instead.

Now you can get some pretty good scanner apps on your phone which you can use to take photos of your photos. When we next go back to New Zealand I’ll finally get round to digitising those photos and be able to get rid of a big, heavy box from storage.

And then, when you’re on the road, you can use the scanner app to scan all the documents that you accumulate every day, and keep the paper from piling up.

2. Throw away

I find that the easiest part of the decluttering process, is identifying what needs to be thrown away.

If it’s trash, just throw it out.

Put it in the recycling if possible, but get it out of your home.

Our society already has such a throw-away mentality so I’m not advocating just throwing everything away, I’m talking about getting the trash out of the way first, so that you can then sort everything else out into whether you’re going to sell, give away or store it.

Stop the flow

A note about the ‘buy it, then throw it away’ mentality…

In all of my reading and experiencing decluttering, minimalism and downsizing to an RV; I came to the realisation that, for many people (myself included), the acquiring, accumulating and storing of ‘stuff’ has a psychological hold on them.

Have you ever been in situation where you’ve had a bad day or you just feel like your life is boring and ‘blah’, and so you’ve treated yourself to something that you didn’t really need to buy, but made you feel better?

I remember when we were living and working in Auckland, life had become quite boring and dull, and sometimes on a Friday night I would suggest to Ben that we go to KMart and see what we needed to buy and we’d grab some dinner while we were out.

KMart is cheap, so I’d get a little buzz from buying something but without taking a big hit to the bank account. I’d buy a kitchen drawer organiser, or some hair products, or a cheap handbag… not because I actually needed these things, but because it made me feel good for a while.

This ‘habit’ of mine became quite apparent when I was going through the process of decluttering. I found so many things that I just didn’t need, nor did I use. But because they were cheap quality, I couldn’t give them away either, so they ended up going in the trash.

Such a waste of money, energy and (most tragically) our precious natural resources. Not only did I ensure that the item had been made in vain, it now takes up space in a dump somewhere.

This process of decluttering and downsizing to an RV has really helped me to stop shopping just for the sake of it, and to find other, more constructive and beneficial, ways of making myself feel better about life.

You may find that you need to go through a similar process.

3. Sell

If you can get money by selling the item, then by all means, do that first!

It may require some effort on your part, cleaning it up, fixing it, posting it online and then organising delivery; but if it will bring in enough money to make it worth all your time and effort, then you may as well.

4. Give away

I’m more likely to give away my stuff than sell it, simply because I just can’t be bothered with all the work involved in selling something (cleaning, fixing, photographing, listing, posting ect) when a charity could make some money from it instead.

I figure that if it’s good enough for me to sell, then it’s good enough for me to give to a charity. Lots of times I’ve seen people just giving their junk to charity shops (in Australia our main ones are the Salvation Army & St Vincent De Paul), but my criteria is that it must be items that I would be willing to sell… if I could be bothered.

5. Store

Personally, I think that putting items into storage should be your last resort. But if this whole downsizing process is just too much for you, there is always the option of storing some of your belongings.

This could be a commercial storage unit, a few boxes in your parents garage or a locked shed at the house you own, but are renting out.

It seems crazy to me, to pay for a storage unit, but I can’t be all judgey-pants about people who do that, because I have a few boxes stored in the garage at my grandparents home. They’re sentimental items that I’m not ready to part with (and don’t think I ever will be) but I certainly don’t need to be carrying around a Turkish rug or a beautiful dinner set!

Keeping some things in storage may be part of YOUR process anyway. Those times that I’ve stored things for a while, when I’ve come back to sort through them, most things got thrown out anyway.

Sometimes you need to be separated from your stuff for a while, to finally realise that you just don’t need it. 

Sentimental items

Figuring out what to do with items that have sentimental value to you, is the hardest part of downsizing! (Which is  why I still have a box of them gathering dust in a garage.)

My friend Ashley over at has a post on what you should do with sentimental items.

My favourite idea of hers, is to give the item to a friend or family member that would hold the same sentimental value as you. That way, whenever you go and visit them you’ll be able to see the item. Or maybe just knowing that the item is still being treasured in the same way as you did, will be enough.

See Ashley’s other ideas over here: What to do with sentimental items when downsizing

Take your time

My last tip for downsizing to an RV, is to take your time.

It’s a process and it doesn’t have to be all done in one weekend. (Unless of course, you’ve left things to the very last minute and now you’re in a mad panic!)

Once we had made the decision to sell up and hit the road, I did two things straight away:

  • started by scanning all our documents and storing them in the cloud, and
  • did a quick clean out of every cupboard, drawer and wardrobe in the house (mainly to get rid of all the trash)

These were the big jobs that could be done straight away and would help with the full clean-up later.

I enjoy this process of going through and cleaning my cabinets out, so it’s not something that I would leave until the last week. I find it gives me a sense of control, so cupboards and drawers got cleaned out whenever I had some free time, or more likely when I was a bit stressed out or grumpy.

If you’ve read Marie Kondo’s ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ you will know that she advices de-cluttering one area (e.g. your closet) all in one go. The logic is that you deal with the whole thing just the once, and you’re not left with piles of clothes all over the place. I find that taking my time with the process works better for me.

Likewise, you’ll need to figure out what works best for you, your personality and your circumstances.

Organizing your RV

Once you’ve completed downsizing to an RV, you can now start thinking about how you want to organize your RV space; making the most of the storage areas that you do have, while also being easy to find the things that you need.

Here are some articles you may find helpful:

Storage Ideas for RV Closets
Small Kitchen Storage Ideas
RV Bathroom Storage Ideas
RV Basement Storage Solutions

Have you already gone through the process of downsizing to an RV? How did you do it? Do you have any other tips you can share with us? We’d love to hear them!

DON’T FORGET: Save yourself hundreds of hours of research and download our master list of every single RV model in the US, including links to the manufacturers websites for each individual floorplan.

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