“Where are you going to put all your stuff?” was the most common question people asked us when we started doing this RV-living journey. We asked ourselves that same questions multiple times throughout the process. Because of this, I thought it would be helpful to write down some tips and tricks on what we did while downsizing.
While our goal was to downsize from an apartment (about 1200 sq ft) to our teardrop camper (about 100 sq ft), this helpful guide could be used for downsizing from any space to a smaller space. In my opinion, downsizing was an art that we had to perfect. Even if we were staying in the same home, we could have still used the downsizing in order to make life simpler and more enjoyable. One thing to remember, we were downsizing, not downgrading.
The easy answer came in two flavors: minimalism and storage. Storage was the easiest option yet it seemed like a bandage to the wound. It only postponed dealing with the problem. I thought the more common name for this bandage was “procrastination.” We did get a storage unit at the time we moved out of our apartment because we were still in the testing-it-out phase. We wanted to be sure that we didn’t want to move back into an apartment.
After purchasing Discovery and saying goodbye to Mr. Bunker, that was our cue to say “ugh, now we gotta get rid off all that crap in the storage.” My idea was to light a match and fix the problem quickly; however, that was not the best (nor legal) solution. We spent a few evenings to move things out of the storage and into Discovery while shedding more things along the way to put into the donation pile. We were happy that we didn’t have as much stuff in the storage as we thought and that we organized our storage unit to make it easier in the future. However, if I could do it over again, I would have not gotten the storage unit. As I said before, the storage unit solution was only postponing the problem.
The other option was not a new concept for us. We knew what minimalism was, but we didn’t know how to execute it. Minimalism never meant deprivation. We weren’t going to throw away everything and only wear black or white (although Jason only owned white socks). Like an other big problem, we solved it using…. drum roll… Google search and the library. Google search if you wanted faster result.
The following options helped us do the hardest task in order to move into our RV:
- Sort everything you ever own. Touch everything you ever own and open all the boxes you own, even if you think you know what’s inside the boxes. Then decide where everything go into two piles: keep or discard. Within your keep pile, you can further sort it to: take with you or keep in storage. Within your discard pile, you can further sort it to: sell or donate. The book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo is an excellent read.
- Put everything from the keep pile(s) in boxes. Remember to pack it efficiently. Think Tetris. The most important step for this is to put a label on every single box, even if it contains only one type of item. Label such as “kitchen utensils” is okay, but “ice cream scoop, spatulas, can opener” is a lot more helpful.
- Get a storage unit. If you can help to skip this step, please do. It will save you the headache later. However, sometimes, this is needed if you must make your move quickly. If you are planning to stay in the same spot for at least 3 months, then I suggest not getting a storage unit; clean up and sort, instead.
- Ask friends and family nicely to keep some stuff for you. All of our family live far away, but we do have some nice friends in our area. If you can help it, don’t do this option either. This option is like the storage unit option, except it’s offloading the bandage to someone else. Only do this for the most important of important items you have. Don’t just offload random “in case I need it later” items to your friends and family. For us, I was only comfortable trusting two of my good friends to temporarily hold our stuff. One was our paperwork while we were out of the country and one was our top layer wedding cake. We weren’t planning eating the top layer of our cake on our first year anniversary, but that is now on our agenda thanks to my friend.
- List it on Craiglist. Take pictures, type up description, post listing, repeat. The camera on your phone does an excellent job so no need to get fancy cameras for this. This isn’t a business you want to sustain forever (if it is, get the fancy camera from one of the listings on Craiglist). Take a picture of your bigger items, such as furniture, and make sure the pictures are clear from different angels.
- Trade it in to a local place. Take a pile of books, CDs, games, clothes, or toys to a local trade in place that can give you cash or credit for them. I traded in books that I have read (and never will have time to read again) to get credits for new books that I have been wanting to read. Trading in for cash is usually lower but you could use cash toward anything you want.
- Sell your stuff at the flea market. We all have those trinkets that are probably worth about $1 or $2 each. Those things are not worth the taking pictures and individual listing on Craiglist or Ebay. Our solution was to put them into boxes and sell them at our local flea market. We put them all on the table and told people “everything you see is $1/piece.” Forewarning, the reactions were either “what’s wrong with it?” or “will you take 50 cents for it?”
- Donate. This option is the easiest yet not the most rewarding. Most people like to put a face to the new owner of a nice bed or couch or musical instrument. Craiglist and flea market will fulfill that need. However, donating to a local charity does not. This is what we did, we took everything in our cars to sell at the flea market. What we did not sell that day, we put back into our car and took it to a donation place. We also sold most of our big items on Craiglist or give it to people we like.
- Discard. The last resort would be to take the rest of the things you cannot fit/sell and take it to the dumpster. We did a lot of this. Granted some of the stuff we threw away could have been donated or sold but we did not have the time. Seriously, guys, it was that day that we had to move out of our apartment so we grabbed everything and made several trips to the dumpster.
- Take pictures then discard. This is the best thing you can do for materials that you want to remember but don’t really care to keep. We took lots of pictures of them to be able to remember them but not have to have the space to store them. The pictures would bring back memory, hence it is sufficient.
A lot of people thought that by getting rid off stuff, life was going to be a bit harder and a bit less tasteful. It was as if the stuff was what made life sweet. However, to us, that was not the case. Although it was the hardest thing we did in order to enable our RV style living, we found that by getting rid of all the excess that we had, we started enjoying the essentials and our favorites. We did not think we were downgrading to a lesser lifestyle at all.
We started using all of our good plates. We ate all of our favorite foods first. In the evening, we both did things that made us happy (aka, Jason played his VR games while I, Stephanie, crafted up a storm). Life became simple because our routine was simple: wake up, go to work, come home to a nice meal, do extra stuff that we like. On weekends, we enjoyed doing extra curricular activities of our choice instead of chores. We felt like we were upgrading to a fancier lifestyle indeed.
I found out that people downsize more commonly than I expected. People wanted to do it due to moving or additional roommates/children, even if they were staying in the same place. Have you tried downsizing before? What was your strategy in reducing your possessions? What were some of the things you kept?
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