At least once a day, someone asks me how I downsized from my 4000 square foot home on an acre of land to an RV. I lived in my home for sixteen years. It was my dream home. I raised my two older children in that home, brought my youngest home from the hospital to that home. We laughed and cried in that home. I understood the question, but didn't want anything to get in the way of my current goal. I see this question asked often in RV Facebook groups and thought it may be helpful for me to turn my answer into a blog post.
I downsized from this home to the RV shown on the left.
For years I knew that once my older kids were graduated from school and doing their own things, I wanted to move to a new state and have new experiences. When the time was right, my husband and I planned a trip with our toddler to the area we wanted to move to. To stay safe during the time of COVID-19, we decided to rent an RV and stay at a campground. The trip was fantastic! We had so much fun camping and exploring the area that we didn't want to go home. In fact, before we left the campground, we created a plan to go home, sell everything we own, buy an RV and move to the area- and we set a goal of one year.
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Steps for Downsizing From a House to Fulltime RV Life
We returned home and began sharing our excitement with friends and family. A few were supportive but most were in disbelief and couldn't imagine why we wanted to move out of our big, beautiful home and into such tight quarters. We started joining fulltime RV groups on Facebook for a bit of support and encouragement. Any time you make a big change in your life, some people will be resistant. Sometimes it comes from fear and concern and other times, it comes from jealousy. Not many people are willing to make giant changes in their own lives and may be jealous of you for doing it. Stay the course!
Step One: Buy the Perfect RV
This is the day we picked up our fifth wheel with our new truck. This picture was taken in the dealer parking lot.
Buying the perfect RV is incredibly important in this process. We made a list of must-haves, just like we would do if we were buying a house.
Some of those must-haves were:
- Dedicated office space
- Loft area
- Four seasons equipped
- Outdoor kitchen
- Large closet
- Sleeping for at least six so that our older kids could visit
It seemed like a tall order, but we knew that we needed to stick to our list if we were going to be happy with this lifestyle change. From that list, we decided that a fifth wheel would work best for us and then we made a big list of floorplans. We watched YouTube videos day and night and slowly narrowed down our list of fifth wheels. After watching hundreds of reviews and tours of each fifth wheel model, we decided on our RV.
I searched online for a used model of our RV and thankfully, there was one priced right only 10 miles from us. We went to see it in person and bought it the same day. Now, we needed to buy a truck to tow it.
I highly recommend that you buy the RV before the truck. Once you buy the truck, you are limited as to the RV it can tow. If you buy the RV first, you can buy the safest truck for your RV. We found our perfect truck about 100 miles away and were able to buy it within five days, right in time to pick up our RV.
Step Two: Measure Every Space
Before I started downsizing and selling everything I own, I wanted to be certain about how much space I would have in my fifth wheel. I started on one side of the RV and drew out every space. For example, there is a row of horizontal cabinets above the sofa. I drew them and wrote their measurements on the drawing. I was very detailed and accounted for every lip and divider bar.
One by one, I drew and measured every space, including each kitchen drawer and cabinet. I measured every shelf of the pantry and every tiny cubby. Once I began documenting all the storage space, I was surprised how much room I would have to work with.
When doing this step, don't forget under the bed and in the refrigerator and freezer. Measure EVERY space.
Step Three: Order Organizing Product
Full disclosure- I spent more than $3000 on organizational products. I know, it seems like a lot, but I knew that this lifestyle change would mean that I would have to be uber organized. Plus, I didn't want to worry about anything moving or breaking while in transit so my goal was to contain every object in a bin, container or tray to make travel a breeze. I have created a collection of RV organizing products that I use to make it simple for you to find solutions. View the collection here.
I spent weeks searching online for bins and containers that would fit each and every space I measured. It took weeks, but I finally found a storage solution for every space. Even this weird space:
Here are some of the most important things I bought:
Clear acrylic bins come in nearly every shape and size. They store our DVDs, we have one in our recliner console to store remote controls, we use them in the pantry, and we organized our closet with a dozen acrylic bins that hold various accessories. Acrylic bins store everything neatly and you can easily see and access the contents of the bin. Add some tidy labels (the ones by Talented Kitchen are my fave) and it becomes an organizing dream.
Clear canisters are a central piece of our RV organization. We use them for food storage, to store crayons and markers, and to store RV chemicals. There is no limit to their use. OXO brand canisters are my favorite, but I can't always find the perfect size so an airtight canister will work.
If you have an odd shaped space, chances are there is a fabric bin to fit the space. I have a linen cabinet in my bathroom that angles and I wasn't sure how to handle it. I found the perfect fabric bins that now hold linens, bath towels, beach towels, and anything else that needs storing.
Fridge and Freezer Containers
Acrylic refrigerator bins are so great for RV organizing because they keep everything from moving around during transit. They also help you to see what you have so less food will spoil. A big benefit of using acrylic bins in the fridge is that it limits spills. If there are leaks or spills, you have to clean one bin, not the whole fridge. Plus, they look amazing every time you open the refrigerator and freezer doors.
Clear Acrylic Magazine Holders
My favorite room in my house was my library. It had floor to ceiling bookcases that I filled with all of my coveted books. The lower shelves always belonged to my children and we spent hours reading in my overstuffed arm chair. When I parted with my library, I knew I would have to construct a mini-library in my RV. I bought a case of acrylic magazine holders and used a portion of my closet to create a tiny library. My little one loves it and it makes our RV feel more like home.
Stackable Jewelry Case
My house spoiled me with a center island in my closet that held my jewelry in a locking compartment. I cleaned out a bunch of my jewelry before embarking upon this journey. I gave some away and sold some. My favorites came with me in this super cute and convenient stackable jewelry case. You can buy the tray components that you need based on your jewelry. It stores safely in any small space in your RV.
Finding a place to store dirty laundry is always a challenge in an RV. In our situation, we decided that we didn't want the washer and dryer that can be installed in the RV. We are comfortable using a laundromat or campground laundry facilities, so we used the space for a laundry caddy instead.
Everyone is working with a different size or shape space, so find a laundry caddy that works for you. These slimline laundry hampers on wheels work very well for many RVers. If you use the washer/dryer space for a laundry caddy, we love the ones with extra storage.
We use these shoe bins for storing toys. One bin for toy cars, one for fake food, one for outdoor gear, etc. They are labeled and they stack perfectly in my son's loft "clubhouse." My husband also uses these bins outside for tools or various "RV basement" stuff.
Acrylic Wall Mount Spice Rack
I love my spices and seasonings but I didn't want to take up an entire drawer to store them. I installed these clear acrylic spice racks to the back of my pantry door as a space saver. Now my spices are all in reach and easy to find. These can go in the bathroom to hold toiletries or anywhere some extra storage is needed.
The chairs that came with our RV dining table seemed like such a bulky waste of space. We replaced them with storage benches. We store pots and pans in the benches and store shoes on the shelf underneath. The important things to remember when buying a bench to replace dining chairs is to measure the height and length and make sure it will fit in your slide or dining space.
Stackable Wire Shelving
When you want to utilize vertical space, one way to do it is with stackable wire shelving. There are stackable wire shelves in all lengths and widths and they are perfect for tall spaces with seemingly wasted space.
Large Trunk Organizers
Trunk organizers are one of my most favorite organizing hacks. When I moved from my home, I had backstock of toiletries and cleaning supplies. I didn't want to get rid of it because I knew I would be buying it again in the future. But, where could I store it? I loaded up each trunk organizer with something different- office papers, cleaning supplies, canned food, arts & crafts, toiletries, etc. Some of them I store in the back of my SUV. Some of them I store on the top bunk in the bunkhouse (aka, my home office). As months go by, I use more and more of the backstock and break down the trunk organizers. I got the collapsible ones shown above so they are easy to store for the next use.
I am happy to have a large medicine cabinet, but stuff tends to fly around during travel. To overcome this challenge, I affixed these acrylic organizing trays to the medicine cabinet shelving with earthquake putty. Everything is so tidy and nothing shifts during travel.
Acrylic Canned Food Dispenser
As shown above in the photo of my RV pantry, I use acrylic canned food dispensers. It allows me to stack canned food in a way that saves space and is convenient. There are several different styles and the one that works for you will fit in your space with ease.
I used a shower caddy in my home because I can't stand when bottles are all over the place. When your home is on wheels, those bottles will fly all over. I use this three chamber shower caddy to make cleaning the shower simple and travel uneventful.
Wall Mount Holder
Once everything had a place and I felt so satisfied, I had a quick freak out. Where would I put the broom, mop, and duster? I was thrilled to find this wall mount holder. I installed it to the back of my bedroom door and it is out of the way and accessible when I need it.
Once all of the bins, containers, canisters, and trays arrived (so many boxes), I began placing them in the appropriate sized spots until every space had a matching organizational solution.
Next, I placed a large order for moving boxes. I ordered specific boxes for dishes and various boxes of different sizes. I knew that I would need these later.
Step Four: Stock Your RV for a Trip
The key to a smooth transition is to take several trips before you make the permanent move into your RV. Each camping trip we took allowed us to learn a bit more about our specific RV and find solutions for any issues that popped up.
For example, I quickly learned that using my RV oven will heat the inside of the fifth wheel up very quickly. This is great when it is cold outside, but not so much when both ACs are running. I knew that I needed an air fryer. My very sweet daughter promptly bought me this one for my birthday and that solved that problem. I cook in the air fryer at least once each day.
I began to slowly bring household things into the RV and leave them there. I stocked the RV with clothes hangers and cleaning supplies and bath towels. Every trip we took, I would leave more and more essentials in the RV. We took 10 or so camping trips in our new RV before we embarked upon our full time adventure. Some were long weekends and some were weeks long. Every trip helped us to prepare.
Step Five: Mentally Prepare to Get Rid of (Almost) Everything
This is the scariest part. It is difficult and cathartic all at the same time. My emotions vacillated from disgust at how much money I wasted on this crap to panic about how I would live without my things. I had to continuously re-center myself by reminding myself how free I felt when I was camping. I made a list of why I initially wanted to move into an RV and I would read and re-read it during my freak out moments. Here is what it looked like:
- Less to clean and maintain
- More time with my family
- Less waste
- Less distraction
In order to live the life I was imagining, I would have to stick to the plan and resist societal conventions to hold on to all of our shiny stuff. I moved slowly, but steadily. I decided to approach this room by room. I started with the room I used the least frequently and moved from there.
Step Six: Start With the Least Used Room
At one point in time, my husband and I realized that we only really use 3-4 rooms in our house, which has more than ten indoor spaces and two outdoor spaces. If I started clearing out the room we use the least, we would barely notice. For me, this room was my beautiful formal dining room. It was grand and lovely. I hosted holiday dinners for our families and baby showers for friends. I loved this room but the only time I entered it in recent years was to begrudgingly dust it. This was a great place to start.
I started with this room first.
I built the boxes I had purchased for dishes and loaded up my china into the boxes. I carefully labeled them and put them to the side. I emptied my side board and china cabinet onto the dining room table. I began making decisions about which pieces were meaningful and which ones needed to find a new home. The precious things that I could not part with (just yet), I placed in a box. Everything else was photographed and listed on Facebook marketplace.
I then photographed the whole room and listing the furniture, wall hangings, and area rug. I stopped there. I needed a break.
Step Seven: My Selling Strategy
If I was going to sell everything I owned, I wanted to get as much money for it all as I could. I focused on taking great photos with high quality lighting. My listings on Facebook marketplace, Offer Up, and Craigslist were professional, detailed, and inviting. When potential buyers came to look at the items, I made sure that my home was clean and smelled nice. I shared with them that everything in my home is for sale if they wanted the very first opportunity to buy any of it.
I sold entire rooms of furniture and furnishings that I never even had to list because a person came to buy one thing and then wanted everything. The sales were rolling in and my house was getting more empty. Since I started with the rooms I rarely use, my family didn't experience a change in our lifestyle for months.
Step Eight: This Is Getting Real
As I progressed through the rooms that we use the least, I eventually got to the rooms that we use. What now? I thought, "This is getting real." I fought through moments of panic and nostalgia and set small goals to declutter and sell. Small goals looked like this:
- Clean out nightstand
- Sort through winter clothes
- Clean out bedroom wall unit
I was kind and patient with myself as I sorted through two decades of memories. If I had any indecisiveness about whether I should keep something, I placed it in a box to decide later. The more progress I saw, the more I wanted. There was something sad, yet satisfying, about seeing rooms empty one at a time.
One day when my husband came home to find that I sold the TV in our bedroom, we realized that we needed to start setting some firm goals and decide on a move out date.
Step Nine: Schedule a Move Out Date
The day will come when your RV is more comfortable to live in than your home. This happened for us at month six in this process. I sold the kitchen table, then the living room furniture, and then the barstools. We were sitting in patio chairs with an upside down box for a table in our kitchen to eat. We knew it was time. We scheduled a move out date for two weeks.
I ordered a 10' x 10' POD to be delivered to the house and I scheduled the pick up date at the same time to give myself a deadline. I went back through all of the boxes of things I wasn't sure about and made decisions. We gave ourselves a 10'x10' storage pod- that was it. We had to fit everything we wanted to keep in that cube.
I was surprised that this time around, making decisions was easier. I threw away much more that I thought I would and my excitement for our new life was growing by the day.
Here is what I have in storage:
- Boxes of memories from my kids' childhoods
- The fine dining china I adore
- Two pieces of furniture that are meaningful
- A few boxes of seasonal clothes
- Boxes of books (Don't mess with my books)
- Holiday decorations
Two days before move out, I delivered a gift box to my best friend with the special things I wanted her to have. The day before move out day, I called the local charitable thrift store and had them pick up everything that hadn't sold. That night we slept in the RV parked in our yard.
Step Ten: Move Out
We reserved ten days at a local campground. It had only been seven months from the day that we made the decision to move into our RV fulltime and we needed to breathe. We needed time to have the house cleaned and some maintenance issues resolved. We had been moving so quickly for the past few months and we needed a staycation. We relaxed, spent time with friends and family who we would be soon leaving. We said our goodbyes, shared some meaningful memories and on the tenth day, we pulled out and started our big adventure.
We currently rent out our house through a property manager so we don't have to deal with any of it and we get an auto deposit every month. After a few months of traveling, we are now stationary in the Atlanta area. This is where we want to be for years to come. Our campsite is lovely and we even built a little spiral herb garden. At some point, we will buy some property here and build another dream home, but for now, we are thrilled to be living this lifestyle.
My Personal Advice
This was not an easy process. There were many ups and downs. At times we had doubts and questioned our own judgement. When things got emotional and scary, I reminded myself that we have ONE life. A few things to remember:
- If you want to see things and do things there is no need to stay in one place.
- The things we sell can all be replaced. Within a few months, I couldn't even remember what half the stuff even was.
- Don't focus on the giant task at hand. Break everything down into manageable steps. When you need a break, take a break.
- You don't have to explain yourself. There will be people who are critical of your new lifestyle choice. It is YOUR choice and it is not your responsibility to make them understand.
I loved my home. But, it was holding me back from the adventure I wanted. This may seem strange, but I actually had some anxiety about leaving my house alone. Somehow, I realized that I had personified this structure that had kept my family safe and warm for so many years. I felt like I was abandoning my home- which felt like a friend.
While I was explaining this to my best friend, she simply told me to have a conversation with my house. At first I laughed. But, then it sunk in and I promised that I would have a conversation with my house. I sat alone in my empty house and I talked to it. I thanked it for keeping us safe through countless tropical storms and even a CAT4 hurricane. I thanked it for being warm and welcoming each time my children ran through the front door. I promised that a new family would be there soon to love it. It feels so silly to type this out, but this little ritual helped SO MUCH. As I closed my front door for the last time, I felt at peace. I was so proud of myself for setting this goal, persisting through the challenges, and making it happen. And I haven't looked back!