About three years ago, my husband and I made the decision to escape the Seattle-area rat race and travel full-time in an RV. This decision was based on several things including wanting the freedom to live our lives instead of living to work. We researched like fiends and every hurdle that popped up seemed to be easily resolved. We took this as a good omen and continued planning and preparing.
One of the things that excited me – and made my husband anxious – about this life change was the downsizing we’d be going through. We’d already downsized from a house to an apartment, which was still a huge space. Paring down to even a large RV was going to require an extreme downsizing. I’m a minimalist at heart and was truly looking forward to ‘dumping it all’. In fact, as the months wound down, I had to hold myself back from getting rid of things too early (like our dining room table or clothes dresser.) My husband, on the other hand, was very anxious about letting go of so many precious things. I think many people are that way when faced with downsizing.
The Emotional Side of Downsizing
No matter what you’re downsizing into – a Class A motorhome, a converted van, a tiny home, or a backpack – you’ll likely get emotional. It could be done easily with an immediate release and relief of a previously unrecognized burden. I was in a state of euphoria! Or it could be traumatic as you try to determine which of all these things that connect you to people you love have to be tossed. Or it can be anywhere in between. Now on the other side of it, I’m here to tell you – eventually – most people feel the freedom that comes from letting go of material things.
How Do You Let Go?
For me, it was fairly easy. I knew downsizing was getting us to our goals of living in an RV, traveling, and maintaining little to no debt. For us, that meant no storage unit – no safety net. This made it a little easier to make decisions. If it wouldn’t fit in the RV due to size, it had to go. If it would fit, was it necessary? Did it have multiple uses? Could I purchase something else that was smaller or that would take the place of multiple items? The best example of that is the InstantPot. If you have a pressure cooker, a rice maker, and a slow cooker (or three), the InstantPot (or another combo-cooker) might be a better choice.
Then it came down to the wanted items. I’d ask myself if I honestly really, really, really loved the piece or if I was keeping it because so-and-so gave it to me (whether out of sentimentality or guilt.) Things I liked or didn’t honestly like at all went away. Things I loved and really wanted to keep stayed – if there would be a place for them. As we got closer to moving in, and I got more into the downsizing mode, even that pile got smaller and smaller.
What about family heirlooms? Oh my gosh! I had a ton – antiques handed down from grandparents and great-grandparents. I gave some of those to my parents, brother, and my stepdaughter. If they couldn’t or wouldn’t take something, I asked close friends if they wanted it. This way, I knew that these special items were going to people who cared about them and would make them special in their family. I even gave them the lineage of the items, so they could have the story for their families if they wanted. I donated two antique Native American items to a non-profit auction that benefits various tribes.
I also held a giveaway with friends for a large amount of our smaller things, such as knick-knacks, spiritual items, extra shawls or scarves, and art that wasn’t going to make the cut. This is actually fun and can be part of a bon voyage party if you want. Set out everything you want to let go of on a blanket (or table, whatever works.) The only rules are everyone gets one pick and every item has to be taken. After the first pick, anyone can have as many of the remaining items as they want. You can remind your friends that they don’t have to keep these things. Maybe they have another friend who would love that flower picture, or the purple shawl would make a great birthday present for their mom. Keep in mind, you don’t want to put a bunch of junk in the give-away. Leave that for a thrift store donation or the trash if necessary.
The point is to make letting go more about giving. Make it special, fun, and positive. Remember too, it’s not truly the ‘thing’ that connects you to the person who gave it to you or to that great-grandparent. It’s your memories that keep that connection. The item only triggers your memories. If you need to, take a photo or scan a copy of those really special items you’re giving away.
Note: There are many ways you can sell your belongings too – yard sales, classified ads, Facebook, etc. It’s a great way to make money for your emergency fund before leaping into your new life!
When Do I Start?
Please. Please, start as soon as possible. I started donating my ‘skinny’ and ‘fat’ clothes about eight or nine months before we were planning to move into the RV. I kept only the clothes that fit me and looked longingly at my office clothes, dreaming of the day I no longer needed them. I let go of most of my fun kitchen gadgets and extra baking supplies early on. I kept notes on furniture and artwork that people would be taking, telling them when we’d be ready for them to pick up their new items. Some of it went early, like our guest bed. Some of it, like our dining table and two of our living room chairs, stayed until a week or so before we moved. A month or so before my last day in the office, I donated all but a week’s worth of office clothes; then got rid of the rest after my last day. I pared down, slowly but surely until the last month was only essentials and what we’d be taking with us.
Note that I say “I” through the above paragraph. My husband waited on a lot of his things and had a very stressful few weeks surrounding our move. I can absolutely say that holding off until the last minute creates so much more pressure and stress. You’re packing for your move, maybe trying to sell a house, wanting to see all your friends and family, prepping your new space, perhaps still working 40 hours a week, worried about making such a big change, and so much more. Trying to sort through and make decisions on what to keep, give away, or toss and making dump or thrift store runs on top of it all is just way too much. Be kind to yourself and start downsizing early.
Living the Simpler Life
Yes. Downsizing does make life simpler. There is so much less to maintain, clean, repair, store, and do. We did keep some artwork, sculptures, and other personal touches to be sure our RV was truly to become our home; but we have far less clutter and it takes about 15 minutes to thoroughly clean our 40-foot RV.
That said, simple doesn’t always mean less stress. There is definitely such a thing as ‘decision overwhelm’. In our prior lives, we had a set routine. Monday through Friday, we woke up, got ready for work, commuted 1 to 1 ½ hours – sometimes more, worked, commuted forever back home, made or ordered dinner, watched about an hour of TV, went to bed, and started all over the next day. Saturdays and Sundays were filled with errands, housekeeping, and hopefully a few hours of fun or veg’ing out with the TV. We rarely made any decisions because our life was just in this major routine – and we thought that’s how it was supposed to be.
Freedom to do what you want where and when you want also means making decisions. Try to remember, as you’re simplifying your stuff, to simplify your life too. However you’re traveling and living, do it in a way that nourishes you. If you have only ever lived in a big city with everything you need easily purchased at the local store or delivered to your home, building a homestead on 20 acres and trying to grow all your own everything might be just a bit overwhelming. If you’re traveling, make sure what you’re traveling in and how often you change locations suits you. Some people are great living in a small camper van where they have to change the bed to a table and back each day, have only a small two-burner stove, and change locations every few days. Others want their space and lives to be ones of leisure with bigger RVs and moving only every few months. Just think about what nourishes you, and is healthy for your pets, and be open to changing your idea of that as you walk your new journey.
Tips for Downsizing into an RV
Our first and current RV is a 40-foot Class A (bus-like) motorhome. It has four slides and quite a bit of storage. We downsized well enough ahead of time that we had only a few things we couldn’t fit into the RV. Mainly, these were too big to fit into certain cupboards. If they don’t fit, they don’t fit. We shrugged and tossed them in the donate box.
We stuck with the adage “cocktails for six, dinner for four, sleeping room for two”, meaning we have enough glasses and seating for six people to hang out. We have four plates (small and large), four bowls, and six of each type of silverware (just to give ourselves extra for use in cooking). If we’re having more people for dinner, we have paper plates or they can bring their own. We kept our small and medium pots and pans, some mixing bowls, and a few of our kitchen gadgets and small appliances.
We have enough tools to do maintenance and basic repairs on our RV. We have enough clothes to go about 8 to 10 days before we need to do laundry. We roll the clothing in our drawers like when packing a suitcase so there’s more available space and you can see things better, and put our cold-weather gear in a storage bin above our bed since we don’t need it very often. We kept a couple of books each and purchased anything else we really wanted to keep on Kindle or Audible. We have a few games and decks of cards, which we have yet to use and may go away on our next purge. We prefer to explore, read, or watch movies or YouTube.
In the year and a half that we’ve been on the road, we’ve continued to purge our belongings just because. If we don’t use it, why keep it? Now we have enough room in some cupboards that I’ve had to get creative so it doesn’t create a mess on move days. We’ve even given up two of our storage spaces to our cats! We’ve certainly found that downsizing helps you recognize what’s really important and to let go of the things that aren’t. It really is all about freedom – freedom to focus on the people you love, experiences that nurture you, and the passions that open your heart.