Updated: Jul 8, 2019
When we decided to downsize and travel full time, we had one giant hurdle to overcome…what to do with our stuff? How do we fit our stuff into a 21 ft. travel trailer? As we looked at the size of storage available in both the trailer and the truck, we realized that not even a quarter of the stuff we owned would make the cut. The number of things we owned was staggering when broken down. It took us a year of condensing, donating, and one garage sale to get rid of it all. Yet, here was what we thought would still fit.
Our cleaning process was intense, going through every item in the household, spreading it all over the place as we made piles to go to the dump, donations, or to be given away.
When we were done, we thought we did such a great job, grabbing only those things we needed. The house sold and we needed to be out, so we loaded up the trailer over the next 12 hours with all those “needed” items, filling the truck up as well. As we loaded the trailer, we noticed we had way too much stuff still. It was too late to adjust things, so we piled it all into the front part of the trailer and left that night to a boondocking site. We figured we’d work on it later. The process took days to downsize on the road, and now, months later, there have been a dozen purges and rearrangements.
We had to drop off golf clubs to K’s sister’s house, donate items we thought we needed, and simply throw away items that couldn’t fit. Condensing your life into 130 square feet is extremely difficult. I still look back and cringe at the process it took to downsize our life.
5 Simple Downsizing Tips
If you decide to downsize to travel or downsize because you own way too much stuff, there are a few things that make it more manageable. Get out a piece of paper or make a list on your phone to help knock off the items in each section.
1. Work on ONE room at a time:
The task of downsizing a house, apartment, or trailer is simply overwhelming. Make a list of each room and the things that need to be done within those rooms. Breaking things up into smaller pieces makes the job more manageable on your mind. When you start a room, cover every square inch of it. This is the one I struggle with the most. Kristen is great at hyper-focusing on the task at hand and making sure every item in every room is catalogued and dealt with, so I’ve learned a lot and benefited from this method. What do I mean by covering every square inch? It means going through boxes within boxes, items within items, the junk in the nightstand you think is all your favorite stuff, yet you haven’t touched for 5 years. That’s the stuff I’m talking about. Items that will end up in other rooms can be placed in an organized fashion in a special spot set aside for future rooms that need to be cleaned. Sometimes it’s best to just look at this as a band-aid and rip it off, dumping contents on the floor to sort through and find a home for, if need be. Whichever method you feel is best is obviously best for you, just take the time and go from room to room. This also allows the process to be completed over time, rather than over the weeks or months it might normally take.
2. Buy Containers for Items, Organize by Similarity, and Label them:
I can’t tell you how many items I’ve ruined (many of them photos from the past) by keeping things in cardboard boxes. There are plenty of cheap options, with better functionality, available from all the major shopping stores. We found some great plastic containers with a foam seal and latches that help keep moisture down, which is a big deal when traveling in a trailer. After you get rid of all your unwanted items, finding a home for them in storage containers not only makes things much more organized, but you can also see through them and find what you’re looking for, especially if you organize containers by similarity and label them.
This extends to more than just everyday items in your household. Since we are on the road, moisture and potentially rodents are of great concern. We used to put our bulk dry beans, rice, and other grains in containers, so we expanded that to all our food. If it came in a cardboard container or bag, we make a home for it in a solid container and label it accordingly. Bigger items that don’t have a place in a small container go into bigger containers of similar items. For example, our pastas are all in a single container so that even though they are cardboard, they are sealed away from moisture and potential rodents. Containers also work for drawers. We had our cooking utensils and other gadgets for the kitchen free flowing in a drawer. Now that we found containers for them, they are organized and easier to get to. Living tiny has taught us to be extremely organized.
3. Determine the Value and Need of your Stuff:
I’ve placed this one as 3rd, instead of 2nd, because we started this process here and had no place to put items as we organized so we had piles of things we were taking with us and no containers to put them in. Once you start downsizing, you’ll know what size containers to get and can always buy more. Buy some early and it’ll make the process much easier because you’ll start to fit things in containers and see how fast it can add up as you go. This simple visualization starts to put things in perspective early on. As we worked on each room, we made piles that were for donations or given away to people we thought might be able to use said items. Some of the ways to make things easier was to determine what was valuable to one’s life. Is the box of memorabilia that you look at once a decade necessary? Or are the memories you have enough? Can you digitize these things?
Americans have been ingrained to consume and we’ve reached a point where a 4,000 square foot home is full of crap no one uses. Ask yourself if something is of value to you and more importantly, can it be donated to help someone else, to make them happy and be of value to them. We did this for all our items over the past year and it was time consuming, yet rewarding, parting with items we thought we couldn’t live without years before, but now sit in the back of some cupboard or closet.
Downsizing to a travel trailer made these decisions even more difficult. We had to decide between what we wanted to bring and what could feasibly fit in the trailer. For example, it brought us tremendous sadness to give up our Jura espresso maker. We had it for 6 years and it was still in mint condition because we ran every clean cycle and babied it. We tried to justify it being in the trailer, but if we kept it, the Jura would take up what little counter space we had. We even thought about storing it under the dinette until we used it. In the end, we parted with it by giving it to K’s sister, which works out nicely because now we can at least visit it and drink its incredible espresso making capabilities.
4. Continue to re-evaluate the importance of what you own:
Steps 1 through 3 are the beginning and when you’re done you feel like you won life. Unfortunately, you won’t realize it until months later that you still have too much stuff. Think of the first steps as your first cut. Once your household is in order, you continue to re-evaluate what is of value to you, what you still use or care about, etc. You’ll find yourself purging more and more items, rethinking if something is meaningful in your life, and whether you should get rid of it. Consider donating more items to others and limiting what you bring into your household.
Your shopping techniques will change as well as you start to ask yourself if you have a place for that in your household. For us, it was a swap out situation. If we wanted to buy a few new shirts at Disney World, we had to get rid of other shirts in order to fit them into the cloth containers we had. A simple one in, one out situation. It worked this way for other items we would purchase. We would ask ourselves the question, do we have room for this? Or we would re-evaluate what we were using and find items that better suited our lifestyle or gave us more room in cupboards.
5. Take your time:
Slow down and take your time when it comes to tackling a larger household. The sheer number of items per room can seem overwhelming. You don’t have to rush things. Like I’ve mentioned, we’ve spent the past year and a half going through these steps over and over. Constantly changing things, condensing things, and removing items. It’s a process that begun over a year and a half ago with larger break downs up until now with smaller, far more manageable ones. Take your time and break it down room by room. Your mind will thank you.