I feel like I’ve written a lot on this topic. But it turns out, I’ve never written a full and complete article on the subject. Rather, I’ve discussed space issues as a small part of other posts, particularly in various hacks and gadgets posts. It is actually a topic that is hard to exhaust because, when you live in a small space, you are always in search of new ideas, hacks and gadget to make things more efficient and to make better use of the space you have. So, today, I want to talk about creating more space in your RV.

When I was shopping for my trailer, I visited the Oliver plant and sat in one of their model trailers. Now, certainly, I understood it was much smaller than my sticks-and-bricks house. But until you are actually living in your RV, you never truly understand your space limitations.

Me, testing out the bed in the Oliver during my factory tour. Can you see my shoes? I also sat for a long while at the dining table.

For example, you think, you can make due with two cabinets for clothes. One for bottoms like pants and shorts. One for tops like t-shirts and sweatshirts. You aren’t thinking about socks, underwear, jackets, scarves, etc. You aren’t thinking how bulky sweatshirts are. I know this might sound silly, but the point I’m trying to make is that living in a small space is more of a challenge than you ever think it will be.

During my four years and a half years on the road, I have learned a thing or two about creating more space in an RV that has helped. It’s not a perfect system (and it continues to evolve and change) but I hope you will be able to use a few of these tips and ideas.

Identify the Space Hogs

There are things you bring into the RV that may not seem like much but can really be space hogs. Here are the biggest space hogs I have found.

I need to mention that this post is most applicable to full-time RVers who don’t have a home-base that they loop back to on a regular basis. In other words, this is relevant to the person whose whole life is in the RV.

Stuffed pink pig.
Identifying space hogs is the first step.

Shoes

The issue of shoes has been one of the most frequent conversations I have had with fellow RVers when it comes to space and space hogs. There are questions of how many pairs one brings into RV life and, once in the RV, the question is where they heck do you put them. It’s such a constant discussion topic that I wrote an entire post on the subject. It’s a post that continues to be popular and even made the top 10 list of 2020 most visited posts.

The average person in the US owns 19 pairs of shoes. It’s simply not reasonable to think all those will transition into RV life. Very few RVs will be able to handle 19 pairs of shoes per person.

This means the first thing you must do is pare them down to the essential ones. Getting rid of multiples is a place to start. You might love having six pairs of sandals but probably only one or two should come with you to the RV. Same with sneakers, casual shoes, slippers, boots, etc.

Next ask yourself if the particular type of shoe is even necessary. Will dress shoes really be worn in RV life?

Shoes are something you want easily available but don’t want to constantly be stumbling over in the entry way. The post on shoes offers different ideas for getting them off the floor while still keeping them fairly accessible.

Kitchen Appliances and Gadgets

We love our gadgets, don’t we? It’s so easy to want to take that big fancy electric can opener into RV life but it may not be realistic when it comes to space. Afterall, it does the same job as the simple small one.

Additionally, even if you bring the smallest version of things, it can be easy to somehow end up with an entire drawer of “little” gadgets.

Clothes

It’s almost a guarantee you will bring too many clothes into RV life. Heck, most of us have way more than we even wear in regular life. While you might feel compelled to bring them “just in case” (I know I certainly did), once you get a feel for your style of travel and what you are actually wearing, get rid of what you aren’t.

Bathroom Items

Bathrooms in RVs are small. In mine, I have a single tiny cabinet that is even too short to fit a regular-sized bottle of shampoo. In this case, my fix is a shower caddy for the items I use day-in and day-out. The bonus here is that if you use the campground shower facilities (which is my preference), you have everything you need to carry to the shower with you. I even wrote a how-to post about using campground showers.

Tips on Finding and Creating More Space in Your RV

Once you have identified space hogs and gotten rid of things that aren’t essential or being used enough to justify the space they take up, it is time to actually start creating more space in your RV for the items that remain. Following are suggestions for dealing with the space issues.

Everything Has a Place

You’ve heard the idiom “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Fine words to live by but perhaps not mandatory in sticks-and-bricks life. However, they become a necessity in RV life.

When you move into the RV—and likely at various times during RV life—you find the perfect spot for your belongings. This means you are making the best use of the space you have. Maintaining your system is simply a matter of returning items where you got them. It means find a place for the things you carry and, after use, always return them to that place.

The bonus to this policy is that you will always know where things are. It’s surprising to learn that even in a tiny RV space, you can still lose or misplace things.

One Thing In, One Thing Out

Once you are organized and settled into your RV, many RVers make a rule that when they bring something new into the RV that something else has to leave. You visit a national park and buy a sweatshirt. That’s great but it is one more thing to tuck away. So, look around and find something that doesn’t get much use and add it to the donation bin.

You can make your own rules around this. For me, I don’t necessarily say that if I bring in a new sweatshirt, I have to get rid of an old sweatshirt. I can, for example, get rid of a large bowl that doesn’t get used as often as I expected it to.

The trick here is not to continually exchange a bulky sweatshirt for a spoon. You get the idea. It wouldn’t be long at all before you are busting at the seams despite following the one thing in, one thing out rule.

Use Square Items

Instead of purchasing round food storage containers, get square ones. Instead of purchasing round spice jars, look for square ones. Wherever possible, purchase items with square corners instead of curved ones. Why?

Because they fit more efficiently in cabinets, drawers and the refrigerator.

Handled baskets that have square corners make fitting cans into my cabinets neat and tidy.

Make Use of Space-Saving Gadgets

This might be my favorite tip. Now, I’m not saying you must go out and buy a ton of space-saving gadgets. But really, a few can make a big difference for you. Here are my favorite ones:

  • Collapsible Items. I admit I was quite resistant to these at first. Primarily it was because I didn’t think they’d work. I feared they wouldn’t be sturdy enough. That isn’t completely wrong, to be fair. With food storage containers, I find I must be careful when snapping the lids on that I don’t accidently push down and collapse the container. Rather, I need to push in to snap the lids shut. But if you are careful, they are quite sturdy and do the job. I also love my collapsible strainer. I haven’t used collapsible bowls yet but imagine they’d be pretty great as well.
  • Baskets. (As seen above.) I found baskets to fit perfectly into my Oliver Trailer cabinets and I like that they help me organize the space but also that I can easily take the whole basket out at once when I’m in search of something. You will want to measure your cabinets to make sure you get the best fit for the space.
  • DVD Cases. Long after most people moved to using debit cards, I was still writing checks. So, I’m often very late to the latest and greatest thing. In other words, I don’t buy my movies as part of a streaming service. I like the physical disks. Same with music, I like to own the CDs. Because I have several hundred movies and television series, they take up a lot of room if I keep them in their original packaging. Investing in DVD/CD storage case has proven to be a huge space saving item that allowed me to not have to cull my collection.
  • Hooks. Having written about Command Hooks (and strips) so many times, I almost don’t feel I can say much more except, I would not RV without them.
  • Other Items that Adhere to Walls (I use Command Strips so nothing is permanently affixed.)
Four black zipped cases that hold DVDs.
The cases that hold more than 1,000 DVDs (most are television series).

Utilize Multiple-Use Items

It doesn’t make sense to bring, say, a yogurt maker into RV life unless you really love yogurt. However, it is exceedingly smart to bring an Instant Pot (one of my favorite kitchen appliances) that can sauté, pressure cook, slow cook and, yes, make yogurt.

This gets weekly, often more, usage.

Another multi-use kitchen item I adore is my air fryer. The first one I had was small (great for RV space) but food I was cooking often took multiple batches so I decided to invest in a larger one. I checked reviews of different brands but I also found one that was multi-function. Considering the Oliver doesn’t have an oven (you might remember it’s one of the things I dislike about the trailer), I found an air fryer that promises 8-in-1, including toasts, bakes, dehydrates, broils and warms. It made justifying the purchase quite easy.

And it isn’t just appliances where this thinking is useful. Have you ever heard of Dr. Bonner’s 18-in-1 soap? It is used as a body wash but also is for laundry, pets, dishes, etc. Basically, anything you need to clean. A lot of long distance hikers use it because it cuts down on the number of different products they need to carry. Not only is it multi-functional, it is super concentrated so you only need a couple of drops or you can dilute it in water. My favorite is the almond scent. Let me offer one warning here. The peppermint (I have heard) can be strong and feel burn-y on your skin so if that is the one you want, it is important to keep this in mind and dilute it before using.

Utilize Your Non-RV Space

Most RVs will have storage areas not accessible from inside the RV. It depends on how much space your RV offers as to whether you can use it for infrequently used items inside the rig. In my case, the Oliver only has one small compartment and I store things related to hooking up at a campsite. In other words, my trailer offers no extra storage space

However, I do have Violet, AKA the big white van. If you have an RV rather than a trailer, you likely tow a vehicle for getting around. Use the space in these vehicles.

I use stackable storage containers labeled so at a glance I know what each contains. A few of my bins are: First Aid, Games and Crafts, Winter Items, Picnic Items, Holidays, Office Supplies, Electronics, etc.

Inside the big white van in the early days. This non-RV space holds half of the things I travel with. In this photo, Kitty was providing security.

Don’t Stock Up

Costco may not be your friend in RV life.

Pre-RV life, if I found a good sale on an item (not just at Costco but the grocery store as well) I used regularly, I’d pick it up because isn’t it better to pay $3 for a box of Triscuits than $5? And if it was a really good deal, I’d buy many boxes of Triscuits knowing eventually they’d get eaten. And, really, who doesn’t buy their toilet paper at Costco?

Unless, you have a lot of non-RV space, you may have to rethink the idea of stocking up. After years of stocking up, however, I found, it was a hard habit to break. In fact, I may not be entirely cured of it. But I try.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Would love for you to share any strategies you use when it comes to making and creating space in your RV.

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