Current home: 800+ square feet. Future home (a van): less than 75 square feet. This will vary, but the largest van has only about 70 square feet in the cargo area, and unless you’re getting an extended length van, you’re likely to have a lot less. Obviously, something has to go.
I’m writing this as I’m getting ready to give up my apartment and move into a van. I’m in transition. I plan to live the nomadic life. I’m anxious to get out of my apartment and live in the van so I can quit paying rent, but first I must downsize! So, downsizing is my first adventure.
Here are some of my downsizing tips:
1. Be Willing to Give Things Away
I’ve downsized before. In 2013 I left my cabin-home in the Northern California town of Happy Camp and downsized from a three bedroom home to a two bedroom apartment. At that time I sold or gave away most of my furniture. While living in North Idaho, I managed to collect a lot more furniture, and I need to give away most of it.
Why give away things? I have never enjoyed holding yard sales. I like to give things away. It is a much better option for me. I like to give things to people who want and can use them. If I can’t do that, I’m willing to let a charity come here to take things away. Right now I’m thinking the Salvation Army is a good charity to call on. They do a lot of good in the world. First I will offer some of my treasures (things that are worth something) on the bulletin board at my church, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll offer it to other people living in this building.
2. Start Early
I’m starting right now, to downsize. It makes no sense to wait because once I have the van I’ll want to be in it, driving far, far away. So long as I’ve made up my mind to do this thing, it is okay to take decisive action for downsizing.
3. Create a Giveaway Place in Your Home
I must sort things and decide what I can give away, and what will go with me. Obviously, since I’ll be living in a van with almost 72 square feet of living space outside the cab, most of my things need to be discarded one way or another.
Today I cleared off the sofa and will start piling my give-away items there. I’d like to put everything that I no longer need into the living room, and put everything that will go with me in another room. Then, if I invite people in to look at the goods, I can say, “Everything in this room is free for the taking.”
4. Sort Your Things
I suggest getting at least three large boxes. One will be for things you can easily, happily discard by giving them to someone else. The second box is for pure trash that nobody would want. The third box is for things you’re undecided about. These are things you are unsure whether you can emotionally detach from them, or whether you’ll need them in the van.
For those things that you definitely plan to take with you into vanlife, keep them stored in a separate room where they will be safe from your giveaway adventures, or if you have your van already, put those things in the van, if possible. I realize many of us will be doing some building projects in our vans at this point, so it might not be practical to store things in the van.
5. Paperwork Considerations
A few days ago I met a neighbor in my apartment building as he was taking the elevator downstairs with a trash bag full of papers. “Now I can see my countertop again,” he said. I realize in our overly-papered society, we’re often overwhelmed with excessive advertising, bills, and financial statements. Things like that. Right? I know paper clutter has been an enormous challenge for me, over the years.
When I left my cabin home in Happy Camp in 2013, I went through all the boxes and files of paperwork I’d been carrying with me for the last thirty years. I filled large trash bags with discarded papers, and realized that the longer something had been sitting around, the less likely it was that I’d want or need to keep it. One paper at a time, I analyzed the usefulness of each thing, and I’d say about 80% of it was easy to throw away. The rest went into a smaller filing system and I was on my way.
Since I’ve been in Idaho, many more papers have come my way. I’ve discovered a few things that are helping me get my papers together and unnecessary things discarded. I very much recommend the book, Organizing Paper at Home by Barbara Hemphill. This is the book that first helped me progress from chaos to organization.
6. Should You Get a Storage Space?
I don’t advise people to get storage spaces because if you’re going to be nomadic in a van, do you really want to have to be tethered to a bin full of stuff you can’t use but are paying for? That makes no sense to me. Most people who rent storage lockers for their household goods will spend far more on their storage solutions than what the things are worth. And if you’re committed to the nomadic life, you’re not going to need all that furniture.
7. Detach and Feel Happy
The more you give away, the happier you’ll be because you’ll feel lighter and lighter as you have fewer burdens to bear. By giving things away gradually over a few months time, you can alleviate the usual difficulties and burdens of moving day. Hopefully, by the time moving day comes, it will be easy, with few things left to dispose of.