Seeking space saving techniques for RV living
January 15, 2014 10:22 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I moved into an RV last summer and sold or gave away 80% of our belongings. I am looking for ways to make the most of our space for the 20% we kept. It's not that we're out of room, but I feel like I am not doing this in an optimal fashion.

Areas that need improvement:

Not enough space for hanging clothes, but the closet is not tall enough for hanging organizers.

There's a shelf above the closet that has a sloped roof and I haven't found a great use for it. Folded clothes slide around and don't stay neat.

Drawers - what's the best way to fold socks, shirts, jeans, sweaters to maximize space?

Overhead cabinet with towels & sheets - things tend to fall out if you pull a towel from the middle of the pile.

Tall, deep (over 24") kitchen cabinet. I bought a stacking shelf, but there's a lot of wasted space in the back of the cabinet because it's hard to get to.

Overhead cabinets in living area - they run the length of the living area (about 15') and have no dividers in between. Lots of random household stuff in here: first aid kits, handheld vacuum, books, iron.

Desk area: how to effectively organize power cords and chargers? The outlet is on the wall, not the floor, so some of the solutions I've seen online (clamping cords to the desk with binder clips) won't work.

Refrigerator/freezer - it's only slightly smaller than a residential fridge, so general tips would be great.

Shelf/rod for winter coats/accessories: this is a jumble of hats/gloves/scarves. We considered a coat rack, but we have too much winter gear.

Wet/dirty shoes/boot storage: we have a boot tray and a shoe rack, but the tray takes up a lot of room and boots won't fit on the rack (if you set them on the top shelf, they'd drip on the shoes below).

I'm happy to clarify with specific measurements and pictures.
posted by desjardins to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I forgot: what are your methods for organizing mail and other papers that you don't want to file away yet because you need to do something about them?
posted by desjardins at 10:26 AM on January 15, 2014

I've heard that laying clothes flat on top of each other (instead of folding them neatly individually and then stacking them) saves space.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:26 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

For the drawers, switch to vertical folding. I use this method but fold my shirts in thirds to take advantage of my deeper drawers.

For the various shelves/long cabinets, can you add baskets/boxes (with or without lids) to hold things? They are available at Target, IKEA, etc. in a wide variety of sizes, and will help with both organization and sliding. I also find they increase your packing efficiency, as the basket is less likely to fall on you than the same volume of stuff heaped up on a shelf.
posted by pie ninja at 10:32 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you absolutely need hanging clothes?

Have you tried setting aside a day where you spend the first quarter taking EVERYTHING out of its place, the second quarter thinking, and the last half of the day
storing and stacking (and setting aside for donation)?

The weird shelf might be a good place for active paper (magazines, bills, etc.) If you are not 100 percent paperless.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:34 AM on January 15, 2014

Desk area: how to effectively organize power cords and chargers? The outlet is on the wall, not the floor, so some of the solutions I've seen online (clamping cords to the desk with binder clips) won't work.
(and of course, there are nicer looking commercial products available...)
posted by blob at 10:38 AM on January 15, 2014

what's the best way to fold socks, shirts, jeans, sweaters to maximize space

Rolling T-shirts and jeans etc is my go-to packing method for best space utilisation and less wrinkles. You have to pay a bit more attention to how you fold them pre rolling, but it's surprisingly effective.

boots won't fit on the rack (if you set them on the top shelf, they'd drip on the shoes below).
I'd cut down a plastic tray of some sort (thin, like thin card thickness), bend a ridge into the middle (with maybe a 1/4" max 'eave height' as it were - easy to do*) and rivet/ty-rap it to the underside of the top shelf. Make one side slightly lower then the other and best for run off and just put your boots on the top. The plastic will run the water to one side of the rack.

*put the plastic between two books or something, put a long weight in the middle (lengthwise) and heat it with a hair dryer until it bends and leave it too cool before removing the weight.

what are your methods for organizing mail and other papers that you don't want to file away yet because you need to do something about them?

I'd either scan them in with a smartphone app (what I do now) or get one of those seat back organisers for the drivers seat and use that for 'in progress' work.

Hanging clothes - I'd just radically reassess how much I really needed to hang, I think. Be diligent about storing more long term any items that are out of season (plastic boxes in the outside/under seat storage bins) for any summer stuff, to be swapped out for winter stuff when the time comes). Not all your clothes need to be in the closet at all times. How many clothes are you really likely to wear in the next two months? Store anything else somewhere else.
posted by Brockles at 10:44 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

My actual method of handling Need To Process items is either an In-box (either vertical or horizontal works) or a heap on the end table next to my end of the couch. I gather that best is to deal with them the first time you touch them -- i.e., have an In-box for mail, but then deal with everything at once, to save both space and mental time. But I rarely manage that, so there's a second step/accumulation spot. I think a nice vertical mesh basket (even this) can keep the footprint of this stuff down, but you can't let it build up.

The other thing that jumped out at me here was the "middle of the pile" towel issue. If you're actively trying to minimize, then I think you should go with two sets of towels per person, switching at each laundry cycle, and then you'll only ever have one set (of sets) in storage. Otherwise, get organizers to subdivide the space vertically, so that, e.g., towels are on one rack, sheets on the next, etc.

For a deep kitchen shelf, try to find racks that pull out (on rollers or whatever), so that you can use the depth easily. Here are some ideas to get you going. Another option is to push your racks to the back and put more frequently used items loose in front. But the sliders will be gold, I think.
posted by acm at 10:46 AM on January 15, 2014

for cable organization - zipties or velcro straps. you can also use little hooks to guide the cables along the wall where applicable.

for mail/papers that aren't ready for filing - a separate in box/file/etc to hold them in until you're ready to file them for real.
posted by nadawi at 12:45 PM on January 15, 2014

Pare everything down. Do you need all those clothes? Ditto duplicate linens? If I were downsizing to living in an RV, I'd make do with exactly what I needed with no extra.

I'd donate all paper books and get all of my books on an e-reader. Scan all of your important documents and keep them in the cloud.

Pay everything online so that you don't have random scraps of paper to keep track of.

Touch your mail once. Open it and do whatever needs to be done with it.

Living in an RV is a completely different way of living. It's not about buying smaller things, it's about only having the most important things.

You may need to continue the downsizing process.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:57 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some clothes pack smaller when rolled.
posted by aniola at 1:11 PM on January 15, 2014

You mention you have a sloped shelf...have you tried to put a net across the front? You can get nets made for storing stuffed animals high on the wall, you could crochet or macrame a net, or you could repurpose a table tennis net.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:15 PM on January 15, 2014

You're in a good place, since you know how much stuff you have, and how much space you have to put it in.

For the boots- maybe you want a wash tub or trash can to separate them and collect water/mud?

For any shelves, think about finding products that might help turn it into a more drawer-like area. I have all my linens in soft canvas bins that I can pull out partially or completely and remove what I need. For the pantry, there are sliding shelves that you might be able to install. These might work for the sloped shelf also because they're low profile.

I might suggest you look into hiring a professional organizer at this point, one who has access to a handy man who would be able to get exact measurements and help with custom-made things or installation of certain things. Groupon and Living Social often have some deals for this. Many organizers have blogs so you can look for ideas there too.
posted by sarahnade at 1:53 PM on January 15, 2014

I found that most of built-in furniture in my RV (which I live in full time) was stupid in its placement and function. I ended up ripping almost all of it out and am in the process of replacing it with stuff that works better for me. In doing so I've reclaimed a lot of previously dead space or space that was theoretically available for storage but inaccessible in regular day-to-day life.

So don't just accept the floor plan you started with as unchangeable. Almost anything that isn't an appliance can be unbolted and removed.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:59 PM on January 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

We are over two years nomadic and still have some issues, but have tons of empty space.

My closets were too short for hanging organizers, so I bought boxes that I just stacked on top of each other for the closet. They open to the front so they became customizable shelves. You can also get those plastic shelving units as well.

We only have one winter coat each. Our bathroom has three places to hang towels, total waste of space. I hung an over the door set of hooks on the outside of the shower to hold heavy coats.

I learned to have lots of gloves, leggings, armwarmers, scarves and hats. That way I can layer up as much as I like/need and don't need to store bulky sweaters.

For paperwork, we have a rattan box in the desk which helps hide the paperwork aspect of our paper.

You also need to look at each space outside of the box. For example, tucking those over the door fabric shoe holders under your mattress, so they hang down along the bottom of your bed gives you tons of storage. Adding doors to backs or sides of storage areas allows you to utilize deep storage spaces more easily. Overhead cabinets do great with clear labeled bins that fit nicely next to each other. Hardcore clear two gallon plastic bags work great as well.

If things fall out, add expandable curtain rods to the front opening and they will help keep stuff in.

Fridge: take everything out of packaging as much as you can before storing. Tossing out the packaging helps keep your trash down as well.

The facebook page 'DIY for rvers' has lots of ideas people have done.
posted by Vaike at 4:02 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fridge trays, little plastic trays that fit the length of your fridge, seem stupid but actually work well to keep things organized. Invest in stackable size plastic boxes for leftovers etc that can go into the freezer too - transparent square ones with various depths so they all share the same lids are the best to maximize your space. Get a cheap labelmaker and attach it to the fridge with a magnet or something so you can grab it easily and have the habit of labelling everything.

You can get shelf dividers that clip-on to long shelves to help split up the space, or you can use large nice-looking boxes that fill up the space and put things inside them in smaller labelled plastic boxes.

Invest in one of those tiny scanners like the Neat or Scansnap (I had a scansnap and loved it) and keep it right next to a narrow inbox for papers. I use this Ikea napkin holder because it will hold about a week's worth of paperwork max in a very narrow space and then I am forced to scan/sort/throw everything. Anything I have to keep goes in a small hanging-folder box, but you need way less paperwork than you might imagine.

We got one of those roll-over cables that wrap round a bunch of cables and use the 3M clips to attach everything out of the way. 3M's range of hooks, clips and so on are a really good way to experiment before you make permanant alterations.

But really, I would rip out things and put in better storage too. You've already pared down, you need to find more storage in an awkward space.
posted by viggorlijah at 4:57 PM on January 15, 2014

For the deep cabinet, you can install rails on the bottom and have shelving that slides out, so you can easily get to stuff in the back. Examples.
posted by mikepop at 6:34 AM on January 16, 2014

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