My family of 4 moved from a house to an RV. Here are 5 ways we make the most of our small space.

My family of 4 moved from a house to an RV. Here are 5 ways we make the most of our small space.
We've lived in the RV for about six years.Christian Axness
  • My family of four moved from a starter home in suburban Florida into a fifth-wheel RV.
  • We had to be honest about what we actually needed, then downsized our belongings.

In January 2014, my wife and I had a 2-year-old daughter and a son on the way, a starter home in suburban Florida, two full-time jobs, and a few extra part-time gigs. But we were also dealing with two high-interest car loans and oodles of consumer debt.

So we enrolled in a debt-counseling program and, in two years, paid off everything except our house and one car. But around that time, I also got a neck injury while working as a firefighter and paramedic.

I'd enjoyed my career up until that point, but the idea of spending another 15 years in Florida, most likely in a desk position due to my injury, was of no interest to me.

Not long after, we put our house on the market and began researching more affordable living options. Then we purchased a used RV sight unseen.

Downsizing from our 1,700-square-foot home to less than a third of that space seemed like an impossible task. But somehow, we've made it work.


We set small, yet attainable goals

My family of 4 moved from a house to an RV. Here are 5 ways we make the most of our small space.
We had to dramatically downsize our belongings.Christian Axness

Once we sold our home, we were living in a friend's condo with most of our belongings in a storage unit.

But after the first night in our RV, we came to the stark realization that we were not minimalists. In my mind, there was no amount of Marie Kondo wizardry that could fit everything we needed into this home on wheels.

Debt counseling taught us about the "snowball effect" — pay off your smallest debt first, then the rest in order of size. This provides a solid strategy and small successes that motivate you to keep going for more dopamine.

We applied this same principle to reduce our material footprint. Item by item, we asked ourselves if our clutter was serving us or just taking up mental space.


Be honest with yourself about what you'll actually use

Even after we eventually got everything we needed (plus a few things we didn't) re-homed into our tiny space, we still wanted to keep downsizing.

For example, we hung all of our clothes on hangers facing the wrong direction and put something back the correct way whenever we wore it. We then considered donating anything that was still backward after a few weeks.

Our young kids didn't need too much in the way of toys, so we let our 4-year-old pick out her favorite things and used our best judgment for our 2-year-old — meaning, we kept his inflatable bounce house.

What better way to help our kids make friends than the sound of a bounce-house blower?

Condense your collections as much as possible

My family of 4 moved from a house to an RV. Here are 5 ways we make the most of our small space.
To downsize, my wife got an e-reader to download books.Christian Axness

On an RV, you're also limited by weight. Most fifth-wheel trailers have a cargo capacity of under 2,000 pounds.

A literal ton of belongings sounds like a lot, but weight quickly adds up. And even though we live in a camper, we're not camping — we're living.

So we kept our ceramic dishes and metal utensils but only four place settings, then swapped our glass cups for stainless-steel ones that would take the beating of life on the road.

A voracious reader, my wife kept hard copies of her favorite books and bought an e-reader to download the rest. And I sold most of my tools — other than the ones we'd need on the road— on Craigslist.

We found ways to make our specific space work for us

Once we downsized, we also had to organize.


Nothing is "standard-sized" in an RV — cabinets are all odd shapes and sizes — so we used bins, trays, and containers to fit these unique spaces.

We use the hollow space beneath the stairs leading to our bedroom and our children's bunk room for food storage.

Our mattress platform has hydraulic struts that lift the bed to reveal storage for bulky outerwear and extra bedding. Plus the receiver we had welded on the front or the. RV carries our bikes.

Six years later, we're still finding new ways to organize ourselves. Our growing children have ever-changing needs we adapt to, but having less leaves us with more mental space for what matters most.

Embrace the rule of get one, give one

My family of 4 moved from a house to an RV. Here are 5 ways we make the most of our small space.
Bumper stickers are a great alternative to typical souvenirs.Christian Axness

As we live and travel around North America, there are endless opportunities to collect souvenirs.

Even though we sometimes indulge, we live by one rule: If we bring something in, something has to go out.

It's not a perfect system — like the time our son wanted a Lego set and offered to donate his math curriculum — but it works well enough for us.

We've also learned that a few pictures and an inexpensive bumper sticker are all we need to remember some of our wildest destinations.