Organizing Your Small RV
A small RV, no matter which brand you purchase, requires a bit of organization and restraint. We knew when we bought a 25-foot Leisure Travel Van that storage space would be minimal. No giant exterior storage bays or full-sized kitchen cabinets in these models. RVs in this category are meant for traveling light.
After two years of travel in a small RV, often for weeks on end, we've learned quite a bit about packing light and organizing our small RV's space. Early on, we measured every storage space in the RV and assigned items to each area. Some things, like dishes and cooking utensils have permanent packing spots while "extras" like crafting supplies and games change spots from trip to trip. So, every trip begins with a detailed packing list and assigning each item a space in the RV.
Everything you take should have a storage space that keeps it off the floor, out of view, and within reach. Keep your aisles and countertops clear. After using it, put it away. An uncluttered RV feels more spacious - that's especially important in a small RV!
Resist the temptation to over-stuff a cabinet. Cargo shifts in transit and a stuffed cabinet is likely to empty its contents all over you when you open its door! That holds true for both exterior and interior storage spaces.
RV Exterior Storage Tips
Consider renting it instead of bringing it - Bringing along bikes, kayaks, and camping gear is kind of a "given" when we travel. Fitting all of that gear into the exterior storage bins is like putting together a puzzle! Sometimes we can't fit all of the gear we need for the activities we've planned. A simple solution is to rent equipment. Most resort areas and parks have bike and kayak rentals available. We consider how often we'll use our equipment and, if there is only one opportunity to kayak, we might leave ours at home and just rent kayaks at our destination.
Assign contents to every exterior storage space - Think about items you will want to access frequently and put them nearest the door. We pack the storage bin near the side entry with our induction burner, dutch oven, and any extra canned or paper goods. One bin near the back holds Jim's tools and work boots. We have a tall storage compartment that can handle our inflatable kayaks, paddles, life vests, camp chairs, a rack for RV maintenance stuff, and/or a canopy. Two bins on the driver's side of the RV hold the equipment for leveling, water hose, electrical cord, and camping gear. A rack for bikes can be installed on the hitch in back.
RV Interior Storage Tips
Use a cooler to supplement RV food storage space - RVs have small fridge/freezer units. To make the most of your small fridge, bring along a cooler to store soda, milk, beer, wine, and juice. That frees up space in the fridge. The cooler can pull double duty acting as a center console between the front seats, an ottoman when watching TV, or take it outside and use it as a table when barbecuing.
Make the most of an RV's limited freezer space - Prepare pre-cooked meats or meals in portion-sized zip bags and freeze flat. That flat shape makes them easier to stack in the RV freezer rather than using bulky boxes or plastic ware.
Take pantry basics and shop frequently - For most trips, we stock the pantry with non-perishable basics, then plan meals two or three days at a time shopping locally for what we need. This keeps fresh food fresher and minimizes clutter in the cabinets. It also allows us to take advantage of local specialties like fresh seafood or farmer's markets.
Ditch the disposables when RVing - Don't use paper plates or cups when you RV. It creates a bag of trash for every meal! Instead, invested in a set of unbreakable china (like Corelle), and high quality, unbreakable glassware. Purchase a set of regular flatware so you don't have to use plastic. We also invested in a set of thermal wine cups. They are unbreakable, keep the wine cool, and even come with "sippy" lids to prevent spills. All of this easily stores in a cabinet above the kitchen sink along with a french press coffee maker, a couple of small baking dishes, and travel coffee mugs with lids.
Keep RV cookware simple - As for pots and pans, we use an induction burner for most meals so we purchased steel pots and pans that can be used on the induction burner or the propane stove. A set of 3 pans and a couple of pots seem to be adequate for RV cooking. A few cutting boards, a set of good knives, and all the typical kitchen utensils, pot holders, plastic wrap, and foil tuck into the drawers under the stove.
RV bathroom storage helpers - In the bath, storage can differ greatly from RV to RV. Plan on an "over-the-door" organizer if you don't have much storage space. Even if the RV bathroom door doesn't accommodate an organizer you can attach it to a towel bar or tack it onto a wall. An "in-shower" rack can add to the capacity of a small bathroom. In fact, the shower is a great temporary storage space for almost anything.
Adjust your RV storage space for each trip - Our RV kitchen counter has an insert for a small trash can we rarely use. For longer trips, we needed a place for a set of chef's knives. So, we traced the trash can lid and made a knife block insert for the hole in the countertop. For short trips, the trash can insert is fine. For longer adventures, we put in the knife block.
Packing clothing can be a bit of a challenge. Our RV closet is adequate for short trips, but for extended travel, we modify the RV closet to accommodate more clothing. We take out the hanging rod and add a third shelf constructed of plywood and supported by PVC pipe. We can fold and stack a lot more clothing on shelves. Use plastic storage containers to keep everything organized.
Are you a bit surprised by how “small” your small-RV gets when it’s time to pack? We can help with our Small-RV Organization cheat sheet! LEARN MORE
Try a capsule wardrobe - Even with the extra shelf for clothing, space is limited. I found using a capsule wardrobe concept keeps the number of clothing pieces to a minimum. Adding just a few items to the basic collection makes a big difference in the number of outfits you can create. You can add a dressier outfit for a night on the town but a casual wardrobe works best for travel, sightseeing, and camping.
Building a capsule wardrobe often means addressing just one season. When we found ourselves planning a trip from Key West to Maine, traveling from warm to cool climates, the capsule wardrobe concept had to expand. Bringing along coats, sweaters, and heavier bedding required us to find a better packing solution.
Compress bulky items into zip bags - We like "space bags". Fill up these zip-top bags and compress out the air. They squash down lots of heavier fabrics compressing them into neat, flat packages that are waterproof and easy to store. We keep extra blankets, towels, and bulky clothes in space bags then store them in the top of the wardrobe or in an exterior compartment. They also work perfectly for storing bed pillows.
Don't forget the fun stuff - Even though a small RV has limited storage, it doesn't mean you can't bring along games, office stuff, or musical instruments. We have a simple rule of thumb for taking additional items. It has to have a place to "live" in the RV or we don't bring it along. The uke and guitar store in a nook behind the driver's seat with a bungee cord to secure them. Laptops and DVD movies fit into an overhead compartment. Books and craft supplies fit into a drawer under the dinette. We change out the "extras" depending on the trip but we always assign each item a packing spot.
If you're just beginning the "small quest" you might start by adjusting your perception of what you really need to take along. Most small RVs have open floor plans that make them feel more spacious. When you load that space with a lot of extra stuff it can begin to feel claustrophobic. Before you pack an item, ask yourself if you will actually use it. Your RV is your vacation home and its small footprint provides an opportunity to try downsizing. You may even find yourself clearing out the "excess" in your house!