Van Life: How to Declutter

Downsize. Minimize. Minimal. De-cluttering. For us, the process started years ago but recently we’ve taken it to new levels. Whatever you call it, DOING it can have lasting benefits. Van Life: How to Declutter

A photo of the inside of a travel trailer of someone who is downsizing their home.
The first step to decluttering is to lay everything out and do a visual assessment.

Maybe you have no plans to live in a van. Or you don’t even want to go cross-country on a road trip. That’s okay! Chances are though, this post might help you get rid of the extra stuff in your life and boost your happiness just a little.

Benefits to Decluttering:

It saves you time.

Let’s face it, when you own less stuff, it’s easier to find things. No more searching under ever cushion in the house to find your car keys. They’re right there, on the hook by the door where they’re supposed to be! And maybe even more importantly, a decluttered house takes less time to clean.

It saves you money.

Once your place is de-cluttered it might just make you think twice before you make a purchase. It has to REALLY make sense for you to buy something. And sometimes, your donations, depending on what the item is and who it’s going to can be a tax write-off.

And it might just boost your happiness!

A photo of a storage bin and clothes on their way to Goodwill.
Do you really need 5 pairs of running shoes?

If this sounds too good to be true, you’re just going to have to take our word for it. Or your partner’s. How many times have you heard someone say, “The house is finally clean and it feels so good!” For some people, less clutter and less mess can and does have a real impact on their happiness. Another side benefit that you might not realize is that when you give something away, it can feel really good.

Our decluttering process.

I was the person who still had trophies from that rec soccer team I played on in sixth grade. Yes, that’s me. Or was me, anyway.

Downsizing started a little over four years ago, though, when I sold my house. I went from about 1800 square feet to about half that. In the process of moving I got rid of a ton of stuff that was just weighing me down. The summer I road tripped across the country by myself really solidified the idea that I actually needed less stuff than I thought I did. What was in the back of my hatchback was enough and I didn’t really want for more.

A photo of kitchen spices and oils in a clothes basket.
It’s a little odd to see your kitchen in a clothes bin.

Fast forward to the present day. When we moved in together and combined our lives we had to make room for each other. Again, decluttering. Now we’re minimizing our life even more so that we can do van life. Part of our plan is to rent out our house which is great but it means we have to get rid of even more stuff. Because who wants to live in a place with someone else’s clothes in the closet. Again did the Goodwill dance.

We’re nearly there. And here’s how we did it.

Our Top Tips on How To Declutter:

  1. Assess the situation

    If you want to make any sort of change, you’ve got to first figure out what you’re working with. Don’t worry, there’s no shame in what you’ve got in your house or in your closet. Accumulating things over a lifetime is pretty common. Try not to shame yourself and just look at the situation realistically.

  2. Devise a Plan

    Once you know what you’re working with, it’s time to come up with a plan. For some of us it might mean getting a roll-off dumpster delivered to our house and for others it might mean a few trips to the nearest donation center and you’re good to go. Again, refrain from judging yourself and be proud of the fact that you’re making a step in the right direction.

  3. Start Small

    This is often the most difficult part of downsizing. For one, how do you know where to begin? It’s hard! We suggest starting with something small. Pick one item that you can bear to part with and start there. And then another and another and another. Before you know it you’ll be on a roll.

  4. Sort and sort again

    If it’s easiest to start with things that you want to keep and things that you don’t, that’s a good start. Once you have a good number of things that you no longer want to keep, then you can begin to sort them into different piles. Perhaps some of it can be sold to a second-hand gear shop, some of it goes straight into the garbage and some if it can be recycled or given away. The name of the game though is less stuff so just keep that in min and sort, sort, sort!

  5. Enlist the help of a partner or a friend.

    Some people might find this one actually really UN-helpful. For example, if the person you’ve picked to help you rolls their eyes at the things you want to keep, you might just be better off alone making those decisions. But a good partner or friend might just be the ticket to helping you weed through some of your thing in a helpful way by reminding you that you haven’t worn that sweater since the 90’s and you probably never will.

  6. Check in on your progress!

    Sometimes seeing how far you have come can be motivating! When you realize how much stuff you have parted with it might just fuel your desire to keep going.

Caroline Whatley holding an armful of clothes that will be donated in an effort to downsize.
The first of many trips to the Goodwill donation center in Asheville.

Additional Decluttering Resources

Van Life: How to Declutter RecapSaveSave

Want to see how others are decluttering and how to downsize to a smaller space? Check out this Redfin article that we were recently feature in.

We would love to know your thoughts on how do downsize and declutter your life. What tips would you recommend for helping us take it to the next step? If you struggle with getting rid of things, what is the number one thing you can’t part with?

Please leave your comments below!

Erin McGrady and Caroline Whatley are travel writers, photographers and the authors of Authentic Asheville.

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Published by Erin McGrady

Erin McGrady is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer exploring Asheville and beyond. My work focuses on sharing about LGBTQ safe spaces, camper van life, and the outdoors.

23 thoughts on “Van Life: How to Declutter

      1. Last fall we moved to an amazing neighborhood, but the new place was only 680 sf, so it was a huge purge. You’re right, too, that once you do it, you think long and hard before every purchase.

      2. Sounds like the compromise of getting rid of stuff was worth it if the neighborhood is awesome. Could you live in anything smaller or is that the limit for you?

      3. I think we could. Even at 680 sf, it’s a 2 bedroom and we only use the second room for guests. I also dream of living on the road, but that is probably a little ways off for us 🙂

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