Downsizing Decisions for Beginners

Moving is a significant stress factor in anyone’s life, but moving into a smaller space adds the daunting task of getting rid of lots of stuff. There are many decisions to be made and downsizing can be overwhelming. Richard and I have done this four times in the last twenty years, each move into smaller homes. It isn’t easy, and lots of emotions come into play.

Take pictures of sentimental items when downsizing.
Taking pictures of sentimental items help when rehoming things. (Ceramic wall hanging made by my mom in the 1960s.)

I had to develop ways to rationalize what I would or wouldn’t keep and ways to help ignore the guilt associated with items from people I love. These are some questions that would run through my mind as I plowed through cabinets, closets, basements, and attics.

      • Do I use it?
      • When was the last time I used it?
      • Will I use it again?
      • Are there duplicates?
      • Is there something else I have that can serve the same purpose?
      • Is there room for it?

But there is another critical question that is missing from my list.


About twenty-five years ago, I bought a small plate rack for our kitchen wall. I’d been collecting hand-painted plates and needed more display space. The dishes and rack survived our initial downsizing back in Massachusetts.  Over time, I stopped collecting them. When we decided to make our big move to Virginia, I sold the dishes on eBay and no longer had any need for the rack. I put it into the donate pile and hadn’t given it another thought in all these years—until last spring.

We have a small storage shed at the front of our RV and a stark white wall faced drivers coming down the road. I wanted to make it more attractive for our little neighborhood. At the time, the home stores were selling annual spring flowers, and I thought some of them would brighten that bare space. When I mentioned this to Richard, he said, “Maybe you can do something with that plate rack I have in the shed.”

What plate rack?

I Like It

Since moving to Virginia, we’ve done two additional downsizings, the last one being quite significant—into about 300 square feet. I had no idea that the plate rack had left Massachusettes with us and that it had made it onto Richard’s “keep it” pile each time we subsequently moved. He’d been storing it in the garage.

“Why?” I asked. “I like it,” he responded.

Who knew? I was pleased to see it again, and Richard had been right—it was perfect.

A Little Repurposing

As I have mentioned elsewhere, being more environmentally conscious has become a high priority since moving into our RV full time. Repurposing that plate rack felt good.

Plastic food container repurposed

What didn’t feel good was that I’d purchased precut veggies that came in a plastic container. I felt obliged to reuse it somehow and had stuck it in a cabinet—taking up valuable storage space. It occurred to me to cut it up and use the individual compartments as small pots. I was then able to squeeze them into the plate rack. After a quick trip to buy some annuals, the shed wall was no longer an eyesore to the neighbors.

Repurposed plate holder


No Perfect Decisions

I was raised by a father who readily admits that he has trouble making decisions. But I must have taken after my mother, someone more willing to decide matters. In my world, a wrong decision is better than no decision at all. And downsizing is not for the indecisive.

But what’s the worse that can happen? You can always replace stuff you’ve decided not to drag along, and maybe you’ll find something better. And by the way, perhaps it is okay to keep something just because you like it.

Living in an RV During Hurricane Season

In June, we started our first hurricane season since moving full-time into the RV. Watching the daily weather for wind speed became a habit soon after we began our life on Muddy Creek. South or southeast winds above twelve miles an hour mean there is a possibility we’ll be sloshing about in knee-high rubber boots. Flooding is not unusual here. But since June, any sign of a tropical storm took on extra ominous meaning than ever before in our lives. We‘d entered hurricane season.

As Hurricane Isaias Approached

It wasn’t until August that we had our first scare. Two weeks ago, a tropical storm started turning into Hurricane Isaias. As it approached, I increasingly looked for guidance on google as to how to best prepare for storms while living in an RV. “Simply don’t camp in the southeast or coastal areas during hurricane season!” Well, that’s helpful, I sarcastically thought. Advice on how to find the safest location and at what angle to park the RV was also not helpful. We don’t tow our 5th-wheel, nor do we even have a vehicle powerful enough to move it.

I learned that our rig could withstand winds of up to 53 mph, broadside, without tipping over. It could also withstand higher speeds if struck from the front. Designers of RVs know strong winds will pound them as they are pulled along highways and thus design for it.

We’re lucky that on each side of us, there are other big RVs to buffer us from some of the broadside wind. But several nearby trees were worrying me. What if they come down on us, and how much force can the roof handle? I wouldn’t say I liked anything I read about this topic on the web.

When Do You Leave?

When we decided to become full-time RVers, we assumed we’d move into a hotel when bad storms were on their way to Virginia Beach. A friend has lived here, in a mobile home, for forty years, and that is what she does; she’s done it several times in the eleven years I’ve known her.

Fish TankBut when do you decide that the time has come? I discovered it wasn’t easy to pack up and abandon our little home. After downsizing so much, the possessions we cared about most were with us in the RV. There were the urns of all our dogs, favorite pieces of pottery, plants that have survived for over a dozen years, and a small collection of books.

Anyplace we chose to go would have to take pets, and I retrieved Chumlee’s crate from the storage unit. But what about the fish—the thought of leaving them bothered me. If there’s no power and we’re not here to start the generator, how long could they last in the tank without filtration, heat, and food? Yes, they’re only fish, but even fish feel pain and suffer. Richard thought I was silly to worry.

Getting Ready for the Wind

Rubber Boots at DoorForecasters predicted that the storm would hit us the hardest in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The highest wind speed I saw was forecast to be 55 mph. On Sunday, we got everything outside the RV put away, or latched down.

Midday Monday, we decided to ride it out; so did several neighbors. (I’d checked with my friend and she’d also decided to stay in her home.) The transient campers left the campground. We all moved our cars to the highest ground available to protect them from flooding that would undoubtedly occur. The generator was filled with gas and prepared to do its thing. Our tall rubber boots stood near the door. We had food, water, coffee, and beer. We were ready!

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

Wind Brought in Water to Surround RVI slept through most of it! By late Tuesday morning the sun was shining. As expected, the waters of Muddy Creek surrounded the RV and flooded the roads. The high winds continued for much of the day, bringing in more water to glisten in the sunshine.

Much of Virginia Beach lost power, some for over 24 hours.  We were in that group. What I hadn’t expected was the loss of tap water. The pump for the campground’s well had no power until Wednesday.

It was a very hot, humid day, and we didn’t run the AC in order to conserve gas in the generator. Despite the miserable heat and lack of running water, I was glad we had decided to stay. Our fish agreed.

Houseplants & Full-Time RV Life

I’ve always surrounded myself with lots of houseplants. For me, a house doesn’t feel like a home without them. I grew up in a house full of them. My mother could always find a spot for just one more. Last summer, my brother repotted one of my mother’s only remaining houseplants, a philodendron. He’d discovered my father had continued to care for it these last 25 years after her death. It was looking a little sickly but considering its age, not too bad. It’s now living in a senior facility – along with Dad.

Sixteen years ago as we prepared to leave Massachusetts to head south, I had a “plant adoption brunch.” Anyone attending had to take a plant with them as they went. Years later, I continued to get updates on some of them. I did have plants that traveled with us to Virginia, and they tagged along in our RV as we explored the country for several months. While driving, they sat in the bathtub; at a campsite, they sat up on the dash.

Since then, my collection of plants has grown and this time adoption was not an option.

Downsizing with My Plants

As we became full-time RVers, I planned on bringing all my plants with us. Downsize was not a word I would apply to my plants. But when there is greenery spread about 1,250 square feet, it’s not until you bring it all together into one spot that you realize how much space they all take up. Being generous, we have about 300 square feet in the RV, so I knew I had a problem. I eventually conceded that some of my indoor plants were going to have to become outdoor plants.

houseplantsI used the USDA plant hardiness zone guide to pick a few I thought could live out there safely. Southeastern Virginia is zone 8a, so if necessary, the aloe plants could stay outside. But being one of my favorites, I wanted them inside with me. Other favorites, like the jade and snake plants, had become very large over the years, and there was just no spot big enough for them. But the winters here can get a little too cold, and it was a risk. I felt like a mother bird pushing them out of the nest.

Shelter in the Cold

RV Life - greenhouseFor about three months, I carefully watched the weather reports for falling temperatures. I thought I might have to get into the habit of dragging them all inside at night. But I was lucky that the early winter months were mild long enough to figure out that we needed to get a greenhouse. A small ceramic heater made sure the plants were safe from the cold.

Hens & Chicks HousplantThey seemed to thrive in the greenhouse, especially the hens and chicks. I get my love for plants, if not talent, from both sides of the family. My earliest memories of visiting my grandmother were seeing these pretty little, spikey plants along the rock wall leading to her door. I was fascinated by them. I bought one a couple years ago after learning that I could keep it as a houseplant. It has since produced many chicks that have themselves become hens.

Loving the RV Life

Thanksgiving CactusThose plants that remained inside have also thrived. The RV has light filling the main room from windows on three sides. An orchid that in twelve years never produced more than three flowers is currently showing nine flowers from its thirteen buds. The Thanksgiving cactus, which sits on the corner of the desk, has had its second bloom in five months. And one of the small snake plants now living inside could become large enough to get pushed out of the nest by fall.