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how to downsize from a house to an RV

How to Downsize from a House to an RV

May 31, 2020

It’s been forever since I have written. The truth is, selling my house and getting my RV packed turned into a full-time job. And it left me exhausted. This is my fourth morning waking up in a campground and the cumulative effects of the work and transition have left me ragged. Here are some tips if you’re thinking of trading in a house for an RV.

Tip 1: Start Early!

I put my house on the market on January 15. Then a little something called COVID-19 entered our lives. The housing market came to a halt, as sellers and buyers became weary of contact with strangers. I closed on the sale of the house on May 27. While I had sufficient time between the listing and the sale, so much took place over the last month that moving became a full-time job. My best advice is to START EARLY!

But before I jump into selling the house, what about the RV? Do you need cash from the sale of your house to buy an RV? Or can you get a loan or find another source of funds? If you have a steady income and a decent credit score, you may qualify for a loan. But if you have your own business with variable income, like me, securing an RV loan might not be possible. I chose to pull funds from my Roth IRA contributions (you can pull from your contributions before the age of 59-1/2 without being taxed or penalized) to buy a used RV. The alternative is to sell your house, find temporary housing, and then buy the RV. Either way, consider your ideal timing.

Now let’s get back to the house. Expect the unexpected. The sale may go quickly and smoothly, or not. And the market value may suddenly drop, due to things like a pandemic! I ended up putting a ton of work into the house, especially after the first contract fell through – painting rooms and shutters, replacing bathroom flooring and a door, securing roof shingles, caulking windows. Just when you think things are in ship-shape, another home inspector comes along and finds more things for you to fix. While everything is negotiable, you may end up doing more than you intended to close the sale. This all takes a lot more time than you think – even if you hire a contractor. START EARLY!

In hindsight, the one thing I should have done when I listed the house was turn my walls into boring “vanilla” walls. I like paint, colors, and murals – I even painted doors and ceilings (check out my castle room). My realtor assured me that most people can see beyond the paint and advised me to save the effort. She was wrong. Once comments started coming in, I spent frantic days painting over ceilings, doors, and walls. It’s those cosmetics that can be the big detractor to prospective buyers.

Tip 2: Sort, Trash, and Sell

The minute you decide to sell your house, start going through your things. A good place to start is deciding what items you simply MUST take with you. One you’ve set aside the “must haves,” it’s time to open those closets and dresser drawers. You might be surprised by how much stuff you’ve accumulated. Don’t forget to see what lurks in the dark recesses of your kitchen cabinets – I found THREE turkey roasters!

Take one room at a time. And expect to go through your things several times – especially your clothing. Once you’ve emptied out one room use that as your home base for organizing your stuff into four piles:

  1. RV
  2. Donate or Junk
  3. Sell
  4. Store

Streamline your RV Pile

Confession: I am a new RVer. This is my first RV and it took a lot of trial and error to streamline my possessions.

Here’s why it’s ideal to have your RV before you sell you house – you’ll know what fits and what doesn’t. A tape measure becomes your best friend. For example, I know that the cabinets in the main living area of my coach have a 6.5″ clearance. That alone limited what could fit into the RV. You can anticipate that some items in the RV pile will end up in the donations or sell piles and you may keep Amazon busy purchasing storage items. The key word for RV storage: COLLAPSIBLE. Switch out those metal mixing bowls for collapsible bowls.

Donate or Junk It

While your RV pile gets smaller, your donations and junk pile may get bigger. I gave some items away to friends and family. And because the pandemic closed down many of the local charity donation sites, I posted a number of things for FREE on Facebook marketplace. And it didn’t seem to matter what it was – people jumped on the free stuff. I gave away ladders, old TVs that I had pulled from the RV, lawn ornaments, and more.

But before you jump on the donation wagon, make sure your stuff is worthy of donation. If it doesn’t work, is torn or stained, or simply falling apart, it’s junk. Dispose of it properly.

Sell your Stuff

I had a positive experience using Facebook Marketplace to sell things like electronics, craft supplies, tools, and storage cubes. I had less success selling my furniture. I found a local consignment shop who agreed to take much of my furniture – they donate what they can’t sell. Even though I started early, there were several items that didn’t sell, like a printer and brand new printer cartridge. The marketplace is quirky. Some things sell fast; others don’t sell at all.

Store it as a Last Resort

One of the big questions for full-time RVers is whether to put items into storage. Ask yourself:

  • Are there irreplaceable items that you would feel bad about letting go?
  • Do you plan to return to living in a house in the next five years and want to keep most of your belongings?
  • What will you be paying in storage fees? Is it worth it to you?

I chose not to keep any of my furniture and I sent a few small boxes of photo albums, tax documents, and sentimental items to my family for storage. The only thing I felt reluctant to part with was a hand-painted table and chair set. In the end, I let it go to consignment. One day, if I settle into a house again, I may recreate the effort.

Tip 3: Recruit Help!

I emptied and cleaned my house all by myself. If you can recruit help, do it! Try to get your things out early so that you can hire a cleaner to get your house nice and shiny. Or ask friends and family to help with specific tasks – like cleaning out the garage (not fun). I didn’t ask for help for two reasons. First, I felt I had everything under control (I did, but it left me exhausted). Second, the coronavirus was a real threat and I did not want to expose myself or my friends to close contact. So I felt like I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. But if you can get help, take it.

Tip 4: Think about your RV Lifestyle

If you are new to RVing, expect to repack and reorganize your RV a dozen times, and even then, you’ll feel like it’s not quite finished. I spent a ton of time getting my RV ready, and even now I feel like I may have overpacked. After a month or two, I’ll probably toss a few more things aside and assess the situation. The key to getting your RV packed is to think about your lifestyle. Here are some questions that might help you with the process.

  • Are you RVing with pets? You’ll need to set aside space for pet food, supplies, and an emergency kit. It will take up more space than you anticipate.
  • Will you have an active lifestyle? Or do you plan on hanging around the clubhouse chatting with friends? Prioritize your clothing accordingly. You might need one nice outfit and the rest of the time, you’ll be in shorts and t-shirts. It’s perfectly fine to fill up your drawers with t-shirts.
  • Do you need to be prepared for cold weather? Or will you be chasing the sun? For sure you’ll hit chilly nights here and there, so pack a couple of your favorite fleece jackets and long pants. But don’t overdo it.
  • Will you have a tow vehicle – either pulling a camper behind you or pulling a car behind your motorhome? Use your tow vehicle to store some of the bulkier items, like a bicycle, tent, and camping chairs.
  • How much cooking do you plan to do? And what kind? Will you need a grill? How frequently will you be able to get to a grocery store or farmer’s market?
  • Do you plan to spend time in campgrounds where you’ll have electricity, sewer, and water? Or are you a boondocker who likes remote lands? Will you have solar panels? Think about the energy consumption of the items you plan to take with you.

Once you’ve envisioned your new RV life and started packing, it’s time to organize. You’ll need some storage bins and containers to hold all your things. While it’s pretty easy to put your kitchen items in one place, you’ll likely have an assortment of things that don’t seem to belong anywhere. And once you’ve crammed a bunch of stuff into your bins, you want to be able to find them again! I’m still searching for a couple of things in my RV that I’m sure are here – somewhere. So get yourself organized.

Grab every storage opportunity in your RV. For example, I have back seat organizers (affiliate link) in my RV. That’s a great place to store things I use frequently or I may need in an emergency, like water bottles, umbrellas, flashlights, bug spray, and cat vaccination records. Be creative as you stow your things in the RV.

Tip 5: Have a Grab-and-Go Bag

Pack a grab-and-go bag! Why? Because things happen. Maybe bad weather forces you to hightail out of the campground in your tow vehicle. Or your motorhome malfunctions and ends up in the repair shop for a week. You may need to move fast, and the last thing you want to do is throw things into plastic bags, hoping you have what you need. So put aside a small suitcase and fill it with the things you may need. Here’s what’s in my suitcase:

  • Cat food container with food/water bowls
  • Bottles of water
  • Flashlight
  • Poncho
  • Pajamas
  • Underwear and socks
  • Shorts and a pair of pants
  • T-shirts and fleece jacket
  • Cosmetic bag of necessities

In addition to a grab-and-go bag, make sure you have a safe place for your important documents, like passports and social security card. Consider getting a small safe or lock box (affiliate link) that can be bolted or affixed in one of your closets. Keep everything you may need in a plastic bag so if the time comes, you can reach into your safe and grab the bag to take with you.

Have Fun!

The goal of moving from a house to an RV is to have fun. Once you’ve downsized, take some time to chill. You may be exhausted, physically and emotionally. Don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time. You’ll tweak your system as you gain experience on your new adventure. Have fun!

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Dr. Brenda

Dr. Brenda is a sociologist, financial coach, and full-time RVer. Her offerings include the Gutsy Women Finance community, the Financial Freedom Academy, and Financial Freedom for Women Workshops.

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