Downsizing for van life

One of the hardest parts of preparing to live in a van is deciding what to take (or what not to take). Kaitlin and I have been giving away or trying to sell a large portion of what we have collected over the years together. Below, I’ll detail all of the categories we deemed necessary for living a life on the road, which helped us determine what to get rid of or put in storage. This can be a long process that may drain you emotionally. Start now. We decided we wanted to move out of our apartment and gave ourselves 6 months to decide what to get rid of. I wish we had a full year to make some of the decisions.


This part can be painful for most. Realizing the closet keeping all of your clothing will be shrunken to a fraction of the size really makes you think about what is necessary. There were a lot of tips in determining what things to get rid of. We followed a couple rules to help us figure out what we had to keep.

  1. Has it been worn in the past year?
    If the answer here was ‘no’, we moved it into our guest bedroom. This didn’t only apply to clothing, but it was a good way to transition items out of it’s normal storage. If we found ourselves needing something from the guest room, it gave us a second chance to evaluate the item living in limbo. We called this our “maybe” pile.
  2. Does it fit?
    This may seem obvious, but we tried on some clothing again. If it fit, but we haven’t worn it. It went into our maybe pile. If it didn’t fit, it went into the donate/sell pile. Pretty easy decision there. The same thing applies to shoes.
  3. Would we buy it if we saw it now?
    A lot of the things we were wanting to hold on to was due to sentimental value. They were gifts given to us by family or friends. A lot of the time, the item was actually something I liked and wore frequently. But I was able to get rid of a few more things once I realized that the item itself doesn’t really represent my love for that person. If we don’t use the clothing, we don’t have a reason to take with us.
  4. Where will you keep your dirty laundry?
    All things we need to think about and plan ahead for.

Kitchen gear

Kaitlin and I both love food and cooking. This is a difficult thing to downsize, but probably one of the more important areas because cooking tools are famous for having a singular use. Some of the same rules we had defined for clothing applies here as well.

  1. Have we used it in the past year?
  2. Can we replace the item with a less-specialized item?
    As I mentioned, it can be challenging to determine if you need a kitchen item, or if it adds a minor level of convenience. A cheese slicer is nice to have, but a knife can do the same thing and is useful in more than just cutting the cheese.
  3. Do we need it for our favorite meals?
    We recently got a pretty nice gift of a cookbook with a bunch of clear sheet protectors for us to print and store our favorite recipes. We quickly filled it with 20-30 of our most used recipes. We then determined we would be using these recipes most often since they are our favorites, then used that as the basis to determine which kitchen items we actually needed to cook our favorite dishes. Not one of our recipes called for a zester and we owned 3.
  4. Does it fit into a ‘must-keep’ category?
    To make downsizing a little less traumatic, it’s important to decide up-front what you feel you can’t live without. For Kaitlin, this was some way to prepare her coffee. She has a little 5-cup coffee maker from Farberware that has truly served us well. It’s easy to use, wash, then stow away.
  5. Where are you going to store the food that you need to cook? How many days worth of food will you keep on hand?

What else?

We are trying to be as realistic as possible here. The living area of the van is 6′ × 12′, which gives us a total of 72ft². Additionally, we know we need to bring things we typically don’t store in a house or an apartment, drinking water for instance. We have picked out a 50 liter refrigerator so we are thinking we can have plenty of food when we combine with the dried and canned goods we can store.

Please let us know if you have any tips for how you approached this downsizing exercise before moving to a more nomadic way of living! We will update this post as we get closer to our goal and we think of new ways to determine what goes and what doesn’t 🙂

3 thoughts on “Downsizing for van life

  1. vince2day

    I guys, I’ve been searching for your posts as I’m away traveling. Hope things are coming along nicely?

    Must be hard make the choice of what to get rid off, it’s getting real once you give your stuff up.

    Take care Gaz

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the encouragement! I am currently writing a draft for wiring and (more) insulation!
      Things don’t always progress as quickly as I would like, and things that I have on my purchase list are constantly selling out, so I have to find substitutions. But half of the fun is figuring things out 🙂


      1. vince2day

        Keep positive matey it’s all part of the adventure. You’ll oneday look back on this and laugh . Enjoy my friend I’ll be watching 👍


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