Downsizing Your Home? Here’s How I Went From A 2,000 Square Foot House To An RV

Downsizing your home can be a big process. And, less and less people seem to be doing it these days. The average home size in 1950 was less than 1,000 square feet. Fast forward to 2013, the average home size has increased to nearly 2,600 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. We were…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: September 13, 2023

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Downsizing your home can be a big process. And, less and less people seem to be doing it these days.

Downsizing Your Home How I Moved Into An RV From a 2K sqft HomeThe average home size in 1950 was less than 1,000 square feet. Fast forward to 2013, the average home size has increased to nearly 2,600 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

We were fairly close to this size when we owned a house. The house we owned in the St. Louis, Missouri area was around 2,500 square feet if you included our finished basement, and it was just for myself, my husband, and our two dogs. Our home in Colorado was almost as big, at slightly over 2,000 square feet (with no basement).

More and more people seem to be purchasing large homes, but that’s not the case for us. We sold our home last year and moved into an RV.

We made this decision for many reasons, but the main reason was that traveling nearly full-time added to the stress of owning a home. So, we figured why not just take it a step further and actually travel full-time?

Related:

So, we did it. We went through all of our possessions, stored certain belongings that we couldn’t part with (we have a VERY small storage unit, the size of a closet, filled mainly with hundreds of photo albums that my dad left me after he passed away, family paintings, childhood mementos, etc.), and moved into our RV.

It wasn’t the easiest task on earth, and really we dreaded all of the work that had to be done. However, we knew it was well worth it to live the life we wanted.

And, it was! We are so glad that we decided to downsize our home. We haven’t regretted the decision one bit, and now we are happier than ever.

There are many other reasons for downsizing your home:

  • To save money. A bigger home can cost more in some cases due to higher utility bills, more clutter being bought, higher insurance, more maintenance and repairs needed, higher purchasing price, etc.
  • To have less clutter. The bigger your home, the more likely you’ll have empty rooms that you feel the need to put stuff in. Now that we live in an RV, we are much more mindful of what we buy. We think about every purchase in terms of weight, size, where we can store it, and more.
  • To spend less time on maintenance and repairs. If all other factors between two homes are the same (age, location, etc.), a bigger home is more likely to take up more of your time due to more things breaking.
  • To spend less time cleaning. A larger home is going to take a lot more time to clean than a smaller one.

Whatever your reason may be for downsizing your home, here are my tips. Of course, certain downsizes may be easier than others, but overall the tips below can help you sort through your items.

Tips for downsizing your home:

Make a plan for downsizing your home.

Downsizing your home can seem like an easy task to some, but in reality it is not. There are many things that go into downsizing your home, such as:

  • The layout and amount of space in your new home.
  • The time you have to downsize your home can impact your sorting process, stress, etc.
  • How you will donate, sell, or throw away items to get rid of.
  • How and what you determine to keep, donate, or throw away.

What do you think you just cannot get rid of?

To start off, you should make a list of all the items you believe you just cannot part with. Your list may start out long, but it will help you decide what items you don’t need and should get rid of.

What can you easily get rid of?

If you have the time, then you may want to start getting rid of things that you know you don’t need as soon as you can. By doing this, you can clear a lot of clutter and it will also help you realize that you may not need other items you once thought you needed.

Usually getting rid of the first few items is the hardest. After that, it gets easier to downsize your home!

Think about why you want to keep certain items.

Many people have a hard time parting with things for reasons such as:

  • Memories
  • How much money they spent on it
  • The length of time that they’ve held onto it
  • The potential for future use

If you just don’t have the room in your new home, you should really dig deep and figure out why you believe you need to keep so many items. Talk about your reasoning with your family or out loud to fully grasp it. Doing so may help you realize how ridiculous your logic may be.

Sometimes, you may laugh at your reasoning, and this may help you get rid of an item more easily.

Find ways to store documents digitally.

For me, I just couldn’t bring myself to store my dad’s photo albums digitally, even though numerous people have told me to scan them and throw them away. The memory is in the actual photo albums as well as the photos, as my dad loved photography and we would often put the photo albums together as a fun project.

However, there are many other non sentimental things that you can store digitally. This includes tax information, receipts, paper documents, and so on.

The average person has thousands of papers that they store!

Paper is a big reason for clutter, and so many people keep items that they don’t need. Go through your documents and start either digitally storing them or recycling them.

We kept just one binder of papers and scanned the rest. It was very easy to do, and getting rid of all of that paper felt amazing.

Give yourself time.

Going through your whole house and downsizing your home in one day would be quite difficult and stressful. Instead, you should give yourself time to really think about what you do and don’t need.

This means that you may want to take a few days, weeks, or even months to go through your home.

Start off room by room and see what you can get rid of. Then, when you are done doing that, go through everything again and again until you are down to the amount of items you need to have. By doing this process, you will clearly see what you need and do not need, because you will be able to see how much you have, evaluate items more clearly, apply past reasoning to other items you think you can’t get rid of, and so on.

Create a donation list.

Donating items makes getting rid of things and downsizing your home a little easier. By knowing that your items will be better used by someone who actually needs them, you are giving your stuff new life! If you have a large amount to donate, many donation centers will even come to your home, which can make getting rid of items a breeze.

Plus, you’ll feel great about it.

Related: 58 Random Acts Of Kindness

Think about when the last time was that you used an item.

Many people keep items that they hardly use or have never used, yet keep and store them anyways.

If you want to start downsizing your home, you should think about the last time you used a specific item.

For me, this is a big reason for why it was so easy to get rid of so many things. I just sat down, created a list, and thought about the last time I used a certain item. For many things, it seemed like years had passed since I had actually used that item. For some things, I knew I didn’t actually need to use them when I thought I did.

So, you should do the same. Think about when you last used an item, if you will ever use it in the future, if you’re better off just renting or borrowing something you occasionally use, and so on.

Related: How To Live On One Income

Get rid of the “maybes.”

If you have no space for items in your new home, but you still have a huge pile of things that you want to take with you, you may want to think about just completely getting rid of your “maybe” pile.

After all, these are “maybes” and you probably don’t want them as badly as you think! This can make downsizing your home much easier in one swoop of a decision.

Carefully evaluate future purchases.

So that you are less likely to have as much clutter in the future, you should evaluate future items before you buy them.

You should think long and hard about whether you truly need something, whether you should buy, borrow, or rent it if you won’t need it in the future, and think about where the item will be stored in your home.

We do this now that we live in an RV. We think about every purchase in terms of weight, size, where we can store it, and more. This has helped prevent us from buying many items because we know it’s not realistic to bring everything into an RV.

How big is your home? Is downsizing your home something you are interested in?


Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Great suggestions Michelle!

    I’m not really looking to downsize as I’m already living in a two bedroom cottage, but what’s worked best for me in the past is asking the question: if my house burned to the ground, would I want to replace this [whatever it is]?

    I asked myself that question a lot when I was trying to reduce my contents insurance. Turns out, there are very few things I’d actively replace if my house burned down (which I hope it never does!).

    I don’t understand the desire for a large home, the cleaning alone puts me off!

    Happy RVing!

    1. That is a great question to ask yourself!

  2. Marguerite

    the first comment resonated with me – I used to ask “if I moved tomorrow, would this come along” which can be misleading – I replaced it with “would I replace it if the house burned down” which makes it a lot easier to decide

  3. Aliyyah @RichAndHappyBlog

    I currently live in a large one bedroom apartment. You are definitely right that more space means more clutter and more time cleaning. There are pros and cons to living in a big space. For example, living in a bigger space makes it easier to host guests. I think both a small space and a large space would work for most people. Living in a bigger space just comes with sacrifices.

  4. We haven’t wanted to downsize since we’ve been growing our family, but I think some of this applies to anyone. Your tip to get rid of the maybe pile is really good. I struggle with this one, especially as it relates to my kids’ toys and other things that aren’t just for me. But I really don’t miss any of the things I’ve gotten rid of in the past, and I’m sure the same is true of the maybe pile.

  5. I think it’s great you have downsized your life. It’s amazing how much crap we have that we don’t really need!

    1. Thanks! It’s great πŸ™‚

  6. Great suggestions Michelle! It would be so awesome to downsize, but it would also be so hard to give up a home base. Something I’ve been thinking about is building a tiny house. Perhaps if I built it myself, it would be easier to give up the luxury of living in a full-sized house!

  7. Apathy Ends

    We recently started doing a 30 day challenge to de-clutter our house, ends up with removing over 450 items from your house.

    The sad part – it probably won’t be that difficult.

    1. Awesome! How much have you removed so far?

  8. Great Suggestion, Michelle! πŸ™‚ Storing documents digitally is a great way to de-clutter a house! I am going to try that this weekend because I have a TON of documents (papers) stored around my house!

  9. I have the opposite problem. We are outgrowing out 2-bedroom apartment and need a bigger place. I still need to get rid of a ton of clutter though constantly in order to make it comfortable and it helps a lot because there’s less to clean/organize.

    1. Do you plan on getting something bigger soon?

      1. That’s the issue because at first I didn’t mind the thought of staying where we’re at for a few more years which would be the reality if I left my job to freelance this summer (my original plan) but then I realize if I stick around for a bit we can purchase a starter house and I won’t have to jump through hoops to get a mortgage. I would rather not rent a house because it’s too high in my area. Either way, I’m sure we’d be happy but it’s a pressing decision that’s been on my mind for a bit.

        1. You’re still doing both?! Girl, I don’t know how you do it all!

  10. Kathy

    As empty nesters we downsized from a house on 5 acres in the country to a duplex in town. We got rid of a ton of stuff. Then we decided we had downsized too much in terms of living space – not land space – and proceeded to build the biggest house we’ve ever owned. It is really easier to keep it organized and uncluttered due to having plenty of closet space etc. but it definitely takes longer to clean.

    1. Interesting! How big is your new place?

      1. Kathy

        4200 square feet.

  11. This is a lot easier for anyone who is a natural “purger”. I am one of those people! In law school and undergrad I moved so much that I purged a lot. Now, I am always organized, giving stuff away, and maintaining a minimalist home lifestyle. I can’t imagine downsizing from a 700 sq ft apt, but you never know!! haha

  12. Oh man you are amazing for accomplishing this! Great work. With our growing family I’m not sure this would be an option for us at the moment. We definitely will downsize in retirement though. Is it time to install solar panels now?!

    The Green Swan

    1. We definitely want solar soon!

  13. Scout

    Great article, Michelle! I had a three year plan. 1) Sell the three bedroom house and move into a two bedroom apartment for two years – that cleared A LOT of stuff out. 2) Move from the two bedroom apartment into the RV after the second year – again, cleared A LOT of stuff out. During this time, I digitalized papers and photos, and donated/yard saled/mission boxed so much that I would not need. 3) Moved into my conversion van and boondocked in the same area at my son’s house while I got used to the full time RV’ing lifestyle but kept my day job for the last 6 months.4) Now in the final months before leaving full time job and ready to go…waiting for September so I have a bit of an emergency fund and the vehicle is in tip-top shape. This long-term plan worked for me as I am 60 and had 5 kids, so there was a HUGE change from my former lifestyle to the RV lifestyle.

    1. Where are you going first? πŸ™‚

  14. Another post that hits close to home!

    Last year we moved for my husband’s job and downsized in the process. Mainly so I could stay home with the kids and start my own venture. πŸ™‚ We took a lot to good will and asked ourselves those questions – how long has it been since we’ve used this? We did sell some things we thought were a little more valuable.

    So awesome that you live in an RV full time. We often think about what it would be like if we retired in this house. Think of how much money we could save!

    Have a good Monday. πŸ™‚

    1. Awesome! We got rid of so much stuff in the last move and it felt great!

  15. What an accomplishment! I am sure you do not miss all the cleaning and other chores that come with a home. I still live in college housing as I finish up my MBA but learning what to leave behind is harder than you think! I usually find that giving away clothes and items I no longer use to charity is a noble cause, just as you did. Must say living in an RV must be very fun as you can travel anywhere! Will give you great memories, all the best.

  16. I think it’s a lot harder for somer people. My husband get pretty attached to things whereas I don’t keep much at all. I just don’t have sentimental attachments to many things. We might be moving across the country at the end of the year and if we do, we will be downsizing a LOT. Should be interesting!

    1. I’m mixed. Sometimes I have a hard time getting rid of things, but other times I can get rid of a whole house, haha!

  17. Lindsey

    We are about to move into a bigger space (I’m talking 768sqft to 806 nothing major) and yet we are still downsizing. Sure we will have a bigger space, but I already felt like our space was cluttered and we hadn’t even started packing yet. After having wrap each plate and glass, I already know we have too much stuff. When we unpack in our new place we are prepared to declutter our belongings before they even leave the box.

    1. Yes! It’s so much better to declutter before a move, even if it’s to a similar space.

      1. Lindsey

        We’ve gone through so much in just the past few weeks! Plus we’ll probably end up getting rid of more after we move.

  18. Francesca – From Pennies to Pounds

    I always think, if I was moving house I wouldn’t want to pack a ton of stuff up! I’m pretty good at de-cluttering but if I moved into an RV I expect we would have to get rid of a TON! How big is your RV? πŸ™‚

    1. Our RV is 33 feet long. I think it’s somewhere around 300 square feet? I haven’t really calculated it when including the slides, haha.

  19. Eric Bowlin

    I don’t really believe much in home ownership. It is probably one of the top two mistakes young people make. To tie oneself down to a massive mortgage is usually a terrible financial decision.

    I believe that your home should be entirely paid for by passive income. If you have no passive income, then you should rent. Build up your income streams, then buy whatever you want.

    I actually hear this more and more among the investor community – “Buy what you rent to others and rent where you live.” to stay nimble, flexible, and have no personal debt.

  20. Our house is about 2,000 square feet, but we rent 1/4 of it. Another 1/4 is the rest of our basement and is essentially just storage, so we really only use 1,000 square feet. For two people 1,000 square feet works very well, especially if you have good storage.

  21. My wife and I think of building a small house that we can live in comfortably when we retire. We are used to small spaces because where we were from, that is, the Philippines, the average size of home for a family of 4 is around 700 sq ft. I remember when I was a kid, our house was only around 600 sq ft and we were 9 plus mom and dad but we survived. I know times have changed and so do the laws of the land especially on dwelling. But the point is, living in a small space wasn’t bad at all.

    1. Awesome! It’s definitely not bad at all. We really like our small home.

  22. Whitney

    I really enjoyed this article! We decided to downsize from a 2 bedroom and have found that we do not even miss the extra space we let go of. One thing is for sure, you tend to see what is necessary and what is clutter when space is limited.

  23. That’s impressive. My best friend, Dee, moved from a large apartment to a 22ft trailer to a 3400 sq. ft. house all in 14 months. She was downsizing and dating, but then she ended up getting married and he really wanted the space. Watching her go through to the downsizing was hard because she has sentimental hoarding issues. Now she is having a hard time adapting to a huge house. It’s emotional whichever way you go. I’m a fan of the space of my house but do go through it and sell or give away stuff once or twice a year to keep down clutter.

  24. If I had to downsize due to moving into an RV I don’t think I would have to much of a problem. I don’t have too many possessions. The one area where I may run into problems would be the kitchen. I love to cook and have all sorts of gadgets and little appliances that make cooking easy and enjoyable. Even living in a house(with a small kitchen) I have some of my kitchen stuff in a spare room because it doesn’t all fit in the kitchen!
    Do you guys use your kitchen a lot or do you grill/cook outside most of the time?

    1. We use the kitchen every time, as we don’t even have a grill. Haha, we are bad RVers. We need to get one.

  25. Love this! You outlined a lot of what I went through when we downsized to move into our Airstream a couple of months ago. I’m still scanning in paperwork but I’m almost done! What’s amazing is even now living in less than 200 sq ft we are finding things we kept that we don’t need, and still donating! This lifestyle is freeing and I find I’m enjoying life a lot more even though we’re still stationary. I can’t wait to hit the road like you guys!

    1. When do you guys start? It’s a ton of fun!

      1. We’re mostly stationary in Tucson until February 2017. We are making shorter weekend trips until then but it’s not quite the same. We will be ready to travel far and wide by the time February rolls around! Who knows, maybe we’ll meetup someday πŸ™‚

        1. Oh, awesome! We just spent 4 months in Tucson in our RV. LOVE it there πŸ™‚

  26. Monica@wellideclare

    I have about 3100 square feet and I spend entirely too much time cleaning it. I would downsize in a heartbeat, although my husband isn’t on board with that. It would free up so much time! I could fit everything that I truly love into a very small space.

  27. Tennille @ Two Kids And A Budget

    We currently live in a 1,025 sq ft home which we are quickly out growing. My husband bought it before we were married, then added 2 kids and now that we are expecting the twins it is just getting impossibly tight. I have been going through the house and trying to get rid of everything we don’t truly need in order to make room for the new arrivals and everything we will need for them. I’m hoping we will be able to spend a couple more years in our current home before having to move.

    Like the first commenter, I have a process when looking at items. I follow the rule: Use it on a regular basis including holiday dΓ©cor, love it to much to let it go like my Great-Grandmother’s pearls, or loose it. There are no maybe I’ll keep it for now piles and even the kids toys were fair game.

  28. The good about downsizing and living in an RV for full-time affiliate marketers and bloggers is having the grand ability to work from anywhere within the United States as long as you have your laptop and Wi-Fi Internet connection and a PayPal account plus a bank account. This way, you won’t be confined to living in one state as you’re able to get up and go as you please.

  29. Claudia @ Two Cup House

    Whenever someone asks about downsizing, I always say give yourself the time and space to process your things, thoughts, and feelings. It can be difficult, at first, so having ample time to declutter is critical. In between the move from 1,500 to 500, we had four months to process our stuff, which helped tremendously.

  30. Tiny homes are very trendy. They certainly do offer a cheaper way to live, but my concern is that their resale value is yet untested. This type of dwelling is likely to decrease in value, whereas an inexpensive home in a reasonable neighborhood is likely to go up in value based on the historical performance of real estate.

    My opinion is that rent is a better option until you can put what you would’ve paid for a tiny home down on a traditional single family home. Rent as cheap as you can, get out of debt, and make an investment in your home.

    This is certain to stir some debate…what do you all think?

    1. Well, not everyone wants a tiny home just for financial reasons πŸ™‚

      1. That’s a good point–forgive my shortsighted comment. My particular niche is personal finance (and getting out from under my mountain of student loan debt) so it’s hard for me to appreciate downsizing just from a lifestyle viewpoint. I’m still working on upsizing!

        1. Haha, you are fine. Many people think that people only downsize to save money, but that is not true. You gave me a great blog post idea now. Thank you! πŸ™‚

  31. Ellen

    WIth a growing family (two kids and a mother-in-law that just moved in with us) in a two-bedroom apartment in NYC, I can totally appreciate the need for de-cluttering! I try to do a major decluttering twice a year, much of what the kids have outgrown gets packed up and sent to my husband’s family in another country where I know they will be well-appreciated. I always make a list as I am making my give-away pile so that when I drop it off for donation I can simply staple the list to the donation receipt for taxes.

  32. Brenda

    Love your post about downsizing! We recently went from 2200 sf to a 640 sf cottage – and don’t ever want to go back!

  33. Nonya

    I am going from a 2400 sq. ft. home to an RV about 29 feet long. I am taking one room at a time and cleaning them out..
    Today I am stressed, and some days I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have gone into
    my past doing this major clean out. I can be a bit sentimental over the things my parents gave me.
    I am 65 and feel I need to do this. My husband is on board. He has not yet started cleaning out his tools, a collection of nearly 35 years. He will soon know the stress when he cleans out. He is working a 12 hour day including Saturdays so he is not here to help with decision making. I keep taking deep breaths and hope I can get through this. I am a strong person, but honestly I did not imagine how stressful this could get.

    1. Amanda

      My husband and I did this in 2011. We lived in It RV for 4.5 years. We had a 2400 square foot home with lots of storage and moved into a 36 foot RV designed for full time living. Bought a truck to pull it. Both were used. Down sizing like this has its advantages but also has disadvantages. Certain things to consider when moving into an RV, everything is special, most parts have to be bought at an RV store or off Amazon. Black tanks have to be dumped every 4-7 days. The cost of replacing the roof when the time comes is are und 4K. Like to entertain? Not likely in an RV as most don’t have ovens but microwave/convection oven combos and their is little room to accomodate guests. And if you have insomnia or any difficulty sleeping forget sleeping through stormy nights as they are loud and shake like crazy.cThe advantage, in our case, it allowed time to see if we were going to fit in the area we moved and were going to like it. If not, we could have moved easily. AlsogVe us a place to live while we were trying to find real estate. Unless you are able to pay cash for your RV , I don’t see an advantage because you will have rent and possibly utilities plus a payment on the RV. Just a few thoughts from someone who lived in one for awhile.

    2. JR

      You are in good company. There is a growing movement to downsize. If you are patient and do a little at a time, you can get through the downsizing process. You’ll find that you can live without more and more as time goes on.

      An easy tip to follow – if you haven’t used “it” in the past 30 days – you may not need it. Put it in the pile of things that you may get rid off. Do this for at least 90 days – you’ll have an enormous pile, with a few things put back in the “keep this” location.

      We all have too much stuff. I’ve done the RV life several times. And the associated downsizing.

      Now my daughter is doing the same as a minimalist. She and her husband downsized, downsized and downsized, eventually eliminating almost everything – except what they actually, consistently used and needed. It’s an amazingly small amount of “stuff”. But now, they can travel, save money and not worry about their extra stuff, or have to store any of it anywhere else. No storage units. Nothing else to drag around or replace.

      It took a year to downsize to this level by the way, so be patient and take whatever time you need. It will also enormously help your survivors when you pass. Having to get rid of your things is a massive and major issue (headache) for family members. You can avoid all the angst, arguments, grief and more by simply doing all this ahead of time while you are still alive.

      The majority of the “stuff” we collect, buy and drag around in life is discarded anyway, which should be a lesson unto itself (don’t buy it in the first place!). What we deem “valuable” and what our family members might can often be world’s apart.

      I’m downsizing (again) now – to save my kids any worry – and to go have some fun!

  34. JR

    The “digital documents” advice is ill advised. Too many precious memories (or important papers) are instantly lost to digital “accidents” (hard drive crash, reformatted thumb drives, power outages, etc.).

    Browsing pictures on a cell phone, laptop or monitor just isn’t the same as leafing through a scrapbook or photo album. In fact, it actually sucks, still.

    Digital formats are also changing and backwards compatibility may not always be “there”. There is an entire generation of lives lived that risks being lost (forever) to history because of the move to digital and the possibility of accidents and unrecognized formats. There are also unforeseen events that could instantly wipe out digital files and images (like an EMP).

    If you really want the future “you” (or anyone) to remember or see what you have stored – forget digital. Or at least have real, tangible backups in the form of printed photos.

  35. Nicky

    We, family of 8, live in an RV full time. Sold our 5500 sq foot home, and live full time now in 35′ bumper pull, 1 slide-out. A bit too small I think for our needs, but doable. Maybe a couple more slide-outs, or a little more storage for clothes–not that we have much either.

  36. I’m in the process now of searching for a new home and find myself gazing on a real estate website at homes outside my reach. I believe that owning a new property is among the best feeling in new home ownership besides achieving side hustle millionaire status. πŸ™‚

  37. Decluttering is simply tough. The day you discard something, you will think of utilizing the same. I am wrexed of it. Many tips are surely effective I hope.
    Thank you.