How to Downsize

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How to Downsize

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June 2016 I went from a two bedroom apartment to a living space less than the size of queen size bed. Soooo, I really had to downsize. Since I started traveling OT I really detested having a lot of “things” simply for the fact that I hate packing/unpacking, which is one of the many reasons I decided to live in a van . Anyway, I was quite surprised when I realized how much stuff I actually had. The great purge-of-crap commenced May 2016. Here are some tips and things I learned to make downsizing a little easier.

Big Furniture

The year and a half I lived in LA I had acquired a bed, dresser  night stand and dining room table. I obviously couldn’t take these items with me in the van so it was my intention to sell them. My first strategy was word of mouth, I told my friends and coworkers that I was selling some furniture. This was successful for selling my bed but no other bites on any of the other pieces. My friend told me about the app 5 miles, which lead me to another great site/app offer up  and the go-to I sold big pieces of furniture on all three sites so I am glad I kept my options open. Everyone paid me a reasonable price and picked up the furniture without me having to deliver- a big plus for me.


Trying to find a place for everything.

After emptying my closet I realized I had more clothes than I thought. There were some rules that I came up with that helped me decide whether to keep or toss items. Have I worn it in the past year?Is there damage? How many of this type of clothing do I have? vs. How many do I NEED? Which ones do I like better? For work clothes I decided on three pairs of pants and 5 shirts. For the rest of my clothes I didn’t really have a number, so I prioritized. Priority one was work clothes, then hiking/athletic clothes, casual (pajama) clothes, and lastly nice/going out clothes.

As far as shoes, I have never been a big shoe person. Shoes take up a significant amount of room and they are difficult to squeeze into places compared to other clothing. I currently have 8 pairs and I feel like that’s too much for the van.

Any brand name clothing or nice lightly worn shoes I tried to sell on offer up or 5miles and I was successful with probably 50% of clothing items I tried to sell, the rest I just donated. As I mentioned in 5 things that happen when you live in a van , there are many things you realize you don’t need. I recently just went through my clothing and got rid of another bag of clothes that I haven’t worn in a year.


Side note: If you are a travel therapist these are the best scrub pants to have. They are super comfortable and in black they look like regular pants. I wore these during a hospital rotation as well as an outpatient rotation where scrubs were “not permitted”, no one even noticed. Check em out!

Odds and Ends

Trinkets that I decided to keep

Traveling around as an OT lead me to collect little trinkets and such from different places I traveled. I decided to not get rid of most of these, since I am able to store some stuff at my permanent residence. I mailed about two boxes of trinkets home and found a place for the things I really like. Items that I deem important may seem unimportant to you, so you just have to decide what you want to keep. For example, there is an artist in LA, Mark Brunner, who I came across at a flea market and I just loved all of his paintings. So I found a space for one in my van. It’s small, but I am glad I kept it. Little things like that make Vanny feel even more homie.


Minimalism is very trendy right now and having to downsize is a big part of this lifestyle. Minimalism has become very popular recently, but why? For me this whole journey simply started with the motivation of having more money to pay off my student loan debt, but living more minimally has been an experience that is much more than that. Have you ever spoken to someone who is a “minimalist”? I noticed that they smile more, are more engaged with your conversation and just seem more content overall. Owning less stuff means less stuff owns you. Having less is such a simple change but it yields so many amazing things including less stress and an overall feeling of control in your life.

Are you interested in living a more minimal lifestyle but perhaps living in a van seems a little extreme ;)? I suggest starting by downsizing your belongings and take a break from adding to your collection of “things”. Getting rid of clothing, furniture and trinkets is an easy place to start. At first it feels kind of stressful but giving away feels good, plus getting some extra cash in your pocket feels good as well. It’s not easy but it’s not terribly hard either. I still feel like I have too much stuff, so it’s a continual work in progress for me.

Not quite ready to get rid of stuff? Try Project 333 and be more with less.

Or try this declutter 30 day challenge!

Do you have too much stuff? How do you declutter/downsize?





About the Author


Hi there! My name is Sarah and I am the creator of Tiny Van Big Living. I am a former traveling Occupational Therapist who lived in a converted camper van (Vanny Devito) full time for almost two years. I am collecting experiences, not things while slowly climbing out of the giant hole that is student loan debt.


12 Comments on “How to Downsize”

  1. Sarah!!! Love this. We are starting the downsize cycle, but won’t hit the road for a year or two…. I wrote a song about this burning desire to hit the road. You used similar words to describe the stuff you “own”. I hope to release it soon as a single. I know that my vagabond friends will totally get it!!

  2. Sarah,
    I’m very interested in full time van life…. I have a few questions!
    How does your family and friends react/feel about the lifestyle?
    When you pull into a new contract how do you line up an immediate safe spot to sleep not knowing the area etc?
    Have you ever had people knock on your van in the night to ask you to leave your spot or mess with you?

    1. Hi Haylee!
      1. Initially, everyone thought I was being a little extreme, but now I get a lot of encouragement and support from my friends and family! 🙂
      2. I usually stay at a campground or sometimes an Airbnb (whatever is cheaper for one or two nights) when I start a new job, and then learn the area and go from there.
      3. No one has bothered me yet. One time a park ranger knocked on the window because I was boondocking in a National Park, because it was late and all the campgrounds were full. He just checked my license and plates and then told me where I could park for the night.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Hi, you mentioned in this article you are storing items at your permanent residence. So do you keep a home or apartment in addition to living in the van?

    1. Yes in order to receive the tax-free stipends associated with traveling healthcare, I have to be duplicating expenses. I rent a room at the house I grew up in. I have a few items that I keep there, and stay there when I am in between jobs. If I stopped traveling healthcare I wouldn’t have to worry about maintaining a permanent residence. Thanks for reading 🙂

  4. I just took a traveling job for the first time this spring as an OT. I have my permanent address in South Dakota like a lot of traveling rvers do , at a mailing company but I do rent a place here at my current assignment. And I receive the stipends of course. Eventually I plan to be a van dweller, but perhaps to keep the stipends if I’m still a traveler I would need to set up an arrangement like yours, maybe renting from one of my friends for tax purposes. My driver license is also SD since it has no residency requirement once you fill out the paperwork and the affidavit stating you are a traveler . Thanks for your informative blog!

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