Tag Archives: decluttering

Exploring RV Living – Camping vs. Living

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

Let’s clarify what I mean when I say camping. Some people would go so far as to say that RVing isn’t camping at all. Well, according to my dictionary, camping means “lodging in a camp” with no mention of what or even if any shelter is involved. While there may be different styles of camping, and some folks may prefer more primitive camping, RVing is indeed camping. The confusion can also go in the opposite direction. One might think “if you live in your RV, are you then camping all the time?” Maybe so.

Let’s Go Camping!

For the purpose of this discussion, “camping” is what someone does when they leave their normal home for a period of time, and pack what they expect to need for the period of time they plan to be away. Like a vacation. They do not usually carry all of their earthly possessions with them. They know that they will be eventually returning home.

Home Is Where I Park It

No matter where I go, I take my home with me. All my possessions. Everything. Whether I’m spending the night in a parking lot, a month in the middle of the desert, or a year in a small town, there’s no going home because I’m already here. And so’s all my stuff. While the vacation camper only needs to pack what he or she will need for a week or so, the full timer takes everything. Well, that’s not always true. Some full timers do store off-season clothing or items they aren’t ready to part with. Not me.

That’s Life

Campers need only be prepared for their planned trip. The full timer must be prepared for every day life. While this includes the obvious things, such as food and clothing, it also includes things that one doesn’t give daily thought to. Stuff like business records, passports, birth certificates, medical records, and more. Maybe work-related tools or equipment. Even the obvious isn’t as obvious as it seems. Take clothing, for example. Unless I want to maintain storage at some permanent location, and return to it as needed, I must carry with me clothing appropriate for all seasons and any climate I expect to travel to. To complicate matters further, most RVs are designed with the occasional traveler, not the full timer, in mind, with precious little storage space.

Not Always a Holiday

The recreational RVer might enjoy leaving cares behind, forgetting about computers, telephones, bills, and other responsibilities. To live full-time in an RV is not the same as always being on vacation. In a future installment of this series, I’ll get into things like mail, telephone, and Internet, as well as how to stay on top of bills and other obligations.

Minimalism Helps

As you can imagine, if you want to carry your home and all its contents with you everywhere, a minimalist mindset will make things much easier. You will want to own only what you really need or really love. Although I downsized 90% of my possessions when I moved out of my 1200 square f00t home and into my 126 square f00t RV, I’m learning now that I still have a long way to go. Experience has really been my best teacher. If you’ve been following me for a while (and if not, feel free to browse the archives) you know I’m still working on my clutter, in order to live more comfortably in this tiny space.

One-Size-Fits-All?

That’s not to say you have to be able to fit in 100 square feet. Still, you’ll probably be significantly downsizing from whatever you live in now, unless you already live in an RV, a hotel room, or a really really small studio apartment. The tiniest pop-ups and pickup campers are well under 100 square feet, while the largest, most luxurious motor homes and trailers are barely 300 square feet. Still pretty small by traditional standards. If you’ve ever thought about living in an RV, or any sort of “tiny house”, you might consider the following experiment. Try living for a month in just your kitchen, bathroom, and smallest bedroom. In fact, if you have a large eat in kitchen, try confining yourself to just the kitchen and bathroom. For the whole month, all other parts of the house are off-limits, except for navigation purposes. This includes their contents, so before you begin, make sure everything you’ll need is in your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.

Are You Experienced?

Have you ever been RVing? Have you ever imagined spending more than a week or two in one? Are you a fellow full timer, or have you been in the past? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comments are open; questions are welcome.

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IMPORTANT – About My Home – Clutter Porn

Well, maybe not that important. Just a mini rant about the overuse of the word important, along with its close cousin, urgent, in communications and especially on mail items. They seems to be cluttering half of the envelopes that arrive in my mailbox, yet their contents are rarely important to anybody except the sender.

Why do mail marketers and others continue to use this tired old trick? I suppose that’s rhetorical — they use it because it works. After all, even though we know the odds are it isn’t important, and may be of no interest to us at all, we don’t dare throw it away unopened just in case it actually is important.

More Tricks

Sure, sometimes you can tell from the return address who it’s from, but sometimes there’s no name; just an address. Or worse yet, the return address is misleading. Bank Of America (or its “marketing partners” – euphemism for “companies we sold your name and address to”) sends all sorts of things in essentially identical envelopes, all with the bank’s return address. Usually it’s an offer for some sort of insurance, or trying to get me to apply for some sort of loan or another, but I am forced to open each and every one and give its contents at least a cursory glance, lest I discard my statement or other legitimate communication regarding my account.

OK, now that I have that mini-rant out  of my system, and just to show you my headline isn’t totally bogus, let’s move on to something that, while it might not be too important in the overall scheme of things, you might enjoy.

About My Home

With all that describing of different kinds of RVs in my last post, I didn’t even tell you what I live in. My home is a 1979  Georgie Boy Cruise Master  CM20RB. It is a 20-foot class C motorhome. Interior space  is 18 feet long by 7 feet wide, or 126 square feet.  Here’s the floor plan:

Here’s what it looks like on the inside…

…or at least what the one in this brochure did when it was new:

If you’d like to learn more, or are just into 70’s advertising or shag carpeting, you can click the brochure cover for an eight-page PDF.

Ahhh, but what does it look like now, 32 years later, you ask? Time for…

Clutter Porn!

I know that at least one of my readers (Hi Tanja!) has been patiently waiting for me to post some photos of my clutter. While I’m not quite ready to offer a full portfolio yet, I’ll dip my toe in the water with this small offering:

As you can see, I still have my work cut out for me. In my defense, pretty much everything I own is in here, in 126 square feet. I’m still plugging away at it, and I’ll get there eventually (and post more photos, too).

Oh, and here’s what the outside looks like:

Yeah, even the outside is cluttered, but the stuff on top of the table and the boxes and pile near the rear wheels are stuff to be sold or donated, so it’s not quite as bad as it looks. Why’s the hood open? Mechanical trouble? Naw, it’s just open to discourage the packrats (the 4-legged kind) from nesting in there. They’ll make a mess and chew through hoses and wires, too.

What Do You Think?

Are “important” and “urgent” overused? Is 126 square feet too big? too small? just right? Want more clutter porn? Comments are always open.

Decluttering Decisions – The “Lost Or Stolen” Test

(For those of you eagerly awaiting the next installment of “Exploring RV Living,” it will be coming later this week. If you haven’t done so yet, subscribe via email or RSS to make sure you don’t miss it. Links are over in the right-hand column, below my mug shot.)

I’ve always been a thorough researcher when it comes to major purchases, and have read my share of online product reviews. While trying to come up with a relatively easy rule to help me decide what to keep and what to eliminate in my decluttering efforts, I remembered a question I’ve seen asked by at least one review site, and is frequently volunteered by reviewers on other sites, especially musician’s gear sites: “Would you buy it again if it was lost or stolen?” In the context of a product review, it’s an excellent question. If something is so useful or desirable that you couldn’t be without it, that’s about as good as a personal recommendation can get.

Not Just For Reviews

It turns out that the “lost or stolen” question makes a really good test during decluttering. What we would do in the event of the sudden disappearance of an item is a good gauge of that item’s actual necessity and value to us. The low hanging fruit (or maybe the fruit that’s already fallen from the tree?) is quickly eliminated by asking ourselves “If this was lost or stolen, would I even notice?”

What Would You Do?

Where “lost or stolen” really shines, though, is after the first few rounds, after the obvious fluff has already been eliminated. Now the decision process is more challenging. We need to separate the “that’s really nice” stuff from the “I really need that” stuff. As you look at an item, ask yourself “If this were lost or stolen (or broken beyond repair) would I immediately run out and buy another one just like it?” If you can honestly answer “yes” to that question, then the item is probably a keeper. If, on the other hand, you answered that you’d figure out how to get on without it, then you probably don’t need it. If your answer is “I’d have to replace it, but probably not with one like it,” that’s a sign that it serves a needed purpose, but is probably not a good match for your current lifestyle. In that case it might be worth considering replacing the less-than-ideal item with something more suitable. No hurry, though — you can wait until it needs replacing anyway.

Terrific Test

While this isn’t the answer to all decluttering dilemmas, such as what to do with sentimental and decorative things, the “lost or stolen” test is a great tool for making decisions regarding practical things. Can you think of any other  simple tests to help with decluttering decisions? What have you found that helps you separate the wheat from the chaff? Comments are open — don’t be shy!

115 Degrees In The Shade

Well, folks, I have a couple more practical posts in the making, but they’re not quite ready for public consumption. On the other hand, I did say I was going to post at least once a week, and it’s been over a week now, so I thought I’d better offer up something.

About That Headline

Yes, it’s one hundred and fifteen degrees in the shade (135° in the sun!) here in the desert west of Phoenix. The absorption refrigerator is struggling to keep its contents cool. Stepping outside into the light breeze feels like walking into a giant convection oven. The forecast is for another couple days of the same, and the area is under a Heat Advisory. Summer is definitely here.

Keeping My Cool

Thanks to the Wonder of Ancient Technology known as an evaporative cooler, it is a very comfortable 82 degrees indoors, without running the air conditioner. I love my swamp cooler — not only does it save energy and money, but it also allows me to enjoy fresh cool air and open windows instead of having everything closed up and recirculating the same stale air. In another week or so I’ll unfortunately be having to do just that when the monsoon season’s increase in humidity renders the evaporative cooler ineffective. I’ll also see my electric bill triple for about three months.

Avoiding The Heat

So what have I been doing while I stay indoors avoiding the heat? Well, I’ve been pecking away at decluttering. I am amassing a boxful of small electronic bits, pieces, gadgets, and gizmos that individually would not be worth the trouble of selling, and don’t seem appropriate for thrift store donation either. Still, they’re just too darn good to throw away. I’m thinking of putting the whole boxful on eBay as a not-quite-mystery box. I’ll put up a couple photos and maybe some general descriptions of the highlights, and see what happens. If nothing else, it will be fun.

Multimedia Maintenance

I’ve also been working on my digital library as I transition from “legacy” paper and polycarbonate media to bits and bytes on a hard drive.  This is an ongoing project which I spend time on now and then when I’m in the mood. I could go into more detail sometime if you’d like to read about it. Let me know.

Clearing Clutter Pays Off

There are plenty of ways that eliminating clutter pays off. More space and less distraction, for example. But I wasn’t expecting it to pay off literally. I was going through some folded bits of paper and receipts the other day, making sure I wasn’t about to throw away anything important, and there it was folded up in an old store receipt: a twenty dollar bill! Pretty cool, huh?

In Other News

Do any of you write for content farms, or have you in the past? Are you considering writing for one to help make ends meet? You should give this NYT  Opinionator blog post and this Faster Times article a read.

Exceptions to Decluttering Rules?

There are two “rules” frequently cited to help with decluttering as well as to avoid re-cluttering. The first helps us decide what to get rid of by suggesting that if something hasn’t been used in X length of time (one year is the most common, but I’ve seen recommendations range from three months to two years) then you don’t need it. The other rule helps us avoid accumulation, and it is usually called the “one in, one out” rule. Let’s look at each of these rules and see if there are times we might not want to simply follow them blindly.

If You Haven’t Used It…

This rule is designed to help us decide what we don’t need. If something is stashed away in the bottom of a closet or the back of a drawer and we have not even seen it, let alone used it in months or years, what makes us think we’ll suddenly need it one day? The truth is that we probably won’t. There are exceptions, however.

Emergency!

If you drive a car, you probably carry a spare tire, a jack, and a lug wrench. If you regularly ride a bicycle any significant distance, you probably carry a patch kit or spare tube, a tool kit, and a pump. These are things we may not have used or even looked at in months or years, but we continue to carry them around because we don’t want to be stranded by the side of the road should we experience the misfortune of a flat tire. Along the same lines, we might keep first aid kits in our homes or vehicles, but hope we never need them. Ditto for fire extinguishers. Perhaps we can call this the emergency equipment exception. You can probably think of more examples, and they will vary depending on your individual situation. Just make sure you aren’t using this exception as an excuse to keep all kinds of “just in case” stuff that you probably won’t ever use and could easily re-acquire if needed.

Got Plans?

Another exception might be “I plan to use it.” This works if you have something that is already earmarked for a specific time or occasion in the future, when you know that you will use it. Don’t confuse this with “I might use it,” “I hope to use it,” or “I want to use it,” which are all excuses for keeping what we really don’t need. A variation on that exception, which I am experiencing right now, is “I plan to use it once I’ve decluttered enough room for it.” While I have to be careful that I’m not using this as a blanket excuse for keeping stuff I should be getting rid of, I think that if I have something that I honestly feel I will use and get function or pleasure from once I have the space to enjoy it, then I can at least leave it for last. Once I’ve decluttered to the point where I can comfortably accommodate the item, if I find that I am still not using it or have lost interest, then it becomes subject to expulsion.

One In, One Out

This one is very popular in the RV and Tiny House communities, where space is at a premium. It can even be expanded to “one in, two out” during active decluttering. This rule aims to maintain a static quantity of items if strictly followed. It isn’t so much subject to legitimate exceptions as it is to “creative interpretation.” We need to be sure we are following the true spirit of this rule. Getting rid of a worn out pair of socks shouldn’t justify bringing in a new TV and a game console. Yes, that’s two items in for two items out (a pair of socks), but using that kind of logic will only get you deeper into consumerist clutter. Ideally, an item goes out to make room for an equivalent but better, smaller or simpler item. Replacing several items with a single multi-function item could result in a two, three, or more-for-one trade! In any case, the items going out should be the same size or bigger than those coming in, the goal being to maintain balance or reduce clutter, not to increase it.

More Examples?

Can you think of other decluttering rules with legitimate exceptions? How about ways you or other household members try to “cheat” on the anti-clutter rules you’ve laid out?

Extra Challenges of Decluttering a Tiny House

I live in a tiny house. True, it isn’t what most people imagine when they think “Tiny House”, but at 100-150 square feet, depending how you measure, it is indeed tiny by most people’s standards, and even by some minimalist’s standards. Living in such a small space presents some unique challenges when it comes to decluttering procedures.

Stuff-To-Space Ratio

If I were to take everything I now own and put it in my old 1000 square foot house, I’d still have oodles of space. If lumped together, it would barely fill one room. If appropriately distributed throughout the house, it would probably look pretty minimalist.  But put it all back here, and it fills this tiny space quite thoroughly, and it is painfully obvious that I have too much of it.

The Task

There are probably as many ways to declutter as there are declutterers, but they tend to be variations on one of two basic methods: either empty the zone being decluttered (room, closet, drawer, whatever) and then put back only that which you are intentionally choosing to keep, or go through the zone being decluttered and remove everything except that which you wish to keep. In either case, some sort of staging area is needed for the removed items as they are sorted for discarding, donating, freecycling, or selling. In a bigger house, even if very cluttered, it is usually possible to empty part of a room, covered porch or patio, or at least clear off large table, or something, even if it means temporarily making a larger pile elsewhere.

My Problem

There isn’t really enough space in here to reserve any of it as a decluttering staging area. My bed and seats can be used very temporarily, but not for anything that lasts even overnight (especially the bed). I’m left with outdoor space, which means I have to hope the weather cooperates. And I certainly don’t want to leave anything of any value (although I may have decided that I no longer need something, it still has value and is worth protecting until it becomes someone else’s responsibility) out in the dust and dirt and sun and the various desert critters for very long.

If I knew exactly what to get rid of, and I was ready and able to dispatch the cast-offs instantly, It would be a lot easier. Trash (including various trinkets that are of such little value they aren’t worth the effort of doing anything other than trashing) can be eliminated quickly and easily. Items for donation can collect in a box or bag until my next trip into town. Items for resale are a bit trickier. They need to be tested, cleaned, and if they’re going on eBay or Craigslist, they need to be photographed and descriptions written. And then they need to be kept somewhere clean, dry, and safe for up to two weeks with eBay (or even longer if they don’t sell on the first try).

How I’ve Been Doing It

First I made an overall sweep for obvious cast-offs — stuff that I knew needed to go without any real thinking about it. I just pulled the individual items out and dealt with them as appropriate. Next, and this is the stage I am currently in, I go through small zones — perhaps a corner or a storage bin — that I can expect to complete in less than a day, using the bed or table as a sorting area. Since I don’t really have room for a “think about it” or “hide it and see if I forget about it” pile, anything I’m not certain that I am ready to part with goes back from whence it came, at least for now. Then I move to the next box, bin, or drawer. Once I’ve gone through them all, I start all over again, finding more things I can live without. It seems each round I have a bit more insight — becoming more attuned to minimalist philosophy perhaps. Often more of the “maybe” items go, but sometimes something that I thought was a definite keeper eventually gets the boot the second or third time around.

And So It Goes

Slowly I progress. Or so I hope. Sometimes I think this stuff multiplies all by itself while I’m not looking! WIth such a small place to work in I sometimes feel like I’m doing one of those puzzles where you have a frame full of tiles except for one and you must arrange them in a certain order by shuffling them one at a time in and out of the single empty space. I’m open to suggestions, especially from those who have already completed their major decluttering and/or are living in a very tiny space. Don’t be shy now, that’s what comments are for.

Towel Day

I almost forgot (and didn’t get this posted in time, either): Today is Yesterday was Towel Day. Do you know where your towel is?