How to live simply in a 39 foot RV — From Louise Hornor

The following guest post is from Unclutterer reader Louise Hornor. When I discovered that Louise lives full time in a RV, I asked if she would be interested in sharing her unique perspective on simple living. Thank you, Louise, for writing such a truly inspiring guest post for us!

My husband and I live full-time on the road in a 39 foot tour bus that has been converted into an RV. While this is considered fairly large by RV standards, it is a very small home, especially considering that we share it with one dog, two cats, and four tropical fish.

Keeping things uncluttered is vital for several reasons. First, we travel almost every day. Loose items simply cannot be lying around in a moving vehicle. At best, they will become a big mess as they slide and shift. At worst, they can become deadly projectiles in an accident.

Secondly, clutter can become overwhelming in such a small space. Our bedroom is 9 ft x 8 ft and our kitchen even tinier. Anything left on the counters or floor makes it seem even smaller. Travel is dusty, too, and it is much easier to clean a smooth, empty surface. The good news is that 300 square feet doesn’t take long to clean.

One way we have reduced clutter is by going electronic. Bills are paid online through a service. Paper bills are received at their facility, scanned, and emailed to me. We pay our taxes electronically. All our banking is done over the internet. We keep in touch with friends and family through email, our blog, Twitter, and phone calls. News, weather, and entertainment arrive via the web. We take digital photos and even conduct meetings using on-line conferencing software.

What paper we have left, such as pet vaccination certificates, vehicle registration/maintenance receipts, passports and marriage license, easily fits in a single file drawer.

Because we are on-line often, we each have our own laptop computer. They take up much less space than a desktop unit with a monitor, and are much easier to stow for travel.

We chose a clean, light, simple interior design for our bus to help reduce visual clutter. The plain maple cabinets used in every room have no knobs. The hardware that shows is all the same brushed stainless steel. All the window blinds are cream colored and very simple. Furniture is solid colors and patterns are limited to muted tones on the bedspread and throw pillows.

Items used often, such as the TV remote, reading glasses and camera, are stored in attractive wicker baskets or leather boxes. These neutrally-colored storage containers keep small items corralled and blend nicely with the countertops. They also make it simple for everything to have a place to be put away quickly before hitting the road.

The most important way we reduce clutter, however, is simply by having less stuff. Sometimes less means fewer. For instance, we gave away at least half of our clothing to prepare for RV life. What is left exactly fills the drawer and closet space we have. A strict “one in/one out” rule, which makes it easy to resist buying new clothes. More than 90 percent of our books were left behind. Place settings for four and a handful of knives and kitchen utensils suit us just fine.

By looking for items with multiple uses, we can often get by with less. Our mixing bowls double as serving bowls, a folding stool is used as a footrest, small padded trays are used both for dining and to hold the laptop computers, and bungee cords are used for everything. Washable microfiber towels when damp can clean floors, counters, ceiling, and shower; and when dry can dust, absorb leaks and spills, and pad breakable items.

Sometimes, less means smaller. We use two small scooters as our alternative transportation. They are light, fun and get fantastic fuel mileage. When possible, we look for items that collapse for storage. We have a collapsible ladder, laundry cart, exercise mat, pet carriers, and patio furniture. All were chosen to fit the small storages spaces we have available. Doesn’t fit? We don’t own it.

And sometimes, less means none. We don’t own a car, but when we need one (about once a year), we either borrow or rent. In fact, we choose to rent a number of bulky, seldom used items such as skis, bicycles and golf clubs. We visit laundromats all over the country and don’t need a washer and dryer.

None of these decluttering techniques seem like sacrifices to us. For our life of travel, less is definitely more. The reward has been freedom, simplicity, and happiness, and that’s an article for another day!

43 Comments for “How to live simply in a 39 foot RV — From Louise Hornor”

  1. posted by Gustav on

    Great article, I would love to hear about your life Louise, and see more pictures of your bus. I’m amazed.

  2. posted by Dawn on

    You are definitely my hero! I would LOVE to live like this! :)

  3. posted by Matt on

    Wonderful. You sound lik you’ve got everything under control. It’s amazing how a limit on space can help you pare down your stuff. I like the elctronic bills especially.

  4. posted by Maria in Iowa on

    It’s a very pretty home, too!

  5. posted by Matthew Joiner on

    Louise,

    As a 25 year old obsessed with living a simple life, this has been the best source of inspiration I’ve read in quite a while. Thank you for the great article, I only wish I could hear more about your travels and lifestyle.

    I’m also very curious about your billing system, as someone who has moved over 8 times in the span of 6 years, I’m getting a little tired of the routine address changing, a centralized source of my bills would also save me shredding time.

    Thanks a ton for this gem!

  6. posted by redd on

    Guastav, Matthew,etc,

    There are lots of people living full-time on the road, including families, and many chronicle their (of necessity) less-cluttered lives on the road.

    For families interested in this lifestyle, check out http://www.familiesontheroad.com or subscribe to the yahoo list at fotr-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

    Great article!

    Redd

  7. posted by Sammy on

    Great article – thanks for sharing this with us, Louise!

    If your readers are interested in this, you may also want to check out my friend Toast’s blog – she’s living full time on a catamaran with her husband and three daughters. (I’d also give even odds that she reads this site – hi Toast!)

  8. posted by Louise on

    Thanks for the kind words.

    @Matthew Joiner: I wrote in detail about our on-line bill paying service in this post:
    http://ourodyssey.blogspot.com.....aying.html
    It’s worked out really great for us and I’ve had the same billing address for many years now.

  9. posted by Liza Lee Miller on

    When at home, my life is clutterful. When we camp in our RV (29 ft), I am strict about clutter not taking over. I spend time each day managing the clutter (we travel with 2 young kids so clutter happens, people!). I’m a different person in a confined space. And, I must say that I like that person, a lot! :)

  10. posted by jane on

    It’s a beautiful space. I’m curious about gas mileage – you mention it regarding the scooters, but not when talking about the bus.

  11. posted by Lee on

    That was an inspirational article. If you can live a simplified life to that extent, I feel I should have the determination to cut down on possessions. I think that I need more duplicates so I have things in a convenient place in several rooms, so end up having too many of the same thing. Your and other posters’ links should be helpful. And I loved the kitty in the picture.

    Do you crate the animals when you drive so they don’t become flying objects? I worry about my dog in the back of the wagon, if I should have to break sharply.

  12. posted by CoffeeKim on

    Truly AWESOME! I dream of life in that way someday…perhaps once my homeschooled (read: cluttered) brood leaves the nest, hopefully taking all of their belongings with them! Now, my only problem would be the sentimental stuff, of which I only have relatively modest amounts, but will perhaps be ready to hand down when that time comes. Ah, to dream…

  13. posted by Cate on

    Louise — This is truly inspiring. For a few months now, I have had a yearning to live on the road as you do. Alas, my husband is still working a regular show up for work job, so we don’t have the freedom to work from our computers yet. I am inspired to read up on your blog and the other site that was posted about families on the road. With a 2 year old daughter and a big yellow lab, I know a space that small could feel confining at times.

    How long did you plan/prepare for life on the road before you put the RV in drive?

  14. posted by Mary on

    Sign me up!

  15. posted by Marie on

    Fantastic article! My husband and I hope to retire to this lifestyle.

  16. posted by Daus on

    How much do you use for gas or camping fees per month?

  17. posted by Michele on

    I’ve seen their blog before and it is really amazing. I love the space they designed in the bus. Reading articles like this really helps me to stay focused and inspired on my decluttering efforts. Some of the best times in my life were when I lived with the least stuff.

  18. posted by Happy Trails on

    Great article on a useful, informative and entertaining blog. Thanks so much!!

  19. posted by Anne on

    Cyber hugs to you Louise! My parents are also RV junkies…and hang out as camp host on the beautiful beaches of NorCal for FREE!!! They love it, and reading your article was like a hug from my mom!
    Can’t wait to read more, and have a question.
    What is a good gift ideas for parents on the road in RVs. My mom isn’t into the whirlies folks put out, and I would like to give something for Christmas etc? I send pics on CD’s as a photo videos instead of albums or paper…and that was a big hit, but would love to hear what you would appreciate recieveing.
    Once again, great article…hope to see some regular articles!!!

  20. posted by Jean on

    Thanks so much. You are an inspiration. We are working toward a simplified life, but it is hard work getting rid of all the STUFF! I could easily walk out the front door and never see it all again. Thanks for your contribution.

  21. posted by Leslie Hope on

    Inspiring!

  22. posted by Lori on

    An inspirational post, and a gorgeous space to boot.

  23. posted by Modern Crush on

    That is so cool!! An incredibly inspiring contribution. Thank you so much!

  24. posted by alphasqix on

    That’s delightful!

    My dream is to someday live in one of these. I’m not sure yet that I’d want it to be mobile, though … I’ve moved about 15 times in my 25 years and there is something about the idea of actually staying somewhere that is incredibly appealing to me, even if it’s a long way off yet.

    In the meantime, I’m starting to understand unclutteriness — I’ll be going for 3 months of camp with less than a car trunk full of stuff, which is something of an accomplishment for me :D

  25. posted by Sean on

    Wow — lots of questions to answer. I will do my best to stand in for Louise, who is traveling today (on a plane, not in the coach).

    @Jane — Regarding fuel mileage, we get about 7 miles per gallon of diesel. While that doesn’t sound like much, remember it’s our whole house we’re moving around. We keep fuel costs (and environmental concerns) down by not moving very far each day, spending more time at each stop if we can, and driving at a much more relaxed pace than the average person. I posted extensively about our environmental impact here: http://ourodyssey.blogspot.com.....n-day.html and here: http://ourodyssey.blogspot.com.....h-day.html

    @Lee — No, we don’t generally crate the animals while traveling, although there are exceptions. The cats are very adept at moving around while underway and also hanging on when necessary. The dog usually sits on the cockpit floor at Louise’s feet, so there’s really no place for her to go if the ride gets bumpy or I have to brake hard. The fish tank gets its lid bungeed down, and rides in a tray with some microfiber towels to absorb any slop.

    @CoffeeKim — The way I handled my sentimental stuff, and I had a lot of it (unlike Louise, I did not move frequently as a child, or an adult), was to photograph it before sending it on its way. Truly sentimental items were given to family members or close friends, and I have the pleasure of visiting it from time to time. I now have dozens of digital photos of plaques, mementos, souvenirs, awards, and even cherished furnishings and family heirlooms. I go through them periodically, and find that the memories they trigger are just as satisfying as having had the article to begin with, but without the clutter!

    @Cate — We spent about two years “getting ready,” which, in our case, included design work and supervision of the conversion of our German-built tour bus into our dream home on wheels. I had the lion’s share of preparations, relieving myself of a lifetime of accumulated possessions (see above). But there was also work to be done in settling on a “domicile,” setting up mail forwarding service and the bill-paying service Louise mentioned above, stopping all the mail we could, etc.

    @Daus — Diesel is our biggest expense. We use an average of about 3,500 gallons per year, which includes driving as well as running the generator and heater (see the posts I linked above). Perhaps 200 gallons of that is related to our Red Cross disaster relief work, and is reimbursed. With diesel now over $4 per gallon, that works out to around $13K per year or $1,100 per month. We spend very little money on camping fees, preferring to stay on free public lands whenever possible, and inexpensive state and federal parks, Elks lodges, and even commercial parking lots as needed.

    @Anne — we think the absolute best gift for folks like us, living on the road, is a gift card to a retailer that the recipient likes and uses frequently. We’ve got our friends and families “trained” to send gift cards to Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Olive Garden, three places that we can find anywhere in the country and which we patronize often (something always needs to be fixed on the bus, and Olive Garden is our favorite chain restaurant).

    -Sean
    (Louise’s more cluttered, but always working on it, husband, bus driver, mechanic, and cook.)
    http://OurOdyssey.BlogSpot.com

  26. posted by Elle on

    Louise,
    I checked out your website (http://ourodyssey.us/). Great details about the RV!!
    One detail I couldn’t find on your site was about your occupations. Are you both retired? Or do you have mobile jobs?
    Thanks, Elle

  27. posted by Sean on

    @Elle — It’s actually in there, buried in a link on the “Who we are” page. Here’s the direct link: http://ourodyssey.us/about-us.html

    The short answer, though, is that we are “retired” (whatever that means). It turns out that if you sell everything you own (almost) and do away with a fixed dwelling and all that entails, it’s pretty easy to live full-time on the road. It helps that we don’t have any children, and both of us worked our entire adult lives prior to hitting the road.

    We can’t rule out the possibility that one or both of us will return to the workforce at some point in the future. But too many of our friends and family never made it to retirement, or at least were not retired for long, and we decided to “just do it,” as a popular advertisement went. Louise recently posted about this: http://ourodyssey.blogspot.com.....do-it.html

    We don’t miss working much, and all of those intangibles that people claim to derive from their workplace come to us in spades through our volunteer work, which is very rewarding.

    -Sean

  28. posted by Stephanie on

    Hi there, this article was passed onto me by a friend of mine because it reminded her of me. My family and I, too, live full time in an RV. I am actually located in Alvarado, Texas right now, in Dodge City RV Park. Although our RV is much older than most RV’s we run into. We live in a 1979 Holiday Rambler.

    Clutter can’t happen when you live in an RV. LOL! What’s worse is trying to keep that clutter from happening when you have children living with you. We home school our little ones, and it can be a challenge, but it is definitely paid off when the benefit of moving around freely.

    The decision to go RV actually come about as a distant dream/wish, and then a horrible flood come in and wiped out our home and cars. FEMA come in and reimbursed us about %5 of our property’s worth and with that money we bought an old RV. Anything that we had left went straight to storage. We’ve been in our RV for about 6 months now, and really .. I can’t find a reason on why we didn’t do this earlier. It’s CHEAPER by far!!! Renting a house, or an apartment cannot possibly beat the expense of RV living. Honest!

    The one thing that differs between you and I, Louise, is that you use organization drawers and I use velcro. LOL! Velcro is my friend! I use it to keep things like remote controls on the wall so they don’t get lost in a move, and I also put lots of things in the shower and close the shower door when we’re on the road. I use heavy rubber matting to pad breakable things, and I also use heavy cardboard with bubble wrap and foil on the outside. I’m sure there’s a name for it, but my husband gets it from his job, which they use to pack jet parts in and keep them safe from temperature changes. He brought home several huge sheets of it and cut them to fit the windows in the RV. We covered all the windows with it, so we stay cool in the warm, Texas, weather.

    Although my husband does work, and we travel during his time off only, it’s necessary as we have small ones to care for, and a steady income is mandatory. However, I do make some small money on the side from time to time through soap making, and beading.

    My mail is done through P.O. Box, as we have no “physical” address anymore. The one thing we’ve run into a very small dilemma over though is our drivers licenses. We don’t have an address to give most of the time, cause well… our RV IS our address … so we have to use the address of the Park we’re living at, at the time. That can be irritating. My internet service is solely based off of the park’s free available service, but we have been looking into different services that are unlimited and low cost. And of course, we each have a cell phone for communication with one another and family to keep in touch.

    We don’t use diesel in this vehicle. It’s all regular gas. We haven’t traveled anywhere in about three months since prices have been so bad, but this June we’re going on a small trip to East Texas, and I’m looking forwards to it. It’s always really nice (and fun, still after half a year of doing it) to move in my home. LOL!

    The others things we do to stay uncluttered … I took all of my DVD’s and put them int an album. I ditched the DVD covers. No use for them! I also have a full desktop computer, but it goes on the ground when we move, and when we’re not moving, it’s on a collapsible table top, that my husband built for me. So all I have to do is undo one hinge and it flattens flush to the wall.

    We have a bulky TV right now, but soon as we save enough, we’re going to buy a flat screen and build a shelf over the cab area of the RV and mount it there. That will take up a lot less room. My computer’s monitor is flat screen and light, so that was a nice improvement.

    We also travel with a kitty. He doesn’t care for the moving RV at all. But he’s grown used to it. He likes to sit with me on the couch when moving, or hide under the passenger chair in the cab area. LOL Poor lil’ guy. I’m sure it sounds like a huge growling monster to him when it starts. LOL!

    I have only four cups, bowls, spoons, forks, knives, and plates and I take most everything I buy from the store OUT of the box and put it either into baggies or another storage container. That saves space in my cabinets. I bought a light weight vacuum with a detachable mini vac (built into the vacuum) that mounts to the wall, and is on a battery charger (cordless) so I can clean up easily and it takes up very little room. And in my bathroom, I bought one of those fruit baskets that hang from the ceiling and I put it in my bathroom. It holds my lotions, face washes, deodorant, girly things, hair brushes, medicine bottles and so forth. When we get ready to travel, I unhook the basket in the bathroom and move it to the towel rack in the shower, and hang it there. That way, if we hit a hard bump and the basket falls, all that stuff just falls into the shower. LOL Easy to clean up, but most of all – because it’s suspended from the ceiling, and easily movable, it saves a WHOLE lot of for me.

    So far, this is what I’ve learned about living clutter free in a small space. But really, my life isn’t too terribly different from you! Our whole family REALLY enjoys living in an RV and the kids are constantly meeting new people, making new friends and have more penpals than I ever had in my life. LOL!

    When someone asks me why I chose to go RV – I just say to them …

    “Ever had an annoying neighbor? So annoying you wanted to move, but it cost too much to do it, and then there’s the packing an unpacking? Well, if someone/thing annoys me … I can drive away!”

    ROFL!

  29. posted by Kristin on

    I’m curious about the computer hook-up: how do you typically access the internet? Are you able to score free wireless most places, or…? Congratulations on living the dream, btw, & thank you for sharing!

  30. posted by Louise on

    @Stephanie: Thanks for adding your clutter-reducing techniques. I learn things from other RVers every time I visit their rigs. I like the “fruit basket” idea!

    @Kristin: We access the Internet using a satellite dish that we carry with us on the bus. As long as have a clear view of the sky, we can get on-line. Very rarely, we use wireless. Sometimes an RV park provides the wifi, and sometimes an open network is close enough for us to use.

    My husband Sean wrote extensively about how set up our computers, internet access and other techie stuff in this post:
    http://ourodyssey.blogspot.com.....tment.html

    You can clearly see the satellite dish on the roof in this post:
    http://ourodyssey.blogspot.com.....oiler.html
    Scroll down to the fourth photo.

  31. posted by Craig on

    Something to strive for, but I can’t say I’d want to LIVE in an RV. Far too sterile for me. I like seeing wall-to-wall bookshelves filled with books.

    But you have created a very nicely uncluttered space that has gotten me thinking. You say you each have your own laptop. That certainly makes sense from a space-saving viewpoint. What make & model of laptops do you have, if you don’t mind my asking?

  32. posted by Burro on

    Hopefully your online accounts won’t get hacked by people of eBaumsworld or 4chan.

  33. posted by Sean on

    @Craig — Interesting choice of words. I would say that Odyssey is probably the least sterile place we’ve lived; the nature of such a small space is that every surface, even the ceiling, is utilized for something and has some visual interest. In fact, one challenge when we were designing the space was to ensure that anywhere you looked, what you saw was pleasing and not harsh. That extended to choosing ceiling and wall treatments, light fixtures, countertops, and even appliances and switchplates. And, for the record, we do have built-in bookcases with our books visible. There are tasteful bars across the shelves horizontally to keep the books from flying out under way.

    As for the laptops, all is revealed in the post linked by Louise in the comment immediately before yours, above.

    @burro — We practice safe surfing around here. As a veteran information security professional of over 25 years, I can say that I have virtually no concerns whatsoever about crackers (in fact I’ve helped put several behind bars). Some of the security tools we use are outlined in the aforementioned post, as well.

    -Sean

  34. posted by Cherie on

    Very cool to encounter you guys. My partner and I have been full timing in a 16′ travel trailer. We both do technical consulting remotely via our laptops, solar panels and cellular data connections.

    We’re right now considering upgrading to a much larger trailer… all the way up to a whole 17′. I can’t even fathom the space of a 39′ mobile home.. I’ve gotten so used to a very very small space.

    – Cherie / http://www.technomadia.com

  35. posted by Nary on

    Bungee cords are fantastic. I work on an at-sea science program and we use a lot of bungee cords. They are good for so many things.

  36. posted by Jealous on

    Ooooh I’m jealous. Sometimes in these discussions comes up the subject of income. How do you PAY for opting out like this? I’ve got an office job — and soon will be returning to law school for yet more certifications — and I just wonder whether I can “do without” sufficient changes of clothes, winter and summer versions of them, shoes and shoe-shine equipment, and so on …

    I often see that people who are free to opt out, are also “technical consultants” (whatever that means). I’m in the humanities. Guess I have to actually BE at work when I work. Otherwise I’d certainly “cyber commute” … if they’d let me.

    So, how DO you pay for it? I’ll bet that RV gets very low gas mileage …

  37. posted by Louise on

    For a good analysis of the financial aspect of full-time RVing, try this site:
    http://www.adventure.1tree.net.....atdoes.htm

    Here’s one couple’s real life expenses:
    http://www.adventure.1tree.net.....hreeyr.htm

    Income in this lifestyle, just as in any other, comes from a variety of sources. Some folks work full-time, some work part-time, some are fully retired and living on pensions, social security, investment income, etc.

    As for fuel mileage, many RVers manage that expense by modifying how far they drive on any given day. Some people travel only twice a year: once to their summer area, once to their winter home. Those two trips can be thousands of miles each. Others, like us, travel fairly constantly but only a short distance each time.

    If you are interested in learning more specifics about how other people manage, I suggest two on-line discussion groups:

    http://escapees.infopop.cc/eve/forums
    http://www.rv.net/forum/

  38. posted by Lav Jain on

    I was just curious to find out how much would RV like this cost including furnishings? If it is somewhere around $100000 then it may be better to buy one (and get a housing loan to make mortgage payments) than rent.

  39. posted by Louise on

    @Lav Jain: All RVs include furnishings; they are built in. That being said, it is not too difficult to change them.

    Our bus is one-of-a-kind because we started from scratch and had it built on a tour bus chassis. However, there are many different RVs on the market, at many different price ranges. Certainly lots of nice ones are for sale in the $100,000 range.

    Your best bet is to visit a local RV dealer and look around. Look at both new and used ones, since colors and styles change from year to year. More important than surface issues like decor, though, is how well built and maintained the unit is. For more help with that, I again point you to the on-line discussion groups I mentioned two comments above this one.

  40. posted by lashanna blair on

    You are a very smart person and i left my hands to you. Very independent, that is kool. You are kool.

  41. posted by Gary on

    My wife and I are travel nurses that work half of the year, so we need to stay in a RV park/resort for 3 months at a time. What we look for are facilities like laundry, wifi, and a good area to walk the dog. Our organization tip is: anything stored is in a clear tote with a lid on it that is labelled, so it can be stacked if necessary. It’s very easy to move them around the basement storage. We use paper plates and cups when we can and toss them in the campfire. We prefer plastic dishware to glass or metal because of weight. We too have two laptops. We travel in a 40′ Newmar Dutchstar and it has its ups and downs but are very different from a permanent residence and willing take the tradeoffs. We lived in Phoenix when it was 116 degrees down to 15 in Seattle last winter. Sean and Louise, I’ve followed your travels on your website and enjoy it.

  42. posted by Lil on

    @stephanie- i was in a flood a few years back also! it really made me realize posessions arent so imporatant, but since then ive gotten a lot more stuff again. then i got a new boyfriend and he and i have recently decided were going to live in an RV. we are saveing like crazy to buy one so we can leave and planning how we will do it. hes planning on playing guitar on the road to help support us. i will do whatever i find, i suppose!! We are young and dont want to live the way everyone tells us we have to, so we have decided to live. we both think it will be an experience of a lifetime. maybe it will be difficult, but i think it will also be an adventure. when he asked me to go and proposed this idea, i knew i couldnt say no! Thanks, Louise and everyone for these tips :D I have never even set foot in an RV so i am researching all i can!!

  43. posted by Heather on

    My husband and I have talked about doing this. The problem is that we have children and, don’t want to subject them to the life of moving frequently and having to make new friends everywhere. Any suggestions?

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