Whether you're a solo fulltimer or a vacationing couple with kids, there never seem to be enough places to put things. Having started my RVing travels in an old 22' rig, I'm all too familiar with the problem... and over the years I've come up with lots of ways to beat it, many of which are scattered throughout "Eureka."
On this page I'll offer some general hints that I've found helpful in uncovering hitherto unused storage space. I'll point out examples on other "Eureka" pages, and I'll throw in a few more ideas that you may find helpful. Above all, I want to get you thinking in the right direction.
The most important thing is to learn to recognize unused space. Here's a simple test: open one of your kitchen cupboards and look for empty space. Not shelf space—I know you have those shelves filled!—but empty space. I'd be willing to bet that close to half of that cupboard's volume holds nothing but air. I'm talking about the space above the items on the shelves... plus the space between them and the inside of the cupboard door when it's closed.
Now, of course you have to have some extra room in there, if only so that you can lift out items from the shelves. But what if you mounted a few things on the inside of the door, as I did with the small toolkit in my old rig's kitchen... or made a couple of simple wire lid holders to suspend your pot lids from the "ceiling" of the cupboard... or mounted a shallow extra shelf two inches below the ceiling and lined up all your spices on it, caps outward (with labels, of course)... or mounted small 3" deep wire baskets, the kind sold as desk drawer organizers, on the inside of the cupboard door, and put the spices in there? There are lots of possibilities.
Here's another use for the inside of a cabinet door—in this case, the one under my sink. I was tired of hearing my knives, forks and spoons rattle around in a drawer, so I made some pockets for them, using one leg of an old pair of jeans.
I cut the leg into two sections the width of the door (allowing for the hinges and latch). Then I cut each section open lengthwise and re-sewed it to make pockets. I mounted them to the cabinet door with 1/2" #8 screws—fat enough to grab and hold, but short enough not to come out the other side. I used a washer with each screw, so they wouldn't pull through the fabric. This quick and easy project freed up drawer space, and keeps my flatware nice and neat... and accessible without rummaging around in a drawer.
And what about under that cabinet? You could build a horizontal knife rack under that cabinet, or a shallow drawer to hold your flatware, or a wire rack for stemware, or mount a box of facial tissues in a Pop-A-Tissue holder, or a Pop-A-Plate paper plate dispenser, or even a battery charger.
You get the idea. No matter how full you think your rig is, there's almost certain to be space that's going to waste, if you just know how to look for it. That can be hard at first, because your eye tends to just sort of slide right past it, due to force of habit. But if you stop and make yourself really look, you'll find lots of storage opportunities: inside doors, underneath cabinets, on the walls, even on the ceiling if it's low enough.
One good rule of thumb is to keep counters clear—not that you can't put anything on them, but try to avoid using them for just plain storage. Counter space is always at a premium in small RV kitchens, so do your best not to clutter it up with boxes, canisters, trays and the like. Move as many items as possible to the walls, undersides or insides of cabinets, or other unused spaces. To cite an obvious example: which is better, a paper towel dispenser that sits on a counter, or one mounted under a kitchen cabinet above that counter?
Take a look at my old rig's bathroom, which had NO counter space, NO cupboards, and a tiny sink tucked away in a corner of the shower stall. In the equally tiny wall space over that sink I managed to fit eight items, plus two hand towels. On the wall next to the toilet, I squeezed in a hanging pocket unit that held all kinds of items. And then I added a wire shelf to the ceiling over the toilet to hold extra towels. I started with almost no storage, but wound up with plenty!
I've lived in apartments most of my life, so I learned early that the smaller your living space, the better organized you have to be. "A place for everything, and everything in its place" isn't just a slogan for compulsive neatniks; it's a survival strategy for any RVer.
Take tools, for example. Some people throw 'em in a drawer. That's not so good, though, if you need to use them someplace other than your rig (for example, if you're helping out another RVer), because then you have to pull out an assortment of what you think you'll need, carry it to the job... and you'll probably end up going back and forth for things you forgot.
Putting the tools in a tool bag or "contractor briefcase" is better, because at least that way, they're portable from the git-go. But better still is to have a basic toolkit like the one pictured here, where every tool snaps into its own molded recess. Not only is it portable, it lays everything out so you can instantly spot the tool you need, instead of having to rummage through a multi-pocketed carrying bag while muttering "I know it's in here someplace." And because there's only one place where each tool fits, you're much more likely to remember to put them away when the job is done... and much less likely to leave tools behind at the worksite, because any empty space will be an obvious visual reminder that something's missing.
Now, I'm not saying that one "prefab" toolkit like this will satisfy all your needs. In fact, I have a pocket toolkit, an attaché-case-sized toolkit, plus a couple drawers of less often used tools (organized with drawer dividers). But the better organized you are—with tools and with everything else—the less storage space your stuff will occupy, and the easier it'll be to find what you need.
Boxes and bins
Sometimes the problem is not so much a lack of storage space as not being able to take full advantage of the space you have. Having a cupboard is one thing, but if you just pile stuff inside, you'll have a tough time getting to what you want. One good way to deal with that problem is to put related items—say, socks, craft supplies or flashlight batteries—inside storage boxes that fit into the cupboard, so that when you need need them, you can just pull out the appropriate box. For example, here's the seven-foot-wide cupboard that stretches across my coach just above the rear window:
Starting at the upper left, notice how I mounted my alto recorder to the inside of the cabinet door using a pair of broom clips. I use broom clips a lot... more about them later.
Below the recorder, you can see a couple of Sterilite #1892 plastic storage boxes. The one on the left holds assorted lights and replacement bulbs; the one on the right holds electrical wire. These compact boxes have snap-on lids with handles, so whenever I need some wire, I can just lift out that box and have it all in one place. Over on the right is a larger Sterilite #1894 box. Same deal, but this one has no lid, because my collection of AC adapters and battery chargers overflowed the box. When I need a charger, it's very convenient to be able to take down the whole box, instead of rummaging through an unruly pile in a cupboard that's above eye level.
I use quite a few Sterilite storage boxes and drawers in various places. They're inexpensive but well made, lightweight, and are available just about everywhere (e.g., Wal-Mart). Most of them are designed to stack, so they make very efficient use of space. And they come in lots of shapes and sizes, so you can be pretty certain of finding a size that will fit perfectly in your cabinets or cupboards.
By the way, I also use large plastic Rubbermaid and Sterilite drawers in the basement storage compartments to organize the contents. All the sewer fittings and my disposable gloves, for example, are segregated in one, so they don't slide around the compartment, contaminating other stuff. Freshwater hoses and fittings are in another. Spare belts, hoses, bulbs, and so on are in another one that's labeled "Spares & Repairs."
Let's go back to the storage cupboard photo for a minute. In the lower middle area of the photo you can see nine Eldon SpaceMaker boxes in assorted colors. I picked up these 5" x 8" x 2.5" boxes for well under a buck apiece. The ones you see here hold fuses, cell phone accessories, batteries of many sizes, printer ink cartridges and so on.
Straddling the SpaceMaker boxes is a 5" high Rubbermaid wire shelf, designed for the sole purpose of breaking up a space vertically so that you can fit in more items. (You can see part of another wire shelf on the far left.) I use these in most of my upper-level cupboards to maximize usable space.
You'll notice that I labeled each box, using the Casio labeler I carry with me. (It's similar to the widely sold Brother P-Touch labelers; I just happened to get a good deal on the Casio.) When you have a row of identical plastic boxes in a cupboard, legible labels make a big difference! I also used it to make reminder labels for various places on the coach, such as "TURN OFF WATER PUMP BEFORE CONNECTING" above the city water inlet and "Clearance: 11 feet/Weight: 5 tons" above the driver's-side visor.
Many of these storage items are available in stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Home Depot. But for a really big selection of storage aids, head for Bed, Bath & Beyond or Linens & Things. And if you're lucky enough to live or travel near an IKEA store, they're in a class of their own for clever, inexpensive storage solutions.
Round vs. square
Since we're talking about storage containers, here's another tip: avoid round containers whenever possible. A square flour canister, for example, holds 28% more flour than a cylindrical one of the same diameter. Round containers waste space, because they leave gaps where square or rectangular ones pack closely together. I particularly like the Lock & Lock rectangular containers, because they have such good airtight seals. But even cheap "disposable" Ziploc freezer containers can be reused for years with reasonable care. I freeze and reheat all my homemade soups in them.
Bag vs. box
But before you go hog-wild with storage boxes, here's a good idea for your kitchen cupboards: use bags instead of boxes. Look at this cereal box, for example. It takes up the same amount of space whether it's full or half empty. That's inefficient. The bag beside it shows how much space half a box of cereal really takes up.
So get yourself at least half a dozen bag clips in various sizes, and when you open a box, take out the bag and clip it. You can save a lot of cupboard space this way!
Clips for all occasions
Speaking of clips, I use many kinds—hooks, too. In fact, I have two drawers full of assorted hooks and clips, from big coathooks to tiny cup hooks. I keep them on hand because even after seven years of RVing, I'm still finding places where I want to hang things or attach things.
The 3M Command Adhesive product line is especially useful, because these hooks are removable—if you change your mind, just pull a tab and the hook comes off, without any risk of damaging the surface it was stuck to. They come in many sizes, but my favorites are the little Decorating Clips—intended for stringing up holiday decorations, but perfect for any small wiring you need to run, such as the cable from a roof-mounted GPS or satellite radio antenna. For larger cables, I use Wiremold Cordmate and Cordmate II plastic channel, which are self-adhesive and quite easy to cut to size.
Some of the most useful clips are these excellent non-scratch vinyl-coated broom clips I bought from TAC, a schoolbus supply company. They come in three sizes (I use the two smaller ones) and cost less than a buck apiece. I keep a bunch of these on hand for all kinds of mounting tasks, and you'll see them throughout these pages. Just off the top of my head, I've used broom clips to hold my recorders, my monopod, my tripod, my Swivel Sweeper, a flashlight, a scrub brush, the rod that secures my wardrobe drawers when I'm traveling... they really do come in handy!
I've mentioned "Grip-Its" elsewhere, but it bears repeating: these versatile self-adhesive clips can grab onto any cylindrical item between about 1/4" and 1/2" in diameter, so the're great for keeping things like pens, pencils and (my favorite use) lip balm handy. Put one or two of these on your dashboard, for example, to hold those items you never seem to have a good place for.
There are places in my rig where I'd like a hook occasionally—say, in the bathroom, to hang up my bathrobe while showering, or next to the wardrobe, to hang up a shirt overnight. Trouble is, spaces in an RV tend to be small, and a hook that sticks out when not in use is likely to catch me as I walk past. That's a nuisance.
Or was... until I realized that the same catches that hold my outside compartment doors open, then fold away neatly when I'm traveling, made perfect folding hooks for indoor use. Small and inconspicuous when not in use, the catch pulls out to make a generous 2.5 hook, then automatically snaps flat when you unburden it of its load.
I used chrome-finish metal ones, but you can also get them in white or ivory plastic. Almost any RV store such as Camping World carries them in sets of two, and they're not expensive.
Hang it up
I've attached a lot of things to the walls and cabinets of my two rigs—everything from hooks to shelves to a 30-pound (when empty) pantry cupboard. People often ask me how I mount all these things. "How do you know you're not going to drill into a pipe or wire or something?" Well, let's talk about that.
Some RVers refuse to make any holes in their rig's walls. They'll use self-adhesive Velcro... or if they're smart, 3M Dual Lock, which has much better holding power. I use Dual Lock (mostly the Low Profile variety) for quite a few things, but when I need to mount more than a few ounces on the wall—say, to put up a shelf—I want a more secure fastening.
Now, you can mount a shelf either with screws or hollow-wall anchors ("Mollies"). While hollow-wall anchors will support more weight in theory, they require a considerable amount of space behind the wall in order to work, and that can be hard to find in an RV, where the walls tend to be a lot thinner than in a conventional home. I do carry a few of these—the shortest ones I could find—but I've rarely found them useful in the rig.
I prefer screws. I've found that 1/2" long #8 pan-head screws are good for mounting almost anything, because they're fat enough to get a good grip on the wall, yet short enough that there's very little fear of puncturing a wire or pipe—they just don't go that deep.
What about those expanding plastic anchors that you can drive a screw into? Well, I've tried them, but I found them worse than useless in paneling. (I suspect they work best in plasterboard.) A #6 screw by itself has much more holding power than when combined with one of the plastic doodads.
Now, I hasten to add that before I start driving screws, I use an electronic stud sensor to check for solid wood behind those hollow walls. If I can find a stud where I'm going to put a mounting screw, then I'll put a longer (1" or 1 1/2") screw into that stud—that way I can be really confident of its holding power. Usually, though, I end up using a 1/2" screw and going into the paneling. I've never had anything fall down, so I must be doing something right!
No more wrinklephobia
Let's face it, clothes on hangers waste space. Want more usable room in your bedroom closets? Stop hanging and start folding or rolling. You'll make much more efficient use of the space you have. Sure, you'll have a wrinkle here and there, but so what? Hey, you're on vacation... or like me, you're retired. In either case, there's nobody you need to impress. As the t-shirt says, "I'm retired...this is as dressed up as I get!"
Take my wardrobe, for example. I only have one, so I need to make the best use of it—especially since I like to boondock, so I can't just walk over to the campground laundromat every few days and run another load. Let's have a look:
The first thing you'll notice is that it's full of drawers. On the left I used Iris "Hard Tops" drawers, which are 22" x 15 11/16" x 25 7/8" and come in a stack three drawers high. I bought two stacks, disassembled them (they snap together), and recombined them as a five-drawer unit (six drawers would have been too high). To keep the stack of drawers from sliding around while I'm underway, I used 1/2" half-round molding nailed to the floor of the wardrobe. Then I hung a canvas shoe holder from Bed, Bath & Beyond in the remaining space on the right, perfectly filling the closet's width.
The big drawers hold shirts and pants (folded); the shoe holder holds socks and underwear (rolled up); and the small plastic drawers (Sterilite #2023) hold everything from tapes and glues to Velcro and Dual Lock to hooks and clips to emergency first aid supplies.
Up on the top shelf you can see a light blue microfleece jacket and a navy blue bathrobe, both neatly rolled up, plus some other odds and ends. There's a light blue windbreaker folded up just below, plus my stock of coat hangers: not for hanging coats, but used as raw material for making brackets and hooks of all kinds; see "Fun with Coat Hangers.")
By the way, in case you were wondering... I don't use the four drawers underneath for clothes. Those drawers hold tools and hardware of various kinds. No, all my wearables are in the wardrobe itself. And that's the point: even though it's not a particularly large wardrobe, I have enough clothes packed in there for two to three weeks in any season or weather before I have to go find a laundromat.
Securing the drawers
It might also occur to you to wonder what keeps all those plastic drawers from falling out while I'm driving, given that there's some space between them and the doors. Well, the large drawers don't move around much, but the small ones can, if they're not restrained. But see those two black broom clips at the top and bottom of the small shelf stack? Before I get underway, I simply snap a length of 3/4" dowel between them, and that keeps them from going anywhere. When I'm parked, the dowel is stored in a third broom clip inside the right-hand door—you can see it behind the wire baskets in the big photo above.
Ah, yes, those wire baskets. Looking at the floor of the wardrobe, you can see there's a good eight inches of space between the fronts of the drawers and the doors when closed. Naturally I wasn't going to waste that! So I mounted four vinyl-coated wire baskets (Rubbermaid "Wrap Rack," part number 55113) on each door, and filled them up with odds and ends: cold-weather gear on the left, bulky tools on the right. I use one of those wire baskets in my kitchen cupboard as well. They're great for mounting inside closet and cupboard doors to reclaim otherwise wasted space.
When it comes to undergarments, most people have pretty strong personal preferences. But for what it's worth, here's a tip for you men: briefs take up a fraction as much space as boxer shorts. I like to keep enough underwear on hand to last me three weeks plus—about two dozen pairs. That would probably take a drawerful of boxers... but two dozen briefs stuff easily into one small compartment of that canvas shoe holder on the right side of my wardrobe.
While I'm on the subject of underwear, here's another tip: if you're tired of dingy whites that seem to look grayer with every washing, don't wear white! I favor blues myself. Walmart's "Life" brand (manufactured by Jockey) has given good service, as have these Hanes briefs—both available in assorted blues.
Adding a pantry closet
The biggest single storage improvement I made to my old rig (and will soon make to my new one!) was a floor-to-ceiling pantry closet. Since I've described it elsewhere, I won't go into detail here... but if twelve additional shelf feet with a "footprint" of less than half a square foot sounds good to you, click that link and go read all about it!
More storage, more workspace
The second biggest storage space improvement I made to my old RV was to add a "sideboard" in place of one couch, gaining 15 cubic feet of storage and 12 square feet of work surface—vital for a fulltimer who's running a business on the road!
This modification (which, by the way, is completely reversible) isn't for everyone, but it was a crucial factor in my being able to live full-time in a 22' motorhome. You can find complete information about how I did it on the Sideboard page.
Rear shelf box
My old rig had an unsightly problem: over the years, the rear shelf had accumulated a sprawling array of outlet strips, power adapters, battery chargers and USB hubs, plus a rat's nest of cables of all sizes and colors. I did my best to bundle the cables and keep them tidy, but the whole shelf looked like a mess.
So I built a sort of box—or maybe you'd call it a cover, since it only had five sides. I used 1/4" x 4" oak for the sides and 1/4" x 6" oak for the top, so it was a pretty flimsy thing... but it didn't need to bear any weight, so that didn't matter.
I gave it three doors on the front, so I could have access to the rat's nest inside, and each door had a cutout so that a few cables could discreetly exit. Not elegant cabinetry, perhaps... but what an improvement in the looks of my coach's rear lounge area!
Of course my plans won't fit your coach unless you happen to have a mid-80s Lazy Daze 22' "Twin/King"... but I've included a printable PDF version here so you can get a clear look at what I did. Just click on the drawing above to open the PDF. (Requires Adobe Reader.)
A few quick tips...
This is almost too obvious to mention, but I bought a bunch of Rubbermaid modular plastic drawer organizers at Wal-Mart—small bins in various sizes that hook together, so you have considerable flexibility. I used them in my "Tools" and "Electronic tools" drawers to organize the random clutter that filled them. I hate random clutter! And I never could find what I wanted without a lot of pawing around. Now I can.
I added a wonderfully handy multi-pouched storage unit to the back of my passenger's seat, and another one to my console. See the Cab page for details and photos.
The wall-mounted wooden magazine rack that came with my rig wasn't very practical, so I replaced it with transparent plastic wall pockets.
There are lots more storage hints throughout "Eureka," so as you browse these pages, don't be surprised to find good ideas that I haven't mentioned here. And don't be surprised if you come up with a few good storage ideas of your own. If you do, I'd love to hear about them!
(How does this work?)
v2.2 "Eureka!" is © 2012 by Andy Baird.