When you make the decision to live in an RV—whether full time or on weekends and vacations—you may dream of exploring the vast hinterlands of America and of watching the sun rise over a mirror-smooth mountain lake complete with leaping trout, but you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about cabinet and locker storage.
Yet, if your RV is not organized, you can waste a lot of vacation time hunting for the stuff you need to bring along but rarely use, like that Frisbee or left-handed screwdriver.
But with a simple, easy-to-use system, your stuff can be organized and easily found when you need it—and the system will at the same time make the most efficient use of your RV’s limited storage space.
I worked out a system when living aboard my 33-foot sailboat many years ago, and I continued using it when I switched from rag-bagger to RV full-timer. As on my boat, I wanted to be able to find what I needed when I needed it so I wouldn’t end up buying a duplicate and/or wasting time searching for it.
I also quickly learned something else. When I got to critical mass, which happened all too quickly, I had to make a choice—buy a larger rig, or apply this rule: “When something comes aboard, something goes off.” (And it was not acceptable to bring a belt sander aboard and remove the yoga mat that my wife presented to me on Father’s Day.)
The System: Outside Storage
Measure the inside of your lockers and buy various sizes of clear plastic containers with lids that will stack and fit precisely inside each locker like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle, leaving little excess useless space. Gather the stuff you want to store in each locker along with the containers that will fit inside. Then arrange your stuff by category and match to the container that best fits everything.
I used categories like tools, engine parts, house hardware, electrical, winter clothes (summer clothes in the opposite season), seasonal (like Christmas decorations and Halloween costumes), grilling (barbecue tools and other items used in the campsite like bird feeders, tablecloths and mosquito coils) and miscellaneous. Write the category with a large black marker or print out labels to fix to the side of the box that faces out.
When you start using your system you can save time by numbering each locker. Using the clock method, the first locker on the passenger side is one, next is two, clockwise around to the last one on the driver’s side. Then list the categories/containers in each locker under the number for that locker in a notebook or on a spreadsheet or doc file. After awhile, you will learn where each category lives without having to look at the list.
As I went along I added new categories, while some categories needed two containers. When I think about how much time I had spent previously looking for things, the time it took me to organize and categorize all my stuff was well worth it.
RV kitchens are what they are and never have enough storage space, so it is usually a good idea to downsize the pots, pans and appliances from the sizes you would use in your house. Find pots and pans that nest within each other and that use a common removable handle, eliminating all those individual handles.
Use cabinet organizers that come in both wood and wire of every imaginable size and configuration and that fit perfectly in your cabinets and drawers (look on Amazon.com or in kitchen and hardware stores). These will enable you to store more in each cabinet and keep it organized—and it also automatically dictates where replacement items go, making everything easier to find.
Use plastic bins for items on top shelves since it is easier to take a bin down and find something inside it than to take each item off the shelf until you get to the things hidden in the back. Keep similar items together, like canned goods, spices, pasta and rice, cereals, baking supplies, snacks, food storage containers, etc. Then write the category with the marker (or label) on the front of the bin.
Under-the-bed storage is well-suited for organizing also. Use bins with clear plastic lids so you can see what is in each without having to take the lid off. Again, keep similar items together—sheets and pillowcases, towels, paper goods, office supplies, regional guides and maps, etc. Under the bed—providing it is easy to get to and the bed is not too heavy to lift on its hydraulic arms—is a great place also to store books. They won’t fly off bookshelves and you can see a whole bunch of them at once when the spines are all facing up.
Under-the-sink storage in the bathroom takes some ingenious measuring, since you also have to take into consideration the height of containers (mostly without tops), which should be rectangular rather than round to make effective use of the space. And you also have to work out configurations of shelves (wire kind is best here) that fit in and around the pipes and sink trap.
You will find that if you take the time to organize your storage spaces in the beginning, and always put replacement items back in the same space, before long you will know where everything lives and be able to find all your stuff instantly. And that gives you a lot more time to go out and play.
Bob Difley was a full-time RVer for 17 years and a regional general manager for a national RV rental and sales company. His articles and photos have appeared in numerous publications.
Nikki is a writer and editor for Do It Yourself RV, RV LIFE, and Camper Report. She is based on the Oregon Coast and has traveled all over the Pacific Northwest.