When Downsizing, One Size Does Not Fit All

Man pleased with downsizing to a motorhome

Put Your Downsizing Dream on Wheels.

There is little doubt that downsizing from a large home to an apartment or senior living community can be a challenge, especially when it comes to reducing the amount of belongings we own in order to successfully make the move. For some people, the bigger the home, the more items they have to recycle, donate or discard as part of the process.

It can be even more challenging to downsize when the choice being made for your future living quarters is even smaller than the typical senior apartment. But for some people, the dream of selling most of what they own and moving into a recreational vehicle (RV) is part of the downsizing process.

While it’s not a traditional choice when downsizing, the most recent U.S. Census estimates place the number of U.S. residents living full-time in an RV at 1 million. A total of 8 million Americans reported owning an RV.

Some seniors and boomers – particularly those in good health who enjoy traveling – may wish to consider an RV as an option when they downsize. For those who decide this is a viable option, there are some things you should know before making the big move.

Pros and Cons of Downsizing to an RV

One of the biggest pros of downsizing to an RV is the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. It is the perfect option for retirees who haven’t decided where they ultimately would like to end up, and who also enjoy seeing new places and meeting new people.

Owning an RV also helps prevent hoarding of unnecessary items. Because space is limited in an RV – even in some of the fanciest models – seniors and boomers will find themselves purchasing only the things they truly need.

Seniors and boomers who want to spend less time doing maintenance and cleaning will absolutely love the ease of caring for an RV. The entire unit can be cleaned in roughly 10 to 15 minutes, depending on size, and there is no outside yard work or snow shoveling involved when you live in one.

One of the final pros of living in an RV can also be a con depending on the couple living in it. Living in such a small space requires excellent communication and a good relationship with a spouse or travel partner. It’s best to work out communication issues before making the decision to downsize to an RV. It’s also best to work out how you will handle it if one person in the relationship needs space from the other while traveling. The need for privacy and personal space is natural and couples will want to work out how to handle this need when confined in a small space.

One of the biggest cons of living full-time in an RV can be the expense. Paying to park in a campground can be expensive, even if reservations are made in advance. Gas costs also can be expensive.  With most RVs only averaging about 9 miles to the gallon, fueling up can be expensive.

There also is the possibility of encountering noisy or rude campers if campgrounds are a regular place for you to spend time in your RV.

And while some people may find the ability to see new places and meet new people as a plus, others may discover the loss of a permanent community – including regular service providers such as doctors – to be a definite con of living full-time in an RV.

Choosing an RV

Because most people are buying RVs only for occasional use, the majority of the RVs on the market today are designed with limited usage in mind.

Some of the limitations of most RVs on the market include lack of proper insulation – making them a poor choice for traveling with while in cooler or hotter climates for an extended period of time.  Heating and air conditioning a poorly-insulated RV can become expensive.  They also can provide cramped quarters in order to accommodate the ability to drive it, which may be fine for short trips, but not ideal for living in full time.

Those who plan to live in their RVs may wish to consider a fifth-wheel style RV. Fifth-wheel RVs are meant to be towed by a truck. The design of fifth-wheel RVs lends itself to providing several advantages over their counterparts, including more living space. Fifth-wheel RVs also get better gas mileage and cost less to insure.

Two makers of fifth-wheel RVs are DRV Luxury Suites and New Horizons. Both of these manufacturers are ideal for full-time living situations and their basic models cost between $70,000 and $90,000

Regardless of whether you choose a traditional RV or a fifth-wheel version, there are certain amenities you will want to have when planning to live in one full time. They include:

  • Adequate storage space – everything you need to live will need to fit into your RV. While this can help people to eliminate unnecessary purchases, it also can be a challenge if you choose an RV that does not provide enough space for even the most basic needs.
  • A properly-sized bed – even when advertised as a Queen bed, most Queen beds in RVs are not the same size as those you can purchase in a store for use in the home. They are shorter and can therefore be less comfortable.
  • Adequately-sized appliances – most RVs have very small appliances and may only include a range top instead of a full stove with an oven. While this may be OK for weekend or shorter trips, it can be very frustrating for full-time RVers.
  • Washer/dryer unit – while most campgrounds have laundry facilities, and coin operable laundry facilities can be found in most towns, it is more convenient to have them in your own RV. Stackable washers and dryers can be ideal. They provide the same features as a regular washer and dryer while taking up less space.
  • A quiet generator – before buying an RV, sit inside it and run the generator to make sure it’s not so loud it will be disruptive, especially during sleep. While generators aren’t necessary when in a campground or other facility that provides electricity and water hook ups, those who wish to occasionally spend time in more remote locations may find them useful.

Want to learn more about downsizing options? Consider attending one of our upcoming Upside of Downsizing conferences. Information about our conferences can be found here.

Mary Spann

Mary Spann

Mary Spann is the founder and president of Upside of Downsizing®. In addition to her 26 years in construction, interior design, and home staging, Mary also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, making her uniquely qualified to assist with the downsizing process. Mary learned the key components of construction and interior design at an early age. Her father was a prominent custom home builder in Minnesota and Texas, and her mother was a successful interior designer and a real estate broker.
Mary Spann

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