How To Stay (Mostly) Sane Living in a Small Space

How To Stay (Mostly) Sane Living in a Small Space

On living with another human in a small space

Sometimes I get rather restless and grumpy when we can’t go outside much, like if it rains for an extended period, there are lots of insects of the biting or stinging variety, or if it’s too hot or cold. It’s also an issue when we’re camping in a public or very cramped area and can’t extend our living space outside, which is what we consider our true “living room”. We get the same feeling of cabin fever in those situations that we’ve experienced in a big house or our larger RVs – it just sets in a bit quicker!

These days sure can be a morale killer – especially several of them in a row.

To combat that problem, we have to communicate how we’re feeling all the time to one another, especially when we need a break, and then act on it. While RVing, it can be a huge sanity-saver to get a hotel room for a night or few, rent a place on Airbnb or VRBO, book a swanky RV park with lots of amenities to take advantage of, or take up a friend or family member on a generous offer of their driveway/guest bedroom. We usually make an extra effort when possible to seek out a hot tub, to soak some of our stress away.

Nobody ever wants to get anywhere close to the “Here’s Johnny!” scene from The Shining toward one another (plus we don’t have any solid wood interior doors to chop through), so we have to speak up early on if we’re feeling too claustrophobic, need some time alone, or have other unmet emotional needs.

Sometimes just the constant presence of another person and our animals so physically close necessitates some alone time. That’s healthy for anyone, regardless of the size of your home, how well you get along with your those you live with, and your level of intro- or extroversion.

Personal space – what’s that?!

The best option I’ve found, so far, has been to find something we each love to do, especially if it’s something that our partner doesn’t enjoy as much or is ambivalent about, and embrace it fully as “me” time. That means our “me” time is spent doing something we love, and we don’t feel any guilt about subjecting our partner to things they may not enjoy as much! Win-win!

I like to take some time alone to chat with my friends and family, read, write, edit photos, or catch up on a show/movie I’d been wanting to see that doesn’t interest my partner. We learned that it’s important not to let ourselves fall victim to the “We must do everything together!” mentality, just because we live in a small space, work at home together, and travel together. For us, this is essential to staying sane and happy. Maintaining our own friendships is crucial as well. Even though they often overlap, it’s good to have our own one-on-one conversations with those friends, instead of doing everything together.

On living with pets in a small space

“You have how many dogs in there?” is something we hear often while traveling in our camper van, even from strangers (which is fair, since we do resemble a clown car when we all enter and exit).


They’re getting older and lazier, but we also make it a point to exercise them (and us) often to keep us all happy, whether we’re in our van or our home-base. If it’s raining, we go to a pet store and walk them inside for a bit. If we can find a dog-friendly place to hang out, they come with us to patios to sit outside (or inside, if they allow that!). Even if it’s not much activity, the mental stimulation of a new situation typically exhausts them. They also stay extremely well-socialized and better behaved in public, and adapt well now to most any circumstance we throw at them.

Sometimes, we do want to get away for a bit on our own, and we try not to feel bad about needing that time alone. Just like a parent of human children needs adult time and date nights, so do we from our four-legged dependents. We try to tire them out earlier in the day the best we can, then leave them behind at home or (temperature permitting) in the van, to do our own thing for a few hours.

In our RV, they tend to spend quite a bit of time awake after we leave, watching for us to come back, and usually sitting in the driver and passenger seats, looking out the windows. This has led to us returning to the van to see random passersby laughing and taking pictures of them “driving”. I wonder how many pictures of them are floating around the internet that we don’t even know about? πŸ˜€

Taking turns at the wheel is important in avoiding road fatigue.

On living without much stuff in a small space

This part was, and sometimes still is, quite difficult. A purge of possessions perpetually happens (some fun alliteration there!) as we find more useful or space-saving things, wear things out, or cease to need them anymore. Decluttering and downsizing is always a work in progress for small-space dwellers, and a one-in, one-out rule can be tough to live by, but necessary.

We now make do with very little, but we truly love most of the carefully-curated things we do own, and tend to use them often. We buy higher-quality items now that should stand the test of time, go out of our way to source products that are ethically produced and/or support the local economy, and find we don’t require as much to be happy, because our collections are more of the “experiences” variety these days.

Reading the book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” greatly changed my emotional attachments to the things I own, even if it can be a little “flowery” and “out there” at times. The concept of wasting much our valuable energy to organize, reorganize, worry about, and maintain lots of possessions — ones that you may not even cherish or use — fits well into our minimalist lifestyle. I highly recommend her methods for systematically purging things from your home by the type of item, so as not to feel so overwhelmed in the process.

If you aren’t offended by a few f-bombs (okay, maybe a lot of them!) the book “The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck” is a funny “life decluttering” follow-up, and gave us a lot of pause about what really matters to us day-to-day in a world where everything seems to compete for your attention. Part of decluttering your life has to be about not giving too much of your time to things that don’t mean something to you. We learned how to better operate within our personal “give a f*ck” budgets daily, and eliminate activities that don’t bring us joy.

Now we’d love to hear from you, dear readers – have you downsized your living situation, and what effects has it had on your life? What struggles do you run into, and what tips do you have for others? 



  1. Apr 12, 2017 / 8:56 am

    Love this! Eric doesn’t need much “personal space” as he’s fine with headphones & a movie or video game, but I need true alone time which is harder to carve out. It’s also harder for me to *ask* for – I feel so high maintenance compared to Eric. I’m better about it now though. Re:stuff, I find that the lack of stuff and the associated organizing, cleaning and, most importantly, obsessive need to get more of it, has allowed me to finally be fully present in my life. I know collect stunning vistas, stellar office views, hikes, & quality time with fur babies & friends (old & new). I have far fewer possessions but a much richer life.

  2. Apr 12, 2017 / 11:27 am

    Great post! Been wondering how you all were doing! We can so identify! After we moved 10 times over nearly 30 years, the last (we thought) move made us declare, “We’re going to become minimalists!” Ha! Our next move proved we weren’t. So we tried it again…finally, our 13th move was into an extra light and small 5th wheel! Yay! We were inspired by you two, Gone With the Wynnes, and the Lowe’s! We’ve never looked back and we love our decluttered lifestyle. But we did upgrade to a 40′ motor home-but the 18 months in the extra light taught us well! We didn’t add anything!
    Getting along in 400 square feet 24/7….oh how many people tell us they could NEVER do that! I love your explanation: communication.

  3. Apr 12, 2017 / 5:46 pm

    I adore your dogs and the images. Communication is key to avoiding potential altercations and misunderstandings. πŸ™‚

  4. Apr 12, 2017 / 8:37 pm

    Loved your blog. You write amazing will check you more often .
    wuf wuf wuf for your dogs !

  5. Apr 13, 2017 / 2:21 am

    You are actually so blessed to be sharing such a small space with such beautiful animals! Awwwww

    Apr 13, 2017 / 8:37 pm

    enjoyed reading – good info.. it’s nice to hear how others do it.. thanks for sharing

  7. Apr 14, 2017 / 7:17 am

    great post! …peaceful easter πŸ˜‰

  8. Apr 14, 2017 / 1:36 pm

    My family, 6 of us, did a long RV trip and thought it was great fun. That being said I could not survive that many in a small space for very long. If it’s just the hubby and me, I would last a little longer but I’m not sure I want to put it to the test. Travel on!

  9. Apr 14, 2017 / 8:49 pm

    Just joined wordpress, and your blog is the first I read. Love it. BTW, have you ever read Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon? It was my favorite book, about a road trip in America. Love your lifestyle!

    • Kristin
      Apr 16, 2017 / 7:58 pm

      Thank you for reading!

  10. Apr 15, 2017 / 10:23 pm

    First of all, I love your big smooshy faced dog. Is he mastiffish or bull something?
    We travel with one dog but the question we get when we exit our clown insert-whatever-it is-at-the-moment, the question we get is, “You have three KIDS in there?” I just realized I’m nearly at 30 moves in 9 years. That sounds ridiculous… It was the 11th move where I really started to seek “the stuff purge.” I actually posted about it a while back.
    Recently we were living in a short bus but the engine blew up. During the summer in the bus I noticed how much shorter my neurotic cleaning process had become. We’re actually in a van right now as I write this with myself, my husband, our 3 kids, our dog and 2 friends, on a pilgrimage to the van that will stand in until the bus is repaired. Rainy days are certainly the pits, especially if the dog gets wet before we all pile into our dry space, but that’s what museums, libraries and naps are for, right? Patience and communication are definitely HUGE and we try to stay where it’s warm. I would rather do this any day than the activities required to spend roughly 5 hours a day with my family in a stationary living space of any size! The earth is my home and it’d be a shame to only use one room.

    • Kristin
      Apr 16, 2017 / 7:53 pm

      The big dog is a half Shar-Pei, half mutt, as best we can tell. She’s a rescue, and we adopted her mom, who was a full-blooded Shar-Pei.

      What a fun adventure you’re on, too! “The earth is my home and it’d be a shame to only use one room.” – I couldn’t agree more! We have a part-time small home lately for a few reasons, but we consider ourselves at home anywhere we are in the world at the moment. There’s no one place that really feels completely like home to us. Happy travels! πŸ™‚

  11. Apr 17, 2017 / 4:10 pm

    Ha ha – yes, the decluttering. And the cabin fever. I so hear you. But the world as your back garden ain’t so bad eh?!

  12. Apr 17, 2017 / 7:17 pm

    How funny! My labrador used to hop in the front seat as well, and I also caught people taking photos! Sadly she’s much too arthritic to maneuver herself out of the back seat anymore.

    When my husband and I went on our honeymoon 17 years ago, we traveled Australia and New Zealand by tent. About 2 weeks in on this 7-week trek, I thought that I was going to go nuts. I turned to him and said, “I hate you”; he replied, “I hate you, too.” We laughed and then had a great time the rest of the trip. It just needed to be said.

  13. Apr 23, 2017 / 11:28 pm

    Just discovered your blog and ironically we are parked in Branson. Visiting MO for the first time…we can see why you snagged a place here, it is beautiful!

  14. May 23, 2017 / 8:15 pm

    Yes to all that you have posted. We travel with three dogs as well, and the dogs adapt Great post.

  15. CC
    Aug 6, 2017 / 10:12 pm

    I enjoyed reading about your new adventure in the Travato, as we are in the stages of buying a 59K. One thing I am unclear of is how do you mange the heat when you can’t use a generator in the parks? Also are you plugging in most nights or trying to do solar, did you add panels? We want to head to national parks & I’m wondering what people do since gens. are not allowed. We live in FL & no A/C is impossible, here anyway! Other then nat’l parks, I guess you use generator? What about if you stay at Walmart or other parking places, do you use your generator or are you in total stealth/quiet mode?? Any help you can give us to shed some light or knowledge is appreciated. We are not going to live in rv, but travel for long periods at a time.Thanks for any imput!!

    • Kristin
      Nov 2, 2017 / 11:36 am

      Hi CC! Sorry for the delay – we’ve been traveling and working quite a bit lately, and comments got away from me. To manage camping in extreme heat, we almost always just have to suck it up and go to a commercial RV park, or stay at a hotel that’s pet friendly. We don’t like sleeping hot or risking the dogs’ lives, so that’s a personal preference of ours rather than going to extreme measures to stay cool. Some people can tolerate heat better than we can, but we prefer to do primitive campgrounds in more temperate fall and spring months, when it’s less busy usually and we can safely leave our pets in the RV.

      We added an extra 120 watts of solar panels, which helps a lot with having enough power to run our inverter for small appliances and fans non-stop, but we could never run the air conditioner in our van on solar alone, without a huge battery bank and many more panels. Basically, you’d need to tow a trailer of panels and batteries if you’re in a small RV or trailer. In bigger motorhomes, it’s possible to do a large enough solar array on the roof/ground and a lithium battery bank, and run the AC for a little bit of time. You can check out Technomadia’s blog for information about their setup, which can run the AC.

      We don’t use our generator much at all – we’ve simplified our coffee making, cooking and have mostly 12v appliances, so other than for short bursts for the microwave and a few plug-in appliances that are too high-wattage for the inverter we have (hair dryer, espresso maker), we are mostly generator-free. You learn to adapt and use your batteries more. We have an extra clip-on 12v fan for warm nights that we hang facing our bed, and most of our lights and our stereo are 12v. I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any additional questions!

  16. Oct 25, 2017 / 3:34 pm

    I like your system! I could have used this when I was living in a van!

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