When you are shopping for gizmos and gadgets for your small home, be it an RV, travel trailer, or micro house, you have a lot of options. First of all, there are a wide variety manufactured and marketed specifically for the RVers of the world. In addition, you have an amazing array of potential gadgets, gizmos, and aids to small life to be found in dollar stores, discount stores, and flea markets around the country.
Is shopping at RV specific stores wise?
It depends on what you are looking for. For parts to upgrade, repair, or maintain your RV or travel trailer, you are going to need to shop such stores. A lot of parts are specifically geared for RVs and travel trailers, and they come equipped with completely different plumbing systems than those found in typical residential situations. Electrical systems in travel trailers and RVs are also different, and once again, products geared for them and repair parts are often found only at RV stores.
For appliances and gizmos and gadgets, its another story. These items are often available elsewhere for far less money. They can be found in surprising locations and offer space, time, weight, and money solutions.
Colanders: these items are typically used when cooking pasta and other dishes that are boiled and then drained of the liquid. To eliminate the colander from your cabinet can save considerable space. From a dollar store, I found a half-moon shaped strainer that is held against the pot to drain these items. Cost? Under $2 Another solution is the collapsible silicone versions. Storing them flat means they fit in much less space. These are not quite as cheap, running about $20 each, but are available at kitchen stores, department stores, and most discount stores too.
Hanging: we solved our problem with pots and pans by running a 1×2″ furring strip along the bottom edge of the overhead cabinet over the sink. Drywall screws about 2 1/2″ long were used to create hangers for the pots and pans to be stored hanging against the wall. Cost? A box of screws and the furring strip (we only used a short section of one) ran less than $10. As far as I know, there are no pot racks that are RV friendly. We have used the furring strips to create strips for convenient hanging in a number of locations, where everything from unused keys to flashlights are hung. They also provide support for two different corner shelves, with 1×6″ boards miter cut to fit the slot and placed 3 or 4 deep on the furring strips to create the shelf. An 8′ furring strip cost us less than $2.
Refrigerators: duel powered refrigerators are VERY expensive, and not particularly effective in the incarnation typically included in RVs and travel trailers. Our travel trailer had a full size electric refrigerator, which unfortunately was dead when we plugged it in. We replaced it with a 2 door dorm sized (4.2 cf) refrigerator. Does it work? Yes, but space is a high priority and a gallon of milk or 2 liter bottle will not fit without removing all of the interior shelving and greatly reducing storage capacity. In a sense, our refrigerator reflects the rest of our space…cramped! But it does work and it does keep us mindful of what is in it. No more mystery containers that nobody remembers when it went into the refrigerator!
Our refrigerator works ONLY on electricity, which means it won’t work if we’re boondocking. Standard dual powered refrigerators also work with propane, a distinct advantage when away from shore power. However, our decision was based on the fact we are not intending to be boondocking, and even if we were…the difference in price would buy an awful lot of ice for an ice chest. If you are planning on boondocking often, you may want to spring for that more expensive refrigerator.
File cabinets: Face it. I don’t think a filing cabinet is going to fit in the travel trailer at all, and especially not with two people, two dogs, and two cats. Our answer? A filing box that holds the equivelent of one drawer of hanging files. I think we found it at Walmart, and it was another inexpensive answer to our filing needs. We just have to think about what we are going to save in it, and MOST things are saved in a digital format now.
Sofa-sleeper: ours was worn out, dirty, and damaged when we bought the trailer. We took it out, but that meant thinking about how to replace it. In our case, we had a futon which would fit (and leave space underneath for storage boxes,) but we opted out of putting it in the travel trailer. In our case, it has been replaced with a shelving unit, and next we’re going to try a small, light computer desk there. GM & I are not “sofa sitters” really, and we’re trying out alternative solutions. But…for those that do want to keep the sofa but don’t want the high price of replacing it with a new built in, an inexpensive futon is a potential answer.
Hint: if the mattress sags between the supports, a common problem in low-end futons, cut plywood to fit to the seat and back, drill holes and attach the pieces to the frame with zip ties that will be hidden when the mattress is replaced. It still folds out to a bed, but with a lot more comfort for sitting OR sleeping. Also, for nice “drape” and easy cleaning, a king size comforter (flat king sheet too!) makes the perfect futon cover and is easily removable for washing, hides any storage boxes under the futon, and can double as a blanket if you need it.
Pots & pans: If you cook a lot, you probably have way too many pots and pans. Downsizing means eliminating a lot of them from your repertoire. Start by tossing any non-stick pans that are starting to peel–they’ve reached the end of their useful days anyhow. Next, get rid of any pans that you just don’t like, for whatever reason. My recommendations? It’s a short “essential” list: 1 12″ iron skillet, 1 14″ carbon steel wok, 1 12″ non-stick frying pan w/ lid, 1 6 or 8″ non stick frying pan, 1 1 qt. saucepan w/ lid, 1 3 qt. sauce pan w/ lid, 1 4 qt “bean pot” (like a mini-stockpot) w/ lid, and 1 large 8-12 qt. stockpot with steamer insert and lid. Add a 9×13 cake pan, a small cookie sheet, 2 round 9″ cake pans, muffin tin, 1 pie pan, and 1 loaf pan. For utensils: 2 nylon spatulas/pancake turners, 1 whip, 1 slotted spoon, 1 cooking spoon, 4 wooden spoons, and 1 ladle–don’t forget the can opener too! Add a 10″ chef knife, fillet knife, bread knife, 2 paring knives, steak knives, and a carving knife and you are all set. Any of these items can be purchased almost anywhere. My favorite “bean pot” came from the camping section at an discount store, and is a enameled speckle ware pot. Dollar stores can be great bargain finders too.
Small appliances is where the RV stores really can sock it to you. The truth of the matter is, you don’t need special appliances in an RV or micro house. You do need fewer and more compact appliances when you choose to add them to your kitchen.
A medium to smallish slow cooker can be a real help. They run off of electricity (there is a propane one, but I wasn’t impressed with its performance.) so only work when you have shore power. They can make a lot of different dishes, and can be safely used to cook while you sleep or are busy doing something. Get one with at least a high and low setting, and a “keep warm” setting can be a lifesaver on a cold winter’s day to keep the soup ready at just the right temperature.
The butane stoves frequently used by caterers are easy back ups and can be used in addition to the burners on your stove. If you happen to run out of propane in the middle of dinner, they can save the meal too! Microwaves are often included as built in appliances. They are great for reheating meals, fast meals, and quick cups of something hot.
Electric skillet: I don’t have one right now, but they can be very useful for a lot of things. Consider your storage space, as well as your cooking habits. I opted to skip this one, but it may be just what you need.
Blender: There is a 12 volt one, but why pay that much for a smoothie? Try a stick blender–it’s super compact, blends right in the cup often, and can even be used to puree food right in the saucepan. Traditional ones with their canisters and bases can be space hogs. How much do you use yours? Do you like blended drinks often? If the answer is yes, you might want to stick with tradition.
Coffeemaker: Here you have a lot of choices. There are stovetop ones, percolators, drip coffee makers, single serving coffee makers, the list just goes on. I have a number of them, and I’ve also seen a lot of them die violent deaths while young. If you are a coffee drinker, by all means, get a drip pot. If you only drink 1 or 2 cups per day, you might want to consider Melitta’s manual drip coffeemaker. It is compact and low tech, sits on your cup/mug, and uses cone filters. There are also coffee presses, but I’ve never been thrilled with them. Stove top espresso pots do work well, and if you are an espresso lover, they are much more compact than an electric version as well as much cheaper. The single serve coffee makers really are too bulky for most travel trailers, RVs and micro homes. (In addition, I happen to despise Tassimo’s customer service, which I am not alone in.)
Computers: The micro home, RV, and travel trailer all just beg for us to use laptops instead of traditional desk models. Serious geeky sorts may opt to stick with the desktop model, but the rest of us need to consider the smaller ones. Recent years have seen the market flooded with very dependable desktop replacement laptops at affordable prices. Netbooks, with their even smaller footprint, are a good alternative for those who use their computer for little beyond email and shopping too.
The big secret is to have less so you have more. That means considering each item you introduce to your home as though your space was gold. Is the item going to benefit you enough to justify its occupation of that space?
It’s sometimes tough to let go of old habits, but in the long run, giving up the materialistic consumer mindset will benefit all of us. Always ask, do you really need that item? Face it, most of us have too much of everything from clothing to jewelry, from appliances to furniture. We don’t need it, and we may not even want to have it. Letting go of that stuff frees us up to embrace space and life more openly. It’s great.
Now, about those 27 pairs of pants…