Ok, fellow van lifer (or soon-to-be van dweller), listen up close. We have a secret for you.
Your van has a lot more storage and organisation space than you think it does.
That’s right. We promise you that there is actually space for every necessity AND some extras. That’s not to say you’re going to get out of Marie Kondo-ing your life, but you’re not going to have to live like a monk.
With careful planning, thoughtful purchases, and some re-purposed house organisation items, you can have everything you need in your van while keeping it looking cozy and nice.
We’ve compiled some of our favourite van life storage and organisation hacks that we’ve found. Some are construction ideas, others are organisational. Still, others are nifty small and cheap gadgets you can buy from Amazon, Ikea, or the hardware store.
If you’re looking for specific organisational tips for different “rooms” of the van, we’ve also written specific articles about kitchen, clothing, and garage storage. Don’t forget to check them out, too.
1. Slide-out Storage Shelves
Slide-out storage shelves are one of the best storage hacks of van life. Build some accessible from inside, but the best trick is to build them, extending outside when the back door is open.
One of our favourite ways to use slide-out shelves is to extend your kitchen area with counter space and storage that pulls outside. Not only will this get you out of your van, but you’ll also have tons of extra kitchen space that there simply isn’t room for inside. How big of a unit you build depends on your needs and where you put it. Above, you see that these vanlifers have even put a sink on their extendable kitchen counter.
Down below, you’ll see others have a stove in the back on their extension. Your possibilities are endless.
You can use these extendable slide-out storage shelves for practically anything. Store batteries, make extra kitchen counter space, tuck away your bikes. The possibilities are endless. You will never regret putting a pull-out storage unit in the back of your van! Instead of reaching in the back of drawers and stacking things precariously, slides provide you with tons more space and none of the hassle. (see our article in garage storage)
2. Extendable Counter
Similar to the option above, an indoor extendable counter gives you extra food prep space when you need it. Make those drawers come out to provide you with extra counter space when prepping for meals indoors. A smaller, indoor version of the extendable kitchen concept takes pull-out cutting boards, seen in some house kitchens, to the next level. We like that it takes less storage room than the extendable kitchen and is easy to clean and get out of the way when you’re done.
3. Drawers over cupboards
Before you even build your van, we recommend thinking of what layout will give you the most kitchen space. We recommend installing plenty of drawers instead of cupboards when you’re designing. Drawers are much easier to use and organize since you can see everything. They are generally a better use of space since nothing gets lost at the back of the cupboard. If you use drawer organizers, you’ll keep your drawers super organized too.
4. Multipurpose table
A small table unit in your van can make meals homier. It can be multipurpose, too: turning into a workspace, a lounge and living room area, and extra counter space for cooking when you’re not eating. As you can see in the examples above, it does not have to be big, but just a small one will go a long way to adding comfort to your van experience.
Another option is to combine a table with your bed.
The table bed design maximizes space without being challenging to set up a bed at the end of the night. The table in the middle provides a good workspace and eating area that can be lowered, and the cushions pulled out to make a comfortable bed.
5. Hooks and Hangers
You can’t put enough hooks in your van. Attach hooks, nails, or anything you can find to the walls. The more, the better. It’s a fast way to hang clothes and coats up that requires no construction skill and is incredibly affordable. You’ll find yourself using them for a plethora of things, even beyond clothes.
Although they are handy for clothes. You can hang hooks on the backdoor of your van and on the walls by your side door so that you can easily hang your coat or sweater after going outside.
A favourite option for many a tiny home life, hanging up pots from the ceiling clears up counter space and makes them easily accessible when you need them. You can also hang kitchen utensils to keep counter space clear. Our favourite, though, is hanging up fancy glassware like wine glasses. It also can keep the items secure when you’re driving.
We love how these vanlifers have hung up their wine glasses, kitchen utensils and plant in the small kitchen space they have.
Shelves are a lot cheaper than installing cupboards. If you buy containers that fit on the shelf, you can place your dry goods on display like spices or coffee. You can also use them as a make-shift liquor cabinet for your favourite bottles of hard alcohol. Or you can put cute potted plants on the shelf, clearing up space on the floor and counter for other necessities. Whatever you choose to do with your shelves, they can be fitted virtually anywhere in your van and give you more space to stash things!
We love these Ikea shelves here that look similar to the photos above. The shelves are small and don’t jet out too much, meaning you can place them on the walls of your van without worrying about hitting your head against them or taking up too much room. You can easily use the Ikea shelves as inspiration if you want to build or thrift your own.
7. Clear airtight containers
When in doubt, purchase clear plastic containers available at IKEA and amazon. Stackable and affordable, the different sizes make them a great way to stash your necessities out of the way while still seeing what you actually packed. We love to use them for off-season clothes, pet food, baking goods, garage items, or anything that needs some organisational love.
They’re also excellent as the “misc bin”. You know, that one drawer is full of things you need but aren’t very organized? Keeping this in a clear bin means you’ll actually be able to see those valuable miscellaneous items you haven’t found a proper spot for.
They might also fit in the cubbies mentioned down below or be useful for garage storage.
8. Cubbies and bins
You can store items like clothes, rags, and boxes in cubbies under the bed, which are an even easier storage unit to construct. Since you can see in (if you’re using clear bins or no bins), you won’t be opening drawers, searching for where you put stuff. They’re also easy to change up if you’re tired of the same old look. If you’re feeling the itch to redecorate your van, get some colourful containers and switch out the locations in the cubbies. Combine both cubbies and bins that fit in the cubbies to maximize space.
9. Ceiling storage
Using your ceiling is another way to maximize space you didn’t think you had. Attach long thin items like surfboards and fishing rods on the roof using ropes or nets.
Nets are also an excellent way to store clothing, sleeping bags, or other items on the ceiling. You can also use nets on the wall for easy storage that doesn’t require construction skills.
Overhead storage cabinets beside and above your bed can utilize that space above your head too.
We love how this keeps items accessible without using space for other things.
10. Rope Cabinets
Rope cabinets keep everything on your shelves from falling down while you’re travelling. They’re especially useful for breakable items like glass drawers or must-be-easy-to-access things like clothes. It’s also adjustable and keeps even larger items safe while remaining super easy to get to. And it looks good!
Attach them to pre-made shelving, and you’re ready to go.
11. Tool Pouches
This vanlife hack requires no planning or construction skill, but you’ll get a helpful bedside table substitute. Purchase tool pouches from the hardware store or these pouches here that attach to the bed frame. The small pockets are perfect for storing smaller items like medication, phone, reading light, etc. The slightly larger pouches are big enough to fit an iPad, Kindle, or book, for example. Hang the tool kit from a hook or nail on the ceiling. Voila! You’re ready to settle in for bed.
These pouches don’t need to be limited to the bedroom, though. Use them for storage around your van. Attach to hooks or tie on to the backseat or side of the kitchen counter to store items you need regularly.
12. Flip-top seating
This is a hack to consider when designing your van build. If you’re including seating in your van, consider making the seating structure open and close so you can place clothes or other items out of the way. Your seats will look good and be put to good use even when you’re not sitting on them. A little bit like a treasure chest full of van life storage.
We’ve also seen this organisation hack as a sneaky garbage or recycle bin that you can sit on looks classy.
13. Swivel seats
A van build idea is to use the seats that come with your van for van seating. Adding swivels to the bottom can make your chair dual-purpose: secure and safe when travelling and comfortable seating when parked. This is especially useful if you have kids and need more than driver and passenger seating. Some vans have the swivel option when you buy them, so you don’t need to install them.
14. Use door hangers
Speaking of seats, put the back of the driver and passenger seat to good use. Purchase over the door shoe pouches or other over the door storage items. Then use string to attach the storage units to the headrest. You now have a convenient storing system that is right by the door. Use it for shoes, cooking items, or other items you’ll need for an outdoor adventure.
15. Make use of awkward and unused space.
Living the van life means you have to think about the box when it comes to space. Use all the space you have! Hang things up in areas that fit or wouldn’t typically be used. You’ll see above that these vanlifers store their cooking oils in the hollow space of the door.
There are plenty of areas that can be used to put a cupboard, drawer, or shelf. You’ll likely find some extra space somewhere for a small narrow cabinet – it could be only a few centimetres wide – where you can put thin items like cookie sheets, cutting boards, or spice racks. We love how this family made a narrow pantry in a skinny space they had leftover.
The side and back doors shouldn’t be forgotten either. Attach hooks for coats, tie your camp chairs with bungee cords, and attach little shelves to your doors. Many doors curve slightly outward, giving you room to put a shelf, netting, or over-the-door storage unit.