I see lots of van lifers who do the Marie Kondo origami-folding thing, or use compression bags, packing cubes or baskets to handle clothing. I’m not one of those people. I tried it. I hated it. I spent WAY too much time folding and unfolding, zipping and unzipping, to find the items I wanted. The older I get, the less willing I am to fuss with my belongings to get them to work for me.
Personally, I find that hanging my clothes is easier. It makes it simple to find what I want quickly and easily. It’s easier to hand-wash and dry things with hangers than it is trying to juggle clothes lines, clips and a place to attach the other end. If you are using a washer and dryer, you don’t go back out to your van with a basket of clothes (or a hamper bag) that you then have to handle yet again to organize and put away. Nope, with hanging clothes, you just put them on the hanger and carry them to the van, and hang them on the bar and you are done.
It’s also worth mentioning that hanging a few clothes (as long as there are just a few in your vanlife capsule wardrobe) doesn’t really take up that much room.
The only thing that doesn’t get hung is undies (panties, bras, tank tops & socks). Those go in a dedicated, but small overhead cubby that has a door and contains my unmentionables without issue. It’s really that simple. I use aluminum hangers that don’t have a risk of rusting and don’t take up as much room as the thick plastic ones. They are resilient and they just work. I may consider a hanging option for my unmentionables in the future, but right now, what I have works just fine.
I installed a hanging bar across the back of my van (behind my bed) which leaves room on one side for my heater/AC unit and allows access to shoes under the hanging clothes as well as access to the under-bed “garage” area from the rear. The rear access storage is for tools, extension cords, stockpiled items and anything that I need to have with me, but that I don’t need to have immediate access to while traveling. I consider it “cold” storage. Granted, I don’t like to carry anything I’m not going to need — but there are a few “just in case” items that comfortable, worry-free vanlife requires for me. Like extra water. Like extra food. Like a more extensive first aid kit than the one I keep with my daily toiletries. Like some tools.
This would also be where I stowed away a thicker coat, an extra blanket, and a heavier pair of boots (when I’m traveling in the warmer months). It’s where I would stash my snorkel & mask, swimsuit and swim shoes, even when I’m traveling in the cooler months. Why? Because you never can tell when the weather might get unseasonably cool, or when I might decide to take a detour that lands me near a beach. And it would be tragic to be near a beach and not be able to snorkel — even if it’s a bit chilly at the time.
If you are super-cramped and can’t afford the space to hang a bar all the way across your van, you may want to consider a “fold-away” drying rack like this one that will give you nearly a foot of hanger space, and will fold flat against the side of your rv, van, or vehicle when not in use. After you travel for awhile, it becomes apparent that you really only use a handful of clothes. Your favorites get all the love and the other, “just in case” clothes just end up being stored. Even when you only have a tiny closet, some items will get more use than others — and they should stay at home (or better yet, be donated).
Van life teaches you quickly how important it is to have only your favorite items of clothing, to treat them well, and to forget the rest. Once you learn that lesson, having enough space for clothes and shoes and “accessories” becomes pretty easy — because there just aren’t that many of them. It means you can make the storage as convenient as possible, even in a tiny van, which will make van life easier and travel more enjoyable!