I live in an SUV that cost under $500 to renovate. Here are 10 ways I make the most of my small space.

·7 min read
nicole standing thorugh the sunroof of her subaru forester
I've comfortably lived in my car for two years.Nicole Jordan
  • I spent less than $500 building out my Subaru Forester, which I've lived in for the past two years.

  • A custom build-out and organization is key for an enjoyable living setup.

  • Everything in my car, from clothing to gear, needs to serve practical and functional purposes.

Over the past two years, I've lived on the road in my Subaru Forester, which I built out for less than $500.

I've had a variety of layouts and organization styles since I first moved in, but now I have a cozy setup to call home.

Read on for my best tips for maximizing my small space.

Before anything else, I downsized everything I owned

With less than 50 square feet of livable space in my Subaru Forester, my first priority was downsizing.

I donated a lot of things, but since I've previously lived a nomadic lifestyle, I luckily didn't have too much to get rid of.

I significantly shrunk my closet by mostly keeping clothes that were functional versus cute. Anything I didn't find myself wearing frequently while living in a house was a definite giveaway.

Most of my other possessions serve multiple purposes or pack down small. My cooler doubles as a chair or table, and a lot of my cooking equipment is also backpacking gear.

My friend and I created a custom build-out to effectively use the space

side by side photos through the trunk of a subaru forester before and after bed and other items are added
I was able to customize my storage.Nicole Jordan

A custom build-out was the best upgrade I made to the small space in my car. It cost me less than $200 to cut a bed platform and storage space to the exact shape of my Subaru.

We built a hinged plank for my bed. One hinge allows easy access to storage behind the right passenger seat and the other hinge opens up to the spare-tire well, which I also use for additional space.

On the driver's side of my car, we built a custom box that I fill with my gear and extra clothing.

The build-out was a major upgrade, and it's made organization much easier because it allows for greater storage of large items.

I took advantage of the spare-tire well

After a year of living in my car, I was looking for ways to maximize storage space, and I realized how much foam was packed around the spare tire.

I removed all the foam, cut boards to fit the frame of the vehicle precisely, and filled that space.

With the hinge under my bed, I can easily access the compartment. I now keep my cooking supplies, car equipment, folding chair, and foam sleeping pad with my spare tire.

I also use the same folding plank that my bed sits as a cooking space and table.

When planning my build-out, I prioritized my sleep situation

I've spent more time in my bed than in the driver's seat, so its comfort was essential. The bed takes up most of the space in my car, so it was important to prioritize how I wanted it laid out.

I have a piece of foam cushioningfrom Jo-Ann Fabrics that I use as a mattress. It only cost me $80, and it's a durable setup for permanent on-the-road living.

Many car dwellers build a platform for their bed to sit on and use the space underneath for storage. But since I utilize the space in the spare-tire well, I've kept my bed flat on the surface of my car so I can sit up in it. This is a luxury if I'm working on my laptop or relaxing during bad weather.

I got a rooftop cargo box for extra storage

subaru forester parked in desert nicole jordan
Roof storage is a game changer.Nicole Jordan

The first thing I bought when I moved into my car was a rooftop cargo box. I can store things I don't need frequent access to, like winter clothes during the summer or specialty outdoor gear.

I was impressed by my cargo box's capacity. I can easily store plenty of extra gear without the stress of crowding my living space.

They can retail for around $300, but many people use these for one cross-country trip and sell them in great condition. I checked Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and buy-and-sell pages and found mine for $100 in like-new condition.

I've found different storage options that work best for high-use items

I've experimented with a variety of storage options including sliding drawers, folding cubbies, and plastic bins. It doesn't really matter what kind, what matters is how easily I can access my things.

I've found it easiest to use my duffel bag for the clothes I wear most frequently. It's flexible and squeezes into any space.

I keep my "bathroom" storage behind my seat on top of everything because I use those items multiple times a day. I also use the storage pockets on my car doors to hold other frequent items.

I try my best to keep my car organized and clean

view out of nicole's trunk in her subaru forester
Everything has a place and purpose in my car.Nicole Jordan

Keeping my car clean and organized is essential for my happiness and comfort. Everything has a specific spot, and I try to put everything back in its place immediately — otherwise, things are quickly lost.

I've spent days looking for something that slipped between a seat because I lazily tossed it on a chair. It's worth the extra two seconds of putting it away.

It's also important to keep the interior of the car clean. I find gas stations or car washes with vacuums to clean it out and keep the dirt from spreading.

I mostly use backpacking gear for my kitchen setup

After a comfy bed, a decent kitchen was my second priority.

I keep my two-burner stove, small backpacking stove, and other cooking gear stored in the spare-tire well.

Most of my cooking equipment doubles as my backpacking cooking gear, so it's lightweight and compacts down small. To save space and stay organized, I generally try to only carry enough food to last a few days, unless I'm in a remote area.

A Subaru is a bit small for a built-in water system, so I find nearby places to shower

A shower at the end of a long, hot day is one of the best feelings, but it's not really possible to construct that inside a Subaru.

Outdoor shower units are becoming more popular, but I don't think they're the most ideal in cold weather. Plus they require carrying extra water.

A quick Google search usually guides me to the nearest public shower. Many hostels, gyms, campgrounds, and RV parks offer daily shower passes that typically costs between $5 and $10.

I've made my Subaru feel like a home

nicole sitting int he trunk of her subaru forester
I'm comfortable in the space.Nicole Jordan

Most importantly, I love coming home to a comfortable place. My car is my home, and I want it to feel that way. For me, that means a cozy bed with space to sit up and bright colors.

I have a colorful patterned comforter that I make my bed with. I also have a couple of pillows that are a great addition when relaxing during the day.

Although space is limited some decorations are a nice touch. Curtains are great for privacy and add color and style. I've also used fairy lights to decorate my car in the evenings.

All of the comfy and unique personal decor makes it feel like a cozy home.

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