How to Live in a Small Car [Follow These Steps!]

How to Live in a Small Car [Follow These Steps!]
Even living in the smallest of cars is possible, but you must plan for some challenges.


Making a vehicle your home can be challenging, no matter its size. But here's the great news...

If you're wondering how to live in a small car, it absolutely CAN be done, and I'm going to show you how.

While you might have to sacrifice some things and cut a few corners to make it happen, I guarantee you that it's very, very doable.

And I should know, as I've been living in a Prius for the past 13 months.

Let's get to the good stuff...

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Why Would Someone Want to Live in a Small Car?

The reasons for this could be many. There are numerous benefits to living in a small car. Some of them include...

  • To get better fuel economy
  • Smaller cars are usually cheaper to insure
  • Smaller cars generally cost less to buy
  • Some people are more comfortable driving and parking compact cars
  • A compact car might be their only option
  • To blend in easier when stealth camping
Check out my related post for some killer stealth camping tips!

Challenges of Going Tiny

Actually, there aren't too many challenges involved when living in a smaller car versus a bigger one. But some still exist, like...

  • You will obviously have MUCH less space to store your belongings

  • Your sleeping space will be a bit cramped

  • You might need to set up your bedding area each night, and then break it down in the morning

Some of this is going to make things a bit tougher and inconvenient, but don't worry, the bottom line is that you'll still have a functional, comfortable living space to hit the road with!

Tips for Living in a Compact Vehicle

  • You absolutely MUST downsize as much as possible. This means few having fewer belongings, and keeping larger items to the bare minimum

  • Make use of any and all storage options that you can. Seat back organizers are enormously helpful. Roof-top cargo boxes, too. These will allow you to have a LOT more room to keep your personal items!

  • Get used to constantly moving things around. You will need to set up your bedding area on a daily basis, and then break it down upon rising. Same goes for getting food out of bins and other supplies. It's a constant juggling act

  • Try to spend as much time as you can OUTSIDE of the car. Being cooped up inside of a small vehicle for hours upon hours every single day can feel isolating, and will make you restless. The goal is to be in the car only when you have to: sleeping, eating, etc.

  • There are a gazillion places to store things in a vehicle, and you must use ALL of them in a smaller car: under the seats, beneath the front & back seats, the passenger seating area under the dashboard, the trunk or cargo area, and so forth

Creating a Comfortable Sleeping Area

*MATERIALS NEEDED: (1) Piece of plywood, (1 or 2) Storage bins, (1) Mattress

Follow these steps...

First, you will need to measure the inside of your car so you know what width & length of plywood will fit inside. To do this, follow steps 1 and 2 below. Then, measure the length from the front of the front row passenger seat, to the back of the rear row passenger seat. Next, figure out the width of the seat (any one). Finally, get a sheet of 1/2" or 3/4" plywood from any Home Depot or Lowe's cut to the exact dimensions that you came up with.
    • The first step is to fold the front row passenger seat flat. In some cars the seats fold forwards, and in others backwards. Either of these are fine, but the KEY is to get the seat folded as flat as possible
    • The second step is to fold the back row passenger seat flat. (Some back seats might not fold separate, only together. If this is the case, fold both passenger side AND driver side together). Again, the important thing is to get the seat/s folded as flush as possible
    • The next step is to take your plywood board and place it over both of the folded front & rear passenger side seats. As the diagram above shows, this will be your sleeping platform/base

Once you have your sleeping platform set up, the rest is a breeze!

    • The fourth step is to get a mattress to place on top of your sleeping platform. This can can a simple blow up mattress, a sleeping pad, or even an inexpensive piece of foam that's cut to the dimensions of the platform
    • The final step of the puzzle is a pillow, blanket, or perhaps a sleeping bag if your prefer. A sheet for your mattress is up to you, and entirely optional

That's it, your bed is complete!

While this is a very basic, simple solution, sometimes the simplest things work the best. Remember the K.I.S.S. principle?

But might be thinking that I forgot about your belongings! I didn't ;)

Look again at the photo above. You'll see that you still have the back row driver's side seat open and unused.

That is where you can place a storage bin to hold your clothes, food, or whatever else you wish to store inside. Plus...

We haven't even scratched the surface on additional storage space yet! There are still a few tricks up my sleeve, which I'll cover in the next section. But first...

Here's a real photo of someone sleeping with this same set-up in a tiny Mini Cooper!

If this can be done in a Mini Cooper, it is certainly doable in ANY vehicle, so you have no excuses.

If you will be breaking your bedding area down everyday upon waking, you might consider cutting your plywood board into two separate sections and adding a hinge in the middle. Doing this will allow you to fold the board in half, which will make storing it when not in use much easier.

Finding More Storage Space

Okay, you've got your bedding area done, and I've also shown you how to fit 1 or 2 storage bins to house your food and other necessities.

But you're probably going to need a bit more space for your belongings.

I've got you covered!

There are still PLENTY of places to keep added gear that you have. Here's a list of them...

  • Your trunk or cargo area. Even though you have a bed set up and a couple of storage bins on 1 seat, you should still have room in the trunk or cargo area to hold further items

  • Under the seats. Yes, these places aren't too large, but you have 2 of them, and you can easily stow a first aid kit in these places, wet wipes, a small toiletry bag, charging cables, etc.

  • Under the dashboard in front of the passenger side seat. There is a LOT of room to be used here. Matter of fact, I use it religiously, and it has become like my kitchen cupboard

  • On the floor behind the driver's seat. Again, this is unused space, and you have to take advantage of it. This would be the perfect spot to put a small 12v refrigerator, portable power station, etc. I normally use this area to keep my laundry

  • Storage pockets behind the seats. These are great to hold a bunch of stuff. I keep important paperwork in mine, but you can put snacks in these, tablets, charging devices, paper plates and other kitchenware, etc.

Here are a few photos from my Prius using many of these same storage spaces...

Helpful Storage Items for Small Car Living

As you can see, there are lots and lots of cubby holes to store your personal belongings. But what if these arent enough?

If you simply have too much stuff, and you're worried that it won't all fit in your small car, fear not, you still have several other options at your disposal!

I highly recommend the following items. I use some of these myself, as do my nomad friends in this lifestyle.

All of these solutions will open up another world of storage space to utilize in your vehicle...

ULEEKA Car Backseat Organizer with 10" Tablet Holder & 9 Storage Pockets (2 Pack)

Check Amazon’s Price

Kaskawise Car Ceiling Cargo Net 31.5"X21.6"

Check Amazon’s Price

MeeFar Car Roof-Top Cargo Bag (Fits all cars with/without cargo racks)

Check Amazon’s Price

SportRack Vista XL Rear Opening Cargo Box

Check Amazon’s Price

Keeping a Small Car Clean and Organized

When it comes to cleanliness and organization, these things are probably easier to keep up with in a small car versus a larger vehicle. The tiny size will work to your advantage here. However...

There are still some best practices that you should try to make a habit of.


  • Label as many storage solutions as possible. Bins, boxes, bags, etc. It is VERY easy to lose track of things in a car...even a small one. You must know where everything is at all times. If you don't, your life will be a cluttered, chaotic mess

  • Use clear bins & boxes. These help a lot. Being able to see the contents in a bin before rifling through everything saves time and stress

  • Prioritize items. Keep your most used stuff close-at-hand and easily-accessible. Examples: Don't store your toothbrush in the trunk or your jumper cables in the front of the car

  • Buy travel sizes. Instead of buying the biggest tube of toothpaste or the largest bottle of shampoo, get the smaller travel-sized versions. You'll not only save important space, but money too

  • Avoid hoarding. We all tend to be packrats to a certain degree, but fight this temptation at all costs! Storing more stuff than you need is going to reduce your living space in the car. And it will lead to an ugly, messy looking vehicle

Maintaining a Tidy Car

Okay, I'm not going to lie, this one isn't so least for me.

Being able to keep a car immaculately clean when you live inside it is almost impossible. My disability makes it even tougher, since I can't bend all that well, and getting into tighter spaces is difficult.

The biggest obstacle you'll face - by FAR - that prevents having a clean car is...

The amount of stuff you own.

To effectively clean the inside of a vehicle, you obviously have to remove everything beforehand; bins, boxes, bags, coolers, etc.  This is a royal pain in the butt. Especially if you have to do it regularly.

After you've been a nomad for a while, you will stop chasing perfection and accept "good enough" as sufficient for most things. Meaning, don't try to (or expect to) maintain an unrealistically spotless car.

All of those shiny, squeaky clean camper vehicles you see on social media isn't the reality. It's mostly B.S. The majority of car campers and nomads have rigs that are normal...they look lived in!

I'm not suggesting to be a pig or slob by any means. Just do the best you can, and don't become OCD about picking up every single crumb in your car.

Here's some advice...

  • Don't fret over the car's exterior. I pay for a wash every 3 months. In-between I get free car washes from the rain. It saves money and my car always looks fine

  • Vacuum the floors regularly. This one is important! When you live in a vehicle things will get messy, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Food scraps will fall under seats, hair, dust, paper, etc. Vacuum the inside of your car every month or two. This prevents rodents, insects, foul odors, and so forth

  • Avoid eating in the car. This isn't always possible, but you should try to avoid it as often as you can. Eating in a car is messy, especially when you live in one 24/7/365! And cleaning up afterwards can be a hassle. Besides, it's much nicer to enjoy a meal outside in the fresh air

  • Perform light cleanings every week. Change your bed sheets, dust the interior of the car, spot clean any spills or stains, etc. It only takes about 30 minutes, but doing this regularly will prevent a bigger build-up of messiness that you'll have to deal with later. Sleeping in a neat, tidy space feels great


I really hope this information opened your eyes. A lot of people think they need a big fancy vehicle to live in, but as you've seen, that's simply not true.

Almost any sized car can be made into a tiny camper or home-on-wheels.

As long as you're aware of some of the drawbacks and plan ahead for them, there is no limit to the amount of ways that a car can be converted into a comfortable living space.

While each type of vehicle might require a slightly different layout strategy, if you use your imagination, I'm confident you can come up with some incredible ideas.

For a more in-depth article on vehicle dwelling - with a bunch of important tips - check out how to start living in a car fast and easy!