1. Keep Your Stuff
I say this with caution because there is HUGE value in having less stuff and more space when RV living, but there is also HUGE vale in creating “one’s true home” as Vestalia Home curator, Shelley Raymond, would put it. Basically, you will need to get creative in order to turn your “cardboard box” into a home. Furthermore, finding balance with what to keep and what to toss can truly be difficult whilst also getting used to (and working through the kinks of) your new lifestyle.
I went into RV living thinking I would just have to live with how the RV was already decorated and that I wouldn’t be able to have any decorative or sentimental items on display or even many photos on the walls because what happens when we travel? Well, those thoughts are not true. We have not remodeled our RV (though, I dream of it), but it’s totally possible to do so and many people have made their homes even more beautiful and minimalistic than a stick and bricks could ever be. It’s fine to have some decorations out but do still keep in mind that the more “loose items” you have out, the longer it will take you to break down before making a move. I guess the extent at which you decorate will depend on how often you plan to change locations and how “worth it” it is to have to pack those items away and bring them back out again each time. Though, some things won’t add as much hassle as you might think. Breakable items should be packed safely, but anything that can be just set on the floor or bed before travel can be stowed as easily as that. I’ve even traveled with a Himalayan salt lamp sitting on the dresser; kept safe by surrounding items (dare I mention that we have two of them in this little home?). Speaking of dressers – you can bring your own furniture! You’re not destined to a life with shiny, cheap, brown turd couches and tiny, particle board dressers, but do be sure your RV is the one you want to keep before doing too much demo/removing of components (we traded ours in 9 months later!).
Accept this truth: there is a good chance you’ll be getting a storage unit to store excess stuff that just won’t fit into your new life for at least the first few months (we still had our 5×5 unit eight months in). If you are already storing larger items or things that don’t make sense to get rid of, but that won’t fit comfortably into your RV, it certainly will not hurt to add some of the things that are still in question to this stash instead of being overly brutal in your “get rid of it all” quest. Plus, there’s always the chance that you may end up back in a house one day (maybe sooner than you think).
Bottom line: hold onto more of the items that are personal to you and that may add to your ideal environment as you work towards creating a space you feel great living in. Even just practical items that you don’t want to spend time or money replacing but especially things that are more difficult or expensive to replace. RVs don’t have to be just some weird travel pod where everything gets stuffed into latching cupboards. You can, and should, make your space unique and homey!
2. Making Friends Can Be Easier Than You Think
I’ll start off by exposing the fact that I am a true introvert and fairly shy, to boot. I find it difficult to make friends – especially close ones. Yet, living in an RV park just seems to bring everyone together somehow. You already have at least one thing in common and conversing with people of all ages from all different places brings refreshingly new perspectives and insights to the table. We have only stayed at two different parks (long-term) so far, but I was able to connect with at least one person at each. Literally, everyone I have encountered at our current park has been wonderfully friendly and I have a couple friends that I visit with almost daily. Ilamay, our 22 mo. old, even has a buddy to hang with. I am hoping we will keep in touch even after we move apart.
One difference between neighborhood living and RV park living that I didn’t realize until we began is that you have a lot more neighbors within a small vicinity vs. just a few on your block that you might be familiar with. There is much more potential for casual day-to-day encounters with the same people in an RV park than a neighborhood; even more so if the sites are closer together. Thus, more potential to come across someone that you like and want to continue connecting with. I have really enjoyed even the quickest of conversations with each of our new neighbors because each has the potential to open my mind up to new thoughts & experiences. And they’re always just a few steps away!
3. It May Not Be As “Freeing” As You Hope
Can you really drive up to the side of a mountain or over boulders to boondock in the heart of Colorado in a 38 foot RV? Probably not. Will you really spend all your time (or more time than you currently do) outdoors when the weather is less than stellar and/or you have obligations to attend to inside your humble abode? Also, probably not. Unless you’re retired or can afford to travel full time (or even still), life still goes on. You still have to wash the dishes (a lot, a lot of dishes) and you’ll still have to make some money. There may be times when you spend 9 months in a tightly packed city RV park with not much nature in sight because that’s where the job is.
With a toddler in tow, I’ve found it quite limiting to not have a yard or fenced in area for her to play either with me or while I try to accomplish other things. Our high energy 2 yr. old definitely does not understand where our space ends and the road begins. She also seems to think there are a lot better places to be if she goes for a run down the block… That means anytime we head outside I have to be ready for an adventure around the park. I should also mention that she now knows how to unlock and open the door, so she basically just leaves anytime she pleases (because she actually can and should be spending all of her time outdoors. Ah – if only.)
Yes, there are plenty of beautiful public lands (BLM) that are large RV friendly (not that we’ve explored any of them yet), but boondocking for any length of time is not always feasible due to lack of access to internet, grocery stores, jobs, electricity & water. It’s plenty doable – just not long-term, unless you are able to work remotely and plan to make regular trips into town to restock on necessities and empty/re-fill water and holding tanks. Larger RV’s can potentially boondock longer due to their larger water/septic tanks, but are more difficult to maneuver into most off-grid locations. Smaller RV’s can be more agile, yet lack the tank storage – not to mention fridge/food storage – to stay off-grid for any length of time. There are also regulations that you need to be familiar with when camping on BLM land or in national forests as far as required permits and supplies go. The time limit for camping in either place is 14 days. Then you must move to another location at least 25 miles away.
There are also restrictions that come with not being near your friends and family. It can feel pretty drab only being friends with two people in the entire state in which you live (and they’re always in your house) and only being able to see friends and family if one of you pays to travel to the other. Granted, our new RV park friends eventually became more than enough to make our days (and lives, for that matter) brighter, but it still feels a bit odd to be traveling around in your little pod, having little true contact with your loved ones and previously often seen besties. On the upside: your family gets to enjoy a new travel destination every time they come to visit you on the road.
4. It May Not Be As Simple As You Hope
Questions you may need to address:
– How will we get mail?
– Where will our permanent address be?
– Where are we parking our house tonight? (If you’re on the road, the answer might be, “At a rest area”!)
– How do we get internet?
– Can we buy a new car in another state?
– Where do we put our stuff if we want to get a different RV?
– How will we make money?
– How can we move around and make money without burning bridges and having the stress of searching for and applying for new jobs all the time?
More to deal with:
– Navigating new towns & grocery stores (I feel so much less efficient shopping at new stores where I don’t know where anything is!)
– Canceling your internet service and having it installed again each time you relocate (if you have access to wired internet)
– Transferring your stuff from one storage unit to the next (if you have one)
Above are just some of the many topics we’ve had to navigate in the past ten months. Some we’ve surpassed and some we’ve yet to work out. I had considered, and even investigated, some of these things before we decided to move into an RV but I sure as heck did not think of all of them. Let alone, did I consider how much of a headache all the fine print and workarounds would end up being whilst navigating such issues. I’m sure as we get more seasoned with all the nuisances, it won’t require as much effort to keep up with it all.
There are positive sides to all the moving and transferring: our daughter, Ilamay, has basically begun a tour of every playground in the US since we embarked. Our surroundings will never get stale and we will continue making new friends to keep us company on each new adventure. It’s also pretty cool to watch how one naturally adapts to new environments, climates and routines. We just moved to Arizona after spending 9 months in Washington. The landscape and temperature changes were drastic and, while I definitely prefer grass and mountains to dirt and cacti, we are appreciating the opportunity to learn new skills, absorb new scenery and dry our laundry outside in 15 minutes.
5. You Might Crave An Even Smaller Life
In contrast to item #1, yet oddly in line with #3 and #4, there seem to be a fair amount of people who end up downsizing further (rather than discovering that they need more space) after trying out their first RV. Realistically, living in a unit small enough to be able to truly live and move freely is quite a hurdle, but it can be achieved one step at a time!
Experiencing the RV living lifestyle gives a glimpse into a variety of alternate lifestyles you may not have considered, been given a close-up look at, or ever even heard of. If you’re currently living in a house, could you possibly live in a van? This question might beg an immediate, “No way!” or, “Why would I want to?” from your current standpoint. Yet, we lived in a house a mere ten months ago and have now just moved all of our stuff into a trailer that is nine feet shorter than the last. We already feel lighter and freer to explore. Furthermore, I had gotten spoiled with only having 300 sq. feet to clean up and I wanted even less – just one cozy space to maintain and love each other in. My husband and I both wanted the ability to travel to more rugged destinations, to find space in RV parks that may not offer many larger sites, and even to park our house in the driveway of family or friends if the opportunity arose! Ben and I both have a drive for a simpler, more adventurous and more experience & relationship focused life, so we took steps to create that.
There is more to this than just the size of your rig. It’s difficult, or near impossible, to envision what steps or path your life might take after the one that’s just ahead, but if you are committed to living more simply, it may help to map out the priorities for your ideal life: How will you make money? How do you want to spend your time? These are the questions in my head as we determine, “How small can we go?” and “How far do we want to take this simplifying thing?”. As you become more seasoned with the “tiny life” you will really get back to “real life”. To me, that means clearing your life and mind of all the little, non-crucial and non-enriching things that are so easy to get caught up in, and just “living” how you want to live instead.
This time in my family’s life – a time of contemplation and desire for a “truer” life – has me coming back to “Living The Simple Life” by Elaine St. James – a neat little book that, unlike other books on simplifying and decluttering, touches on all aspects of your life: your stuff, your commitments, your hobbies, and even what you keep in your wallet. I would highly recommend it if you are striving to find more peace (and less anxiety) in your life and want an edge up on taking steps in the “simple” direction.
6. *Bonus Item* The Transition Period Is Real
It may take you a while to create the freedom and simplicity that draws people towards this lifestyle. One glorious thing about making major life changes is that doing so opens up a realm of other completely different possibilities, and expands your comfort zone in relation to exploring those possibilities. I’ve recently realized that actually creating your own life instead of just plugging along with how it was already going actually is a possibility. A friend of mine even added that we are always creating our own lives even if we don’t realize we are doing it (so true!). For most things, I’m a firm believer in taking small steps in the right direction, but when it comes to building a life you love, it seems that you have to take big leaps to reap big rewards.
The first eight months living across the country from our families in our Keystone Outback were pretty rough – with the sudden shock of not having any friends or people we knew even remotely well, Ben finding his place at his new job and Ilamay and I feeling shut in without a car or sense of surrounding. I had never felt so depressed. I’m so pleased to say that we have come out of it and are starting to get the hang of how to roll with this life. I think the major contributors to our shift in well-being were making good friends and finally accomplishing our very fraught RV trade-in which also involved discussing further steps for our ideal life. Also – I must not forget – that adopting a mentality of contentment can go a long way.
During our transition period, I kept feeling like being concerned with how our RV looked on the inside was shallow and silly. Maybe it is, to some extent, but I still feel that it plays a role in one’s emotional condition. When we purchased our first RV (the Outback) brand new (after looking through tons of used ones online) I was just so glad it had contemporary styling over outdated, traditional cabinets & fabrics that I totally overlooked the fact that the one we were buying felt dark & cold. Now that we have traded the Outback in for the Cougar, I have embodied my theory that physical surroundings do make a difference. The Cougar’s interiors have a much warmer and homier feel that just seems to agree with me better than that of the Outback, even though we still plan to do a bit of renovation & redecorating at some point. If an immediate demolition is not in your deck of cards, definitely consider the vibe of the RV you are looking to buy and whether or not it feels true enough to your style that you can live happily in it until further notice.
When we moved into our first RV (Keystone Outback), I noticed the things about small living that made life easier – having to walk a shorter distance to get anything & having less area to clean up, and I noticed the things that were a bit of a nuisance – bumping into walls and doors as I walked through the tight hallways with a baby in arms and having to bend down to light the oven pilot before each use. Eventually, I began to flow through those tight areas of the RV much easier, but the excessive doors and tight hallway still weren’t really working for us. We don’t have any of that in our new RV (Keystone Cougar) since it’s just one room plus a bathroom (no separation between bedroom and living!), but we are in each other’s way more than before since the space is smaller. Even though our new RV (Keystone Cougar) suits us better than the last, it still came with its own challenges. Now that it’s our “second time around”, we already knew to expect most of it, to a certain extent. We are positively working through the less-than-perfect parts (for as long as it takes to get things where we want them), while staying aware of all that we’ve gained thus far on this journey.
I feel that we’ve hardly broken the surface of the potential of our new RV living lifestyle, but already, we are starting to feel the major benefits, despite it’s initial and ongoing difficulties. Stick with it if you believe this life is for you, even if it seems everything is against you at first because…