Youngsters on Wheels

I have a beautiful new friend.  She calls me her “Bestie” and “BFF.”  She is young enough to be my daughter, so to have her put me into the category of friend like that simply makes my heart giggle.

Laura, her husband, Adam, and their young daughter, Daisy, joined the ranks of full-time RV’ers a year and a half ago.  Unlike so many of us out here, they are far from retirement age.  They home school Daisy and must actively earn a living while on the road.

Laura agreed to share some of their story for this blog posting.  I’ve changed names and minor details for the sake of her family’s privacy.

Before taking such a drastic step, they were living what many would identify as the American dream.  To afford this dream, Adam worked two full-time jobs.  In addition to home schooling Daisy, Laura worked full-time at a small business they ran and cleaned houses on the side.  Two people, four jobs…  all to pay for a beautiful house they could barely enjoy and vehicles to drive them back and forth from this house that was filled with all the trappings.  (There is a reason they are called “trappings,” you know.)

Exhausted, distracted, frazzled… stress was their daily measure.  Even though she home schooled Daisy and they were together nearly constantly, Laura was so worn out she couldn’t truly invest in her daughter.  Not thoroughly, not deeply.  It broke Laura’s heart that she was not able to be totally there for her.

Or for her husband.

Laura and Adam had met at a dance bar when they were just 18 and 19.  Laura saw Adam dancing.  She told her friend, “I’m going to marry that man.”

When Adam approached the two young ladies, he made a bee line for Laura and asked her to dance.  They’ve been together ever since.  Laura later asked him why he came to her and not her friend, who was the type who usually attracted male attention.  “Because you were real,” Adam replied.

Each of them had recently suffered deep heartbreak, however, so they decided to take things slowly and to date other people, even though each knew in their heart of hearts that the other was “the one.”

A year or so into the relationship, they were in a bad accident.  Taken to different hospitals, Laura freaked out.  Was Adam all right?  What if he wasn’t?  She hadn’t even told him she loved him, and oh, how she did love him!  She made contact with him through friends of her Mom’s, who worked at the hospital.  Yes, he was quite a mess, but he was alive.  And he loved her, too.

“It’s about time,” Adam responded to the third-party message.  He knew Laura was the one from the start and had waited patiently for her to get to the same page.

Now, over 20 years into their marriage, they were at another turning point.  Exhausted from the rat race, Laura and Adam sat down at the dining room table one evening for a serious talk about their future.  Adam’s father had recently passed away.  He had all these wonderful plans to travel after his retirement and hadn’t been able to enjoy them.  After his father’s funeral, Adam realized that he wanted Daisy to know him well enough so that when his own end time came, she would be able to stand and say what a wonderful man he had been, not just listen to accolades from friends and coworkers who knew her father better than she.

Realizing that they were not guaranteed anything, let alone tomorrow, Laura and Adam decided to get a grip on their lifestyle.  Take back control.  Reorder their priorities.  The first step would be to drastically downsize and simplify.

After briefly considering the tiny house trend, they were increasingly drawn to the idea of a tiny house combined with mobility.  They had a small towed trailer they had used for vacations the past two summers.  If they went bigger, they could have enough room for all three of them to be comfortable and even have a workshop in it for Adam.

The romantic appeal of a nomadic, gypsy lifestyle totally captured Laura’s heart.

Before making the final decision, the little family took a two week test run in their camper from the Smoky Mountains to the Atlantic coast.  It rained every single day.  And they had the best time ever.  They played in the rain, walked in the rain, listened to the rain on their tiny roof.  They loved each other in the rain.  They found hope in the rain.

Laura realized she had fallen head over heels in love with her husband again.  She saw the man she originally fell in love with emerge from the confining shell that society uses to package its participants.  When they returned home, she couldn’t wait to sell their stuff and hit the road.

That was September.  By December, their house was sold and by March, they were living full-time in their fifth-wheel trailer.  They had spent the winter between a rental apartment and their RV, downsizing and figuring out what was and what was not needed.

Adam makes a living for the family doing an assortment of jobs, including his crafting business which he operates out of the workshop in the back of the rig.  Laura is proud and delighted to contribute by doing workamping jobs that earn them free site rentals.  They are independent, entrepreneurial, and smart–good traits under any circumstance, but especially valuable when on the road.

I asked each of them what their favorite thing was about living full-time on wheels.

For Daisy, it is all the friends she is able to make now.  Indeed, Daisy is the social butterfly of the campground, flying around on her bicycle or her scooter, an assortment of other children peddling in her wake.  The best thing is, not only is she a natural leader, she is a kind, good-hearted friend.

For Adam, it is accompanying his daughter as she spreads her wings.  Rather than turning around one day in surprise to find that Daisy is four inches taller, her growth is now imperceptible simply because he is there for every moment of it.  Imperceptible and huge, all at once.  It’s a good thing to take time when witnessing a miracle.

As for Laura, she is thrilled to follow the love of her life to the ends of the earth once again.

You see, Laura lives a very spiritual life.  A life of faith.  She prayed before going into this.  She prays before they make any kind of big decision. She prays prayers of gratitude.  For her husband, for their daughter, and for each day.  Before their change in lifestyle, Adam had left the little church they had long belonged to.  This caused a deep conflict in Laura’s heart.  Once they set out on their adventure, though, she realized her husband may have left the church, but he did not leave God.  Indeed, she sees him now as a better man than ever before.  Where she had been blaming him for so much of the negativity that she had been feeling, she can see now that much of that negativity came from pressure and judgment put on by the outside world.

We are never totally free from judgment, which is often shrill and, more often, takes on subtle disguise.  Indeed, being human, we each carry our own judgmental tendencies with us wherever we go.  There were at least a couple of family members who were very resentful of Laura and Adam’s choice, but that didn’t sway them from taking the path that they felt was right for them.  One family member has come around since then, and has admitted that her reaction came from a place of selfishness, and that when she looked at the situation after some time and with clearer eyes, she was able to understand and accept.

Maybe some day Laura and Adam will buy a small house and settle down in one place for a spell, but they hope never to get drawn back into the same trap as before.  Meanwhile, they continue to live their dream on wheels, all wrapped up in one another.

(Photo at top of post is complements of Daisy’s Legos and her toy truck and fifth-wheel trailer.  For those unfamiliar with different RV styles, a fifth-wheel is a towed trailer which, instead of mounting on a hitch on the back bumper of a truck, mounts in the truck bed over the rear axle.  Fifth wheels have more head room inside, more storage, and more versatile floor plans than most travel trailers.  Laura and Adam’s bedroom and bathroom is upstairs in the part over the truck bed.  Daisy’s room is a loft over her dad’s workshop in the rear of the trailer.  They even have room for a washer/dryer and a growing puppy, critical items acquired since hitting the road.  The cat, well, the cat came along for the ride.  And yes, like most cats, he is quite critical.)

Downsizing

Downsizing:  An emotionless term for an emotion-laden process.

There’s a ton of great information out there on decluttering, downsizing, and preparing for a move.  This is just my personal take on it, with a few tips that helped me depart a home of 21 years with only enough belongings to fit into a 24 foot RV, close a business, and change my state of residency–all in about five months.

Lists!!!  Master lists, sublists, daily lists, sticky-notes-on-your-forehead lists… you get the picture.  Keep pencil and paper close at hand in multiple places so no matter where you are, you can quickly jot down the new critical task you just thought of, then get it on the appropriate master list later.  Don’t forget to reward yourself by checking completed items off with a flourish!

Keep Moving.  Every day get something significant accomplished.  Even a small task that may only take an hour can be significant if it is something that is emotionally charged and repeatedly delayed (such as going through a box of family photos or mementos).  If you are stuck one day and don’t want to dig in, do something simple.  For me, that was working on trashing things.  Don’t forget to reward yourself with your favorite cookie or something!

Undress in Layers.  The top layer is literally the easiest to reach.  Sort into piles:  Trash, Gifts, Donations, and Keep.  Work down layer by layer, room by room, drawer by drawer.  Return later to layers you already worked on, and you will be amazed what you can take out of the “keep” pile and put into another pile, letting go of things that, at first look, could not be released.  Don’t forget to reward yourself by taking a break for lunch with a dear friend (bring them something from the gift pile!).

The Trash Men Are Your Friends.  Every trash day, maximize your load.  Once you have a good grasp of how much trash you have that is too big or too much for your regular pickup, hire a trash removal service (I used 123 Junk and they were awesome).  They will haul out whatever you direct them to, and some of them will donate usable items and send you a receipt.  Don’t forget to reward these hard working fellows… offer cold drinks, cookies, tips if you can.

Cherished Items for Cherished People.  Have family and friends come claim whatever they may want, unless it is something you know you want to keep.  The more they take, the lighter your workload will be as you continue sorting and disposing of the rest.  Don’t forget to reward yourself and graciously accept any offers of help they may give in return.

Make Donations… Make New Friends.  I called places like Goodwill and Habitat Restore, and my items were not up to their standards.  I was amazed when one said that they don’t even take desks because everyone uses a laptop nowadays.  So I just started putting things down by my front curb for people to take.  I had lots of nice chats with people this way.  Heck, if I saw someone down there checking things out, I’d run out and invite them in to see what else they might want!  My favorites were two hard working sisters, Cecelia and Abbie, who ran a low-cost preschool/daycare in our neighborhood.  They took tons of toys, legos, and puzzles for the children and some of my knickknacks for themselves and their families.  Don’t forget to reward yourself and accept any hugs and gratitude you are offered with grace and thankfulness.  (Oh, and don’t forget to support your local library, a great place to donate books.)

Celebrate Buried Treasure.  It is hard watching pieces of your life, your past marching out the door, but you are almost guaranteed to discover long-lost treasures as you dig through the layers.  Pause, and enjoy them again.  Read old letters and cards.  Travel down memory lane with old trinkets and keepsakes.  Then release what you can.  The way I looked at it was that I had saved these things for memory’s sake when I got older.  Well, here I was, older.  I enjoyed the memories, I shed some tears, then I let go.  Moving on can be a liberating reward in and of itself.

The Keepers.  No question about it, some things must be kept.  If you are drastically downsizing, however, deciding what you will save for yourself and what you will release will be a big challenge.  In my case, I saved small, lightweight, unbreakable things wherever possible.  Items that packed a big sentimental punch into a tiny little fist.  Like the wonderfully gaudy Hawaiian shirt I sewed for my Daddy 40 years ago, that he managed to bring along with him on his many moves… still as bright and pristine as the day it was sewn… probably because he never wore it, now that I think about it… But he saved it!  And so have I.

Rest assured, the reward for success, any success, can be extraordinarily enlightening.  Speaking for myself, as things left my house via the hands of friends, family, strangers, and trash-haulers, with each pound, a weight was lifted from my heart.  Life, priorities, perspective came into clearer focus.

There is great power in simplicity.  It frees your movement, gives air to your wings, allows you to see the sky and clears your path to soar, unencumbered by unused, unimportant, ponderous belongings.  Count your blessings.  For the most valuable ones are weightless and eternally embraced by your heart and your soul:  love, loyalty, integrity, and community.