Transition to RV life – Q & A for Janie

June 22nd we started moving into our RV. We’re living in a campgrounds  ten miles from our house and the towns where most of our family lives. Our departure date is October 21st. We’re planning to head southwest, spending the winter in Texas. This morning, commenting on the facebook announcement that today marks two months in our traveling home, a friend replied with a few questions. Here are her questions followed by my answers.

“Wow, has it been that long already? So, what’s the verdict so far? How do you and all the other family members like it? What’s the best thing and the worst thing?”

In a few hours, I’ll be paying for our third month at the campgrounds and our electric bill for last month. July 22nd we shelled out $90 for electricity. I was stunned. I didn’t keep track of the surely-record-breaking details, but we did have more than a week of outrageously high temperatures. We kept the thermostat at 78 when home and 84 when out. I guess I was over cooling the couch in our absence. Since then, I’ve kept the temp at 86 when we’re away from home. I did try 88 degrees the first couple days of month two, but wet washcloths, though hanging nicely on little hooks, sent out a funk from the bathroom, the aroma of cooked shower water and soap residue. A cross between hot garbage and stinky feet. Ugh. 86 degrees keeps things fresh and scentless.

This is our new life, the one we’ve been pining after, praying for, working toward, anticipating with confidence that such a living arrangement would fit our family to a tee. On August 17th, upon signing on tenants for the securely grounded house we’ve lived in since October 2008, we gave up a whopping 925 square feet, three bedrooms, a large hot water tank, fenced yard, and eat-in kitchen. One might think I say “whopping” to suggest that I consider our old digs quite modest. Nothing of the sort. Our house always seemed much too large, a mansion really. No joke.

In March we spent a few weeks traveling with a 12 ft trailer. Went to DFW and parked in our friends’ front yard. All the way there and all the way back it was just the boys and I. Dad was able to join us for a few days in the middle. Very nice. Possession of a traveling living room/bedroom is the only reason I consented to such madness, as past trips have proven that traveling sans husband/father wears me down to a limp nub. I was also determined to visit 88 year old Aunt Louise before she took off for a life of service in Bolivia. The trip was not logistically easy. Our Suburban broke down, was repaired and broke down again. So we bought a big black 2010 Silverado. (I promise to make the story of that acquisition its own post very soon.) Regardless of challenges, I returned to Illinois, happy children in tow, rested and renewed.

Upon re-entering our “mansion” I felt like a shrunken shirt, much like I did seven years ago when I first drove our Kia Rio after spending six days and 1,200 miles behind the wheel of our 32 foot Travco Foretravel (we own neither now). In the Travco, I was higher than all but the semi and bus drivers. Back in the Kia, I felt sure my knees would slide into my chin and that my back was really an accordion. When I had a similar feeling walking into our house post trip last spring after returning from Dallas, I almost lost my balance, literally.

The verdict is in: we’re right at home in our camper. Now I’ll explain why.

I’ve gotta get off course here and tell you what my older son said when we put our house on the market a few months ago. He knew the price tag on our RV, and now knew the asking price of our house. Says he, “Why is the house so much more expensive when you can do so much more with a camper?” Exactly kid. I don’t expect everyone else to agree, but it sure is our truth.

What do we like about it?

As the homemaker, I like how we are forced to keep things simple. Every book, toy, electronic communication gadget, blanket, pillow, stuffed animal, and article of clothing has been carefully chosen and now has an established place in our home. Cleaning is simpler, and must happen more often. My children are always close enough for me to speak in a normal voice to get their attention. I am culturally Jewish and habitually yell across the house to say everyday things. I realize some people think this an unpleasant practice, and now, it’s not an issue.

The boys have a nest in the bunk bed area, behind the dining room table. Below their bed is a large storage area full of Legos, Playmobil, Pokemon cards, board games, blocks, and Bob the Builder figures. Their book boxes live on the top bunk, as well as towels, sheets, blankets and a very large tiger who may need to go live with someone else soon. For my children, the boundaries are straight forward, easy to follow, and, as a result, my younger son is learning how to quickly clean up one set of toys before getting out another; this is no small relief to the rest of us.

BIG tiger

We’re surrounded by windows and skylights. In the morning, we’re wrapped in sunlight. Because we’re closer together physically, we talk more, laugh more, hug more. When the flashlight is misplaced, there’s only so many places to look. An awning by the front door provides a shaded spot for an outdoor lunch or Lego building. We’ve gained a full home sound system and a microwave (still not sure if this is good, but it sure is convenient).

Rather than having laundry and the accompanying noise going on almost continually, we have laundry days where we take our clothes and towels to a separate location for tending. For now we go to my parents’ or to the house which is not yet occupied by the family moving in next month. Once we start rolling, we’ll have to use laundromats. Back in the days of our Travco, when the boys were newborn and three, the laundromat meant one tired mommy before our clothes were even folded. Now the boys can help and some days we may make new friends, like a sweet couple we visited with when washing the already mentioned gigantic tiger at a facility a few blocks from campus.

Worst thing?

Every negative I think of is only so in relation to a positive. Example: I need to go with the boys every time they want to play in the campgrounds park. Poor mom, has to get out of her comfort zone, the air conditioned indoors. This gets me out in the sunshine and even hanging from monkey bars, showing off. It also provides more time for me to teach them gymnastics if they wish. Yes, we do not need to live in a large box for this to happen, but on a practical level, I’m more inclined to not participate when the boys can just go out into the yard and cul-de-sac and since we’ve had both for almost three years, we’ve been less inclined to cart ourselves to a park where the bathroom is more than a few feet away and generally not spotless.

Basically, I can’t think of any worst things. Oh, wait! Here’s one. The kitchen sinks are itty bitty and too shallow so if I’m not careful the dishwater bounces onto my shirt, or worse, into the clean dishes drying in the other sink. Therefore, I haven’t asked the boys to do the dishes. If living in an RV means being the main dishwasher, I’m still in.

Update: Re-reading, I see that I didn’t directly answer about how the other family members are liking it. My older son is more relaxed. He tells me often just how much he enjoys living in a camper. Our younger son hasn’t said one way or another, but he also hasn’t complained about the RV or the fact that we no longer live in the house. For this seven year old, no comment is a good sign. I’m pretty sure he likes that the no-rooms thing (Fyi- we do have a room divider when needed). He still likes to keep a pretty close eye on us, his tribe. As for my husband, we’re on the same page about what we like of this new life. He’s excited to go to National Parks and has his eye firmly on that goal.

If you have other questions about our experience so far that you’d like me to answer, I’m happy to try, reserving the right to not answer any question for any reason, like if it’s too personal. Keep in mind that we’re babies at the mobile life. I expect this time next year, I will answer the same questions differently, or at least with more words and examples.

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