Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Boy, what an eventful two weeks this has been. I started off my fulltiming experiment by going to the December RVing Women Rally at Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring, FL. I managed to arrive in-between rain storms, but the whole area showed evidence of the previous night's storm and the ground was still very wet. As I was hooking up my electrical line, I got what I thought was a minor shock from the park's box. I blew it off as a fluke, since I was wearing flip flops on wet ground. Everything worked fine and I spent the night without any problem. The next day as I was reaching into an exterior side storage bin of my rig my hand touched the metal vent behind my fridge and I got another, bigger shock. Okay, that one got my attention. I went around the rig to go back inside to turn off everything and got yet another shock when I touched the inside metal of the door. And finally I got another little shock when I went over to the camp box to unplug my cord. I notified the rangers and they came and took a look. Sure enough, the box wasn't properly grounded and I was lucky to have lived to tell about it. I moved to another site and although the entire weekend was pretty much a washout weather-wise, we still managed to have a great time.

After that I came back up to the Tampa Bay area and went directly to the RV resort in Lutz where I was spending a week to "practice" fulltiming while living and working my normal routine. The location of that resort was great because it was about 20 miles from work in one direction and 20 miles from my mother's house in another. The site location within that park was also great because I was directly across the road from the bath and laundry building.

Since I had already decided I was going to make this fulltiming gig work, I went to the park office first thing Monday morning to make application to stay for a year. When I had first visited the park about a month earlier, the manager and office gal both couldn't have been nicer and more accommodating. They talked about finding just the right site for me and the ability to change sites if I tried one and didn't care for it. They told me I would need to go through a background, credit and income check but also told me not to apply too soon because the information would become dated. The manager herself told me to apply within a week or two of when I actually wanted to move in. On Monday, I told them I wanted to get the process done so I could sign a lease and stay and not have to move the van and car back to South Tampa again. I provided all the information they wanted and even notified my current landlord and employer to expedite the process. All of a sudden, the manager and office gal didn't seem to be so accommodating. I checked with them every day and my employer's HR contact even told me, "Have them call me directly. I'll give them whatever information they need." Nothing. On Friday at noon I called to see if they had heard anything about my approval and the office gal nonchalantly said, "Oh, I haven't even checked yet today." She really couldn't have cared any less.

My week at that park was up this past Monday, but as I had to go in to work for the first half of the day, I packed up and moved back to South Tampa Sunday night. I left my car at work and got a co-worker to give me a ride to Lutz so I could get the rig home and then Monday morning I had to take a cab to work to get my car. The week before, I had taken a cab from Lutz to South Tampa to get my car and that ride cost me $90. I didn't want to do that a second time, and that was another reason for wanting to just stay at the park. I don't know why the change of attitude, but it had nothing to do with my background check. I have perfect credit, no criminal history, a good job with one of the largest employers in the Bay area and landlords who hate to lose me. At any rate, I figured if this was how they treated me before I entered into a contract with them, how would they treat me afterward?

Monday afternoon I drove to another RV resort I had found on the internet. It's a little further north and east, but not by too much. The rental rates are slightly more ($340 versus $285), but this park is much, much nicer. It's gated and in addition to including water, sewage and garbage service in the monthly rent, they also provide basic cable. It's neater, cleaner and the people who both work and live here have been extremely nice and welcoming, both before and after I signed a lease. And sign a lease I did, for seven months. If I decide to stay longer the average monthly cost will be even lower.

My site is right next to the bathhouse and in addition to the convenient location, the bathhouse exterior lights light up the area on the driver's side of my van. I like that for safety purposes. My neighbors on the other side are snowbirds from Indiana who have already helped me set up my shed and even brought me over a small bowl of pasta salad. I attended an ice cream social Monday evening and this morning I went to the rec hall for the weekly donuts and coffee gathering. Everything happens for a reason and I'm so glad now I didn't sign a lease with that other park. Oh, and that other park did call me on Tuesday and left a voice mail message that I was approved and could come in whenever it was convenient to sign a year's lease. Yeah, I'll jump right on that. When the phone doesn't ring, honey, it's me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stuff! It's all just STUFF!

I have HOW MANY pencils? Seriously?! I know, they were 10 cents a pack a couple of years ago at a Staples back-to-school sale so I bought a bunch, but I still have every one of them, unsharpened. And pens! Pens from the Nixon Administration, I swear. Probably all of them are just half full of ink, but do I dare throw them away? Isn't that wasteful?

An overabundance of pencils and pens is just the beginning. I have a couch I shopped for like crazy, finally settled on buying, and now I don't use it. I sit in a chair to watch TV or use the computer and if I'm doing neither of those activities, I'm not sitting anyway. I could entertain, but I don't. Martha Stewart I am not. See, this is what happens. We have a little apartment, then we grow up and buy a little house. Then it's a bigger house and a still bigger house. And of course we must fill every square inch of these houses with furniture and STUFF. And all this stuff just adds to the stress of our already stressful lives. What exactly is the point again? Somebody please tell me.

When I lived in Green Bay, WI, I bought an 1800 square foot, 100-year-old house. It was cute, cute, cute. Two stories with a basement, three bedrooms, formal dining room, living room. Hell, I filled every square inch of that place. Had my ironing board permanently set up in one corner of the basement, my clothes all nicely organized by season, style and color in the various bedroom closets. I felt like a queen. Bought a nine-foot-long inlaid wood dining room table with two leaves that seated six. SIX! It was beautiful and it filled the room, but what the hell was I thinking? One time I had a boyfriend and another couple over for dinner and that was the extent of my entertaining. Again, not Martha Stewart. And those damn HGTV shows make it look like you can make a house a showcase in a half-hour. Not true. I just had a big, ol' house full of STUFF.

If I had a dollar for every trip I've made to a thrift shop donation center over the past several years downsizing from that time I could retire today. Downsizing is not for sissies. Some stuff I was able to sell (for a fraction of what I had paid for it) and some I had to just bite the bullet on and let go. It has gotten easier as I realize I totally forget about everything I ever donate. If I can't recall it, how important was it in the first place?

Today I took an old crock pot out of a high cupboard. I haven't used a crock pot in years. I don't dare use one now with Eddie roaming around the apartment while I'm away at work. So let me understand this: I'm renting an apartment big enough not just for me and Eddie, but also for things like this crock pot that I haven't used in years and have no intention of using. What the hell...? I guarantee I will never think of that crock pot again after this writing. If, lo and behold, I later discover that I was born, BORN, to be a crockery cook, then by God I can get another one. I know I can get a good deal on one at virtually any thrift store in any city in this country.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Final Straw

Yesterday morning sort of iced the cake on this whole "moving into the RV" project. While I have dreamed of living in an RV full time for a while, this current endeavor really began as a result of being woken up too many times in the middle of the night by noise from my next-door neighbor.

I live in an 80-year-old three-story walk-up on Davis Islands (DI) in Tampa, FL. I live on the top floor and have a great view of the Port of Tampa. The building is very well managed and has been updated, but it still has 80-year-old insulation between the units (or at least, very thin insulation) and voices seem to travel all too well. The only common wall is the bedroom wall and for some reason my neighbor likes to talk and entertain in his bedroom all night long or come home drunk and start calling people on the phone in the middle of the night. I was also disturbed by the loud living of the previous tenant, so I admit I'm part of the problem. I sleep at night, it's that simple. And I am a light sleeper, so it doesn't take much to wake me up. I can live with the white noise of the port, even the train whistles, but voices on the other side of the wall seven feet away wake me up and keep me awake.

So I go to bed every night with earplugs because I never know when my neighbor may start talking, etc. in his bedroom. The problem with that is even the squishy kind aren't the most comfortable things to wear. And they tend to fall out in the middle of the night, which completely negates their effectiveness. Finally, and this was the clincher for me yesterday morning, I overslept my alarm clock because I couldn't hear it. I had turned it down so low because HE, my neighbor, had responded to my complaints of his noise by saying my alarm clock was loud. I wasn't late for work, but I am not going to risk oversleeping my alarm again because of all this.

I've considered the pros and cons of this apartment and the single biggest pro is the view. I have loved that from the beginning and still do. I will miss it, but as I've said in an earlier post, I can always come back to DI and hang out down by the channel. Other positives about this apartment include the privacy of being three flights up, the relative safety of DI, the great apartment management, and the proximity to my work. The thing is, I've lived in other places that have been private, safe, have great management and been close to work, so all those things aren't unique to this apartment.

Regardless of where I go, I just cannot see staying here - with any view, at any price. Nothing this apartment offers me will offset the fact that I cannot count on getting a good night's sleep here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Did I Mention the Cat?

Oh, yeah, in addition to squeezing myself into my Class B motorhome full time, I also have a cat, Eddie, who will be making it his new full time home. Now, Eddie loves the RV. He thinks I bought it for him and I'm just his driver. He likes to look out the windows while we're on the road and he absolutely loves relaxing in it when we're stopped. The picture above is Eddie spread eagle in the dashboard window at a campground.

His litter box is a great concept. It's a top entry unit, which means when he kicks around the litter it doesn't get kicked out of the box itself. Sure, he still tracks a little when he leaves, but that's what dust busters are for. I can put the box up front in the passenger side foot well, behind the passenger seat which I leave permanently turned around to use as an easy chair when I'm stopped. It's accessible for him and out of my way, both visually and physically. I'm fastidious about cleaning it and throwing out my household garbage daily, so my RV is probably cleaner than most people's homes.

I will admit that traveling, heck living, with a cat involves more thought and more work. I have to always consider the temperature much more so when he's with me. I can't just park the rig and go away in the dead of summer here in Florida without leaving the a/c running. That means I either have to be hooked up to electric or be running the generator. And he does like to prowl around in the middle of the night and in the smaller space of the RV, that's much more noticeable. I was thinking this just last weekend when we were at an RVing Women rally over in Mims, FL. As I was telling Eddie to please stop running around and please go to sleep at 3 am, I thought how much quieter it would be without him. And then I thought how it would be TOO quiet and how much I would miss his company. I suppose it's like anyone you love, you overlook their faults and focus on the positives they bring into your life. If I didn't already have a cat, I sure wouldn't go looking for one now. But since I already have Eddie, I cannot imagine my life, or my RV, without him.

Let's Look at the Numbers

I mentioned in my previous post that my monthly costs would be cut by 66%. Let me put that in real numbers. I currently pay $775 per month for a 550-square-foot apartment in South Tampa. I have a great view of the Port of Tampa and get to see lots of big ships come and go. I'm a boat nerd and this is why I took this apartment. It's on the third floor and there is no elevator so I do get a workout every time I leave or come home, especially if I'm carrying something.

On top of the rent I pay for my water, sewer and garbage on a monthly basis. This comes to about $35 each month for a monthly base housing expense of $810. Compare this to a monthly RV site rent of $285, including the water, sewer and garbage. That right there is a savings of $525 or 65%. I'm sure my electric bill will be much less since I'll be heating/cooling much less space. My laundry costs will be approximately the same since both locations have similarly priced laundry facilities. Of course, being closer to my mother's house may mean I will do more laundry there, so I could see a savings overall.

I haven't yet nailed down my cable and internet options. I may go with just the Winegard antenna and a new digital TV and forego cable or satellite TV completely. I don't think I'll miss it as I don't watch that many different channels to begin with. Even if I go with DirectTV I could get by with the current $29.99 offer versus the higher-priced BrightHouse cable. As for internet, I'm looking at the Verizon Myfi so I can have portable internet access while traveling. That would be $60 a month, so even if I do that and DirectTV I'll still be spending the same as I do right now.

I will have a slight increase in driving costs since I will be living 16 miles from work versus just six. The upside is the drive will be more highway driving and less stop-and-go, as it is now. I think my drive time increase will be minimal and well worth the effort when I get home at the end of the day and can enjoy that cigar and adult beverage I mentioned in my previous post.

So while I can afford to continue to live in my current apartment, when I consider all the other plusses of living in my motorhome, I have to wonder what I'm paying 66% more for? The view? Yes, I have to admit, I will miss my view and the wow! factor I experience every time a huge ship lumbers past my living room windows. But then I think, gee, in my RV, I can go park almost anywhere I want and enjoy whatever view I choose. I can even come back here to Davis Islands, park right on the street next to the channel and still watch the ships from the comfort of my (smaller) living room.

Can I Do It?

Here's my home. Well, I hope to make it my full time home early next year. Right now it's my second home, my weekend home, my 1998 Pleasure-Way motorhome. It's got everything I could possibly need in a home, just on a very small scale.

I've dreamed of living full time in an RV for several years. It just seems to fit my get-up-and-go lifestyle. I believe a Class C would be a perfect size to fulltime in, but I hate to give up my Class B in case I find I don't really like fulltiming in an RV. So I'm going to give it a shot in my Class B first and then, if I love the whole idea, I may upsize to a Class C down the road. Then again, if I can make it work in the B, I may just stick with that since a B is still easier to drive, park and keep gassed up than anything larger.

The savings of living in this rig, in a nice RV park, versus continuing to live in my South Tampa apartment, would be substantial. Even with the slight increase in driving distance (and gas costs) to work, my monthly nut would be cut by 66%. I guess I lived on a shoestring so long when I was in nursing school that I have become more mindful of how I spend my money. I would also be located on an RV site with a little land around me versus living on the top floor of a three-story walkup with a great view but no balcony. I could get used to sitting outside enjoying a cigar and an adult beverage on nice evenings. And I wouldn't share a common bedroom wall with a neighbor who likes to drunk dial, loudly, at 4 am. That's a little bonus.

But can I downsize to the point where living full time in a space smaller than most people's bathrooms is feasible? I wear uniforms to work every day and dress pretty casually the rest of the time, so my wardrobe can be thinned out. I'm not a big fan of cooking, so the tiny kitchen shouldn't be a problem. I probably won't like walking the 25 yards to the campground bathhouse on cold mornings, but I do have the option of taking showers in my rig. I'll just have to choose between mini-showering in my tiny, low-pressure wet bath versus having a nice, long, hot, powerful shower. Life is all about choices.

I believe I can also put a small shed on my site and if so, that would be a great place to stow not only my bicycles and kayak gear, but also extra things I want to keep near, but not right in the rig with me. And I will have my car, so I can put plastic storage containers in there to keep light things like extra clothes. Finally, my mother's house is only 20 miles away and I can store other items there that I won't need for months at a time.

Ultimately, I know there will be plusses and minuses to doing this that I won't discover until I'm in the thick of it. I expect I'll find very nice neighbors. I already spoke with several of the park residents and they were very nice. RV people just seem to be more open and welcoming. I think I won't miss climbing up three flights of stairs every time I come home toting groceries, cat litter, etc. And living in such a small space means I simply won't be able to bring home too much of anything. That will be a savings of money and stress. Of course, I'll have to be even neater than I already am because everything will have to have a place and be put back in that place all the time.

The bottom line is this: I have to try it or I'll forever wonder "what if...?". As I've said with all my other adventures, the worst I can do is fail miserably. I know from experience that things will not work out the exact way I envision them now, but I also know from experience that things will work out exactly as they should and I'll be just fine.

This will definitely be an adventure.