Turn and face the strange… *grin*

In July, we were living in a two-and-a-half bedroom, two bath apartment. We had about 1,000 square feet of living space, filled to the brim with items we’ve been toting around for the better part of two decades. Huge kitchen table we didn’t eat at most nights because it was covered in clutter. A living room we always meant to clean out so it didn’t feel so claustrophobic when we gathered to watch TV/eat/play on the computer. A master bedroom closet with a pile of clothes we no longer wore, but hadn’t sorted through yet, blocking the doors. So. Much. Stuff.

Now we’re in a 240 square foot camper with three regular beds (two bunks and a full sized bed), two pieces of furniture that convert to beds (couch and kitchen table) and one bathroom. The monthly rent we paid for the apartment just about covered staying at this campground for two and a half months. Everything we own fits into this camper and a ten by ten storage unit, which we intend to downsize in the very near future.

The reason we did this? Hubby and I had many discussions over the past few years, alone and with our three kidlets, about how we felt we were in a rut. We hated the neighborhood we lived in, were annoyed by the things the landlord neglected to address, and barely scraped by from paycheck to paycheck. We daydreamed about leaving almost everything behind and running away to various places (Arizona, California, Ireland to name a few), but couldn’t see a way of making it work.

Then early in 2010, a friend of mine, her husband and two (also homeschooled) boys made a decision to get rid of everything, live at a local campground for the summer, then travel the south with their 20ft camper and tent for the winter to promote her recently published book . I followed their adventures on her blog [NOTE – as of April 2015, it looks like she deleted her blog – sorry!] and recounted the details to my hubby. We slowly changed our thinking from “if only” to “maybe if.” For example, “if only we could figure out a way to save money every month” morphed into “maybe if we downsize to a camper, we can start saving the money we used to spend on rent and build up a good nest egg”. In the summer of 2010, we took out a loan from our 401k and bought a 1999 Suburban, with the express idea that we could use it to haul a camper.

Over the winter, our planning turned more into wistful conversations about “maybe if we get a camper” instead of hard core list making, research and resource building. While we talked about the someday, I got the sinking feeling it may never come to pass, and we would be living in our cramped little corner, across from our toxic neighbors, forever.

When we got our tax return this year, we made the firm decision to use it to either move to a new apartment or buy a camper. After a quick perusal of available apartments (almost zero in our price range), I focused solely on campers on Craigslist. We began the long process of emailing, calling, researching, and being let down when each camper we considered fell through for various reasons. I’m fairly certain we checked out pretty much every camper advertised in two hour radius, only to come up empty-handed.

In the midst of it all, our landlord made the unexpected decision to make us re-sign a lease. We had one when we moved in during October of 2007, but the following year he didn’t bother with a new one, so we coasted along as tenants-at-will. Yet out of the blue, at the end of June, he told us we needed to sign a new lease, or vacate by August 1st. I had some big reservations about the new lease, especially since it seemed so cookie cutter and had things not pertinent to our apartment. Plus, the idea of signing a lease, but then having to turn around and give him 6 weeks’ notice before we left, knowing we wanted a camper as soon as possible, didn’t seem logistically possible. There were other, minor reasons we didn’t want to sign, and in my back and forths with him through email, I got more and more annoyed with what I thought was his unreasonable stance to my concerns.

Hubby and I finally decided to stop worrying about resolving the lease issue for a place we didn’t want to begin with, and to focus on trying to get our camper to find us (I knew it was out there, and it was only a matter of time before the Universe put it in our path). We even went as far as reserving a site at the local campground, in the hopes that sometimes it’s a good idea to put the cart before the horse. We didn’t need to put money down on the site until it was available on August 1st, so it seemed like perfect timing. Perfect, except for the fact we didn’t have anything to park on it. Oh, and a big shout out to the office staff at the park, who patiently answered my many questions (“Could we squeeze a 33 foot on our site?” “How about 35 footer”?) over the weeks between reserving and arriving.

How we finally ended up with the camper perfect for us, for the amount of cash we had, is a story for another blog – suffice to say, we were worried up until the very end it wasn’t going to happen, and we’d end up resigning a lease and being stuck in our rut for another year. But through a serendipitous turn of events, our camper arrived in our driveway on July 24th, and all of us, including Sid (our cat) and Eddie (our dog) slept in it that night. Okay, technically the hammies (Sweetness and Sniffles – we lost Panda a few days earlier) stayed in the apartment that night, but they joined us soon thereafter.

I somehow thought procuring the camper would be the tough part, and getting rid of all our stuff would sort itself out…umm, not so much. If it weren’t for the Amazonian efforts of our eldest daughter (who took many tasks upon herself without being asked) and hubby’s sister (who cleaned the apartment top to bottom on our last day there, even though we were still moving stuff out around her), I get the feeling we’d still be knee-deep in packing boxes today. And in yet another amazing turn of events, our landlord graciously allowed us an extra week to get the rest of our stuff out, without charging us (although we did offer him our almost brand new washer and hand-me-down dryer in exchange, and he happily accepted… I <3 bartering!). It took us a couple of weeks to adjust, especially since most of our first week was spent still moving. When all was said and done, we'd made close to a dozen trips to our local Goodwill, had a few Freecycle pickups, countless grocery bags dropped off at the NH Food Bank box, more than a few bags of clothes to Planet Aid, and still had a shameful amount of trash that now lives at the local landfill. So I guess it’s not surprising even with the small living space, I no longer feel claustrophobic – and even with how little we brought with us, we’re still weeding stuff out.

While we’re still not on easy street money-wise, I figure we’ll be there sooner rather than later – at the moment, we’re still playing catch-up with bills, buying things for the camper, and splurging on the occasional luxury items (like a family breakfast at a local restaurant). When I crunched some numbers, I figured out with the price of the camper, plus monthly park rent and utilities, it will take us until the end of December to break even on our investment. . Of course, if we go by monthly expenses alone, we’ve already chopped everything in half.

Beyond the money, I keep pinching myself when I realize we now live full time in a place where people come for their vacation. I posted on Facebook not too long after our arrival, “living in a camper is like finally having that super cool clubhouse you wanted when you were a kid.” Hubby and I sit by the fire Saturday nights while our kidlets hang out at the weekly themed dance with their friends, new and old. The kidlets are also so much healthier after spending huge chunks of each day riding their bikes, scooters, or walking down to the beach, playground or arcade. Hubby and I have also dropped a few pounds, and Eddie has trimmed out. Sid, on the other hand, has gained weight from his steady diet of chipmunks and mice.

Up next – we’re giving winter camping in New Hampshire a shot. We know our camper has already wintered at least one year with its previous owners, coincidentally at the very same campground we’re heading to in little over a week. There have already been a few chilly nights here, and we were very happy with how well the heat worked – it was a bazillion times more cozy than at our apartment.

We’ve had some practice being “stuck” all day & night inside, thanks to the recent rain systems that parked on top of us. Even without our boy’s Xbox 360 (damn you, red ring of death!), random internet service at our site (thank you Sprint Mobil hot spot, but damn you being limited to one phone!), and with only our Blu-ray player to keep us company, we managed quite nicely. At our new digs, we’re supposed to have great Wi-Fi at our site, along with Cable TV hookups – plus, our friends plan to spend some time there too, so I’m not worried about being stir-crazy… yet… *grin*

After a few months of winter camping… a move to Virginia may be next. Stay tuned…

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