Downsizing

Mom's kitchen in the cottage
Mom’s kitchen in the cottage after I cleaned it out.

Once the house was under contract, I needed to focus on packing up. I did a great deal of packing, donating, and tossing in 2015 before putting the house on the market. I packed up all the contents of my mother’s house, cleaned up the basement in my house, and put all personal articles away so the house could be staged. I put the items I wanted to save in a 16 x 8 foot POD.  It took two months of intense work, with the help of a contractor who made many trips to the dump for me, and to Salvation Army with the many, many large items I chose not to keep.

So I felt like I had already done most of the work, and that this final packing would be a piece of cake.  WRONG!!!  The attic is full, the shed is full, the garage is full, our daughter’s closet, and the basement crawl space is all packed with stuff.

When I was packing up in 2015, I thought I was going to remain in Bucks County, and perhaps continue to work, so I was packing for a local move.  This time, I knew I was going to be living in an RV for a long time, and that the items would eventually be shipped somewhere far away.  So I had to carefully evaluate each item:  Did I love it?  Could it be easily replaced at a reasonable cost?  Was I emotionally attached to it?  Was it worth the storage and shipping costs to keep it?

If I wasn’t going to put it in storage, then there were other decisions to make. Does it need to be accessible in storage, or could it be put way in the back?  Did it have value to anyone else? Could it be sold by us at a yard sale or other means, or could it be donated to Goodwill?  Was it simply trash?  Should we ship it to one of the kids? Did we have a friend who could use it? Would we need it in the RV?

This process seemed endless.  There were countless trips to Goodwill, all made by Eric.  Numerous trips to electronic recycling.  Several trips to the dump.  Multiple piles all over the house – my storage, Eric’s storage, RV, Goodwill, yard sale, trash, accessible storage, going to the kids, etc. etc. etc.  By the time we were finished, we both felt like we couldn’t possibly make one more decision about one more item.

We had to be out by the closing date of August 19th, so we had two and a half months and we took every minute.  In fact, when closing was extended an additional week, we were very grateful to have the extra time.  And we worked until midnight the night before closing.  But we did it!

In addition to the POD I filled last year, I ended up with a small, climate controlled 5×10 storage unit (which we measured and it’s actually 4×9), and a 10×15 non-climate controlled unit which is mostly my stuff but partly Eric’s.  I got a great deal on the local storage, with a couple of free months in exchange for paying 12 months in advance.  Altogether, I’m paying about $375/month for storage.

House is Sold

house
The view of my house from the porch swing at the cottage, where Mom frequently sat.

August 26, 2016:  Wow, the house is finally closed – how anticlimactic and bittersweet.  I’m not sure how I feel – stunned is probably the best description!  I loved the house, and it feels very odd to know it belongs to someone else now.   I just need to remind myself that I was a slave to that house, I was a like a prisoner there, and very unhappy.  It took a great deal of my free time and a huge portion of my salary to maintain it.   And then there was the feeling that the only reason I continued working at a job I no longer wanted, was to support a house I no longer wanted.  I had no choice – I had to sell it.

For some reason, though, I’m not jumping up and down with glee like I thought I would.  I really thought I would simply sob with relief when it finally sold.  I know intellectually that I should be incredibly excited and happy about the future, but I’m not feeling it.  Instead, I feel anxious, scared, and numb.

I filed for retirement, and my last day of work is Wednesday, 31 August 2016.  Even though I know I should be able to live somewhat comfortably on my small pension plus early Social Security, I’m still worried about money.  But, my very wise son reminded me that even though I’ll be poor,  I’ll be better off than I was while working and maintaining that house.  That’s because it’s better to be poor and free, than poor and working full time and spending it all on a house that’s a money pit!  And he’s absolutely right.

So I have to accept that I’ll be poor (still), and that I’ll have no house for a while.  I’ll adjust.

Buying the RV

chris-with-new-rv
In the seller’s driveway the day I bought it!

I started out completely clueless, I really did.  And I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.  I had a to-do list a mile long dealing with downsizing and moving out of the house, and I just needed to check this purchase off the list.  I started seriously researching at the beginning of June, and bought the RV in mid-July.

I think the first criteria I decided on was price:  I don’t have much money, so I wanted to get the least expensive RV I could find, while still meeting my needs and being reliable.  The second criteria was that I was not willing to give up my little 2008 Mazda Miata.  Not only did I absolutely love the car, but I didn’t want to spend the money to purchase a replacement vehicle.  I wanted to park the motor home, and toodle (is that a word??) around in the Miata.

The fact that I wanted to keep the Miata completely ruled out any kind of trailer.  Although trailers are less expensive than motorhomes, I was not interested in purchasing a truck or an SUV to tow a trailer.  And, I wanted something simple, something I felt I could handle on my own.  A fifth wheel was very intimidating to me.  So that left the motorhomes:  Class A’s, B’s and C’s.  I ruled out Class B’s (more like converted vans) as being too small for full time use.  Class A’s seemed too large.  I liked the fact that Class C’s are built on a truck chassis and therefore seem easier to maneuver than the Class A’s.

Once I narrowed my search to Class C’s, I learned that the hot commodity in the Class C market is the Sprinter chassis with the Mercedes Benz diesel engine.  These bad boys will last forever, but cost over $100,000 new, and perhaps $40,000 used.  This type of motorhome was certainly desirable, but I ruled it out as not being affordable for me.

After browsing on rvtrader.com and looking at many options, it seemed that I should be able to find something suitable, gently used, in the $25,000 range, so that became my budget.

The next step was to identify the layout and other features I liked.  Whether or not I wanted a slide-out was a critical decision.   A slide-out certainly adds more square footage to the living space, but it also adds cost and complexity – and it’s one more thing to maintain.  I went back and forth on this and ultimately decided that a slide-out made sense for full time living.  I also decided that I liked having the “always-down bed”, as opposed to models which involve making a bed every night from the sofa.  And, I wanted the over-the-cab bunk bed, both for the additional storage it offers, and the extra sleeping space (hoping for guests, most especially my children!).  And I wanted the RV to be as short as possible, while still capturing all of these features.  My target was 24 feet.

I think the biggest surprise for me was that when I started looking at the websites of local RV dealers, I only found ONE in a two hour radius from me that fit my criteria, except that the asking price was $32,000.  Eric and I went to look, hoping they would come down in price closer to my $25,000 budget.  The rig was actually perfect, and even included a back-up camera and hydraulic leveling system.  But the dealer wouldn’t come down much in price, and when I called to check on it a couple of weeks later, it had sold for $31,000.

I then did a nationwide search on rvtrader.com for Class C motorhomes with the following criteria:  mileage less than 30,000, price less than $30,000, 1 slide out, over cab storage, length 26 feet or less, and with an “always down bed”.  There were 4, three of which were on the west coast, and the fourth was in Mississippi.  I also searched on Craigslist, which as you know is geographically based, looking at locations within a day’s drive.  I found one which matched my criteria in the Buffalo area, about a 6-7 hour drive from me.

It was a 2004 Coachmen Freelander with 27,000 miles on it, priced at $22,750.  It had all the important features I wanted.   So I told my boss I needed to take a couple of days off for an “RV Emergency”, and Eric and I rented a car, went up there and bought it.

 

House is Under Contract

Finally, my house is under contract and all of this planning angst will become a reality.  Closing is set for August 19th – that seems so soon! After all the months of pondering, it finally became clear that the best course for me will be to live in an RV and let the dust settle for a while.

Living in an RV for a while is a perfect fit for me: it meets my need for complete freedom to go wherever I want to go, I can research my family history to my heart’s content without spending a fortune on travel, and I can enjoy the outdoors and all the majesty of Mother Nature.

After so many years of working in a windowless office, and countless glorious mornings wishing I could spend the day outside instead of at work, I can hardly believe it’s actually happening.  I’m feeling very overwhelmed about it.

One step at a time.

My 21 year old son has decided to move out to Seattle at the end of June to be near his older sister.  I’m delighted about this and especially glad that the two kids will be together – they will be able to look out for each other.  And it sure makes it easier to visit them if I just need to go to one place.  Seattle is a stunningly beautiful area – maybe I’ll end up there myself!

With Kyle’s decision made, I realize that I will have no kids, no house, no mortgage, no spouse, no pets – nothing to keep me here except for my job, and everything is pointing to ending that as well.  It’s time to go!!

The Things I Love

To help myself narrow down the options, I thought it would be a good idea to list the things I love, and perhaps that will help me to see what is next for me:

I love naturally beautiful places – I always have.  To sit on the rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset, with a bottle of wine, was always my idea of nirvana.  I like to camp and backpack, although I haven’t done enough of it in the last 30 years. I love hiking in the high country above Yosemite Valley in California.  I love Glacier National Park in Montana.  I am really drawn to beautiful smells of a forest, and the sound of the waves on a beach.  I love being outdoors.  To quote an old Native American saying – when I feel one with nature, my heart soars like an eagle.  This is where I find my peace.  This is what makes me feel whole.

I love my Mazda Miata.  When I drive it with the top down, I feel like I’m on vacation.

I love researching my family history.  My father loved it, and my youngest brother loved it as well.  I feel like it’s something in my blood that I’m driven to do.  I am the family archivist so I have a lot of the family’s “stuff”.  I have always loved history, and this puts a personal spin on history.  I love to solve the puzzles involved in working out the family relationships.

A good friend posed this very thought provoking question to me:  What is it that you have missed the most during your work life?  What have you felt deprived of because you were working?

My immediate answer is: I want to be free.  Free to be outside on beautiful days (I am currently stuck in a windowless office all day).  Free to experience different places I’ve always wanted to see, in the US and elsewhere, whenever I want and for as long as I want.  Free to do my genealogy research to my heart’s content. Free of mortgages, home maintenance, and family responsibilities.  Free of schedules, free of routines, free of the commute, free of every day being the same, free of feeling like a drone.

I want to go to all the places where my ancestors lived, and research their lives.  I want to visit the cemeteries and the courthouses and find out as much as I can about them.  I want to attend as many institutes and conferences as my heart desires, all over the country.  I want to build my genealogy business.

So a theme starts to emerge.  Freedom, travel, genealogy, nature.  How can I create a life where I am surrounded by the things I love, and doing the things I love to do?

I considered buying a house in a desirable location so others would want to rent it by the week or month, enabling me to travel.  I considered house-swapping and house-sitting. I considered living in short and/or long term furnished rentals in the places I wanted to go.  And I also considered buying an RV, an inexpensive one, to live in for a while until I figured out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to live.

And the RV option is what I ultimately decided to do.  Traveling around in an RV satisfies the desire to be free, to travel, to enjoy the outdoors, and to do my genealogy research wherever it takes me.  I don’t know if I will do this for six months, or six years, but I’m just going to go until I don’t want to do it anymore.

 

 

Reviewing My Options

I know I’m ready for a change after I sell my house, and I have to figure out what that means for me.

I’m definitely ready to retire from my job, but I often wonder if that would be financially reckless, especially if I retire before I’m 62.  My government job will provide a small pension, and between that and early Social Security, I could be reasonably comfortable.  No extras, but I would have the basics.  Still, I’m only 61.

I’ve considered staying in the same area, buying a home locally, working until I’m 62, or even 65, and then being free to do my genealogy business full time. I have a terrific network of genealogy friends and I feel optimistic that I could build a successful genealogy business here in Bucks County.

However, I’m not sure I want to continue to live here.  I’m surrounded by memories in this area.  I’m asking myself, is this all there is?  After losing both of my brothers when they were 44 and 56, I have an extremely strong sense of how short life is.  I have the urge to start over and create my life exactly how I want to live it, in a new place.

But I don’t know where that would be or what that would look like at all.  With my family gone, there is no place that I consider “home” anymore.

I’ve considered Florida, where a much-loved cousin has a second home.  But, I’m not sure if I could be comfortable in the heat and humidity of the Florida summers, and would I miss the change of seasons of the northeast?  I do love the beach, sunsets on the ocean, and the comfortable winters, though…

I’ve considered Richmond, Virginia, where the same cousin has her primary home – but eventually she will retire to the second home in Florida.

I’ve considered Seattle, where my daughter lives, but 1) it’s too expensive, especially when one is living on a very modest retirement income, 2) not sure I could handle all the cloudy days and rain, and 3) what if my daughter leaves that area – would Seattle still be my choice?

I’ve considered the southwest – I spent a couple of fall semesters during college working at the Grand Canyon, and absolutely love it there in Arizona, as well as in New Mexico.

I’ve also thought of California, where I lived for 20 years, but it’s certainly not a good choice for a retiree on a budget.  And – the southwest and California are really far away from friends I know and love in the northeast.  Won’t I be lonely?

I’ve tried visualization: what does my new house look like?  How do I feel in it?  What is around me?  I like historic, more traditional homes, but I also like one-floor living.   I envision myself near an historic downtown area, so I can walk to shops and restaurants.  Perhaps it’s a row house in a medium sized town.  But an older home needs a lot of maintenance – and that means time and money.  I won’t have much money, and I don’t want to spend the time to take care of a house.  I’m tired of all of that, and I want to be sure that I live within my means.  On the other hand, the idea of living in a modern maintenance-free condo just makes me feel claustrophobic and sad.

After going around in circles for a while, I realize that I am just unable to decide where I want to live, and to retain my sanity I have to be OK with that indecision.  But all of the thinking and visualization DID help me to come to some other firm conclusions:

  • I am more certain than ever that I needed to sell the house.
  • I am certain that I want to retire when the house sold.
  • I am certain that I want to leave Bucks County.

 

And THAT is progress!!

Assessing the Situation

After my mother died in January, 2015, the only thing I knew for sure is that I needed to sell the house.  It was too big, too expensive, and there were way too many memories.  I spent the first part of 2015 just focusing on getting the house ready to put on the market, and being a bit of a zombie while trying to deal with the loss of my family.  It helped to have a project, but at the same time it was extremely difficult to go through my mother’s house and pack up her life.

I’ve gone around in circles about what I want to do once my house sells.  I have nothing tying me to the place I currently live except for my job, and a few very dear friends.  My long term plan has always been to invest the cash from the sale of my current house into another house, so I could retire and live mortgage-free.  But I don’t know where I want to live, and I need to be sure about that before buying another house somewhere.

They say not to make any big decisions after losing a loved one.  Certainly a large part of my indecisiveness is the “fog-brain” of grief, but there is also getting reacquainted with myself.   The fact is, after almost 30 years of planning my life around other people – husband, children, siblings, parents – it is now MY time.  The good news is that I get to choose my future path with few constraints.  The bad news is that I am the only one who can make the decision, and for whatever reason, I don’t know what I want.

Why is it so difficult for me to know what I want?  I think it’s hard to adjust, it’s hard to open up my mind to the possibilities.  What I might want has not been the primary driver of my decisions in the past.   I had to give it a lot of thought.

It’s clearly time to move on.  Many areas of my life here in Bucks County are winding down.  My daughter has been living in Seattle for many years.  My son is about to graduate from college and wants to move west as well.  My parents and brothers are gone.  My best single friend in the area got married recently, which drastically changed my social life.  It feels like everything is pointing to change. But, a change to what, and to where??