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Downsizing Decisions for Beginners

Moving is a significant stress factor in anyone’s life, but moving into a smaller space adds the daunting task of getting rid of lots of stuff. There are many decisions to be made and downsizing can be overwhelming. Richard and I have done this four times in the last twenty years, each move into smaller homes. It isn’t easy, and lots of emotions come into play.

Take pictures of sentimental items when downsizing.
Taking pictures of sentimental items help when rehoming things. (Ceramic wall hanging made by my mom in the 1960s.)

I had to develop ways to rationalize what I would or wouldn’t keep and ways to help ignore the guilt associated with items from people I love. These are some questions that would run through my mind as I plowed through cabinets, closets, basements, and attics.

      • Do I use it?
      • When was the last time I used it?
      • Will I use it again?
      • Are there duplicates?
      • Is there something else I have that can serve the same purpose?
      • Is there room for it?

But there is another critical question that is missing from my list.

Downsizing

About twenty-five years ago, I bought a small plate rack for our kitchen wall. I’d been collecting hand-painted plates and needed more display space. The dishes and rack survived our initial downsizing back in Massachusetts.  Over time, I stopped collecting them. When we decided to make our big move to Virginia, I sold the dishes on eBay and no longer had any need for the rack. I put it into the donate pile and hadn’t given it another thought in all these years—until last spring.

We have a small storage shed at the front of our RV and a stark white wall faced drivers coming down the road. I wanted to make it more attractive for our little neighborhood. At the time, the home stores were selling annual spring flowers, and I thought some of them would brighten that bare space. When I mentioned this to Richard, he said, “Maybe you can do something with that plate rack I have in the shed.”

What plate rack?

I Like It

Since moving to Virginia, we’ve done two additional downsizings, the last one being quite significant—into about 300 square feet. I had no idea that the plate rack had left Massachusettes with us and that it had made it onto Richard’s “keep it” pile each time we subsequently moved. He’d been storing it in the garage.

“Why?” I asked. “I like it,” he responded.

Who knew? I was pleased to see it again, and Richard had been right—it was perfect.

A Little Repurposing

As I have mentioned elsewhere, being more environmentally conscious has become a high priority since moving into our RV full time. Repurposing that plate rack felt good.

Plastic food container repurposed

What didn’t feel good was that I’d purchased precut veggies that came in a plastic container. I felt obliged to reuse it somehow and had stuck it in a cabinet—taking up valuable storage space. It occurred to me to cut it up and use the individual compartments as small pots. I was then able to squeeze them into the plate rack. After a quick trip to buy some annuals, the shed wall was no longer an eyesore to the neighbors.

Repurposed plate holder

 

No Perfect Decisions

I was raised by a father who readily admits that he has trouble making decisions. But I must have taken after my mother, someone more willing to decide matters. In my world, a wrong decision is better than no decision at all. And downsizing is not for the indecisive.

But what’s the worse that can happen? You can always replace stuff you’ve decided not to drag along, and maybe you’ll find something better. And by the way, perhaps it is okay to keep something just because you like it.

Living in an RV During Hurricane Season

In June, we started our first hurricane season since moving full-time into the RV. Watching the daily weather for wind speed became a habit soon after we began our life on Muddy Creek. South or southeast winds above twelve miles an hour mean there is a possibility we’ll be sloshing about in knee-high rubber boots. Flooding is not unusual here. But since June, any sign of a tropical storm took on extra ominous meaning than ever before in our lives. We‘d entered hurricane season.

As Hurricane Isaias Approached

It wasn’t until August that we had our first scare. Two weeks ago, a tropical storm started turning into Hurricane Isaias. As it approached, I increasingly looked for guidance on google as to how to best prepare for storms while living in an RV. “Simply don’t camp in the southeast or coastal areas during hurricane season!” Well, that’s helpful, I sarcastically thought. Advice on how to find the safest location and at what angle to park the RV was also not helpful. We don’t tow our 5th-wheel, nor do we even have a vehicle powerful enough to move it.

I learned that our rig could withstand winds of up to 53 mph, broadside, without tipping over. It could also withstand higher speeds if struck from the front. Designers of RVs know strong winds will pound them as they are pulled along highways and thus design for it.

We’re lucky that on each side of us, there are other big RVs to buffer us from some of the broadside wind. But several nearby trees were worrying me. What if they come down on us, and how much force can the roof handle? I wouldn’t say I liked anything I read about this topic on the web.

When Do You Leave?

When we decided to become full-time RVers, we assumed we’d move into a hotel when bad storms were on their way to Virginia Beach. A friend has lived here, in a mobile home, for forty years, and that is what she does; she’s done it several times in the eleven years I’ve known her.

Fish TankBut when do you decide that the time has come? I discovered it wasn’t easy to pack up and abandon our little home. After downsizing so much, the possessions we cared about most were with us in the RV. There were the urns of all our dogs, favorite pieces of pottery, plants that have survived for over a dozen years, and a small collection of books.

Anyplace we chose to go would have to take pets, and I retrieved Chumlee’s crate from the storage unit. But what about the fish—the thought of leaving them bothered me. If there’s no power and we’re not here to start the generator, how long could they last in the tank without filtration, heat, and food? Yes, they’re only fish, but even fish feel pain and suffer. Richard thought I was silly to worry.

Getting Ready for the Wind

Rubber Boots at DoorForecasters predicted that the storm would hit us the hardest in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The highest wind speed I saw was forecast to be 55 mph. On Sunday, we got everything outside the RV put away, or latched down.

Midday Monday, we decided to ride it out; so did several neighbors. (I’d checked with my friend and she’d also decided to stay in her home.) The transient campers left the campground. We all moved our cars to the highest ground available to protect them from flooding that would undoubtedly occur. The generator was filled with gas and prepared to do its thing. Our tall rubber boots stood near the door. We had food, water, coffee, and beer. We were ready!

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

Wind Brought in Water to Surround RVI slept through most of it! By late Tuesday morning the sun was shining. As expected, the waters of Muddy Creek surrounded the RV and flooded the roads. The high winds continued for much of the day, bringing in more water to glisten in the sunshine.

Much of Virginia Beach lost power, some for over 24 hours.  We were in that group. What I hadn’t expected was the loss of tap water. The pump for the campground’s well had no power until Wednesday.

It was a very hot, humid day, and we didn’t run the AC in order to conserve gas in the generator. Despite the miserable heat and lack of running water, I was glad we had decided to stay. Our fish agreed.

Birdwatching

Bird and birdwatching news has been flooding my various social media feeds. I suspect my google searches about identifying the birds I’ve seen at our feeders, and in my travels, have driven this overload. Although, in the time of this pandemic, it appears everyone has decided to do some birdwatching. It’s easy to do while isolating ourselves from the rest of society, even for city dwellers. The Associated Press reports a 10 – 15 percent increase in the sale of birding merchandise.

CardinalBack when we published a pet tabloid (Pet Tails Magazine, 2005-2014), I wrote an article about birdwatching. I had needed to plug an empty hole on a page, and it was very popular at that time, too. It was in May of 2009, and we were nearing the end of The Great Recession. Watching birds was a cheap hobby and a way to do something together as a family without spending lots of money. Birdwatching seems to be the go-to panacea for what ails our society.

Richard and I used to enjoy bird watching when we had a home in Massachusetts. It had a large, raised deck, and similar to our RV home, it abutted nature conservation land. Our house backed up to the woods, bringing lots of birds to our feeders. Most weekdays after work, we would sit on the deck with beers and binoculars to destress from the day. I can’t say that the birds helped as much as the beers, but the pair complemented each other well. (When birds not native to Massachusetts started to appear at the feeder, it was time to head inside.)

We’re Bird Watching Again

Now that a wildlife refuge surrounds us, the birds are impossible to ignore. We have a small pair of binoculars that came with us from Massachusetts, and we have put up some feeders. Although there is not near as much stress in our lives these days, we still end most by watching birds – and having some beers.

I now find myself watching birds while I walk dogs, too. With businesses closed and folks staying home, I can hear the early morning cacophony of bird noise in a neighborhood. It’s no longer drowned out by the rumblings of cars and trucks, or the roar of low flying planes from Norfolk Airport. It is amazing how loud the birds can be and how unique each one’s call. But I’m not yet ready to identify a bird by the sound it makes; I use it only to know in which direction to look.

It’s Not Easy!

House Finch on Bare BranchYou would think this is an easy hobby, but it’s not – at least the identification part of it. Often after noting the type of bill the feathered creature has and remembering that I need to check out its tail, the flighty critter has taken off.

Frequently, there are very slight differences between species. Do you know how hard it is to tell a house finch from a purple finch? This guy is a house finch — I think. I downloaded a bird identifier app from the Audubon. I like it in part because it helps me remember all the things I need to look at to identify a bird properly. It also has multiple pictures of the same type from different angles, which other apps I have tried do not.

I next need to start keeping a journal of those that I have seen. I am sure there’s an app out there for that, too.

There’s Always a Podcast

Listening to podcasts has kept me sane the last few years, as I drive all over Virginia Beach to visit animals needing care. The variety of topics that they cover is amazing. So when I decided to see if there was one on birdwatching, I wasn’t surprised to have a half dozen pop up on Apple Podcasts. I’ve now subscribed to the American Birding Podcast and Out There With the Birds. If nothing else, they will get my mind off the pandemic and stop me from listening to so many of the political talking heads.

Protect the Birds For the Next Time

During the last few months, our planet has begun to heal due to our efforts to contend with COVID-19. There is less air pollution, the rivers are cleaner,  and sea turtles have returned to deserted beaches to lay eggs. But what about wild birds?

Common Grackle
The common grackle has suffered a 61% decline in population since 1974.

Despite their ubiquitous nature, the bird population in North America has been on a decline. Over three billion have disappeared in the last fifty years. The main reason for this decline is the loss of habitat, something not easily restored in a matter of months. But there are things we can all do to protect them. Here are a few:

We never know when the next pandemic will strike, and we’ll be needing to pull out the binoculars for a bit of birdwatching.

Houseplants & Full-Time RV Life

I’ve always surrounded myself with lots of houseplants. For me, a house doesn’t feel like a home without them. I grew up in a house full of them. My mother could always find a spot for just one more. Last summer, my brother repotted one of my mother’s only remaining houseplants, a philodendron. He’d discovered my father had continued to care for it these last 25 years after her death. It was looking a little sickly but considering its age, not too bad. It’s now living in a senior facility – along with Dad.

Sixteen years ago as we prepared to leave Massachusetts to head south, I had a “plant adoption brunch.” Anyone attending had to take a plant with them as they went. Years later, I continued to get updates on some of them. I did have plants that traveled with us to Virginia, and they tagged along in our RV as we explored the country for several months. While driving, they sat in the bathtub; at a campsite, they sat up on the dash.

Since then, my collection of plants has grown and this time adoption was not an option.

Downsizing with My Plants

As we became full-time RVers, I planned on bringing all my plants with us. Downsize was not a word I would apply to my plants. But when there is greenery spread about 1,250 square feet, it’s not until you bring it all together into one spot that you realize how much space they all take up. Being generous, we have about 300 square feet in the RV, so I knew I had a problem. I eventually conceded that some of my indoor plants were going to have to become outdoor plants.

houseplantsI used the USDA plant hardiness zone guide to pick a few I thought could live out there safely. Southeastern Virginia is zone 8a, so if necessary, the aloe plants could stay outside. But being one of my favorites, I wanted them inside with me. Other favorites, like the jade and snake plants, had become very large over the years, and there was just no spot big enough for them. But the winters here can get a little too cold, and it was a risk. I felt like a mother bird pushing them out of the nest.

Shelter in the Cold

RV Life - greenhouseFor about three months, I carefully watched the weather reports for falling temperatures. I thought I might have to get into the habit of dragging them all inside at night. But I was lucky that the early winter months were mild long enough to figure out that we needed to get a greenhouse. A small ceramic heater made sure the plants were safe from the cold.

Hens & Chicks HousplantThey seemed to thrive in the greenhouse, especially the hens and chicks. I get my love for plants, if not talent, from both sides of the family. My earliest memories of visiting my grandmother were seeing these pretty little, spikey plants along the rock wall leading to her door. I was fascinated by them. I bought one a couple years ago after learning that I could keep it as a houseplant. It has since produced many chicks that have themselves become hens.

Loving the RV Life

Thanksgiving CactusThose plants that remained inside have also thrived. The RV has light filling the main room from windows on three sides. An orchid that in twelve years never produced more than three flowers is currently showing nine flowers from its thirteen buds. The Thanksgiving cactus, which sits on the corner of the desk, has had its second bloom in five months. And one of the small snake plants now living inside could become large enough to get pushed out of the nest by fall.

 

 

Relearning How to Shower

When living in an RV full-time, a honey wagon is needed by those without a sewage connection.When living in an RV full-time, and it doesn’t have a sewer system connection, you need to be very conscious of your water usage. Any water brought in must be taken out via the storage tanks. Because we wanted a site by the creek, we knew we’d be reliant upon the weekly services of a honey wagon. Every Monday morning, the honey wagon hooks up and drains our three tanks—one black water tank (toilet, 50 gals.) and two grey water tanks (sinks and shower, 85 gals.).

In the shower this morning, as I scrubbed my hair with my eyes closed, I could hear the birds loudly chirping. The water from the showerhead was off, and through the skylight the sun was filling the enclosure with bright light. It is going to be a beautiful day the red-winged blackbirds were telling me. I used to spend 15 minutes in a stream of hot water, but now I am usually in and out in about eight. And with the promise of such gorgeous weather, I didn’t feel deprived. I can’t say the same on a cold winter day. Liv

Accidently Going Green

To be honest, I never used to give much thought to water usage. At some point, I did learn to turn off the faucet while brushing my teeth. I also felt good about trying to run the dishwasher only when it was full. And finding a dripping tap always caused thoughts about how wasteful the person was being. Therefore, whenever I heard something about its conservation, I self-righteously thought, no problem, got it covered.

But this changed over the last year when a Swedish teenager raised my climate change awareness to the sky, and the associated guilt. I’ve learned that small homes are more environmentally friendly in many ways, and bolstered my feelings that living in an RV full-time was the right way to go. But not only for us.

Showering a New Way

I recently did a bit of research to see how much water a person uses per day. Most of the newer information indicates that, on average, a person uses 55 gallons per day. I then narrowed in on the numbers only related to our grey water tanks. It appears that folks typically use two gallons per minute in the shower.

Due to our lack of sewage hookup, how we showered needed to change. It is no longer as simple as, turn on the water, lather and scrub, rinse, and turn off the water. Nope! Now it consists of:

  • Turn on the water and wet down body
  • Turn off the water
  • Lather up and scrub
  • Turn on water to rinse body and wet hair
  • Turn off the water
  • Lather up and scrub hair
  • Turn on water to rinse hair
  • Turn off the water

I’m not so big – yet – that it takes me a full minute to wet down my body and hair. And even if it did, that equals two gallons; rinsing, another two gallons. So instead of averaging 30 gallons of water for my former 15-minute, hot shower, it’s now only about four. With two of us following the same routine — minus the hair washing for one of us, 60 gallons drops to eight.  That’s an 86% reduction in water usage! Living in an RV full time

Hand Washing Gone Viral

Water running as hands are scrubbed.I cringe whenever I see a faucet gushing out water, as someone demonstrates how to wash our hands during this time of the pandemic. As they meticulously scrub their hands, the water continues to stream out in the background. That’s at least two gallons per hand wash, and how many gallons per day? You can often use your wrist or a towel to turn off the faucet as you scrub

Please turn off the tap while you wash—and make Greta proud.

Water, Water, Everywhere

As I sit here, the sound of rain bouncing off the tin box we call home surrounds me. It awoke me last night, and my first thought was about wind speed and direction. If from the south or southeast, we could again find ourselves becoming an island in Muddy Creek. Today the wind is out of the north, and the only nuisance is the wetness outside.  That was not true last week.Flooded road in campground

So far, water is one of the only troublesome aspect of living in our RV. Of course, this is not a general negative to RV living, but of where we chose to do this living. Water from the nearby North Bay drains into and out of the Muddy Creek; when winds are strong, and from the south, water in the area along the creek will rise three to four feet.

When the road floods leading to the campground, I need to be watchful for ducks and fish floating over the pavement. The flooding is not all bad, though. I enjoy watching the ducks glide over someone’s front lawn. And large herons also make appearances to get some fast food, as the fish are visible in the shallow water against the green background.

Catfish Rescue

As the water was being pushed back out into the bay last week, I needed to stop and rescue a big catfish. It was caught halfway to the roadside drainage ditch when the depth became too shallow for her to make it across. I stopped, climbed out of my car, and sloshed over to where the poor creature struggled. I’d never touched a live fish before, and she was determined not to be my first. She kept squeezing out from between my hands, like toothpaste from a tube!

Heron Reflected in Roadside DitchBut as she angrily swished her tail back and forth, splashing me, it kept hitting the ground and propelled her forward. She moved closer and closer to the ditch. In the end, I needed only to get my hands under her hind end to flip her into deeper water. Pleased and congratulating myself out loud, I turned to find someone waiting in their car at the edge of the puddle watching the show. Drenched, I plodded back to my car and headed home. I’d probably only accomplished giving a heron some fresh sushi. Oh, well.