He's back! The ever-controversial Tynan offers today's guest entry on downsizing from an expensive condo to a 21-foot RV.
On April 20th at 3am I was still awake. I stood on the balcony of my penthouse in downtown Austin and watched the traffic drive by. We were supposed to leave the next day, but I was too excited to sleep. I called my girlfriend.
“Are you ready to leave now?”
“Haha, sure,” she replied.
I stuffed myself and a bag of clothes into the small car I'd rented and picked her up. Twelve hours later we arrived in Albuquerque.
One day earlier I was idly browsing eBay, as I'm known to do. I had this fantasy that I would give up all of my stuff and move into a smaller place. This notion was born when I moved from a larger house into the condo and was made acutely aware by the moving process of just how much junk I had.
Always one to take things to extremes, I searched for an RV. I wanted one that had a shower, toilet, and kitchen, so that I could actually live in it. At the same time it had to be small enough that I could park it in any regular parking spot. The V12 engine of my car afforded me the same miles per gallon as an RV, so I figured I may as well let it replace my car as well.
The first RV in my search was exactly the one I wanted. At 21 feet long it could fit into a standard 19 foot parking space with minor overhang. It was a 2002 model, which meant that it looked good enough to be presentable. Paying for a spot in a trailer park seemed like it defeated the purpose of the experiment, so I planned on parking downtown across from my favorite restaurant.
The best part was the price. It was only $14,000, barely more than 1% of the value of my current home. Similar RVs sold for $20,000. With little hesitation I called the seller, asked a few questions, and told him I'd take it.
Two days later we'd arrived to pick it up. We came around the corner and I saw my new home parked in the lot, right in front of the office. That's way too small, I thought. I hadn't measured it out or seen a similar RV in person yet. There was no way I could live in such a tiny space.
Now a bit anxious, I introduced myself to the dealer and we went inside the RV. It felt a lot bigger than I had anticipated. The front half contained a large couch across from a dinette. Both pieces folded down to make one huge bed that was actually larger than a king sized bed. In the middle was a small kitchen with a double basin sink, a fridge, a stove, and a microwave. In the back was the closet and bathroom. I began to think that maybe it was possible to live in.
We had a blast driving the RV back to Texas. We stopped at Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands. Over the slow three day drive back I actually started getting used to it and liking it. My girlfriend remarked that it was a lot more comfortable than she'd expected.
Since picking it up, I haven't slept in the condo or driven my regular car. Both are for sale.
It's been two months now, enough for me to get over the initial euphoria of change and to settle in a bit. I've also had time to make a few necessary changes. I installed a solar panel to power my laptop all day. The roof vent was swapped with a new vent that has a built in fan with a thermostat. I got a new higher pressure shower that uses fewer gallons per minute.
So what's it like living in an RV? It's fantastic.
It's very cheap. Utilities used to cost at least $500 a month since I was on the top floor and had floor to ceiling windows. Now I pay nothing — my solar panel generates enough electricity for daily use. Once a week I drive less than a mile to an RV park and dump my tanks and get new water. That costs $5. I have broadband internet access from Sprint which costs another $50. Full insurance is $100 a month, which doubles as car insurance. I get my mail through Earth Class Mail for $30 a month or so. That's it.
I have a favorite restaurant that I eat at every day. It's 1.5 miles from my old place, which was a bit too far to walk all the time. Now I park across the street and have had no problems with that at all. If I'm visiting a friend and it gets late, I'll often just stay in their driveway and sleep there.
In retrospect it seems insane to have paid so much money for mortgages and rent. My quality of life has stayed the same or even improved, and I'm saving thousands a month.
I've gotten used to the heat. Before I would set my thermostat for 74 degrees or so. Now I can remain comfortable and productive even when it's 95 degrees inside the RV. People in Africa do it, why can't I?
Having everything I own (that isn't on its way out) with me at all times is very liberating. I don't have to plan ahead. If we decide to go swimming I have all of my stuff with me. If we play volleyball I can shower after the game. If a friend is missing an ingredient for a dinner we're making, I might have it in the RV. If it starts raining, I have my rain gear with me.
I can even have guests over. Friends hang out in the RV all the time, and I once had five people over to play cards.
It's interesting how much we enjoy vacation — even if we're not going anywhere exotic. I know people who will go on mini vacations just by staying in a hotel in their own city! Why is that so pleasant?
I would argue that it's because it requires us to leave most of our possessions behind. We bring only the few precious things that we need for that weekend. When we're at home we're forced to pay attention to, maintain, organize, clean, and interact with our massive collection of things-we-don't-really-need. Vacation frees us from that.
Living in the RV, or any change in the direction of extreme simplification, is a step towards making your life feel more like vacation. With fewer things to keep track of, less space to keep clean, and less bills to pay, you have more time to focus on what's really important in your life.
This is Tynan's third article for Get Rich Slowly. He previously contributed two posts about managing money like a professional gambler: Small Things Add Up and Know When to Fold ‘Em. You can read more about his life at Better Than Your Boyfriend.