May 29, 2014

Let's Remodel, No, Let's Sell the House

A few months after returning from our Road Trip Ramble, I was itching for a project.  Tim was back at work, and I wasn’t exactly eager to find a job.  We had talked about remodeling our kitchen and bathrooms before the trip, so I thought this might be the time to get started.

We had always known that we would need to make some improvements to the house before listing it for sale.  I wanted to do the work now and be able to enjoy the updates, not wait until we were ready to sell the house in four to five years.

So remodeling the house became the focus of my attention during the winter of 2012-2013. I painted the rooms on the lower level, and hired contractors to do the rest of the work.  It was fun to pick out paint, countertops and appliances with Tim, and we made it a point to not over-improve the house.  We loved the way everything turned out and looked forward to enjoying our “new” house for several years.  In the spring of 2013, we even bought new furniture for the living room to replace the sofa and chairs that Kitty had destroyed.  We had absolutely no clue that we would make the decision to sell the house just six months later.

Lots of Remodeling Projects

Once Tim decided to retire, it was actually a huge relief that virtually all the renovation work was complete.  That was one item we could cross off our list.  Of course, I wanted to do a few more small things to make the house look as perfect as possible for potential buyers.  Winter and early spring in Estes Park were not the ideal seasons to do things like staining the decks and trimming the bushes, but we somehow managed to get them done.

We had to put the house on the market, but when should we do that?  For us, it made the most sense to wait until after Tim retired.  Here’s why.  First, selling a house is stressful, and Tim had enough stress during his last few months at work as he tried to wrap up his career with the National Park Service.  Second, keeping a house in show-ready condition is even more stressful, particularly if you have a pet.  We knew that we would have to remove Kitty and her things before every showing, and that was not something we were looking forward to.  Finally, we had plenty of time.  We already owned our RV and could wait a bit if necessary for the house to sell.

So we made the decision to list the house several weeks after Tim’s last day at work.  That day would also be the day that we would begin our life as full-time RVers.  We would leave the house furnished and ready to show, and let our realtor handle all of the details.  Then, once we had a contract on the house, we would return to Estes Park and pack up. Downsizing would already be complete, and the only things remaining would be the items we would be storing or giving to relatives.  Although it’s not a plan that would work for everyone, it seemed to be the best solution for us.

May 28, 2014

Where Did All of This Stuff Come From?

When Tim and I returned from our Road Trip Ramble in June 2012, we began to seriously question the amount of “stuff” that we owned.  We had survived for nine months, and had been perfectly content, with the few things that would fit in our small RV.  Although Tim and I could never be accused of having pack-rat tendencies, we began to realize that we had way more things than we needed, or even wanted.

Full-time RVing was not even on our radar when we began the process of downsizing.  Tim and I lack the patience for garage sales, and Craigslist is not big in Estes Park, so we were happy to give away our things to charitable organizations.  By the end of 2012, we had sorted through closets, drawers and boxes and had donated several thousand dollars’ worth of items to local thrift shops and charities.  The Estes Valley Library became the recipient of hundreds of books for its Christmas book sale.  The tax deduction that we received was a nice bonus.

Habitat for Humanity Received Lots of Our Things

One Box of Books Packed and Ready to Donate

We continued in this mode for the first half of 2013 as well, and I was proud that we had whittled down our possessions to what seemed like a respectable number.  Tim and I even donated more books to the library.  We thought that we were getting rid of everything we could!  It wasn’t until we decided to sell the house and start full-timing, however, that I realized just how much stuff we still owned.  And I thought we had been doing so well!

Every future full-timer goes through what we went through, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.  I was able to prepare myself emotionally to get rid of almost everything we owned, but the process of actually doing so was not easy.  It really was very hard work.

One of the first things I had to tackle was my enormous slide collection. The slides were still in boxes from my last two or three moves, and I hadn’t looked at them in years, maybe decades.  My first plan was to have them all digitized, but when I realized what that would cost, I decided to be ruthless and get rid of most of them.  Making that decision was probably one of the hardest ones I had to make.  What was fun, however, was viewing each slide before tossing it.  I really enjoyed my trip down memory lane.  Had I not decided to downsize, it’s possible that I never would have looked at those slides.  I decided to keep only the ones with people in them (I used to photograph mostly landscapes or architecture, not people), and sent those out to be digitized.

Just a Tiny Sampling of the Slides I Had to Review

There Were Boxes of Old Family Photos To Go through As Well

The next big job was tackling the file drawers.  Although I thought I had been doing a good job of going mostly paperless, I found an enormous amount of paperwork and memorabilia.  I digitized all of the things that I thought we might need or want and recycled the originals.  Redundant papers went directly to the recycle bin.  The bins were certainly overflowing for several weeks.  Of course I kept original copies of important documents, but most of our past and present life is now in digital form.

Early on, Tim and I decided that we would rent a very small, climate-controlled storage unit, since we didn’t know how long we would be on the road.  We figured that if we stopped full-timing after two, three or even five years, we might not want to start from scratch to furnish a home. The storage unit could actually make financial sense.  Of course, the idea of a storage unit is not for everyone, particularly people who intend to full-time indefinitely.  But for us, it seemed to be a good idea.

Even with a storage unit, we only kept a very few pieces of furniture, our favorite pottery and glass collections and items that would cost a considerable amount to replace.  We were thrilled that Tim’s niece Stephanie was able to take most of the remaining furniture and housewares.  My historic railroad poster collection also went to Stephanie on a long-term loan.  She’ll be able to enjoy the artwork, and we won’t have to store it – a win for everyone.  Tim gave his old, reliable truck to his niece Missy.  Missy, have you learned to drive a stick shift yet?  It really felt good to send our things to people who could use and appreciate them.

May 26, 2014

Did He Really Do It?

Ever since we returned from our Road Trip Ramble, Tim and I talked about retirement.  I was fortunate to retire early when I was 55 years old, but Tim was still working.  In early 2013, he set a target retirement date of age 60 – 2016, two years earlier than he had originally planned.  This became our plan.

Imagine my surprise when Tim began to seriously consider an even earlier retirement date – earlier, as in March 2014!  During the fall of 2013, Tim and I had taken another look at our situation and our finances and had determined that we could really make his early retirement plan a reality.  On October 22, 2013, Tim informed his supervisor at Rocky Mountain National Park that March 21, 2014, would be his last day of work.  Whoo-Hoo!!!

The question then became – what were we going to do after Tim did retire?  Were we going to remain in Estes Park?  Were we going to sell the house and move?  If so, where?  Might we consider full-timing in the RV?

When faced with a major decision, Tim loves to prepare a matrix.  So, we listed our options, as well as the pros and cons for each possibility.  Although we loved living in Estes Park, we had always planned to move to a place with two or perhaps three months of winter, not six.  But where might that be?  Our plan had been to check out possible destinations on our Road Trip Ramble, but no one place really seemed to be the “one.”  So, we really didn’t have a place to go.  It made no sense to simply pick a place at random, not knowing if we would really want to live there.

What Are We Going to Do?

The more we considered our options, the more full or part-time RVing rose to the top of the list and became a very real possibility.  We had loved our nine months as “temporary” full-timers.  Maybe that was the direction we should take.  Nothing else seemed to make any sense.

Since we couldn’t afford to keep the house in Estes Park and spend the majority of our time RVing, selling the house was a necessity.  I’m a gypsy at heart, so I had no problem with not having a home base to return to.  In fact, after I retired and moved out West, I was “homeless” until I met and married Tim.  I loved the freedom of not having a real home.  It took Tim a bit longer to come to terms with that concept, however.  But eventually he did embrace the idea, and our future direction was set.

If it seems that we simply fell into full-time RVing, you just may be right!

May 25, 2014

A New Lifestyle

Today is my birthday, and I am celebrating it by starting a new blog.  On May 9, 2014, Tim and I sold our house in Estes Park, Colorado, and began a new chapter in our lives as full-time RVers.  We have been camping at Ridgway State Park in southwestern Colorado for the past week or so, and I will write more about our stay here in a later post.  It has taken me a while to get this blog up and running, so I have some catching-up to do.  Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll backtrack a bit and talk about how we came to this momentous decision to full-time in our RV, as well as what we did to make it happen.  In the meantime, here’s a little background that led up to our May 9 departure date.

Traveling in an RV, let alone full-timing in one, is not something that either Tim or I ever envisioned doing.  That all began to change in 2010, however, when I proposed the idea of taking a year off and traveling throughout the United States.  Tim agreed to help make this travel dream of mine a reality, and he was able to take a nine-month leave of absence so we could travel from September 2011 to June 2012 in an RV.

We called the trip our “Road Trip Ramble,” and viewed it as a trip-of-a-lifetime.  I kept a blog about our trip, and you can check it out here.  Little did we know when we returned to Estes Park that we would sell our house and hit the road on a full-time basis in less than two years.

Our Road Trip Ramble Journey

But didn’t I mention that we traveled in an RV?  Sarah (and Tim, for that matter) in an RV?  Surely, that can’t be true.  Two people who swore they would never even set foot in an RV traveled in one for nine months.  And not just any RV, but one that is about the size of a large walk-in closet.

This Is Our RV

You might ask why we selected this mode of transportation.  It’s simple, really.  It’s all because of the cat!  You see, Tim had a cat when I met him in 2008, and I quickly grew to love her.  When I broached the idea to Tim of taking an extended road trip, I had thought we would travel in a car.  But what about Kitty?  If we left her with someone for nine months, she would no longer be our cat when we returned.  Traveling with her in the car, however, did not seem to be feasible.  So the idea of an RV slowly emerged as the only way to go.  You can read more about Kitty here.  The cat made us do it! 

The Kitty and the RV

At the end of our amazing trip, Tim returned to work, and we considered selling the RV.  Tim had no plans to retire for at least four to five years, and we never really considered ourselves weekend campers.  We changed our minds, however, when we realized that we might need the RV after Tim did retire.  There was still the cat to think about.  The RV continued to be the only way we could travel with her.

On October 22, 2013, something amazing happened.  Tim decided to retire early, and he set a date of March 21, 2014.  We had no plans for our future at that point, and full-time RVing was not high on the list of possibilities.  Although I had continued to follow the blogs of full-timers and could easily envision myself as a full-timer, Tim was not so sure.  As we continued to talk about our future, however, he came to the conclusion that this type of lifestyle might be the way to go.  I don’t remember when we made the decision, but once the decision was made, we began to work toward that goal.  We would sell the house, store a few things and hit the road.