Life with TOW-Wanda: Navigating Grief, One Campfire at a Time

rv life

Today I’m excited to share a guest post with you by Ginny McKinney. Ginny completed the Tiny Transition + Downsizing E-Course a few months ago (which is now open for registration for the session beginning on March 1st!) and I’ve asked her to share her story because it is downright brave, inspiring and fearless. Ginny has turned a sad situation into a brave adventure.

If you want to join the 8-week downsizing bootcamp and join a lifetime group of friends and comrades on a similar journey towards simple living (either in a tiny house, camper, cabin, or even downsizing in place) – you should join us for the March 1st session of Tiny Transition + Downsizing. You’ll get 8 weeks of practical lessons and challenges, guided step by step help, lifetime access to the private class forum, accountability, support and motivation from me and your classmates, and the tools you need to simplify your home and life.

I’ll let Ginny take it from here:

The morning dawned with the typical bluebird skies of Colorado. Mr. Virgo and I had been knee deep in negotiations as to how we were going to spend our looming retirement years. We finally settled on getting a travel trailer and to start practicing early. Why wait for retirement to have some fun, right? We had a leisurely breakfast then headed out to go trailer shopping. It was a lovely drive. We discussed the merits of different size campers and floor plans. We definitely wanted something big enough to take the kids and grandkids with us. We held hands and planned. It was a perfect day.

Until… We were standing in the fourth trailer, trying to decide which one we liked best, when my sweetheart suffered a massive heart attack and died. He was 62. In a moment, the life I knew, the life we had planned, was just…gone. The next few days…ok, the next YEAR, was a blur. I went to stay with my kids for a few weeks. It was spring break and my older daughter said, “Mom, we’re all yours today. What do you want to do?” There was only one thing TO do. We went out and bought a travel trailer!
I instinctively knew I needed to put something joyful in front of me or I wasn’t sure I was going to get through this. I remembered seeing a story somewhere about a group of women who were trailer enthusiasts so I started searching. Sisters on the Fly is an outdoor adventure group that encourages women to bring out the girl in them and go play. They were exactly who I needed to drag me through the darkest of days.
travel trailer
 About two months after Mr. Virgo died, I took off for a three month trip on my own, exploring every corner of Colorado and points in between. I camped nestled between big rigs. I ventured far out in the boonies where no one could hear my anguished cries as I yelled at God for taking my man. I met my new Sisters along the way and my healing, albeit slow, began one campfire at a time.

I was warned against making major decisions in the first year of widowhood. For quite some time, I had been feeling like a slave to the big box that was my now cavernous home. I had a mortgage that wasn’t going to be paid off till age 89. I yearned to be free of the responsibilities of lawn care and home maintenance. I was feeling the weight of my genetic tendency to hoard junk that no one in their right mind was ever going to want or appreciate. My children had long ago told me they were just going to bring in a dumpster (or two!) when I’m gone so why wait? I consulted with my realtor. I had a home staging company come in and give me some advice and I set my sights on purging 40 years of STUFF!

It was not easy. As a matter of fact, it was physically and emotionally painful. My younger daughter came to town and helped me one day. It took ten hours to clean one closet! I was reduced to tears on many occasions but there was only one way to eat this elephant and that was one bite at a time. Every box of stuff donated, sold, given away made me lose another 100 pounds!

I found I was tripping over what I wanted to keep so I rented a storage space. A word of warning here. Make sure you rent at a reputable, secure site…preferably with cement walls between storage units. I tried to save a buck and ended up getting about $9000 worth of items stolen, all replaceable except Mr. Virgo’s golf clubs. So sad.

Once the house was staged and on the market, the waiting game began. I moved into my little 16′ camper, partly to keep from having to clean the house constantly, and partly because I wanted to try my hand at living in a tiny home. I had been following the tiny house movement for quite some time. I was definitely interested in the lifestyle, but I wanted the flexibility to move frequently. I loved it, but the configuration of my space wasn’t really conducive to full time living. I started looking for a bigger, well built, travel trailer to buy once the house was sold.

I knew I needed to downsize in earnest. “Be ruthless!” became my mantra. I whittled away till I got a three bedroom house down to 25 boxes of stuff that I just HAD to keep. I paid to have it moved to my grandparent’s farm where I was going to care for an elderly aunt. As fate would have it, that didn’t work out for either of us so I bowed out gracefully.But, now what to do with the 25 boxes of stuff I “couldn’t” part with? I have been the caretaker of the family archives since my mom died eleven years ago. My first job was to scan 10,000+ photos and documents onto an external hard drive. And back it up on a second external hard drive for safe keeping. It took six weeks and was quite the trip down memory lane. It was emotionally draining and there were a ton of potholes on that road. Once I got the photos all scanned, I packed up the originals and shipped them off to the families of the subjects. Brilliant. They’re happy…I’m happy! Win-win.

Once I sold my house, I traded in my Ford Expedition for an F-150 pickup and traded up for a 29′ Starcraft Launch Ultra Lite with a slide out dining area. It feels like the Taj Mahal after being crammed in my first camper. It does have a few disadvantages. I can’t pull into small, intimate campgrounds as easily. I’m a little less inclined to just hookup and go like I did with the little trailer but I’m hoping that gets better with time. Backing up is certainly interesting. I’m 42′ from nose to tail…there’s a learning curve. And, you had better be prepared for sticker shock at the gas pump! When I moved to West Virginia in October, I averaged 8 miles per gallon cross country and gas was over $4 per gallon in some places.
large trailer
 It’s winter now and bitter cold so I can’t really go through the rest of the boxes just yet. I’m spending my time organizing my little house on wheels in preparation for the next phase of this journey. I cannot stand the prefab, plastic look of the brown interior that all RV’s seem to have so I am changing the decor to something that suits me. Even though it’s 4 degrees outside, I am snug as a bug in my tiny little home. And best of all? I’m free. It’s paid for. I will carry only what is useful and loved. I can live wherever I want. And that is the most empowering thing I have ever done for myself.

Mr. Virgo would be so proud! <3

You can follow Ginny as she travels with TOW-Wanda…her home on wheels.

Ginny is a former student in the Tiny Transition + Downsizing E-Course. If you need a step by step plan to get your life downsized and get out from under your “stuff” – you can join the next session of Tiny Transition + Downsizing right here.  Class starts March 1st!

The practical weekly lessons and private student-only forum allow you to make progress at your own pace within a group of like-minded friends on the same journey. I’ve been told that the group is a catalyst for lifelong change. That’s because we not only go through how to eliminate all sorts of crap from your life and space, but because we fundamentally change your relationship with “stuff”. It has the cascading effect of positively influencing every area of your life. You can learn more about Tiny Transition and Downsizing and register here.
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MINI Camping Concepts

MINI has a diehard fan base and is teasing them with several new concept cars that may or may not come to fruition. The problem with concepts is that anyone wanting the item aches for it to be available On the other hand, it gives those with imagination and tools the fodder to run with the idea and ask “how small can you go?”


The Clubvan Camper is being called the world’s smallest luxury camper van and the basic Clubman has been adapted to provide sleeping for one person by removing all the other seats besides the driver’s. The bed (with storage underneath) extends from front to back on the passenger side of the vehicle and the space behind the driver’s side becomes a kitchenette which extends on rollers out the pair of rear doors. The kitchenette includes a two burner stove with slide out counter space, storage and a chest refrigerator. The Clubvan also has an auxiliary heater, a small flatscreen TV and a handheld shower designed to be used outside the vehicle. Continue reading

Do-it-yourself Airstream Renovators

Sharon and Sam and the airstream

DIYer fulfills a longtime dream

Not everyone who dreams of renovating an Airstream should try it. Tackling such a project requires a broad skill set, ample free-time, problem-solving patience and courage. As the Airstream ownership craze grows, an increasing number do-it-yourselfers are stepping up to the challenge, and a family-run Airstream renovator in Santa Barbara is happy to help.
In the past four years, Hofmann Architecture (aka HofArc) has become known worldwide as the go-to standard for custom Airstream design/builds. Their renovations feature clean lines, sustainable materials and spacious interiors. Continue reading

Teardrop USA & Minimizing for Life

Issue 25 of the Tiny House Magazine has an article about Austin and Nicole Barkis, a Southern California couple who sold nearly all their belongings, purchased a teardrop trailer from Craigslist and hit the road with Bowser and Yoshi—their rescued Pomeranian Chihuahuas. All four of them are now enjoying life in 4×9 trailer towed by a Mini Cooper S.

While you can find out more about the couple and their teardrop trailer life from the magazine article or from their website and Tumblr blog, this post covers their minimizing and simplification process and how they live their life out of 36 square feet—with a few thousand miles as their backyard.

Austin and Nicole decided to simplify after questioning their lives in Southern California. High rent and bills were draining and unused stuff was piling up. After viewing a TEDx video by Adam Baker of Man Vs. Debt, the couple put their personal belongings on Craigslist and looked for a trailer that could be towed by their Mini. Austin runs his own business and Nicole telecommutes for her software job, so both knew they could make money on the road.


When minimizing their belongings to maximize their lives, the couple realized that the process of getting rid of things had to have a forced deadline. Storage units and cabinets were still full until the very last second before hitting the highway. That’s when the virtual fire was lit and stuff began to get tossed.


“When we first began, we had a ton of stuff sitting in the teardrop trailer (which is just the bed inside) and we had bags and little boxes of stuff overflowing everywhere,” Nicole wrote on their blog. “It got to the point that when we were loading the last few things, we just started throwing stuff away in the nearby Dumpster of our old apartment complex. It’s fascinating, you plan and you plan, but once it’s finally there and you have your trailer and you see the reality of the space vs. what you thought you could keep, you stop caring. All you want at that moment is to get on the road.”

It only took until the second night to realize what they really wanted to keep on their journeys. Along the way nonessential items like throw pillows, extra shoes and even a potted plant were given away.  They kept a few items for comfort and fun, tools for the teardrop and Mini (located in a storage box on the front of the trailer), computers, food and cooking items, and some bins of clothes that will be minimized even further. The Mini trunk and a storage area under the teardrop bed hold items not immediately needed.


Austin and Nicole’s mission is to live minimally yet to the absolute fullest degree possible. If you are struggling to minimize your life, just imagine having to pack it all away into a teardrop trailer and a Mini Cooper.



Photos by Teardrop USA

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]

Handmade Matt’s Truck Camper

The December issue of the Tiny House Magazine has a story about handmade, wooden truck campers in it and one of most talked about versions on the Web is the whimsical truck camper designed and built by Handmade Matt. Matt is a craftsman and tiny house enthusiast from Surrey, England and is currently available as a consultant for anyone looking to build their own tiny house—on or off a 4×4 truck.


Matt’s step-by-step process of the camper build is available on his website, and while the camper has been sold to a new owner in Sweden, Matt has recently finished up a new design. The vision for the first camper was to create a traditional looking removable camper with modern comforts. The camper is fully insulated, has solar power with 12v outlets and inverter. It contains a full kitchen with running water from a 13 gallon tank and a refrigerator, a two burner stove and a heater. There is an emergency composting toilet for when a public bathroom is not available.


“I wanted a four wheel drive camper and I have woodworking skills. It was the cheapest and most stimulating option,” Matt said. “The design was inspired over the years by all the things I have seen, a lot from Lloyd Kahn’s books. I am actually featured in his latest book, “Tiny Homes on the Move” with another cabin that I have built. I make no real plans when building, it all comes from my imagination. I make it up as I go along, no drawings, limited forethought. The projects just evolve.”


Matt said his favorite part of this particular build was the finishing touches.

“It’s when the magic happens and the whole vision comes together,” he said. “It’s finally when other people can see what was in my imagination all along. It’s a way of getting something that is inside me to come out into the world.”

Matt and his girlfriend took the camper all over the UK, through the southern English counties and into Wales. It did just fine in the mountains and also served as a home for his girlfriend who worked at various festival events.

For future builds by Handmade Matt, keep an eye on his website or the Tiny House Blog.



Photos by Handmade Matt

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]