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

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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.
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 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.

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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. www.facebook.com/marshmallowranch

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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Joel - February 26, 2015 Reply

What an inspiring story. Shows such strength of character to still chase your dreams after such grief. You are certainly right that Mr. Virgo would be proud.

Kim - February 26, 2015 Reply

May you be blessed with many beautiful moments of joy and love on your journey! I applaud your tenacity and ability to make the change.

I have a question, I’ve considered getting a camper and living in it to cut costs in a city campground, but I’m worried about the cold and a little about theft. How did you manage to stay snug as a bug at 4 degrees. Is it possible without completely rebuilding a camper? I’m either going to have to by a completely trashed camper and insulate it or buy something that is a little nicer, but still older and not insulated. Thank you for your insight. I can’t afford to buy/build a tiny insulated house at this point.

    Ginny - February 27, 2015 Reply

    Hi Kim! Thank you for your kind words. Insulation can certainly be added to older campers but you’re in for a major rebuild in order to do so. I am blessed that I was able to trade in my other camper and add some money to it to get a brand new one. It has a great furnace but propane has been costing me $52.62 per week. I also have an electric blanket, an electric throw, and a small ceramic space heater that I use for backup. I haven’t received my electric bill yet! One thing to keep in mind…a lot of the campgrounds and RV parks are getting pretty choosy about what trailers they allow in and won’t allow one over 10 years old. I would suggest doing lots of research first. My first camper was brand new, 2013 Sportsmen Classic 16′ and I got it for $10,000. You could get newer used one for much less than that if you search carefully. Best wishes to you! <3

      Kim - February 27, 2015 Reply

      Thank you for the tips Ginny. That’s really too bad that campgrounds/rv parks are discriminating against something that doesn’t meet their standards. It’s just creating a bigger rift between those who have a lot and those who don’t. At least the state parks (if they can remain open) are available for everyone yet.

Rebecca - February 26, 2015 Reply

Aawwww… go girl.

jipsi - February 28, 2015 Reply

The heartbreak you must have experienced, and so tragically (as it always is, however), in the midst of planning your ‘new future’ together… My heart both hurt for you, as your story began, and leaped with joy as you stood up, took one step and then another, ‘regrew’ your wings and began to fly again…. Thanks for sharing. You are an inspiration and I look forward to keeping in touch with your progress via ‘Life After Wife’ (facebook page)…
Wishing you clear skies and dry roads ahead. The cheaper fuel prices this year should help, too (knock on wood! lol) 😉

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