William Morris, the British artist and author, once said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or do not believe to be beautiful”. Good advice, but easier said than done for most of us. For Cheryl and David Goldstein from Plano, Texas, this quote became their mantra when they decided to embark on a new life traveling full-time in a recreational vehicle (RV) two years ago.
I met last week with the Goldsteins at ShadyCreek RV Park and Storage in Aubrey Texas while in Texas for 6 weeks visiting family. I was intrigued by their lifestyle; what prompted Cheryl and David to sell their home and most of their belongings to live in a 375 square foot vehicle on wheels? The concept was foreign to me.
I camped with my family as a child, and envisioned the Goldstein’s RV to have a similar setup. Our family camper was tiny, dreary and uncomfortable…my memories are not happy ones. I was not at all prepared for the cheerfully decorated and well-outfitted space I entered upon my arrival at the park. The RV was small, but homey. Walking through, I saw comfortable furniture, two flat screened TV’s, king size bed, built-in refrigerator, combination washer dryer unit and tons of storage. Tasteful art hung on the brightly colored walls and coordinating cornices hung over the windows.
Smaller House, Bigger Life
Cheryl and David lived an extravagant life in the Dallas suburbs when we first met years ago. With 2 beautiful children, lots of friends and extended family in the area and a stunning 5500 square foot newly built house, they seemed to be living the dream. Their respective careers and volunteer work were busy, but rewarding.
Fast forward to 2008. Cheryl and David were exhausted from their long hours. Much of their time and income went to upkeep of the house. Family time was scarce. They were stressed, hurried and questioned their spending habits. After great consideration, they downsized their home, relocating to a 3300 square foot house in the same school district. Though the new home was more than adequate for a family of four, many of their belongings from the larger house did not ft. This move was the start of the Goldstein’s quest to simplify their lives.
By 2012, Cheryl and David were empty nesters. They sold the 3300 square foot house, rid themselves of even more belongings, and moved into a 2000 square foot townhome. Though countless items were purged, many “extras” still went with them. Cheryl’s impressive shoe collection easily made the cut, along with their wedding crystal and extensive art collection.
Cheryl was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. David spent a great deal of time reflecting on their lives and priorities during her lengthy recovery. He painfully acknowledged the harsh reality they might not have the adventuresome future together they planned.
Cheryl thankfully recovered. It was then David told her about an interesting blog he found online written by a couple who traveled full-time by RV. He was fascinated by this lifestyle choice. Though not yet ready to retire, David imagined a travel adventure living in an RV and working remotely with Cheryl by his side.
Cheryl, realizing life was fragile, was open to further discussion. However, she needed convincing that RV life was not “camping”. They attended the annual RV show in Dallas to see the various types of vehicles available, many quite luxurious. Cheryl realized RV life was not necessarily rustic. A trial run was the next reasonable step, and they decided to rent an RV for a trip around northern California. This first attempt proved challenging, which Cheryl described as, “a comedy of errors” but they laughed through it together.
Important to have before you start:
A love of travel and adventure
A healthy relationship if traveling with a partner
Good organizational & research skills
Some disposable income for the unexpected
(may be obtained through sale of your house and belongings)
The ability to adapt and be flexible – things do not always go as planned
An RV manual and the ability – learn to fix things!
Health and other insurance
Mailing address or mail forwarding service
An Amazon Prime Account to send birthday gifts
A thick skin when family/friends question your choices
Chuck it all or have it all? It’s perception
Even with the difficulties encountered in California, the Goldsteins had a great time and wanted more. Once the decision was made to become full-time travelers, they spent more than a year purging in anticipation of their new life. Ridding themselves of anything not considered beautiful or useful was very emotional, especially for Cheryl. They were drawn, however, to the concept of purposefully owning less stuff in a society that relentlessly promises happiness and fulfillment with every purchase. Special occasion jewelry, sentimental family items, wedding gifts, the kids’ school projects, formal clothes, fun kitchen gadgets, books and more were given away to friends, discarded, sold or donated . Photos, old home movies, important documents and receipts were digitized. “We scanned our lives”, David said. They felt lighter and freer than ever before.
They sold their townhouse in 2016, purchased a gently used 40-foot 5th wheel trailer, and were ready to live an unencumbered and unscheduled lifestyle. A simpler life focused on collecting experiences instead of stuff allowed David to leave his corporate job with a plan to provide consulting services from the road.
The online RV community they joined, and for whom David now works, is called The Escapees RV Club. This 40 year old organization offers extensive education, support and services related to RVing including mail service, roadside assistance, health insurance and so much more. A subgroup of this organization, the Xscapers, plans gatherings, called convergences, to promote a sense of community among RVers. Cheryl and David learn as they go and credit Escapees with enabling them to be successful on their journey.
Don’t you get tired of each other?
Now, two years after starting their adventure, I was curious about Cheryl’s and David’s relationship. “Wonderful” was the response I received, almost in unison. “However, living in close quarters requires honest conversations, patience and tolerance” Cheryl added. “I think being together 24/7 tends to make a good relationship better and a bad relationship worse” said David. It was obvious these lovebirds are very happy with their situation and feel closer than ever. They continue to love their minimalist RV life as they navigate unforeseen challenges together.
“How long do you think you will do this?”
“How was your trip?”
“When will you be back?”
Friends and family just don’t seem to understand. Yes, Cheryl and David miss their friends and family, but staying in touch via phone and internet is easy. They return to the DFW area to visit twice per year. They don’t miss their hectic overstuffed life, though Cheryl admits to sometimes wishing she had access to her previous wardrobe. “It was somewhat awkward meeting friends for dinner when visiting Dallas wearing my casual travel clothes”, said Cheryl. However, they still feel strongly they “rightsized” their life and the benefits outweigh the challenges.
Exploring new destinations almost weekly with the person they most enjoy seems to work infinitely well for both Cheryl and David. They wander with only the essentials throughout the U.S. on their own schedule, meet like-minded people, and in their words, “plan to continue until they don’t”.
Benefits of the RV Life:
Simpler, less complicated life
Much less stressful lifestyle
More Free time
No strict schedule; stay as long or short as you like in a location
New and deeper friendships
Authentic relationships and people
Frequent sightseeing opportunities
Lots of time outdoors
Growing contingency of RVers in their 50’s who are not retired
Challenges of the RV Life:
Emotional aspect of purging belongings
Time needed to scan photos, documents, receipts, etc.
Leaving behind family and friends
Less access to familiar doctors,shopping,restaurants, etc.
Less space to entertain new friends
Limited clothing choices; may need to purchase new for special ocassions
Living in close quarters if you feel you need time away from your partner
Most people in RV community are older