While growing up, I received a lot of well-intentioned advice from members of older generations regarding the best practices for living: It was important to buy a home, go to college, start at an entry-level job in a company and work my way up, and to possess all the same things my neighbors had.
Okay, maybe that last one was more of an observation about the “Keeping up with the Joneses” lifestyle. But it was still an expectation.
So, I did just that. I went to college with the promise that it would secure a good job, got married, bought a house, had kids, and worked to buy stuff I didn’t need. My husband, Mark, and I had achieved the American Dream. Or, at least, someone’s version of it.
Home Ownership Isn’t for Everyone
A commonly held popular opinion was that buying a house was always an excellent investment. Except, when we bought our house at the end of 2007, we quickly learned that wasn’t true. For years we dreamed of moving somewhere else, or buying a property with a few acres, which we couldn’t do because after purchasing our home, the market tanked, netting us an immediate $40,000 debt for our investment. We were trapped.
Over a decade later, the housing market picked up, and we seized the opportunity to get out. As home values increased, so did the cost of homeowner’s insurance in Florida. Many companies fled the state. Those who stayed offered less coverage for a lot more money.
Since home values rose, so did our taxes. They nearly doubled in the fourteen years we lived in our house. The surrounding area was constantly under construction to keep up with growth, and yet, there were no amenities anywhere near us.
When the Change Around You Isn’t for the Better
We’d chosen to live in a quiet neighborhood about forty-five minutes outside of Tampa just over an hour’s drive to Orlando. This gave us the ability to avoid things like traffic and urban living, but still reside close enough to the cities to visit if we were so inclined.
As the Tampa Bay area became one of the most desirable destinations to live in the U.S., its population swelled, and more communities popped up near us. The Department of Transportation spent years expanding the interstate, and then the highway that intersected it where we lived. And yet, for all the increased traffic and congestion, we still had nothing to do in our area. And reaching Tampa and Orlando took longer than it used to.
Fighting the Boredom
Living in suburbia created a lot of boredom for us, and it took a long time before we even realized it. We were constantly on the go, visiting one place or another. We engaged in dozens of different hobbies, from volunteering for historical re-enactments, to rock climbing, woodworking, crafting, and even – wait for it – suburban farming.
In our front yard, we built compost bins, planted vegetables, grew beneficial flowers, and installed fruit trees. We reserved the backyard for our laying hens and meat rabbits, as well as running space for the dogs. All of that on 8,800 sq ft property with a 1,500 sq ft house. (Side note: Raising chickens is a hobby that I’d recommend to anyone. The birds are delightfully entertaining. Plus, you get fresh eggs. Just keep in mind that they can get over a six-foot privacy fence and will definitely decide to roost on your backyard playground. But I digress…)
Though I loved my mini-farm, and the wonderful foods our labor produced, after several years, it ended. This was because of a microscopic organism that destroyed my plants and proved impervious to pesticides or treatments. And as my kids got older, they wanted to leave the house more, no longer content to stay at home helping me do things like harvest green beans for two hours, or shovel piles of compost into a garden bed. Go figure. So the garden went away.
When the hours of toiling on the farm were gone, we filled that time with field trips, extracurricular activities, and meeting up with homeschool groups.
Photo: One of our trips to Universal Orlando
Finding Our Tribe
My kids have never attended a brick-and-mortar school. The local elementary school had a low rating and I didn’t like the idea of my kids attending a failing school. So, I looked into something I hadn’t previously considered – homeschooling.
Though homeschooling is not easy, it has worked out well for us. I found other homeschooling families in the area. Over the years, we’ve commuted to weekly groups up to an hour away. Different groups offered different things: some were playground meet-ups for socialization purposes (or really, a way for moms to chat with other moms while our kids wore themselves out), others offered classes, and some were field-trip based.
The kids enjoyed most of the groups we were a part of. But inevitably, the long commute, or structure of the group (i.e., being a secular family in a religious homeschool group because it was the only one close to us) led us looking elsewhere for our tribe – a group of people with whom we could mesh.
After conversing with a lot of parents, I noticed they were perfectly content driving their kids around all day to different activities and living in their deed restricted neighborhoods. The routine didn’t bother them. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Sometimes I envied those moms and their contentment. But when I spoke with them about wanting more, about having a desire to travel, or move somewhere else and do something vastly different, the other moms offered blank stares or polite nods followed by “that sounds nice.”
I wanted to find people who understood, people who didn’t look at our family’s ideas as “crazy.”
It didn’t take long before my internet searches led me to people who were doing exactly what I wanted to do. When I heard them speak on their YouTube channels about why they chose to live on the road, it was as though they took the words right out of my mouth. They expressed the same ideas Mark and I spent hours discussing. They were living our “what ifs,” and I wanted in.
Dreaming of Tiny Houses
Though I felt like we’d found our tribe, Mark wasn’t settled on the idea at first. How would we make money? How would we survive? What about health insurance? We couldn’t possibly leave. After all, our only income came from his job, and he had twenty years left to go before retirement. He expressed concerns that leaving everything behind worked for other people, but we weren’t them. We were different. Except we weren’t.
Transitioning to a new lifestyle, to me, was simply a problem that needed to be worked out. Like math – or maybe not – as this was a problem I could actually solve.
I became obsessed with the idea of living in something much smaller than we had, spending hours watching tiny home shows and tours of skoolies (school buses converted into mobile living spaces). I forced Mark to sit through videos that showed how entire families lived in RVs. We went to RV shows. But it took about three more years of research and prodding – and a worldwide pandemic – before he got on board.
What about the kids, you ask? My daughter didn’t want this lifestyle. She liked the predictability of our lives living in our old home. She feared change. But as we came closer to getting our RV, and moving in, she got excited about it.
I believe one thing that helped her transition was knowing that we’d spend most of our first year living stationary in the RV. She loved the community we were in because there was always something to do. And when our first RV road trip gave her a taste of what our life would look like on the road, she gave her approval. Now she has a growing list of places she wants to visit when we travel.
As for my son, he’s a go with the flow kind of kid. As long as he has a few of his electronics, toys, and a couple of stuffed animals, it doesn’t make any difference to him.
What About All Those Concerns?
Though my family got on board with the idea of living a nomadic life, we still had hurdles to jump through. Mark went to school and became a Certified Mobile RV Technician, fixing RVs on his days off from the fire station. This is how we planned to earn income on the road. There are health insurance options for full-time nomads. And since we already homeschooled the kids, road schooling wouldn’t be a drastic change for them.
Photo Credit: Rupshare, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve learned through this process that some people are city folks, some enjoy the country, and others thrive in the suburbs. But it’s okay not to fit into any of these options. There’s a world of people out there living in houseboats, converted vans, tiny homes, off-grid cabins, converted school buses (as well as shuttle buses, box trucks, and ambulances), and RVs. Though it’s not for everyone, it is for us. And we’re grateful for the opportunity.
Do you have plans to live tiny or nomadically? Is this lifestyle something that would never appeal to you? Do you know someone who lives outside the norm? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!