Exploring RV Living – All The Comforts Of Home: Water, Gas, And More

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

In order to be self-contained, an RV needs more than just electricity. Water is necessary for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing. That means there also has to be somewhere for the used water to go, as well as the, ahem, used food. Speaking of food, we need gas to cook it and to refrigerate it. Gas also keeps me toasty warm in winter, heats water, and can even be used for lighting.

Elixir Of Life

While in a campground offering hookups, the fresh water system can be supplied via a hose connected to the so-called “city water” inlet on the RV. Regular garden hose fittings are the standard. By convention, a white hose is always used for potable water, and never for anything else. With this arrangement I have a virtually limitless supply of water as you are probably used to at your house.

Getting Tanked

When not connected, water is supplied from an on-board tank. An electric pump operates on demand to distribute water to the various fixtures when called for. In this mode water becomes a precious commodity, and conservation is a must. I have a 25-gallon fresh water tank and, with care, I can go two weeks between fill-ups. Doing the math, that’s less than two gallons per day. How much water do you use in a day? If you have metered water service, take a look at your last bill and do the math. As you can imagine, I’ve learned to not waste water. Do you usually let the water run while washing dishes, brushing your teeth, or washing your hands? I can’t afford to do that.

Down The Drain

Most people give little thought to what happens to water after it goes down the drain, or what happens to the contents of the bowl when the toilet flushes. Since it is not only disgusting, but also illegal to release raw sewage, and even relatively clean wastewater is not permitted to be discharged in most places, an RV needs holding tanks. As the name implies, these tanks hold the sewage and wastewater until they can be emptied at an appropriate “dump station” into a proper sewer or septic system. Most rigs have two tanks. One is for “gray” water – sink and shower drains lead there. The other is for “black” water – the toilet bowl contents go there when flushed. Plates need to be scraped thoroughly before dish washing to avoid bits of food going down the drain. Special care needs to be exercised with the toilet too.

Don’t Forget The Paperwork

Toilet paper must be of a type that breaks up easily in water. The best seems to be the Scott single-ply 1000 sheets per roll variety. Other single-ply paper claiming to be RV or septic safe might work too. Multi-ply, super-comfy plush paper will only cause trouble. It is too bulky and does not easily break apart in water. Aside from the paper, nothing else goes in the toilet unless you’ve eaten it first. That’s a reminder that some  things that you might be used to flushing down your regular toilet do not belong in an RV toilet or holding tank.

Got Gas?

Propane is used to operate the various gas appliances. My motorhome has a frame mounted tank plus I’ve added a hose to attach a portable cylinder to make for easy refills without breaking camp. A four burner gas stove with oven serves most of my cooking needs. In fact, it is an improvement over the stove in my last stick house, that having been electric. I have a 6-gallon  water heater, too.

Snug As A Bug

The coach was equipped from the factory with a forced air furnace, but I don’t use it often because it is inefficient in its propane consumption as well as using quite a bit of electrical power for the noisy blower. Mostly I use a small blue-flame heater – silent, efficient, and uses no electricity.

Wonders Of Ancient Technology

Perhaps my two favorite propane appliances, at least from the standpoint of interesting technology, are the refrigerator and the gas light. The mantle gas light remains relatively unchanged since its invention over 100 years ago.  At around 2000 BTU per hour, mine puts out just the right amount of heat for a mild winter evening or a cool spring or fall morning and makes a very bright light, too!

Making Cold From Heat

The propane-fired absorption refrigerator is almost magic – it turns the heat of a gas flame into cold! It is also another technology that has hardly changed since its invention in the 1920’s. While it may not be as energy-efficient as a mechanical compression-cycle refrigerator, it has a few advantages. No noisy compressor means it is totally silent. No moving parts, other than controls, means nothing to wear out. The main reason, however, that it is used for RV and other off-grid homes is because propane offers a much denser and therefore efficient means of energy storage than do batteries. A 20-pound cylinder, common for gas barbecue grills, will run the fridge for a month, while a battery the same size might run it for a day, and a battery of the same weight might run it for an hour or two.

Conservation Counts

Like other consumables that I carry on board, propane is a finite resource so I must plan my usage and practice active conservation. Unless I’m hooked up and plugged in, things that most folks take for granted and treat as unlimited are things I must carefully mind my usage and plan for resupplying as needed.

Your Turn

As always, your comments and questions are welcome and encouraged!

Internet Grocery Shopping Experiment – Groceries Express Fail

Heat Wave

My car has been acting up lately. I know what it needs and already have the part (water pump).  Unfortunately, it has been lethally hot outside for the past few weeks. We’ve been under excessive heat advisory for over two weeks now, with 115-120 degree temperatures. I even saw a 122 degrees on my thermometer the other day. The heat has probably contributed to my recent lack of productivity here in the written world. Needless to say, it’s not conducive to being outside doing car repairs either. The car is not completely disabled; I can drive it 5-10 miles at a time without a problem, but I don’t trust it for a 50 mile round trip to the supermarket.

Shop Without Going Shopping

What better time, I thought, to try online grocery shopping. With gas prices continuing to rise, perhaps it might be a viable option, especially if I factor in the two hours it takes to go, shop, and return. Not to mention the temptation for impulse shopping. Internet grocery shopping would be a good exercise in discipline, too, forcing me to carefully make a list and stick to it without opportunity for cheating.

Out Of Service Area

Where could I do this internet shopping? If I lived in the Phoenix metro area, Safeway would deliver to me. Not out here, though. It seems most decent sized cities have at least one grocery store or service that offers home delivery. Heck, if I lived in the city, I’d probably be within a mile or two of a supermarket and quite possibly within easy walking distance. I wouldn’t need delivery.

A Few Options

The two biggest internet grocers, Peapod and Netgrocer, were of little help to me. Peapod only serves northeastern states. Netgrocer will ship anywhere, but unless you are very close (again, the northeast US) shipping rates become prohibitive.  And of course, no dairy, meat, or fresh produce, either, outside of their local service area. What other options?

Amazon has a pretty good selection of non-perishables, and the prices aren’t too bad, but it seems you have to buy everything in minimum quantities of six (or more). I don’t have room to store six of everything. And they don’t do meat, dairy, or produce.

Maybe I Found One?

I found another place — Groceries Express — with slightly better prices than Netgrocer, more reasonable shipping rates, and they even had some refrigerated items on their site. I decided to give it a try. I chose a small assortment of items that I needed: a bag of whole-bean coffee, hard salami, a couple of kinds of crackers, a jar of olives, and paper towels. I also wanted to see how they handled refrigerated items, so I ordered a couple different kinds of cheese as well as a jar of Claussen pickles.

I ordered on a Friday afternoon, expecting the order would be filled and shipped the following Monday. While my order’s status changed to “pulling from warehouse” on Monday, it didn’t actually ship until Tuesday evening. It arrived in Phoenix that Friday, where it sat in a warehouse over the weekend until it was delivered to me on Monday.

Epic Fail

The large red “refrigerate on arrival” label on the box was promising. I opened the box, and found the contents to be efficiently packed. One of the two glass jars was wrapped in a sheet of foam, and the other in some sort of paper-based pad. There was no broken glass, but there was a definite pickle odor. The paper-wrapped jar was the Claussen pickles. They apparently were leaking from around the lid seal. Luckily the paper padding had absorbed the relatively small bit of liquid, preventing damage to the other contents. More importantly, no attempt was made to keep the pickles cold (Claussen pickles are made cold, never boiled, and therefore must remain refrigerated for safety as well as quality). The cloudiness of the usually clear liquid told me they were spoiled and would be both undesirable and unsafe to eat. Two plastic pouches claiming to contain cheese enclosed two oily globs of matter — one yellow and the other orange.

Even the crackers were mostly broken (and the saltines tasted like cardboard — the manufacturer’s fault, not the vendor’s), so all I had left for my $80 and over a week’s wait was coffee, salami, paper towels, and a small jar of olives. Needless to say I was not pleased. Their mishandling of the refrigerated items, especially since their availability was the reason I chose this company, is inexcusable.

Back to the drawing board. I guess internet grocery shopping isn’t designed for those of us who could really benefit. Perhaps there is still a way I can do my grocery shopping with a minimum of driving. Maybe, using a combination of sources, I can meet my culinary needs without having to stray too far.

Shop Local

While the nearest real supermarket is 25 miles away, might there be a closer option? I have my choice of three convenience stores right up the street, all with an equally overpriced and virtually nonexistent selection of actual groceries. But there’s a small General Store about seven miles away that I recall had a slightly better selection and somewhat lower prices. Worth a look-see. It turns out that they have enough of a selection to survive on, if one isn’t too picky. Canned meats and fish, some basic fresh produce (I saw bell peppers, lettuce, cabbage, celery, onions, and potatoes, as well as common fruits), frozen veggies, basic dairy (milk, butter, eggs, and cheese), and plenty of boxed, canned, and jarred goods.

I can continue this minimal-driving grocery shopping experiment by purchasing as much as I can at this relatively close general store. It will let me reduce my driving while also allowing me to spend my money closer to home. Some of the slightly more exotic (at least by rural standards) items like whole-bean coffee, herbal teas, and “raw” sugar I’ll have to buy online and have shipped. I might even indulge myself with an occasional trip to the real supermarket. Schwan’s could be an option, too, for some items. In addition to the ice cream they are well-known for, they also deliver an assortment of frozen foods. Mostly ready-to-microwave entrées and meals, but they do have frozen meats, vegetables, and ready-to-bake bread too. And they even deliver here in my area.

What’s Your Experience?

If any of you have any experience with internet grocery shopping or other food delivery services, good or bad, I’d love to read about them in the comments.

Exploring RV Living – All The Comforts Of Home: Electricity

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

I had planned to cover all the house systems (water, waste, gas, and electric) in one post, but as I got to writing about the electrical system I realized it would need its own post. The rest will be covered in the next installment.

Twelve Volt Basics

All RVs have a 12 volt DC electrical system. This powers interior and exterior lighting and a pump for the fresh water system, as well as exhaust fans and the blower of a forced-air furnace. Most newer rigs have smoke, propane, and carbon monoxide detectors, all running on 12 volts, and ignition and control electronics for the propane-fired combustion appliances.

More About Batteries

The 12 volts is supplied from a deep cycle storage battery. This is similar to a car battery, except that it is designed for deeper discharge at low current. A starting battery, in contrast, is designed to deliver short bursts of high current. Another reason not to use the engine starting battery to power the house loads is to avoid becoming stranded in the event of running the battery down while camping.

Getting Charged

The house battery is charged by the RV or tow vehicle’s engine alternator while driving. There is also a “converter” which converts 120 volt AC to 12 volts DC,  while connected to electric hookups, powering 12-volt loads without discharging the battery. The converter usually incorporates a charger as well. Photovoltaic solar panels can be added to generate power whenever there’s sunshine. With a decent sized battery bank and solar system, combined with mindful conservation habits, it is possible to go almost indefinitely without connecting to shore power or running an internal combustion engine.

What I’ve Got

What do I have? I’ve got 500 amp-hours (6000 watt-hours) of rated house battery capacity. In practice, a storage battery should not be discharged past 50% capacity or the life of the battery is severely impacted, so that leaves me with 3000 watt-hours to use. I have a 500 watt solar system, so an average six hours of insolation on a sunny day gives me, not incidentally, 3000 watt-hours of daily charging ability.  Take a look at your latest electric bill. Do the math and determine what your daily kilowatt-hour usage is. Could you live on 3 KWH per day? I can, at least when I don’t need air conditioning.

Household Power To Go

What about all the common electrical conveniences and necessities that run on regular 120-volt AC power? Most RVs have a 120-volt electrical system with standard receptacles. The power comes in through what amounts to a big thick glorified extension cord which you plug in when you stop at a campground or RV park offering hookups. But what about in the middle of nowhere? There are two options: inverters and generators.

Inversion Layer

Inverters change 12-volt DC battery power into 120-volt AC household power. They are available in numerous sizes from 100 watts, suitable for operating laptops, electronics, and small appliances through multi-kilowatt units able to power almost anything. Many RVers find that 300-500 watts is enough to power their TV, DVD, computer, and kitchen gadgets with power to spare. If you want to be able to power a microwave oven from your battery bank, you’ll want at least a 1000 watt inverter, though some folks will just run a generator for that. I have a 3000 watt (there’s that number again!) inverter that will allow me to operate anything I own, limited only by the capacity of my battery bank.

Generation XYZ

A generator can deliver all the power you might want or need, as long as you have fuel for it. Most motorhomes have a generator as standard or optional equipment, while trailers usually don’t. Trailer owners often carry a portable generator. In addition to powering standard 120-volt loads, the generator can also, via the converter/charger, power 12-volt devices as well as charge the house battery during a cloudy spell or for folks who have no photovoltaic system.

Twelve Volt Native

An alternative to using an inverter or generator is to find 12-volt appliances. You’d be surprised at all the different things that come in 12-volt versions, and not just electronics. I’ve seen blenders, coffeemakers, hair dryers, and even microwave ovens designed to operate directly from 12 volts DC. My recommendation, however, is for large or heating appliances that only get used occasionally for short intervals, stick with standard 120 volt versions. Most of the 12-volt kitchen appliances I’ve seen offer very disappointing performance. Electronics, lighting, and ventilation, however, are good places to look for 12-volt options.

Generator vs. Solar

There seems to be two kinds of RVers at any boondocking gathering.  There are the folks who have an adequate solar system and are careful about their usage. They do this to avoid having to run a noisy, smelly generator any more than absolutely necessary. They might have to succumb to generator usage either to recharge batteries after a string of cloudy days, or perhaps for a few minutes occasionally to operate a high-current appliance (microwave or coffeemaker, for example) if they have only a small inverter. They enjoy the peace and quiet and community with nature.  The other group enjoys their creature comforts and either have undersized (if any) solar systems or can’t concern themselves with energy frugality. These are the ones who fire up their gensets at the crack of dawn and run ’em until noon, and then fire them up again around dusk and don’t shut ’em down until long after dark. I’ve seen some campgrounds and events where they actually segregate campers based on generator usage. For the record, count me in the first camp. I prefer not to use a generator if at all possible.

Bucket Of Juice

Most people are used to having a virtually unlimited supply of electricity. Sure, you might try to conserve a bit to save money or help the environment. But you know that as long as you pay your electric bill, you aren’t going to run out of electricity unexpectedly. Not so when you’re off-grid. Your battery bank is like a bucket of electricity. It holds a finite amount of energy. Every time you turn on the light, listen to the radio, grind some coffee, or read my blog, you’re taking electricity out of the bucket. When the sun is shining, the generator is running, or you’re connected to shore power, you’re putting electricity back into the bucket. There are some pretty fancy instruments made that can measure the amount of energy going into and out of a battery bank and give the user a reasonably accurate indication of where they stand – much like the gas gauge on your car lets you know how far you can go before you need to fill up.

My Plan

I don’t have such a fancy system. I have very simple voltage and current metering, which keep me advised of the overall health of the system, and I rely on my experience with the system and familiarity with all of my devices and how much power they use to keep track of things. While off-grid, I am very conservative with my usage. I don’t leave things on when I’m not using them. I use only the lights I need, turn off or sleep the computer when not using it. I ration my TV and internet usage as well as my broadcast radio listening. If I’m not inside, then everything is shut off. Remember that 3 KWH figure I cited earlier? That’s not a goal – that’s a very real limit on my daily consumption.

Are we there yet?

Whew! This ended up being much longer than I expected, but there’s plenty of room in the comments if there’s something I left out, you didn’t understand, or would like more info about.

There’s An App For That – But Why?

This isn’t about all the silly little time-wasting games for your phone (though there are plenty of those). Nor is it about all the various programs that let you perform useful tasks with your phone or tablet, such as calculators, photo and video editors, and other standalone applications. It’s about all the “apps” that do things you can easily do with your web browser (remember the web? if your phone has apps it certainly has a browser, too).  Those of you thinking “I don’t have a smartphone or tablet, so why should I care?” — keep reading. This trend of using proprietary software to access and use information and content that is (or should be) readily available on the web is starting to spill over from phones and tablets into the realm of traditional computers, too.

Apps vs Websites

There are apps for all sorts of things that don’t need to be apps – reference info, just about every newspaper and TV network, weather, movie and restaurant reviews and more. What do they offer that can’t be had on their websites? Usually nothing, or else it is something that is intentionally withheld from the website to coerce folks into using the app.  There’s another bunch of apps that do little more than stream audio or video from the web which, again, is easily accomplished with any standard web browser.

Who’s In Control?

I think part of the attraction for content providers has to do with control and metrics. A piece of proprietary software gives the provider total control. While a web browser allows the user some control over appearance (resizing windows, changing font size, filtering graphics), an app gives the user only the exact options its developer chooses, making for tighter control over the “user experience.” An app can also supply much more accurate and detailed feedback to the content provider than a website can.

Media Management

The app environment also gives the provider more control over multimedia content than might be possible within a web browser. Some providers are afraid of their content being “stolen” (is something missing?); they use apps as a way to avoid less secure but more common file formats and modes of data transport.

All About Advertising

The ability to deliver advertising, or more precisely, the inability of the user to block advertising is probably another factor. In fact, the new-to-USA Spotify music service makes you to install their program to use it, even on a computer, despite the fact that most other music streaming services work in any web browser. Of course Spotify officially supports only Windows and Mac, so they have nothing to offer me. Or do they? It seems there’s a beta version for Linux, so I thought I’d see what it’s all about. Here’s where it gets interesting: their Linux software only works with a premium (paying) account. Why? “As we haven’t found a reliable way to display ads yet, this version is only available to Spotify Premium and Unlimited subscribers.” So, because they can’t figure out how to push ads, I should pay for a subscription, while users of certain operating systems can use it for free? I think not. Groove Shark does essentially the same thing, in any browser, for free.

Forced Browser Choice

Recently I encountered a variation on the theme. Until very recently, Amazon has required that you either use an actual Kindle or their proprietary PC, phone, or tablet software “app” to read the eBooks that they sell. I own a Kindle, but sometimes it would be nice to be able to read my Kindle books on my netbook or laptop. Of course, even though the Kindle e-reader runs Linux, Amazon doesn’t have Kindle software for desktop Linux — only Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. Just the other day they released a “Cloud Reader” that would let me read my Kindle books on any device with a web browser. Almost. It actually works only with Chrome and Safari. So while they no longer force their software on you, they do insist that Windows and Linux users install Google’s Chrome browser. Why do they not support the more common and popular Firefox for Linux and Firefox or IE for Windows? They promise “Support for additional browsers coming soon.” We’ll see. Interestingly, the reason they went to a web app was to sidestep the iPad Kindle app and the 30% Apple gets from each book purchased through it, so that explains why Safari is supported. Guess I won’t be using the “Kindle Cloud Reader” anytime soon.

What About You?

Are you annoyed by the trend of proprietary software replacing universal open web access? How about other “walled gardens” like Facebook? I am, and avoid them like the plague. If I have the choice between using the web or using proprietary software, I’ll use the web. If I have to download proprietary software or join a social networking site just to see, hear, or read something, then I probably won’t be seeing, hearing, or reading it. What about you?

Exploring RV Living – Home Is Where I Park It

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

Living in an RV means that home is indeed wherever you choose to park it. But where? The possibilities are virtually endless, limited only by your imagination, resourcefulness, and sense of adventure. Let’s look at some of the options.

RV Parks And Campgrounds

First of all, what’s the difference between a park and a campground? There’s no real rule and sometimes the difference is in name only. Generally speaking, however, an RV park is oriented more toward longer-term residency — months, seasonal, or full-time. Campgrounds tend to be geared more to short-time visitors, and usually allow non-RV camping too.

Hook Me Up

RV Parks will almost always have full hook ups, meaning water, electric, and sewer connections. Cable TV, telephone, and WiFi may also be available. They are a good place to stay for someone who wants or needs the conveniences of “on-grid” living.

Campgrounds are often more rustic, and may offer fewer or different amenities. They may or may not have electricity. There may not be water or sewer hookups at each site, but rather a shared dump station and water spigot for campers to dump and fill as needed. Since campgrounds usually allow all types of camping, including tents, tiny trailers and vehicles without their own facilities, there are often toilets and showers available. You’ll frequently find picnic tables and fire rings. Campsites tend to be spread out more than they are in densely packed RV parks. You are not likely to find cable TV nor telephone hookups, and WiFi is rare, too.

Private Property

If you like privacy and space, and plan to stay put for a while, a plot of private land, rented or owned, may be a good option. If you are renting, your ability to customize the property might be limited. If you own the land, you are free to do as you please, minding local codes, of course. You have the choice of using available electric, water, and sewer infrastructure, or going off-grid with solar or wind power and your own well and septic system. You could even plant a garden and grow your own food! While you might enjoy a similar lifestyle in a small cabin or “Tiny House,” the advantage of an RV is that you can travel in it whenever you want, knowing you have your own home base to return to.

With the downturn in the economy, some private homeowners rent space to RVers to raise extra cash. Space, hookups, and amenities vary greatly, but it can be a nice alternative to an RV park. Craigslist is a good place to find such opportunities. Look in housing > parking & storage. While many of these private RV spaces are in exurban and rural areas, you can find them in cities and suburbs too.

Living Free

So far I’ve talked about places that will probably cost money. There are also places you can park and camp for free. You may give up some convenience as well as most amenities, but the price is right. You’ll need a fully self-contained RV for most of the free options.

Wally World

Parking lots are good for overnight stays. Wal-Mart is a popular spot; most of their stores are RV-friendly, knowing that the occupant is likely to do some shopping while there. Sometimes, however, local laws get in the way – if you’re not sure, check with store management or security. If you arrive late in the evening and leave early in the morning, you can usually get away with overnighting in almost any parking lot. Just use common sense, keep a low profile, and if you’re asked to leave, be polite, apologetic, and compliant.

Truck Stops

Truck stops are another place to stop overnight or even for a few days. On the plus side, they have some useful amenities for the traveler: fuel, restaurant, laundry, showers, WiFi, and a store. Many truck stops even cater to RVers by providing a separate RV parking section, water and dump station, and propane. On the minus side, they can be busy and noisy, and some might find the diesel fumes unpleasant.

While parking lots and truck stops may be fine for spending a night or two along the road between where you were and where you’re going, you wouldn’t want to spend too much time there. So what to do when you get where you’re going?

This Land Is Your Land…

Plenty of public land, mostly overseen by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, is available for what is called dispersed camping. This is totally free camping outside of designated improved camping areas. It’s an opportunity to get away from it all, enjoying nature while testing your own self-sufficiency. There are no hookups or amenities of any kind. You bring what you need, and take everything back out when you go, leaving the land exactly as you found it.

While there’s a 14-day limit on dispersed camping, the BLM maintains Long Term Visitor Areas in Arizona and California that allow seasonal camping for up to seven months (September 15th – April 15th). These areas have dump stations, potable water, and trash dumpsters available. LTVA camping is not free, but it’s darn close to it at $40 for two weeks or $180 for the whole season.

Thousands of full-time RVers spend their winters on BLM land near Quartzsite, AZ in either the LTVAs or dispersed camping areas. I spend some time there myself each winter, part of it attending the annual week-long Quartzfest ham radio gathering in January.

Unfortunately there really isn’t a good single source of information regarding camping on public lands — you’ll have to start by going to each agency’s website (BLM or USFS) and then choosing the state you are interested in. A couple of crowd-sourced online databases look interesting — boondocking.org and freecampsites.net — the first allows you to search based on proximity to desired GPS coordinates, while the second lets you browse by state.

Friends and Family

Last but not least, if they have the room, you might be able to camp in a friend or family member’s driveway or yard. It’s a great way to visit loved ones, or to support them in times of need.

Please share your thoughts — comments are open!

Does News Matter Anymore?

I’ve always been one to keep up with what’s going on. I watch the local and national news on TV when I can get it (for free, using an antenna). I read newspapers (usually online). I listen to the radio, too (NPR and BBC). I think it keeps me reasonably well-informed, but sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the investment in time, and if it even matters.

Time For News

I probably spend about four hours each day ingesting the news. Do you find that shocking? So did I. Until writing this post, I’d never tried to quantify my news consumption.  At least an hour of that is spent reading, often two, and sometimes three. I get the New York Times headlines in my email several times a day, so I skim those and if something looks interesting or important, I’ll click through and read it. I spend another hour or more with television news, but often it is just on in the background while I’m doing something else. I’ll stop and look up if something catches my attention. I also spend anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours listening to the radio, but usually while I’m doing something else.

The Vast Wasteland

Television is often called a vast wasteland, and what passes for news is often as bad as the rest of it. When you consider that there are only about 22 minutes of content in a local 30-minute newscast, and five of them are sports (how is sports “news” anyway?) and another two or three for weather, that’s only fifteen minutes left for actual news. Half of that ends up being fluff, so it has taken half an hour to receive seven minutes’ worth of actual newsworthy information. Not a very good return on investment.

Reader’s Choice

When reading the news, I get to scan the headlines, and then read only the stories I choose to. If a misleading or misunderstood headline takes me to a story I’m not really interested in, I don’t have to read it. I think with reading we have the most control, and can be more efficient consumers of news and other written content.

Hello Radio

While broadcast radio has become as bad as, and sometimes worse than television, there is some good news to be had. I avoid the shoutfests hosted by loudmouthed wing-nuts. I don’t need to be yelled at. NPR has decent headline  news and offers in-depth coverage, too. The BBC News Hour, carried by many (most?) NPR stations, is thorough, and I like getting a non-American perspective on USA and world events. Perhaps the best part is that you can listen to the radio almost anywhere. Since it does not occupy your eyes, you can listen while you are driving, doing household chores, exercising, or while doing some crafts and hobbies. Radio makes for great accompaniment while decluttering, too!

So Many Stories, So Little News

A big problem I have with news is that so little of what purports to be news, especially on television, actually is. Between sports, celebrity gossip, human interest bits, and various health, safety, and home maintenance tips (which always seem to feature some local “expert” who invariably advertises on the same station) you have to look pretty hard to find the news in a television “newscast”. Reading is a little better, but only because you get to pick and choose. Radio, surprisingly, is often he most efficient source of actual news.

Does It Really Matter?

Perhaps the bottom line is “What’s the point?” Most of the news, particularly at the national or international level, is not going to have any immediate impact on my everyday life. It’s also not likely there’s anything I can do about any of it either. Much of it saddens or angers me. I know people who pay no attention whatsoever to the news and seem to be just fine. Maybe better than fine, as they don’t have to deal with the stress of knowing what a mess the politicians are making of our country, or hearing about crime, accidents, and disasters every evening. Is ignorance bliss?

What Do You Think?

I suppose it has some value as a form of entertainment, or conversational fodder. I do find it entertaining sometimes, when it isn’t raising my blood pressure, but I tend to be a pretty lousy conversationalist in spite of it. Do you watch, listen to, or read the news regularly? Why or why not? D0 you think it helps or hinders the effort to live a simple and serene life?

Exploring RV Living – Camping vs. Living

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

Let’s clarify what I mean when I say camping. Some people would go so far as to say that RVing isn’t camping at all. Well, according to my dictionary, camping means “lodging in a camp” with no mention of what or even if any shelter is involved. While there may be different styles of camping, and some folks may prefer more primitive camping, RVing is indeed camping. The confusion can also go in the opposite direction. One might think “if you live in your RV, are you then camping all the time?” Maybe so.

Let’s Go Camping!

For the purpose of this discussion, “camping” is what someone does when they leave their normal home for a period of time, and pack what they expect to need for the period of time they plan to be away. Like a vacation. They do not usually carry all of their earthly possessions with them. They know that they will be eventually returning home.

Home Is Where I Park It

No matter where I go, I take my home with me. All my possessions. Everything. Whether I’m spending the night in a parking lot, a month in the middle of the desert, or a year in a small town, there’s no going home because I’m already here. And so’s all my stuff. While the vacation camper only needs to pack what he or she will need for a week or so, the full timer takes everything. Well, that’s not always true. Some full timers do store off-season clothing or items they aren’t ready to part with. Not me.

That’s Life

Campers need only be prepared for their planned trip. The full timer must be prepared for every day life. While this includes the obvious things, such as food and clothing, it also includes things that one doesn’t give daily thought to. Stuff like business records, passports, birth certificates, medical records, and more. Maybe work-related tools or equipment. Even the obvious isn’t as obvious as it seems. Take clothing, for example. Unless I want to maintain storage at some permanent location, and return to it as needed, I must carry with me clothing appropriate for all seasons and any climate I expect to travel to. To complicate matters further, most RVs are designed with the occasional traveler, not the full timer, in mind, with precious little storage space.

Not Always a Holiday

The recreational RVer might enjoy leaving cares behind, forgetting about computers, telephones, bills, and other responsibilities. To live full-time in an RV is not the same as always being on vacation. In a future installment of this series, I’ll get into things like mail, telephone, and Internet, as well as how to stay on top of bills and other obligations.

Minimalism Helps

As you can imagine, if you want to carry your home and all its contents with you everywhere, a minimalist mindset will make things much easier. You will want to own only what you really need or really love. Although I downsized 90% of my possessions when I moved out of my 1200 square f00t home and into my 126 square f00t RV, I’m learning now that I still have a long way to go. Experience has really been my best teacher. If you’ve been following me for a while (and if not, feel free to browse the archives) you know I’m still working on my clutter, in order to live more comfortably in this tiny space.

One-Size-Fits-All?

That’s not to say you have to be able to fit in 100 square feet. Still, you’ll probably be significantly downsizing from whatever you live in now, unless you already live in an RV, a hotel room, or a really really small studio apartment. The tiniest pop-ups and pickup campers are well under 100 square feet, while the largest, most luxurious motor homes and trailers are barely 300 square feet. Still pretty small by traditional standards. If you’ve ever thought about living in an RV, or any sort of “tiny house”, you might consider the following experiment. Try living for a month in just your kitchen, bathroom, and smallest bedroom. In fact, if you have a large eat in kitchen, try confining yourself to just the kitchen and bathroom. For the whole month, all other parts of the house are off-limits, except for navigation purposes. This includes their contents, so before you begin, make sure everything you’ll need is in your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.

Are You Experienced?

Have you ever been RVing? Have you ever imagined spending more than a week or two in one? Are you a fellow full timer, or have you been in the past? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comments are open; questions are welcome.

IMPORTANT – About My Home – Clutter Porn

Well, maybe not that important. Just a mini rant about the overuse of the word important, along with its close cousin, urgent, in communications and especially on mail items. They seems to be cluttering half of the envelopes that arrive in my mailbox, yet their contents are rarely important to anybody except the sender.

Why do mail marketers and others continue to use this tired old trick? I suppose that’s rhetorical — they use it because it works. After all, even though we know the odds are it isn’t important, and may be of no interest to us at all, we don’t dare throw it away unopened just in case it actually is important.

More Tricks

Sure, sometimes you can tell from the return address who it’s from, but sometimes there’s no name; just an address. Or worse yet, the return address is misleading. Bank Of America (or its “marketing partners” – euphemism for “companies we sold your name and address to”) sends all sorts of things in essentially identical envelopes, all with the bank’s return address. Usually it’s an offer for some sort of insurance, or trying to get me to apply for some sort of loan or another, but I am forced to open each and every one and give its contents at least a cursory glance, lest I discard my statement or other legitimate communication regarding my account.

OK, now that I have that mini-rant out  of my system, and just to show you my headline isn’t totally bogus, let’s move on to something that, while it might not be too important in the overall scheme of things, you might enjoy.

About My Home

With all that describing of different kinds of RVs in my last post, I didn’t even tell you what I live in. My home is a 1979  Georgie Boy Cruise Master  CM20RB. It is a 20-foot class C motorhome. Interior space  is 18 feet long by 7 feet wide, or 126 square feet.  Here’s the floor plan:

Here’s what it looks like on the inside…

…or at least what the one in this brochure did when it was new:

If you’d like to learn more, or are just into 70’s advertising or shag carpeting, you can click the brochure cover for an eight-page PDF.

Ahhh, but what does it look like now, 32 years later, you ask? Time for…

Clutter Porn!

I know that at least one of my readers (Hi Tanja!) has been patiently waiting for me to post some photos of my clutter. While I’m not quite ready to offer a full portfolio yet, I’ll dip my toe in the water with this small offering:

As you can see, I still have my work cut out for me. In my defense, pretty much everything I own is in here, in 126 square feet. I’m still plugging away at it, and I’ll get there eventually (and post more photos, too).

Oh, and here’s what the outside looks like:

Yeah, even the outside is cluttered, but the stuff on top of the table and the boxes and pile near the rear wheels are stuff to be sold or donated, so it’s not quite as bad as it looks. Why’s the hood open? Mechanical trouble? Naw, it’s just open to discourage the packrats (the 4-legged kind) from nesting in there. They’ll make a mess and chew through hoses and wires, too.

What Do You Think?

Are “important” and “urgent” overused? Is 126 square feet too big? too small? just right? Want more clutter porn? Comments are always open.

Exploring RV Living – What’s In A Name?

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

I live in an RV, but just what does that mean? “RV” is actually an abbreviation for Recreational Vehicle, although many of us who live in one full-time prefer to think it really stands for Residence or Residential Vehicle. Elsewhere in the world “recreational vehicle” refers to the ruggedized, often four-wheel drive vehicle that we call an SUV, or Sport Utility Vehicle, but here in North America, an RV  is a motor vehicle or trailer having at least the basic necessary amenities of a home. For licensing, registration, and insurance purposes, to qualify as an RV a unit must include, at minimum, sleeping, cooking, and toilet facilities. In most other parts of the world a similar unit would be called either a camper van, if motorized, or a caravan, if towed. It is self-contained and self-sufficient, enabling all on-board systems to be functional without external connections for periods of days, weeks, or even months.

Now that we’ve defined the umbrella term RV, let’s take a look at all the different types of RVs. We can start by separating the lot into two groups: drivable and towable.

Drivable Dwellings

Drivable RVs are called motorhomes. They have an engine, a steering wheel, and a driver’s seat. They are fully self-contained motor vehicles that are also fully functional residences. Or, as Homer Simpson says, “It’s not just a motorhome — it’s a car you can go to the bathroom in!” They have the advantage of being a single vehicle that does it all. The disadvantage is that most motorhomes are too cumbersome and fuel inefficient to use as daily drivers. Most motorhome dwellers either tow a small car behind the motorhome or carry a bicycle, scooter, or small motorcycle for everyday local transportation.

Class A motorhomes are the largest of the motorhomes, built on a truck or bus chassis. They resemble a bus in that they usually have a flat front and boxy shape to them. The driver’s seat is obviously located at the front of the cabin, but there is no separate cab.

Bus conversions are a subset of class A motorhomes. A transit or school bus is converted, either commercially or DIY, into a custom motorhome. Commercially manufactured bus conversions usually start with a new empty bus shell, while DIY conversions are often made from retired commercial or school buses. There is plenty of room for creativity and originality in DIY conversions – many are as much works of art as they are homes on wheels.

Class B motorhomes are built inside a modified standard full-size van, and are sometimes called camper vans. From the outside it might be difficult to tell a class B motorhome from a regular van – the exterior differences include a raised roof (so that one may comfortably stand erect inside) and various vents and connections belonging to appliances and subsystems but may go unnoticed to the untrained eye. One of the biggest advantages of the class B van is that it is small and nimble enough for regular driving, so it could easily be your only vehicle. It’s also pretty stealthy, working well for urban camping.

Class C motorhomes are built upon a “cutaway” van or truck chassis. They retain the truck chassis’ cab, complete with its doors, windows, dashboard, and driver’s seat and controls. From the outside they are easily recognized by the telltale “cab over” portion of the coach which overhangs the cab.

Draggable Domiciles

Towable RVs — trailers — have the advantage of being able to un-hitch and use the tow vehicle for local transportation without having to carry your whole house around as you would with a motorhome. Trailers also come in a variety of styles.

Travel trailers are perhaps the most common trailers. They are towed by a bumper- or frame-mounted ball type hitch. They are sometimes also called bumper-pull trailers. For all but the smallest and lightest travel trailers, you’ll need a full-size pickup truck or large SUV to tow it with.

Other bumper-pull trailers include popups, sometimes called tent trailers, which are low profile when closed for travel, but “pop up” into a soft sided tent-like structure for camping, as well as “teardrop” and other hard-sided micro trailers.  The advantage to these lightweight trailers is that they can be easily towed by almost any vehicle, including a compact car or mini pickup.

Fifth-wheel trailers connect to the tow vehicle using a fifth-wheel hitch and kingpin system, just like a semi-trailer on a big truck. The fifth-wheel hitch is installed in the bed of a pickup truck, though some owners of very large fifth-wheel trailers prefer to use a semi tractor instead of a pickup truck as a tow vehicle. The big advantage of a fifth wheel trailer is size and carrying capacity. If you want the most living space possible and less risk of overloading it, a fifth wheel would be a good choice. In addition to the extra towing capacity, a fifth wheel offers improved handling and maneuverability over a travel trailer’s bumper pull system.

Pickup Campers

There’s one more type of RV that’s worthy of mention but is neither motorized nor towable. The pickup camper is a complete dwelling unit that slides into the bed of a pickup truck. This combination offers some of the convenience of a tiny motorhome with some of the advantages of a trailer. At the campsite, the camper can be supported by jacks and the pickup truck can be driven out from under it, so it may be driven as needed without having to break camp.

That’s Not An RV!

The Mobile Home – while it is a house on wheels, it is usually mobile in name only. They are difficult to move, and therefore it is rarely done. Also, they are not fully self-contained – they need to be connected to water, waste, and electric infrastructure. House Trailer is another name for a mobile home.

Your Turn

Did I miss something? Have any questions? Comments are open!

Decluttering Decisions – The “Lost Or Stolen” Test

(For those of you eagerly awaiting the next installment of “Exploring RV Living,” it will be coming later this week. If you haven’t done so yet, subscribe via email or RSS to make sure you don’t miss it. Links are over in the right-hand column, below my mug shot.)

I’ve always been a thorough researcher when it comes to major purchases, and have read my share of online product reviews. While trying to come up with a relatively easy rule to help me decide what to keep and what to eliminate in my decluttering efforts, I remembered a question I’ve seen asked by at least one review site, and is frequently volunteered by reviewers on other sites, especially musician’s gear sites: “Would you buy it again if it was lost or stolen?” In the context of a product review, it’s an excellent question. If something is so useful or desirable that you couldn’t be without it, that’s about as good as a personal recommendation can get.

Not Just For Reviews

It turns out that the “lost or stolen” question makes a really good test during decluttering. What we would do in the event of the sudden disappearance of an item is a good gauge of that item’s actual necessity and value to us. The low hanging fruit (or maybe the fruit that’s already fallen from the tree?) is quickly eliminated by asking ourselves “If this was lost or stolen, would I even notice?”

What Would You Do?

Where “lost or stolen” really shines, though, is after the first few rounds, after the obvious fluff has already been eliminated. Now the decision process is more challenging. We need to separate the “that’s really nice” stuff from the “I really need that” stuff. As you look at an item, ask yourself “If this were lost or stolen (or broken beyond repair) would I immediately run out and buy another one just like it?” If you can honestly answer “yes” to that question, then the item is probably a keeper. If, on the other hand, you answered that you’d figure out how to get on without it, then you probably don’t need it. If your answer is “I’d have to replace it, but probably not with one like it,” that’s a sign that it serves a needed purpose, but is probably not a good match for your current lifestyle. In that case it might be worth considering replacing the less-than-ideal item with something more suitable. No hurry, though — you can wait until it needs replacing anyway.

Terrific Test

While this isn’t the answer to all decluttering dilemmas, such as what to do with sentimental and decorative things, the “lost or stolen” test is a great tool for making decisions regarding practical things. Can you think of any other  simple tests to help with decluttering decisions? What have you found that helps you separate the wheat from the chaff? Comments are open — don’t be shy!