Exploring RV Living – Introduction

Many of you probably already know, or have deduced, that I live full-time in my RV. A small motorhome, to be exact. Somewhere back in my early archives I wrote about some of the considerations that led me to this lifestyle choice, but I figured it was time to revisit the whole concept. I’d also like to explore how it has been working out, now that I’ve been doing it for several years, and share with the curious just what RV living on a full-time basis is like.

About The Headline

While looking at my blog stats, I’ve noticed that I often get search hits with variations of “RV living” in them, yet  “RV lifestyle” or “RV full-timing” almost never appear. While the latter terms are common among the RV community, “RV living” or “living in an RV” are what I guess most people call it. I hope my decision to go with a title that favors common usage over insider jargon helps folks interested in this lifestyle to find this series. I’ll be offering a combination of general information and specific details of my own personal home and lifestyle.

Did You Say Series?

I’ve decided to make this a series for a few reasons. There’s way too much to cover for a single blog post. It would end up being far too long while still skimping on details. By breaking it up into a series of posts I can give each subtopic the attention and space it deserves.

Each reader may not be equally interested in each facet of RV living. Some may be more interested in the technical details of the various subsystems, others in the details of travel and locational possibilities, and still others in the social and community aspects of the lifestyle.

There will even be topics of interest to folks who could care less about the RV lifestyle, but might want to learn about off-grid living, strategies for living in tiny spaces, and location independence, all of which are parts of RV living.

The series format will allow readers to pick and choose what interests them, while allowing me to sufficiently elaborate on each topic. It will help keep follow-up discussions in the comments section organized too.

Topics I Plan To Cover

  • What’s in a name? – RV, camper, motorhome, pop-up, caravan, fifth wheel, house trailer, travel trailer, mobile home, van and bus conversions; what do they all mean and what’s the difference?
  • Camping vs. living – The similarities and differences between RV camping and full-time RV living.
  • Home is where I park it – Campgrounds, RV parks, private property, boondocking, and more.
  • All the comforts of home – Lights, running water, flush toilet, and a complete kitchen, even in the middle of nowhere.
  • Staying connected – Wireless telephone, internet, and HF radio keep me in touch no matter where I am.
  • That’s entertainment – Accommodating music, video, and reading libraries on-the-go in tiny places. Other entertainment options, too.
  • Similarities and differences – How is it the same as living in a tiny house or apartment, and how is it different? Exploring the unique challenges and rewards.
  • Environmental considerations – Many people think of an RV as a big, gas-guzzling road-hog, but is it really that bad? It makes for a very eco-friendly dwelling when it isn’t rolling down the road.
  • Is it expensive? – You can spend a fortune if you want, yet it can be surprisingly affordable, especially if you are handy and creative. Ongoing expenses can be very minimal.
  • Is it for you? – It may not be for everybody, but if you have a sense of adventure and a taste for unconventional living, it might be for you. Why I chose to try it and why I’m still doing it.

You Can Help

I’m sure I’ve missed something. Those are only the things I’ve thought you might be interested in. Please jump in down in the comment section and let me know what interests you and what you want to read about. Nothing is carved in stone – this series can go where you want it to.

Also, would you prefer that I concentrate my writing efforts exclusively on this series, until I’ve exhausted the topic, or would you rather I do, say,  one “Exploring RV Living” post plus an unrelated second post each week? Your opinion is important to me.

Swamp Cooling In The Desert

The Phoenix area is once again under an Excessive Heat Advisory with temperatures expected to be over 115 degrees through the weekend. It’s already 110° here this morning and it isn’t even noon yet. Earlier this week I wrote about how my swamp cooler was successfully taming the intense desert heat. It just occurred to me that some of you may not be familiar with evaporative coolers, and some of you who might know something about them may have some misconceptions. Here’s what my cooler looks like:

It’s not much to look at, is it? This particular cooler was purchased brand new about five years ago, yet it differs very little from the early twentieth century design upon which it is based.

Behind the louvers are excelsior pads which are kept wet with water. A blower inside the cabinet draws fresh air through the wet pads, and as the air passes through the pads, the water evaporates, causing the air to be cooled. The heat is literally being removed from the air as it vaporizes the water.

That’s probably technical enough for this description. If you want to learn more about how it works, this Wikipedia entry is a good start.

Swamp cooler? I thought you lived in the desert!

Well, yes. At least right now. And that’s where it works the best. Properly called an evaporative cooler, there are a few possible origins of its colloquial name. Perhaps it is because the extra humidity it adds to the air, especially during monsoon season or in an improperly vented room, can make it feel like a swamp. It could be because the air being pulled through the wet excelsior pads cools just like a breeze blowing through wet swamp vegetation. I’ve even heard it suggested that they are called swamp coolers because algae growing in a neglected or improperly maintained cooler can make it smell like a swamp, but that isn’t a problem I’ve ever  had in the 30+ years I’ve lived in the desert and used evaporative coolers.

Why use a swamp cooler?

  • Energy Efficiency – It uses 1/4 the electricity of mechanically refrigerated air conditioning.
  • Fresh Air – An evaporative cooler is constantly adding fresh air, replacing the air as frequently as once per minute.
  • Simplicity – An evaporative cooler is a very simple machine, making it economical to purchase, repair, and maintain.

Why aren’t they more common?

For one thing, they only work well in very dry climates, so you are not likely to find them outside of desert areas. Once the dew point gets into the 50’s (relative humidity over about 30%) their cooling performance is severely impaired. Here in North America you’ll find evaporative coolers in the western and southwestern United States as well as in the northern part of Mexico. They are also used in the southern part of Australia.

Even some people who live desert cities have not seen one, or at least wouldn’t recognize one if they did. And others wouldn’t be caught dead using one. I think that’s mostly due to the stigma carried by evaporative coolers as a cooling means of last resort only for the poor who can’t afford “real” air conditioning. While they certainly are inexpensive to buy and install as well as being economical to operate, I don’t understand why that should make them undesirable. I have actually seen ads for RV and mobile home space rentals that state “No evaporative coolers allowed.” So apparently the humble swamp cooler is shunned even within communities that are already considered “downscale” by much of society. It’s a shame so many people are more concerned with appearances and perceived social status than they are about economy, comfort, and environmental impact.

Freshly Pressed

I had an unexpected but pleasant surprise this past Tuesday when  one of my posts was selected to be “Freshly Pressed” — featured on the WordPress.com home page.  That was quite an honor, and the exposure drove quite a bit of fresh traffic to the site resulting in some new subscribers, too. I’d like to welcome my new readers and remind all of my readers that comments are always open on all my posts, so feel free to surf the archives and share your thoughts.

115 Degrees In The Shade

Well, folks, I have a couple more practical posts in the making, but they’re not quite ready for public consumption. On the other hand, I did say I was going to post at least once a week, and it’s been over a week now, so I thought I’d better offer up something.

About That Headline

Yes, it’s one hundred and fifteen degrees in the shade (135° in the sun!) here in the desert west of Phoenix. The absorption refrigerator is struggling to keep its contents cool. Stepping outside into the light breeze feels like walking into a giant convection oven. The forecast is for another couple days of the same, and the area is under a Heat Advisory. Summer is definitely here.

Keeping My Cool

Thanks to the Wonder of Ancient Technology known as an evaporative cooler, it is a very comfortable 82 degrees indoors, without running the air conditioner. I love my swamp cooler — not only does it save energy and money, but it also allows me to enjoy fresh cool air and open windows instead of having everything closed up and recirculating the same stale air. In another week or so I’ll unfortunately be having to do just that when the monsoon season’s increase in humidity renders the evaporative cooler ineffective. I’ll also see my electric bill triple for about three months.

Avoiding The Heat

So what have I been doing while I stay indoors avoiding the heat? Well, I’ve been pecking away at decluttering. I am amassing a boxful of small electronic bits, pieces, gadgets, and gizmos that individually would not be worth the trouble of selling, and don’t seem appropriate for thrift store donation either. Still, they’re just too darn good to throw away. I’m thinking of putting the whole boxful on eBay as a not-quite-mystery box. I’ll put up a couple photos and maybe some general descriptions of the highlights, and see what happens. If nothing else, it will be fun.

Multimedia Maintenance

I’ve also been working on my digital library as I transition from “legacy” paper and polycarbonate media to bits and bytes on a hard drive.  This is an ongoing project which I spend time on now and then when I’m in the mood. I could go into more detail sometime if you’d like to read about it. Let me know.

Clearing Clutter Pays Off

There are plenty of ways that eliminating clutter pays off. More space and less distraction, for example. But I wasn’t expecting it to pay off literally. I was going through some folded bits of paper and receipts the other day, making sure I wasn’t about to throw away anything important, and there it was folded up in an old store receipt: a twenty dollar bill! Pretty cool, huh?

In Other News

Do any of you write for content farms, or have you in the past? Are you considering writing for one to help make ends meet? You should give this NYT  Opinionator blog post and this Faster Times article a read.

Why I Don’t Carry A Smartphone

I recently did a guest post over on So Much More Life comparing multifunction and single purpose devices, using a smartphone as an example. It seems that while some commenters agreed with the general premise of the post, there was some question as to whether my example was the best one. Smartphone owners seem very happy with their devices and consider them among their most useful and important possessions. I’m guessing that they love their phones not so much because they also include a camera, GPS, and music player, but because they are  miniature computers with access to email, social networking, and the rest of the internet.

Perhaps my choice of a smartphone as an example in that post was a result of the fact that I don’t carry one, and don’t feel the need to be always connected everywhere I go. Allow me to elaborate.

I’m No Luddite

It isn’t that I dislike technology. Quite the contrary, in fact. When it comes to communications technology, I have been on the leading, and even bleeding edge most of my life. I have owned various smartphones, PDAs, tablets, pocket computers, pagers and more. There was a time when I carried multiple communication devices wherever I went. I felt that I needed to be reachable any time and any place. I was afraid of missing an important business or social opportunity.

What Changed?

Perhaps it is a bit of burnout. Been there, done that. Maybe it’s just that instant communication and constant availability have become ubiquitous; I sometimes lose interest in things if they become either too trendy or too pedestrian. Also, I think I started decluttering my social life long before I started on my physical clutter. I’ve learned that I don’t need to be instantly available to anyone at any time. I don’t need to instantly reply to email and blog comments.

Maybe it’s an age thing. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s I had more of a need to feel important and more of a fear of being left out. Now that I’m in my 50’s, I no longer feel that need for constant connectivity, and the occasional important message among the digital drivel can wait until I get to it.

Distracted Much?

Occasional distraction is one thing, but when it gets to the point that the virtual world becomes more important than the real world in front of you, it might be time to check your priorities. In a recent New York Times article, David Carr writes:

You are at a party and the person in front of you is not really listening to you. Yes, she is murmuring occasional assent to your remarks, or nodding at appropriate junctures, but for the most part she is looking beyond you, scanning in search of something or someone more compelling.

Here’s the funny part: If she is looking over your shoulder at a room full of potentially more interesting people, she is ill-mannered. If, however, she is not looking over your shoulder, but into a smartphone in her hand, she is not only well within modern social norms, but is also a wired, well-put-together person.

Add one more achievement to the digital revolution: It has made it fashionable to be rude.

I’ve learned that I don’t want to be that person. Isn’t live human interaction more important than what somebody you’ve never met just tweeted? Aren’t friends more important than “friends?” Email, Facebook, and Twitter can all wait until the meal, meeting, or conversation is over, can’t they?

I’ll admit, I was pretty obsessive about such things myself at one time. And if I still had that pocket-sized internet with me at all times now, I might still be tempted. My solution? I don’t carry that distraction and temptation with me. Even my plain phone gets turned off if I’m in a meeting or having dinner out with someone. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message or try again later.

I Don’t Need It Anymore

Back when I loved to bargain hunt, I liked having the internet with me to research pricing or other information about an item I was considering buying, but since I’m trying to cut my consumerism down to just the essentials (and those I can research from the comfort of home on a full-size screen) I don’t need that anymore. A smart phone can come in handy if you frequently find yourself with unexpected chunks of waiting time to kill. You can whip it out and catch up on email or maybe do some reading. I normally don’t find myself in that situation much anymore, but if I expect to have some waiting time — doctor’s appointment or waiting at the airport, for example — I’ll take my netbook along so I have a decent sized screen and a real keyboard to work with. Or maybe just my Kindle or a book and catch up on my reading.

There’s also the thirty dollars a month I don’t spend on a data plan ($360 a year!).

I’m Still Connected

Not carrying a smartphone is a decision I’ve made that saves me money and eliminates distractions. I don’t feel disconnected, and I don’t feel in any way left out of the online world. Instead, it allows me to choose when and how to deal with my digital communications, which is usually when I can sit down comfortably and relax, giving my email, writing, or other online activities the same undivided attention that I am able to give to my offline activities.

What do you think?

Do you carry a smartphone? Why or why not? What about your own feelings on “smartphone etiquette?”

Guest Post on So Much More Life

Gip over at So Much More Life invited me to do a guest post this past Friday. I wrote about single purpose, multi-function, and multi-tasking items. A few commenters thought my use of a smartphone as an example wasn’t the best choice, and in retrospect, they might be right. If you haven’t seen the post yet, or haven’t kept up with the comments, go read it now, and please add your own comments too.

Exceptions to Decluttering Rules?

There are two “rules” frequently cited to help with decluttering as well as to avoid re-cluttering. The first helps us decide what to get rid of by suggesting that if something hasn’t been used in X length of time (one year is the most common, but I’ve seen recommendations range from three months to two years) then you don’t need it. The other rule helps us avoid accumulation, and it is usually called the “one in, one out” rule. Let’s look at each of these rules and see if there are times we might not want to simply follow them blindly.

If You Haven’t Used It…

This rule is designed to help us decide what we don’t need. If something is stashed away in the bottom of a closet or the back of a drawer and we have not even seen it, let alone used it in months or years, what makes us think we’ll suddenly need it one day? The truth is that we probably won’t. There are exceptions, however.

Emergency!

If you drive a car, you probably carry a spare tire, a jack, and a lug wrench. If you regularly ride a bicycle any significant distance, you probably carry a patch kit or spare tube, a tool kit, and a pump. These are things we may not have used or even looked at in months or years, but we continue to carry them around because we don’t want to be stranded by the side of the road should we experience the misfortune of a flat tire. Along the same lines, we might keep first aid kits in our homes or vehicles, but hope we never need them. Ditto for fire extinguishers. Perhaps we can call this the emergency equipment exception. You can probably think of more examples, and they will vary depending on your individual situation. Just make sure you aren’t using this exception as an excuse to keep all kinds of “just in case” stuff that you probably won’t ever use and could easily re-acquire if needed.

Got Plans?

Another exception might be “I plan to use it.” This works if you have something that is already earmarked for a specific time or occasion in the future, when you know that you will use it. Don’t confuse this with “I might use it,” “I hope to use it,” or “I want to use it,” which are all excuses for keeping what we really don’t need. A variation on that exception, which I am experiencing right now, is “I plan to use it once I’ve decluttered enough room for it.” While I have to be careful that I’m not using this as a blanket excuse for keeping stuff I should be getting rid of, I think that if I have something that I honestly feel I will use and get function or pleasure from once I have the space to enjoy it, then I can at least leave it for last. Once I’ve decluttered to the point where I can comfortably accommodate the item, if I find that I am still not using it or have lost interest, then it becomes subject to expulsion.

One In, One Out

This one is very popular in the RV and Tiny House communities, where space is at a premium. It can even be expanded to “one in, two out” during active decluttering. This rule aims to maintain a static quantity of items if strictly followed. It isn’t so much subject to legitimate exceptions as it is to “creative interpretation.” We need to be sure we are following the true spirit of this rule. Getting rid of a worn out pair of socks shouldn’t justify bringing in a new TV and a game console. Yes, that’s two items in for two items out (a pair of socks), but using that kind of logic will only get you deeper into consumerist clutter. Ideally, an item goes out to make room for an equivalent but better, smaller or simpler item. Replacing several items with a single multi-function item could result in a two, three, or more-for-one trade! In any case, the items going out should be the same size or bigger than those coming in, the goal being to maintain balance or reduce clutter, not to increase it.

More Examples?

Can you think of other decluttering rules with legitimate exceptions? How about ways you or other household members try to “cheat” on the anti-clutter rules you’ve laid out?

Successful Shopping, Counterfeit Condiments

I had a successful grocery shopping trip today. I took a written shopping list with me, and stuck to it. Well, I actually did buy two additional things, but they were not impulse buys — they were needed items that I’d forgotten to write down, and was reminded when I saw them in the store. I even added them to the list before actually picking them up, just to make it official.

Lunch Before Shopping

Maybe the most noteworthy part of the outing occurred before I did my grocery shopping. Since it’s a bad idea to grocery shop on an empty stomach, especially when trying to avoid impulse buying, I decided to have lunch first. I stopped at KFC. Perhaps not the healthiest choice, but hey, I could do worse than chicken.

Honey and Butter?

The person behind the counter asked “Would you like honey and butter for your biscuit?”  “Yes, please” I replied. When it came time to eat the biscuit, I searched my tray for the honey and butter, but the closest things I could find were these:

“Honey Sauce” and “Buttery Spread” according to the packets. Click the thumbnails for a look at the fine print and you’ll see that the first three ingredients in “Honey Sauce” are high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and sugar. Oh, there’s a teensy bit of honey in there somewhere — “7% real honey” the package brags. As for the “Buttery Spread”, who knows what’s in it. Probably no butter. Lacking an ingredient list, the only clue is “artificially flavored”. I’m guessing  whipped vegetable oil and fake butter flavor. I suppose  fake butter is nothing new, but fake honey? I guess that’s one more reason to eat at home. At least I have honey and butter. The real kind, that comes from bees and cows.

How I Discovered Minimalism

Notice that I didn’t call this “How I Became a Minimalist.” While I’m certainly displaying tendencies in that direction, I’m not quite sure I deserve to wear the label “minimalist” — at least not yet.

Making Changes

All of us who are or who aspire to be minimalists have our own reasons for initially seeking this path. Often as we learn more, our own point of view changes, and along with it, some of our goals take different shapes and priorities.

When I made the decision several years ago to move from a three-bedroom house to a tiny motorhome, many people considered that to be a very minimalist move. I suppose it was, seeing as I parted with over 90% of my possessions to do so. Would I miss them? Would I feel deprived?

A New Feeling

Guess what? Instead of feeling deprived, I felt liberated. Free of the clutter. Free of the responsibility of maintaining and protecting it all. Free of the fear of it being stolen or damaged. No more spending weeks (or months!) packing and unpacking if I had to move.

Clutter Returns

I was feeling liberated by my tiny mobile dwelling and my lack of stuff. So far so good. I wasn’t really thinking too much about it as a lifestyle or a philosophy, though. I just sort of lived my life. Now and then I’d realize I needed something I lacked, or, more often, I just wanted something I saw, and eventually, after a few years, I realized that I’d accumulated an awful lot of stuff in my tiny home! Uh-oh. Not so liberating anymore. Especially when moving was taking nearly a week of rearranging and cramming so as to make this thing drivable, and then a half a day of unpacking and rearranging just to be able to use my bed, kitchen, and toilet once I’d arrived at my next destination.

A New Quest

It seems that when I had first downsized and simplified, I hadn’t made the necessary changes in my habits and behavior to sustain that simplicity. Funny how clutter can creep up like that. A trinket here and a gadget there doesn’t seem like much at the time, but they slowly, almost imperceptibly accumulate until suddenly you look around one day and go WTF? I wanted to get back that feeling of freedom and serenity.  I consulted my favorite research tool, the internet, looking not only for decluttering tips, support, and inspiration, but perhaps some help on figuring out how, once I get things back to how I’d like them to be, to have them stay that way.

A New Community

I found a small but thriving (and growing) community of bloggers, most of them calling themselves minimalists, each at his or her own stage of dealing with a similar situation, and sharing their experiences for each other and anyone else to benefit from. In addition to practical how-to advice, I was also reading about  why and about the results and how entire lives were being changed, enriched by removing needless clutter and excess material goods. As I became more involved, and started participating in the comments, I found not only inspiration for my decluttering challenges, but also a renewed interest in my own blog.

Thank You!

I’d like to express my thanks to this community, of which I now feel I am at least a small part, for not only all your words, but for inspiring me to write more of my own words. You’ll find most of the blogs that I regularly read are listed in the blogroll in the right-hand column. Maybe you’ll find some you haven’t visited before, or haven’t visited lately. And thank you to my readers and commenters, who remind me that my own blogging is a worthy endeavor.

My Current Goal

My immediate goal, at least with regards to stuff, is to get things to the point where I could easily pick up and go at any time, with a minimum of hassle. I want to be able, while in traveling mode, to still have access to all the necessities without that sensation of being in a tile puzzle.  The closer I get to that goal (which, looking around me, is still a ways off), and the more I work on decluttering, minimizing, and simplifying, the more I seem to be absorbing of the deeper meaning of minimalism. Not just decluttering, but why. I’m seeing how I am not defined by what I own, and how too much of it can weigh me down, and getting rid of the excess sets me free. And not just the physical things, either, but how simplifying life and my approach to living it makes it better and gives me more time for what I want to do. So perhaps I am a minimalist after all. Or at least well on my way to becoming one.

How about you?

Do you consider yourself a minimalist, or at least seeking that path? Do you maybe lean in that direction, but prefer a different label? Do you find yourself occasionally straying from your chosen path, and need that occasional jolt of reality (or reading about someone else’s) to set you right again? What is your immediate or next goal?

Pantry Purge (fifty pounds of crap)

I  spent yesterday going through all my cupboards, nooks, and crannies with the goal of purging them of excess, expired, and otherwise unwanted food items. The task netted me a 30-gallon trash bag filled with about fifty pounds of crap!

Now if you’ve read my recent post about Right Sized Shopping you’re probably wondering how I even had that much junk to glean from my shelves. Well, I haven’t always been such a careful shopper. Preferences and eating habits change. Some things I bought on a whim and ended up not liking. Also, I’d only been applying the right-size principle to food I bought. I sometimes get food elsewhere, like neighbors moving out or doing their own pantry purges, for example. Someone asks me “Want free food?” and I say “Sure!” I don’t take stuff I would never eat, but I’ll take something that looks interesting, or that I might eat, or that I already have plenty of. After all, it’s free, right?

Some Statistics

So what ended up in the bag? Here’s some stats:

  • Oldest expiration date: Feb 1999 (12 years old!) baking powder
  • Expiration date of most discarded items: 2008-2009
  • Largest number of same item: 12 boxes of strawberry Jello
  • Honorable mention: 8 assorted ramen noodles with 2008 dates
  • Strangest item: 5 jars of marshmallow fluff (what was I thinking?)

Plus lots of other goodies like half-used bug-infested bags of flour and masa, countless boxes of long-ago expired Hamburger Helper and Rice-a-Roni (as well as their generic equivalents), toaster pastries (I don’t even own a toaster!) and, well, I think you get the idea.

Bonus Round

While  superfluous foodstuffs were my primary target, I also managed to find and remove some extra vessels and containers, too, further lightening my load and reducing the cupboard clutter. I might miss those pretty blue glasses for a little while — lovely to look at and nice thick, heavy glass — but they just aren’t practical for me and I can’t remember the last time I drank from one of them.

Lessons Learned?

While the purge was necessary and well worth the time and effort for its own sake, paying attention to exactly what I was throwing out helps me better learn how to avoid accumulating too much (and eventually wasting) food in the future. Here’s what I took away from the experience:

Shelf life may be shorter than expected, due to vermin – Buy smaller sizes of infrequently used ingredients so I can use them up before bugs get to them.

Know what I already have to avoid buying duplicates – I had multiples of many items that I regularly eat, probably bought because I saw them on sale (or got them free) and didn’t realize I already had plenty on hand.

Rotate my stock – With some things, I found I had very old expired product in the back, with newer product in front. As I add new ones to the front, the ones in back just get older.

Use a shopping list and stick to it –  This is one I really need to work on, as it would eliminate a number of problems. The way I tend to shop is a combination of a “need” list – these are must-have necessities that I am out or almost out of and will definitely buy. The rest of my shopping is what I like to call “opportunistic shopping” (or perhaps “grazing” would be a better word?) — I stroll the aisles of the store and pick up items based on what looks good, what is on sale, or what  piques my curiosity. I try to rely on my memory to avoid overstocking (which apparently doesn’t always work as well as I’d like).

I don’t have to take something just because it is free – Even if I think I am saving it from the trash, better it go directly there than to let it take up space here and eventually get thrown out anyway. It goes against my instinct to not waste food, but so be it. All incoming food should be selected with the same care as food I buy. If I don’t need it or wouldn’t buy it, why should I take it for free?

What about you?

Do you have any tips or techniques that help you keep your pantry pandemonium and cupboard clutter in check? Or your own story of excess edibles? Please share them in the comments.

Poorly Packed Shipments

Be forewarned. This will be a bit of a rant.

Is it just me? It seems anymore when I buy something online there’s a better than 50% chance the item will not be properly packed when it is shipped to me. This seems to be a growing trend.

How Not To Pack An Item For Shipment

I’m sure different people have different ideas of what constitutes secure packing, but I’m receiving packages where apparently no thought whatsoever went into the process. Surprisingly often I will find that a box significantly larger than the inner box is used, with absolutely no packing material whatsoever added to take up the space. No polystyrene peanuts. No bubble wrap. No shredded or crumpled paper. No plastic pillows. Nothing. The merchandise is free to rattle around in the box as it travels across the country or, in some cases, around the world.

They’re Not Amateurs

The most surprising thing is that it isn’t the amateurs, like first-time eBay sellers. I’ve actually had pretty good luck, overall, on eBay, with a rare exception or two. It is major mass retailers who should know better. Like Amazon. Not just the third-party sellers, but even shipments directly from the Amazon warehouse. In fact, more often than not Amazon shipments have no or insufficient packing and the product bouncing around inside.

But Why?

It seems everyone is doing it. Are they trying to save the nickel that the appropriate packing material (bubble wrap, peanuts, or paper) costs? Or the few seconds it would take to stuff it into the box? Maybe they should have an option on the checkout screen: “Please pack properly and securely (add $0.25).”

Recent Reminder (Rant Trigger?)

The latest example was received just yesterday. It was a lens for a DSLR camera purchased through Amazon from a third-party seller. The lens, in its flimsy manufacturer’s box (designed to sit on a store shelf, not to protect the lens) was stuffed into a box that was much too large in two dimensions, and too small in the third. And (as is not uncommon with photographic gear) the box was not secured closed from the factory, and the shipper had not secured it either. During shipping, the constant pressure from the wrong sized outer box, combined with the weight of the lens inside the inner box, and the lid had popped open. What I received was a large box containing a smaller squashed box plus a loose lens, now escaped from its own box, moving about freely inside the larger box. Of course there was no bubble wrap or stuffing of any kind in there. GRRRRRRRR. It managed to survive unscathed, somehow (miraculously?), as best I can determine.

How’s Your Luck Been?

Thanks for letting me vent. I feel a little better now — until next time. Feel free to use the comments to share your own horror story about improperly packed merchandise.