"Wife After Death: Navigating Grief, One Campfire at a Time" Guest Post by Ginny McKinney

Today I'm excited to share a guest post with you by Ginny McKinney. Ginny completed the Tiny Transition + Downsizing E-Course a few months ago (which is now open for registration for the session beginning on March 1st!) and I've asked her to share her story because it is downright brave, inspiring and fearless. When Ginny sent me an email update about where she's at now - I just knew I had to share her inspiring story with you.

If you want to join my 8-week downsizing bootcamp and join a lifetime group of friends and comrades on a similar journey towards simple living (either in a tiny house, camper, cabin, or even downsizing in place) - you should join us for the March 1st session of Tiny Transition + Downsizing.

I want to thank Ginny for taking the time to share her story with you today. I hope you find it as incredible as I do. Please note, this guest post does involve grief, death, and recovery.

I'll let Ginny take it from here.

The morning dawned with the typical bluebird skies of Colorado. Mr. Virgo and I had been knee deep in negotiations as to how we were going to spend our looming retirement years. We finally settled on getting a travel trailer and to start practicing early. Why wait for retirement to have some fun, right?

We had a leisurely breakfast then headed out to go trailer shopping. It was a lovely drive. We discussed the merits of different size campers and floor plans. We definitely wanted something big enough to take the kids and grandkids with us. We held hands and planned. It was a perfect day. 

Until... We were standing in the fourth trailer, trying to decide which one we liked best, when my sweetheart suffered a massive heart attack and died. He was 62. In a moment, the life I knew, the life we had planned, was just...gone. The next few days...ok, the next YEAR, was a blur. I went to stay with my kids for a few weeks. It was spring break and my older daughter said, "Mom, we're all yours today. What do you want to do?" There was only one thing TO do. We went out and bought a travel trailer!

I instinctively knew I needed to put something joyful in front of me or I wasn't sure I was going to get through this. I remembered seeing a story somewhere about a group of women who were trailer enthusiasts so I started searching. Sisters on the Fly is an outdoor adventure group that encourages women to bring out the girl in them and go play. They were exactly who I needed to drag me through the darkest of days. 

About two months after Mr. Virgo died, I took off for a three month trip on my own, exploring every corner of Colorado and points in between. I camped nestled between big rigs. I ventured far out in the boonies where no one could hear my anguished cries as I yelled at God for taking my man. I met my new Sisters along the way and my healing, albeit slow, began one campfire at a time. 

I was warned against making major decisions in the first year of widowhood. For quite some time, I had been feeling like a slave to the big box that was my now cavernous home. I had a mortgage that wasn't going to be paid off till age 89. I yearned to be free of the responsibilities of lawn care and home maintenance. I was feeling the weight of my genetic tendency to hoard junk that no one in their right mind was ever going to want or appreciate. My children had long ago told me they were just going to bring in a dumpster (or two!) when I'm gone so why wait? I consulted with my realtor. I had a home staging company come in and give me some advice and I set my sights on purging 40 years of STUFF!

It was not easy. As a matter of fact, it was physically and emotionally painful. My younger daughter came to town and helped me one day. It took ten hours to clean one closet! I was reduced to tears on many occasions but there was only one way to eat this elephant and that was one bite at a time. Every box of stuff donated, sold, given away made me lose another 100 pounds!

I found I was tripping over what I wanted to keep so I rented a storage space. A word of warning here. Make sure you rent at a reputable, secure site...preferably with cement walls between storage units. I tried to save a buck and ended up getting about $9000 worth of items stolen, all replaceable except Mr. Virgo's golf clubs. So sad. 

Once the house was staged and on the market, the waiting game began. I moved into my little 16' camper, partly to keep from having to clean the house constantly, and partly because I wanted to try my hand at living in a tiny home.

I had been following the tiny house movement for quite some time. I was definitely interested in the lifestyle, but I wanted the flexibility to move frequently. I loved it, but the configuration of my space wasn't really conducive to full time living. I started looking for a bigger, well built, travel trailer to buy once the house was sold.

I knew I needed to downsize in earnest. "Be ruthless!" became my mantra. I whittled away till I got a three bedroom house down to 25 boxes of stuff that I just HAD to keep. I paid to have it moved to my grandparent's farm where I was going to care for an elderly aunt. As fate would have it, that didn't work out for either of us so I bowed out gracefully. But, now what to do with the 25 boxes of stuff I "couldn't" part with?

I have been the caretaker of the family archives since my mom died eleven years ago. My first job was to scan 10,000+ photos and documents onto an external hard drive. And back it up on a second external hard drive for safe keeping. It took six weeks and was quite the trip down memory lane. It was emotionally draining and there were a ton of potholes on that road. Once I got the photos all scanned, I packed up the originals and shipped them off to the families of the subjects. Brilliant. They're happy...I'm happy! Win-win. 

Once I sold my house, I traded in my Ford Expedition for an F-150 pickup and traded up for a 29' Starcraft Launch Ultra Lite with a slide out dining area. It feels like the Taj Mahal after being crammed in my first camper.

It does have a few disadvantages. I can't pull into small, intimate campgrounds as easily. I'm a little less inclined to just hookup and go like I did with the little trailer but I'm hoping that gets better with time. Backing up is certainly interesting. I'm 42' from nose to tail...there's a learning curve. And, you had better be prepared for sticker shock at the gas pump! When I moved to West Virginia in October, I averaged 8 miles per gallon cross country and gas was over $4 per gallon in some places. 

It's winter now and bitter cold so I can't really go through the rest of the boxes just yet. I'm spending my time organizing my little house on wheels in preparation for the next phase of this journey. I cannot stand the prefab, plastic look of the brown interior that all RV's seem to have so I am changing the decor to something that suits me. Even though it's 4 degrees outside, I am snug as a bug in my tiny little home.

And best of all? I'm free. It's paid for. I will carry only what is useful and loved. I can live wherever I want.

And that is the most empowering thing I have ever done for myself. 

Ginny recently re-did the backsplash in her new trailer - it looks great!

Ginny recently re-did the backsplash in her new trailer - it looks great!

Mr. Virgo would be so proud! <3

You can follow Ginny as she travels with TOW-Wanda...her home on wheels.

Follow Ginny's Travels Here!

Thank you Ginny for sharing your story with us. You're an inspiration.

If you need a step by step plan to get your life downsized and get out from under your "stuff" - you can join the next session of Tiny Transition + Downsizing right here.