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50 and fifth-wheeling: Forsyth County couple finds freedom in downsized living
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Over the last year, Renee and Kelley Hayes have transformed their life, moving from a home in Texas to living in their RV at a park in south Forsyth County. - photo by Ben Hendren

Have you ever thought about simplifying your life, selling your things and setting out on the open road in search of adventure, peace and freedom?

For one Forsyth County couple, that dream became a reality last year when Kelley and Renee Hayes moved from Texas to Georgia for work and decided to give up their home, possessions and space so they could live full time in their RV.

"We actually bought this trailer a little over a year ago, not really with the intention of living in it full time, but just to get away on the weekends … Then I found out that I was going to be relocated here,” Kelley Hayes said on Thursday. "We've always wanted to spend six months out of the year traveling around the country when we retire, so why not start now."

But according to the couple, who have camped and owned RVs all their lives, the plan wasn’t always so drastic.

 ‘Freedom’

When they began the process of moving for Kelley’s job at General Motors, they started looking at houses in the Forsyth County area, thinking they would only spend a few weeks or months living at the Twin Lakes RV Park in south Forsyth.

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In their new life, Kelley and Renee Hayes are just steps away from outdoor relaxation. - photo by Ben Hendren

But when they realized the benefits from basically turning their life into a 24/7 camping trip, the decision was simple. They didn't need to find a house. They were already home.

“He's three exits down the highway, shopping's right here and it's a beautiful area … So we thought, let's try it. Just him and I. We can save more money to be able to retire earlier," Renee said.

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Follow the Hayes' travels on Instagram, fiftyandfifthwheeling. - photo by Ben Hendren
Living at the park, all the normal expenses like property taxes, mortgages, HOA fees and utilities are gone, Renee said. And the hours usually spent cleaning a home or maintaining a property have been transformed into free time for exploration, leisure and relaxation for the couple.

"The biggest thing is the freedom,” Renee said. “He doesn't have to mow the lawn, and I don't have to spend all day cleaning a house. That's what seemed to take up a lot of our weekends." 

Kelley added, “We can take our bikes, we can go for a walk down to Fowler Park ... We could stay here and enjoy the weekends. We don't have to worry … we just enjoy every weekend."

And whether it’s a week or weekend, the couple has set their new home up for the maximum comfort that tiny living allows them. Just feet from their front steps, they have an outdoor seating area overlooking the “Twin Lakes” with a fire pit and flat-screen television for unwinding after a long day.

"It gets real quiet here, that's what we liked about it,” Kelley said, looking out over the lakes. “Especially in the spring and summer with all the trees and leaves."

 ‘This is better’

Inside the RV, it’s clear that the couple has gone to great lengths to make the space a real home, outfitting the surprisingly-generous living room with a couch, easy chairs, electric fireplace and flat-screen.

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Renee Hayes spent months downsizing her and her husband's life, selling off and donating possessions until their world fit into an RV and a storage space. - photo by Ben Hendren

"This is why we own this one," Renee said, gesturing towards the living room.

But as nice as it is, their new living space is much, much smaller than their home in Texas, which took a little getting used to, they say.

It wasn’t so much the space itself, but all the compromises that come with downsizing, like letting go of items you’ve lived with for years and adapting how you live to fit your space.

Renee didn’t realize how much stuff they had until they forced themselves to pare down to the essentials. It took months to sell or donate all the items from their life, she said.

"It was a lot of work," she said. "We've been married 27 years, coming from a 2,400 square-foot house; it was a lot of stuff.”

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With such little space, the couple has had to be clever with their home, working multiple uses out of every area of the RV. - photo by Ben Hendren
They eventually narrowed their possessions down to what’s in the RV and a 10-by-10 storage space, which also houses their bikes and kayaks.

Even though he had reservations at first, in the end the process of jettisoning so many possessions was relieving and freeing, Kelley said.

“Because I'm always doing something: working on cars, working on the house, helping out the neighbors … I was concerned about giving up all the tools and not being able to work on something," he said.  "Everybody at work says, ‘How can you get rid of your tools?’ But at some point, this is better."

For anyone considering a similar lifestyle shift in the future, the couple has a bit of advice — start now.

 ‘We’re taking everything with us ‘

Since moving into the RV, the couple has made numerous day trips into the north Georgia area for hiking, kayaking and enjoyment of the outdoors, and traveled to the Asheville, N.C., with their RV for a 10-day trip.

During the trip to Asheville, Renee said that both she and her husband were struck by how strange it felt to travel and bring all of their belongings and home along with them.

"He was getting really nervous, and then when we got on the road we kind of looked at each other and said, ‘This is really weird because everything we own is in that camper," she said.

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Kelley and Renee Hayes said that they've found a home in the south Forsyth County Twin Lakes RV Park. - photo by Ben Hendren

The day before the trip, Kelley said he caught himself making lists of what he would need to pack with them for the trip, forgetting that they would be bringing everything with them.

"I was like, wait, we're taking everything with us,” he said. “So it was kind of a relief saying, 'I don't have to worry about packing up a suitcase. I don't have to worry about anything.’”

In the next year, they plan to head back out on the road, hitting up other scenic locations in Georgia like Jekyll Island and Savannah.

“This year was about getting to know the local area,” Kelley said. “Next year we’re going to be really branching out and exploring.”

From their Instagram account, fiftyandfifthwheeling, the couple shares photos and videos about their travels with more than 4,000 followers. Over the last year, as they learned about RV-ing from mistakes and friends in the community, the couple says that they’ve that been able to use the platform to help other people interested in the lifestyle.

In weekly live videos, they make themselves available to answer questions about how they downsized, products they use and problems they’ve encountered.

“We want to be that voice,” Kelley said. “Our experiences and mistakes will be able to help.”