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This couple is living out of life’s biggest suitcase
How two transplants redefine empty nesting through tiny living
50 and fifth-wheeling
Renee Hayes, above, and husband Kelley 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

See the full issue of the April 400 Life magazine here.

Renee and Kelley Hayes moved to Forsyth County in late 2018 thanks to a transfer with Kelley’s company. But, instead of the traditional jump into looking at real estate, they opted to camp in their family’s new fifth wheel camper and pulled into Twin lakes RV Park just in time for Christmas that year. 

Once there, the idea of spending time looking for square footage, a mortgage, HOA fees and yardwork seemed surplus. They realized the possibility of a future where they might never do any of those things again held a lot more value. The result? The Hayes pulled into a full-time lot at the park and became official tiny home dwellers. And one cup of coffee in their cozy living room will convince you why they wouldn’t think about going back.

“If we had advice to give other people who think they want to do this, it’s to jump in with both feet,” said Kelley. “You don’t realize how much stuff you don’t need until you get rid of it.”

For Kelley, that was a 900-square-foot garage of tools, yard equipment, you name it. He didn’t purge it all at first, but once his hobbies shifted, he called Renee and told her to sell them. Now, his collection fits in a convenient compartment on the outside of the camper — and he exercises that remaining passion by working on cars and campers at the RV park. 

“I don’t really miss doing the work,” said Kelley, who was always tinkering in the garage. “Now, I am excited to be outside, exploring, hiking and traveling. Or just enjoying our view here.”

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Fifty and fifth-wheeling

“It was a little harder for me to let go of things,” admitted Renee, who owned a staging business in Texas and loves to decorate. “I had to learn to go through things slowly, one box at a time, and decide what was really sentimental and what wasn’t.”

She kept a box or two of childhood keepsakes for each of their children (both in their early 20s), family heirlooms and passed-down furniture in a family member’s basement, and packed a local 10x10’ storage unit that holds seasonal clothes and sporting equipment. Everything else, she sold or donated. 

“Honestly, we decided we wanted to do stuff, instead of have stuff,” said Kelley of their massive purge once they made the decision to call the RV home. “And the funny thing is, we don’t really feel like we’ve made any huge sacrifices.”

In fact, the Hayes still do everything they might have done in their 2,400-square-foot house in Texas. They host Super Bowl parties and build-your-own-pizza parties via the Big Green Egg with often 10-20 people coming over at a time. 

They gather on the couple’s large outdoor patio space around the firepit, in the dining room (which doubles as a garage), or in the living room. Their children come to stay overnight, in-laws visit and all can comfortably sleep in one of two queen sleepers that are camouflaged in the dining room. 

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fifty and fifth-wheeling
Kelley Hayes eventually purged a 900-square-foot garage of tools and yard equipment. Now, his collection fits in a convenient compartment on the outside of the camper. - photo by Ben Hendren

And housework? The Hayes appreciate that their weekends spent biking, hiking, kayaking and exploring aren’t cut short by a day of yardwork or cleaning. 

“It takes maybe an hour to clean this whole place,” said Kelley. 

Part of that is the organization that Renee installed throughout the RV. Modern, decorative baskets provide ample space for winter accessories, electronics, paperwork and more while simultaneously making the place chic and homey.

Drawer organizers maximize dresser inches in the bedroom, risers and plastic storage keep the kitchen cabinets neat, in addition to lights that make it easy to spot tools and gadgets. There’s a large storage space under the master bed, and almost every mirror and cabinet door hides ample room for necessities. 

Fifty and fifth-wheeling
Drawer organizers maximize dresser inches in the bedroom, risers and plastic storage keep the kitchen cabinets neat, in addition to lights that make it easy to spot tools and gadgets. - photo by Ben Hendren

“It took a lot of work, but once we started, you just start to realize what you really need, and you don’t keep what there isn’t room for. Tiny living means everything has to have a purpose and a need. For example, I had to pare down on my seasonal decorations a lot,” she admitted. 

“I used to go all out for holidays, but now I have a chalkboard that lets me have a little something, and then I use decor that’s compostable, so I’m not creating trash or running out of space to store it for next year.”

That means real pumpkins, a (tiny) Christmas tree that they planted after the holiday was over, real garland and candles. It helps the former decorator that there quite literally isn’t any space to store extra stuff. That’s also the reason behind Renee’s hanger-identifying method for making sure she keeps just the clothes she needs. She faces every hanger one way until she wears the item on it. At the end of the season, if she never turned it around, it goes.

But instead of sacrifice, the Hayes describe this lifestyle as having more freedom. They’re living the life they’ve always dreamed of, with none of the headaches. They can pick up and go when they want. 

Kelley mentioned, “We were about to leave to go on a hiking trip to Asheville and I was sitting at work writing out the list of stuff we needed to pack. Then, I realized, I don’t have to pack anything — we get to bring it all with us. We are literally living out of life’s biggest suitcase.”

And that’s how it’s been for just over a year now. When they want to go, they hitch up the fifth wheel and head out — no packing, no cleaning up before they leave. They get to sleep in their own bed and never leave their own comforts of home — no matter where they end up. 

And the result? Life spent on vacation for as long as they choose it. 

Keep up with their tips, tricks and travels via Facebook or Instagram, @fiftyandfifthwheeling

Story by Jennifer Colosimo for 400 Life magazine.

Fifty and fifth-wheeling
Fifty and Fifth-wheeling