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Military Couple’s 400-sq.-ft. RV-Cottage

Shane is retired Air Force, and he and his wife, Patty are enjoying full-time RV life in a campground where they work for the campground in exchange for their camping spot.

That is an awesome way for them to save tons on their living expenses! Now that they are empty-nesters, they were able to downsize and get rid of most of their stuff so they can live a simpler life. And even though they’re stationary for now, they do plan to travel once their son graduates from college.

We had the opportunity to interview the couple about their choice to live tiny and downsize, so be sure to read that Q&A at the end of the photo tour. Check out how amazing their renovation is!

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400 Square Foot RV Renovation: Farmhouse Chic

The couple repainted ALL the wood inside the RV

I love the black chalkboard inset here.

Here’s a “before” picture.

It was so dark before they painted!

Now it has an airy farmhouse vibe.

“Before” of the living room.

They replaced the dinette with a table and chairs.

There’s this nice bar/counter area.

Here’s the fridge/oven and microwave.

Cute folding stools!

Room to cook what they want.

View from the other side of the kitchen.

“Before” of the bathroom.

The “after” is lovely.

Another “before” with dark cabinets.

And now it has subway tiles!

I like that textured wall through the door.

Close-up of the vanity.

What a homey bedroom!

The faux wood wall looks great.

Area rugs add color and personality.

Here’s the entertainment center.

Time for a cozy fire!

The couches double as beds.

Gills On RV Life

What are your name(s)?

Shane & Patty Gill

How many people (and animals) are living in your home?

Just the two of us. We are empty nesters. We have two boys, one has graduated college, and the other has one semester left.

How long have you lived tiny?

Since October 9, 2020, so almost 8 months.

What do you do for work? Or do you travel full-time?

Shane is retired Air Force. Patty works full-time online for the government, she also works part time as an online ESL teacher, and part-time as a social media manager for our campground.

What are you hoping to get out of living tiny/small?

Being in the military and moving every two years we have always been nomads. So, we just can’t stay still in one place for very long, we start to get the itch to move around. Now that Shane is retired we get to move anywhere we want, and stay however long we want. We are born nomads, it is in our blood. We lived overseas for 14 years and travelled all over the world. But, we never got to travel in the US, so this is another reason we want to travel full-time in our RV, We want to finally see what the US has to offer.

Describe your decorating style and philosophy.

It was always hard moving with the military to a different house every two years. Sometimes you get lucky and get a big house at one base, then move to the next and you have a tiny house. It was always fun for me to figure out where to put everything when we arrived to a new house. This has always been in my blood. I always tried my hardest to make our house a home for our family of 4. So my style is what I guess you call homey. I know that is not really a style, but it was for me. That was all i wanted was to make sure my kids felt like they were home no matter where we moved. Now it has changed a bit, but I don’t know what you would call it, boho cottage, if that is a style. When we bought our RV 3 years ago for weekend trips I just added a few decorations. But, when we decided to sell the house and move into the RV full-time I told Shane, I have to make it homey if we are going to live in it. So as soon as we moved in I started painting, renovating, and shopping! Took us a few months over the winter.

What inspired you to choose an RV (rather than say a tiny house or an bus)?

The main reason we chose an RV is just because that is all we ever knew. We have always had some kind of camper. Honestly, I didn’t even know tiny homes could be moved until recently. I also didn’t know people renovated buses and lived in them. But, for us RV life just makes sense. It seems to be easier to get around to RV parks, which is what we would do. We are not big on boondocking or living off the land. We are more of glampers that need everything accessible at all times.

How did you acquire your home? Did you do a lot of renovations?

Every year we have always gone to RV shows. Four years ago we went and saw our RV and fell in love with it. We loved the set up inside and the storage outside. But, we put it off and decided to not purchase it right away. We actually waited a whole year, which we never do, to purchase ours. During that year we did a lot of research on our RV and the company. Then we went back the following year and purchased ours at the RV show. We have done a lot of renovations to our RV. We sanded down and painted every single piece of wood in the RV, which in ours was a lot. We painted every single wall. We replaced light fixtures, and light covers. We added wallpaper to every room, on five walls in this small space. We also took out every glass insert that was in the cabinets and replaced with cane webbing. We took down all the ugly ornate wood trim that goes over all the slides and put up cedar wood planks. We also took down all the wood valances that covered the windows and put up new blinds on all the windows.

What are bills/utilities like compared to before?

We save a ton of money now that we live full-time in our RV. In our house we had so many more bills, property taxes, water, trash, insurance, etc. and all our RV expenses too. Now that we sold the house and live full-time in the RV our expenses are much lower. We have the camper, campsite, and vehicle insurance. We both work camp at our campground, so our site is our pay. I run the social media and events for the campground and Shane does the pool and any other help they might need. We are stationary at one campground right now, but we will be mobile sometime the end of this year or the beginning of next year. But, we will try to continue to work camp to help with the bills and utilities. We also paid off all of our bills when we sold the house, the only bill we have is our camper, food, and gas.

Before going tiny, what was life like?

We both drove almost an hour every day to work a 9-5 job, fighting horrible traffic. To get home and be so tired we didn’t feel like doing anything. Just come home, help the kids with homework, cook dinner, eat, and go to bed. Every day the same thing over and over. We were just tired of it, and decided there is more to life than living this way. We wanted more, we wanted to have time and energy to spend with each other. We had always talked about going full-time RVing but when we were much older. About two years ago we started seeing more and more younger people hitting the road with their RVs, so we made the decision about two years ago to just do it! It took us about a year to sell all of our stuff and house. It is so freeing to get rid of the “normal” things and lifestyle that everyone thinks you should have.

Is there anything from your old life that you miss?

The only thing I miss is a bathtub, but I could always get a blow up tub. Shane said he doesn’t miss anything at all.

What benefits are you experiencing after going tiny?

More time and freedom to do the things that we want to do. It takes me less than an hour to clean the RV from top to bottom. We lived in a 3500 sq ft home before and it would take me all day sometimes two days to clean the entire thing. Just that one thing literally saves me an entire day of the week.

What about some challenges?

There will always be challenges no matter what life you live. But in an RV things will break a lot, so you need to be somewhat handy. If you are not, your RV will be in the shop getting fixed for a long time. It takes months sometimes for RV repairs to be fixed, especially now because of Covid, it is hard to find some parts. Our AC broke last year during the middle of summer. Shane had to drive two hours to purchase an AC and install it himself. Not only does it take a long time for them to fix, which is not convenient when you live in your RV, but it is also very expensive. YouTube will be your best friend, and just have to learn to do as much as you can on your own.

Have you dealt with any push-back from friends and family about your choice to live tiny? How do you respond?

A few people have made negative comments, like they don’t think we can do it for a long time, or they could never live in an RV. Just a few people have said negative things, but for the most part our family and friends are very supportive, and they love following along on our journey. A few people have even said we have inspired them to take the leap and try it. But, when people do say anything negative we just always say something back positive. If they say they couldn’t do it, we say it’s okay it’s not for everyone, but it is for us and we love it.

What makes your tiny home special?

I love that ours is divided up into living spaces. The living room is divided away from the kitchen and the bedroom is closed off from the rest of the home as well. It makes it seem more like a house to me. It’s a tiny house, but it is perfect for us. We can actually fit a lot of people in 400 sq ft. It also has two couches that let out to beds, so we have had 5 – 6 people sleep here with us. But, what really makes it special is it is ours and it is not full of tons of stuff like we had in our home that was taking up space for now reason. Getting rid of all the “stuff” from our giant house was the best thing we have ever done. It was so freeing!!

What is your favorite part of your tiny home?

My favorite part has to be all the windows. That is why we went with the manufacturer that we did, because they put windows in every space of the RV. We hardly have any wall space because it has so many windows. Every day I open all the windows and shades when I wake up, it just lets in so much light and makes the space feel so much larger.

What helpful advice would you give to others interested in going tiny?

Do a lot of research. Start online, blogs, Instagram, watch YouTube videos, etc. Really dive into research and learning about living tiny. Then decide if you want to live in an RV or tiny home. You can always start by renting one before you buy. That is exactly what we did, we rented for a few years, then we bought a travel trailer, then we bought a 5th wheel. This will save them a lot of time and money.

Anything I didn’t ask about that we should know?

Just a little about us. Shane retired from the Air Force after 24 years. I was a stay at home Mom and started my career later in life. Once our boys went to college we decided to live tiny and hit the road full time in our RV. We are stationary for now until the end of this year after our youngest graduates from college. For now we live in San Antonio, Texas in our RV at a campground on a lake.

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Our big thanks to Patty and Shane for sharing! 🙏

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More Like This: Tiny Houses | RV Living | Couple Tiny House Living | Q&A

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Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk and the Tiny House Newsletter. She's a wife, and mama of three little kids. She and her family are homesteaders with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and quail on their happy little acre.

Latest posts by Natalie C. McKee (see all)

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • merryl
    May 24, 2021, 12:24 pm

    Im jealous.

    • Patty Gill
      June 7, 2021, 10:34 am

      Thank you so much!

  • Marsha Cowan
    May 24, 2021, 10:54 pm

    I think I have commented on this one before, but it is worth commenting again. You did a wonderful job transforming the dark interior to a light and spacious one. It is really lovely, and I especially love the kitchen. It is so pretty and looks like you can cook a down home meal in it easily. I really like this RV redo.

    • Patty Gill
      June 7, 2021, 10:35 am

      That is such a nice compliment! Thank you so much!

  • Janet
    May 25, 2021, 10:57 am

    Absolutely love everything about your transformation! Very inspirational!

  • Linda Baker
    May 25, 2021, 4:58 pm

    I’ll never understand why manufacturers make everything so DARK! The lightening of the interior makes a world of difference and your decorating choices are great. We have a 400sq ft single wide with 2 slide outs on a permanent lot at a campground and love the convenience (2hrs from home) and size, we have changed out overhead light fixtures and furniture, ours has oak cabinets and trim so wasn’t dark, we also have lots of windows, we upgraded sound system (our trailer is 20yrs old!) and have a big deck, shed and a golf cart for tooling around – Grandkids love it!. Enjoy your retirement!

    • Patty Gill
      June 7, 2021, 10:36 am

      I know, it just makes no sense to make them so dark. Thank you so much for the compliment.

    • Eric
      October 4, 2021, 7:09 pm

      Simple. It tends to hide blemishes in the woodwork. And once its sold, well its buyers remorse when they see it.

      • James D.
        October 5, 2021, 3:44 am

        Well, there’s usually not a lot of real wood used in a RV, unless it’s a fairly high end one, but an alternative reason would be to hide the sins of the owner… RV’s are generally not that durable and recreational usage is prone to deal with conditions that will put a lot of wear and tear on the interiors.

        Dark colors can help hide details and lessen the visibility of stains, dirt, scratches, dents, etc. While people can tend to prefer to not need to clean as often when the purpose is to go out and have fun, which they may want to focus on…

        Though, a lot of times it’s just poor lighting… There can be a lot of give and take on what the manufacturer may focus on while keeping to a specific set budget per unit built. For every premium feature another feature may be downgraded to balance it out…

        It’s also an industry where dealerships have a massive influence as most manufacturers don’t sell directly to the public and rely on dealerships to buy up product. So typically, it’s what the dealerships want/prefer and what they may think will sell, buying the product at a flat rate, which usually doesn’t give the manufacturer much room to make improvements and changes to distinguish their product from other manufacturers, especially if new to the market, and dealerships tend to stick to what is known to sell…

  • August 9, 2021, 3:13 am

    I love this. You’ve done an amazing job making it into a home. If I may ask, what kind of RV did you begin with?
    Love Lyn

  • August 22, 2021, 2:00 am

    I love the sign next to the toilet. I’ve been toying with the idea of having someone create a graphic to communicate that guys should sit so as not to sprinkle and spray, but that sign would be easy to create myself.

  • Ana E York
    May 22, 2022, 9:53 pm

    I love the transformation that you did. We are getting ready to by a 5th wheel ourselves. I wanted to know what year and series your 5th wheel is. Thank you

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