Gillette business owner goes mobile in wake of pandemic
Like a lot of business owners, the pandemic hit hard for Stacey Hart. In her case, this meant basically dismantling her business. The 50-year-old Gillette woman had spent nearly three decades diligently working to become one of the top 20 salespeople for a direct sales kitchen tool company, which she’d built largely with in-home demonstrations and product parties.
Last April, this all came to a screeching halt when public health restrictions shut down in-person gatherings.
It was around this time that her friend Stacey Moeller, also from Gillette, called her with a renewed offer to leave Gillette and join her on the road as a full-time nomad in her pickup and restored 30-foot Airstream trailer. A couple of years ago, Moeller had purchased the 2006 Airstream, which she gutted and restored with furniture and funky decorations in what Hart calls a cozy, Bohemian vibe.
Hart, who had always loved Airstreams, remembered being incredibly jealous when her buddy had bought the trailer and started traveling. Repeatedly, Moeller asked Hart to come along, but Hart, who was then newly divorced and set up in a nice townhome, had decided to wait until the time was right.
“I always told her one of these days I’d do it,” Hart said.
As the pandemic ravaged the country and world, ‘one of these days’ seemed to have finally come at a time when she felt like she’d run out of excuses. It suddenly felt like the universe was giving her the perfect reason to try it out while she was still young and healthy enough to do it, so she decided to take the plunge.
The challenge was paring down her life, but the mother of three grown children found encouragement from her sons who told her to toss out of all their stuff and not to worry about saving anything.
“It was really hard at first,” Hart said Wednesday from Minnesota, where’s she currently parked for a few days visiting family and friends before heading off to the Oregon coast. “But, it gets a lot easier when you realize that most of the stuff in your home is just filling space but doesn’t have a lot of value.”
In the end, Hart gave or sold off all of her possessions with the exception of a few photos and sentimental trinkets. She struggled when it came to her massive cookbook library, many of the books were gifts from people over the years, as well as selecting from her kitchen tools and accessories, which included a hot pressure cooker, air fryer, and a few other odds and ends she couldn’t live without in order to produce her product demo videos.
The hardest part, she admitted, was selling some of her antique pieces of furniture, but the experience she’s having more than makes up for those “things.”
Another great aspect about her new nomadic lifestyle, she said, is that now that she’s on the road, she gets to see her sons and family much more often than she did when she was tied to a home and working to pay for something she just got to clean on weekends when she had a few hours off.
Today, the pair are parked in Minnesota where they’re staying with friends before getting ready to head West to spend the summer volunteering at Cape Perpetua on the banks of Cape Creek in Siuslaw National Forest in Oregon. Prior to this, they just finished up a stint at the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park in Plains, Georgia, where they spent the past three months as volunteers with a handful of others.
Before this, they’d been on a wildlife refuge in New Mexico, living on a campsite for free in exchange for a given amount hours as part of the volunteer.gov program.
This is how the duo in part afford their new mobile life by volunteering through volunteer.gov, where they work in national parks and public lands in exchange for a free RV hookup. The junkets vary depending on the specifications for that particular gig but are roughly three months with anywhere from 20-35 hours of volunteer hours.
Along with volunteering, Hart is also selling cooking tools and products online now that COVID-19 forced her to rethink her business model. She’d been resistant to move to the internet platform given her success with in-person parties. Now, however, she’s finding that she has no problem running her full-time business from her computer on the road on her Stacey’s Tiny Kitchen Facebook page in between volunteer gigs.
Oddly, despite the double jobs, she finds she has much more spare time and enjoys her life so much more now, which in part, has to do with cutting the ties to her earthy possessions that has freed her up in ways she’d never imagine. With the free rent and constantly changing scenery, she feels like she’s on the brink of a second life.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” she said as she described the many sights she’s seen in her almost year of life on the road as well as the community of fellow nomads with whom she’s already sprung tight friendships and camaraderie.
It’s the first time in her life that she’s woke up and feels no stress, she said. If you want a stress-free lifestyle, it’s the thing to do.
When asked if she has any regrets about leaving home, she doesn’t even hesitate. No way. Instead, she talks about all the places still to explore. This kind of traveling is like no other, she said, because you really get to dive into the small towns and people, much more so than just passing through on vacation.
“You find the gems you don’t get to find when you are traveling,” she said.
Most of all, Hart credits Moeller, who without her prompting and ready-made Airstream, Hart likely would have never made the move on her own. Or not any time soon, anyway.
Her advice to others?
“Do it now while you still can,” she said. “It’s not scary if you do it the right way.”