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Full-Timer's Primer: Once Upon A Mattress Print Email

Advice to help you select a new foam mattress; determine when it’s time to retire; and prepare the motorhome to be sold.

August 2012
By Janet Groene, F47166

We spend a third of our lives in bed, and that’s not counting the time when we are sick, taking a nap, or using the bed as a comfortable place to read. Why, then, do full-timers put up with an uncomfortable mattress just because it came with the motorhome? After my husband, Gordon, and I grunted and strained to rotate our original elephant-size mattress for the umpteenth time, I said, “Enough! There has to be a better way.”

I dreaded shopping for a new mattress, because shipping and handling were sure to require lots of money and physical effort. I worried about everything from ordering it correctly to getting it into the motorhome and disposing of the old mattress. What I found was that the whole experience was a breeze, and far more affordable than expected.

Specifying a mattress for a house is one thing. Choosing one for a motorhome is another. Every pound costs fuel dollars, yet many full-timers haul around heavy, household-style mattresses and box springs that could ballast a battleship. Do you really need metal coil springs and a box spring with a heavy wood frame, or would one of the new high-tech foams give you more comfort for less space and weight?

In a motorhome it’s important to rotate and air out the mattress often to keep it fresh, so something that is lightweight is doubly important. Many motorhomes also have under-the-bed storage that would be far easier to utilize if it didn’t lie under a heavy mattress. I went online to look at what’s new from RV mattress suppliers, and my first surprise was that weight is not mentioned in the specifications. Yet, in a motorhome, that is one of the most important considerations.

Of course, comfort comes first, but today that is easily achieved by building up layers of foam or adding an egg-crate or memory-foam topper. Some new mattresses also have a single or dual air bladder that allows you to stiffen or soften the mattress at will. Although it’s a popular option, we decided not to go this route.

If your mattress, like ours, sits atop a solid wood platform, here’s a less expensive way to get a comfortable night’s sleep. Go to a specialist in open-cell foam, such as the Foam Factory (, 586-627-3626), to see the huge choice of sizes, densities, types, and custom configurations. Simply order one or more foam pieces to fit your bed and cover the resulting layer(s) with fitted mattress covers.

Zippered muslin covers can totally encase a mattress, but we knew from past experiences that it’s very difficult to wrestle foam into one. Still, we wanted the foam totally protected. I’d upholstered a bare foam mattress in the past, sewing it into a permanent cover. However, this time we saw that two elastic mattress covers would encase the mattress totally, hold the layers firmly together, and yet could be removed easily for laundering.

We were surprised and pleased to find that our new 6-inch-thick polyfoam mattress came in a highly compressed bundle not much bigger than a bushel basket. Storing it for a few days until we could work with it was not a problem. It weighed much less than the 4-inch-thick latex foam mattress it replaced. Shipping was free, and the price of the foam was only a fraction of what a more conventional mattress with upholstery, cording, and a pillow top would be. The Foam Factory does a lot of work for RV and boat owners, so they are accustomed to filling custom orders, including odd shapes and contours. Our mattress is a standard size, which made it even easier to use standard, elastic mattress covers.

We chose an open-cell foam for the 6-inch base and a 3-inch memory foam for the topper. Together they form one unit for easy bed-making and comfortable sleeping, but everything disassembles for effortless handling.

Consider other factors when replacing a mattress. For instance, if one of you likes a firm mattress and the other prefers something softer, order two pieces of foam in different densities, then join them with an inexpensive topper called a mattress connector. A two-piece mattress is also much easier to take apart.

Held firmly with elastic covers on both the top and bottom, our multilayer mattress has not drifted. However, if your current or future mattress skates around on the box spring or wood platform, put down a layer of rubberized, nonskid drawer liner or carpet padding.

One more suggestion: As the time approaches for delivery of your new mattress or bare foam, ask your campground host about options for disposing of the old mattress. Someone in the campground may want it. At worst, you’ll have to pay a fee for disposal. In any case, a used mattress is one item that must be disposed of in compliance with local and campground rules.

Retirement Stats To Ponder. Do you and your partner plan to live full-time in your motorhome during retirement but can’t decide what your getaway date might be? It’s time for a serious talk. Using statistics from Fidelity Investments, The Wall Street Journal reported the following:

  • 63 percent of couples don’t agree about the ages they’ll be when they retire
  • 73 percent disagree whether they have completed a detailed plan for retirment.
  • 47 percent disagree about whether they will continue to work after retiring.
  • 33 percent disagree about lifestyle expectations.

If you are undecided about when and how to fulfill your dream, you are not alone. The study found that 16 to 20 percent of couples retire the same year; 23 to 40 percent retire within two or three years of each other; and as many as 43 percent retire five or more years apart. The decision is especially difficult if there is a wide difference in your ages or if one of you has a mere “job” and the other has a calling or career that can last a lifetime.

The Wall Street Journal suggests these tips on reaching an understanding:

1. Talk frankly about how you both feel about working past the usual retirement age.

2. Determine whether either of you is interested in a second career and why.

3. What will your roles be if one is retired and one is not? (Think money issues, dividing household chores, etc.)

4. Do either of you need to continue working for money, or is it psychological?

5. How do your individual energy/health levels affect your decision?

Also, before having this discussion, know your options. Your company may require retirement at a certain age, may offer an early buyout, may offer a bonus to stay on after retirement age, or may allow you to take an unpaid leave of absence or sabbatical to see how you like retirement life before making a permanent cut. Your company human resources department probably encourages, and may even require, some preretirement counseling.

Selling Your Motorhome? The sooner you sell or trade in your motorhome, the sooner you can get a new one. These tips from boat brokers, RV dealers, and real estate experts may help.

  • Does your motorhome pass the smell test? Mildew and wood rot have distinctive odors that could discourage would-be buyers. It is also an indication that the motorhome is deteriorating. If you find rotted wood in the motorhome, pull it out and make repairs. Also, pay special attention to cooking odors, pet odors, bad breath from bathroom and kitchen fixtures (usually caused by poor venting or porous hoses), chemical smells indicating bad housekeeping in the engine compartment or basement storage areas, and stale smells in closets.
  • Professional cleaning pays off, especially when it comes to carpeting, detailing the exterior, and degreasing the engine. Fiberglass bath fixtures may need professional help as well.
  • Price the motorhome realistically, and if you have to reduce the price, go deep. Buyers typically have a price limit in mind, usually in increments of $5,000 to $10,000. Nibbling away at the price may not be as effective as biting the bullet and reducing the price by a significant amount.
  • Know what warranties for the motorhome and its appliances are in place for now and the future. Have them available in writing.

If you have a clever insider tip about how to sell a motorhome, send it to me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

If you have a question or comment about full-timing that you'd like to share with Janet or are interested in becoming part of her full-timer's panel, e-mail her at; or write to Janet Groene, Family Motor Coaching, 8291 Clough Pike, Cincinnati, OH 45244. Janet and Gordon Groene's book Living Aboard Your RV, Third Edition ($14.95 plus shipping) is available from Workamper by calling (800) 446-5627 or by visiting The book also can be ordered from the publisher, McGraw-Hill, at (800) 822-8158.

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