This blog post was written before we knew about COVID-19 as a threat, before there was a global pandemic affecting us all. I’ve decided to share this post today in the hopes that it will be helpful to someone, but I don’t know if Christmas tree lots are open this year or if they are hiring. If you want to follow up on the information offered here, you will have to do your own research.
Aerin (the author of this post) and I are both in a vanlife Facebook group. When I heard Aerin was going to work at a Christmas tree lot during the 2019 holiday season, I asked if they would be interested in writing a report for my blog. I was excited when they said yes.
Working at a Christmas tree lot is one of those seasonal jobs I’ve heard are available to nomads but have been able to find precious little real information about. The information that is out there is from the perspective of RVing couples managing lots. I thought I’d do my readers a favor by sharing the insights of a vandweller who spent a couple of weeks before Christmas slinging trees.
Are you a fan of the holiday season? You know, that magical time of year when some traditions call for bringing the carcasses of dead evergreens into our homes to be the backdrop for our revelry.
I’m talking about Christmas trees.
How Did I Hear About the Job?
Well, I was just an unsuspecting nomad looking for work at the beginning of December when I spotted the post in a workamping Facebook group. It wasn’t more than 20 minutes old and had one comment so far. Usually I don’t see these kinds of posts until much too late.
Labor in a Christmas tree lot? How hard could that be?
Was Living In a Van Helpful to Get the Job?
Not really. I was looking to park onsite as part of my employment, so living in a small rig that is self-contained and doesn’t need hookups made that possible.
I could have parked elsewhere and driven in to work. There was no requirement to live onsite, aside from the managers, and the rest of the staff drove in. However, it was a selling point that I would be around in case things got unexpectedly busy and they needed someone to jump in right away. That didn’t actually happen, but it made the managers feel more secure since they were learning the ropes too, and it helped get me the job.
The person who had responded to the post before me had a large RV and was looking for something that offered hookups. This job was literally in a parking lot. One that was technically the property of the swim school next door, so space could be at a premium when both businesses were crowded. One extra vehicle of regular size was not going to crowd things.
The lot that hired me is affiliated with Valley View Christmas Trees. Valley View has lots all over the Phoenix metro area. Each lot is managed by a workamping couple who have the authority to hire staff.
From conversations with my managers, I learned that they get bonuses at the end of the season if they hit a certain threshold in total sales and keep labor costs below a certain percentage of sales. Otherwise, they are paid a flat salary, and at least one of them is expected to be working 9-9 every single day.
For me, I was labor staff. Pay was $11/hr gross. Not awesome, but it did come with several useful perks:
- a parking spot for the duration of my time there
- regular access to their port-o-pottie so I didn’t need to find another bathroom or use the one in my rig
- unlimited water for drinking that I could have gotten straight from a hose and filtered myself (if I had a filter) but my managers were kind enough to let me use the faucet in their RV so it went through their filtration system
- grocery store within walking distance
Each lot had the same five types of fir trees: Douglas, grand, Fraser, noble, and Nordmann. A big part of my job was knowing the difference and a little bit about each to assist customers. After a sale, I moved the tree to the back area and processed it for loading. This involved removing the stand, cutting a little off the bottom of the trunk so it would absorb more water once in the customer’s home, and trimming any branches as requested. Loading was either putting it in a truck bed or tying it to the roof of a car.
Tying a tree to the roof of a car is not fun. At all.
Aside from sales, my job also involved restocking. Trees that were delivered from Valley View (grown in Oregon) needed to get the bottoms drilled (for our center spike stands), stands pounded in, moved into place, twine wrap cut off, and bowls filled with water.
Most trees were in some partial state of readiness. For example, if things were slow, we might drill a bunch of trees in succession so it would be easier to restock later. Drilling takes a minimum of two people, sometimes three or more for larger trees, so getting that done all at once is more efficient.
Drilling is also not fun.
Trying to guess whether a tree is standing up straight is difficult. If the hole isn’t straight, it becomes super obvious once the tree is on a stand. Redrilling an unwrapped tree is even less fun.
My hours varied week to week depending on when the managers expected to be busy as we got closer to Christmas. Valley View does not pay overtime, so a strict cap of 40 hours also meant some creative shifting to make sure enough staff were working. The lot itself was open from 9am to 9pm every day. The managers were required to work all day every day for their salary.
Towards the end of the season, one of the operations managers for Valley View came with a sprayer so we could try painting the trees. It was a mess. We did end up with a purple, blue, and white tree though. Believe it or not, the blue and white ones did sell.
The only thing I didn’t do was cashier because managers were the only ones allowed to run the register.
The Experience As a Vandweller
I liked it overall. Technically the job started towards the end of November, but I came in a bit later. I started on December 5 and the job ended December 24, so I was working or on call for 20 days. Also, my paychecks came on time, on approximately the 15th and 30th of the month.
It is a lot of manual labor. That meant I was being paid to exercise. I am primarily a digital nomad, but it can be difficult to make time for physical fitness. I was sore a lot and developed bruises on my legs from the trees, but nothing serious.
The port-o-pottie was pumped out every week, so using it was not an issue. It never got to smelling bad. I was happy to not have to use my camp toilet or walk somewhere.
I was a paid employee of Valley View, meaning they took taxes out of my pay. This may not be a positive for everyone, but I prefer to have the money taken out now and worry less about paying it later. Also, my paychecks came on time. The first came by paper check to the lot because of a snafu, but this wasn’t an issue for me. The second check went through electronically.
Near the end of my time working at the Christmas tree lot, I found that the Crunch Fitness nearby has a drop-in rate of $5.08 (including taxes) so I got to work out and take a shower. I don’t have a shower in my rig, so this was nice.
It was cold, but never unbearable. However, I would not want to do this job any further north.
I was muddy and wet a lot of the time.
I had pine needles EVERYWHERE.
It is easiest to just wear the same outfits over and over again. I had two pairs of pants, three long-sleeve shirts, and two vests that I cycled through so things had a chance to dry out before being worn again. I did laundry maybe twice the whole time I was there.
Since I wore my heavy work boots every day, I had a towel down as a kind of rug by the door so I could take them off and let them air out a little before the next day. They needed to air out for a full 24 hours once I was finished.
I didn’t feel comfortable setting up an outside area to cook, so I relied a lot on convenience food from the grocery store (which was a 5 min walk away). Not very healthy or frugal.
All of the above are tough in a very small space. Everything gets everywhere. I was constantly sweeping dirt and pine needles out of the van. The walls were slowly coming in with dirty clothes draped to air out in the cab with the windows open, boots by the door, and trying to keep my bed relatively clean.
I enjoyed myself. It was hard work, but I don’t mind that. I got paid to exercise, a free place to park, access to a great grocery store, and excellent managers. My hope is to work with the same couple again next season. A month of part- to full-time work with parking is a welcome thing at that time of year. The positives more than outweighed the negatives and the mehs.
I enjoyed the challenge of a new job, learning about the trees, and meeting some wonderful people. Being a vandweller was both a help and an inconvenience for a job like this, but I found ways to make it work. I learned a lot about how I use the space and made some changes.
I would definitely do this job again. It isn’t for everyone, but definitely worth investigating.
Aerin is a vandwelling nomad who has big dreams and is using a combination of frugality, zero waste, healthy living, alternative sources of income, and whatever else comes along to help achieve them. Aerin also makes masks, modular utility belts, and more at Hermit Crab Creations .