in The State We're In, Things we do, Work Camping

Work camping for Amazon, Part III: Boy, did we ever Do More!

A lot More. More than we’d even expected. It was just… not really the type of More we’d had in mind.

(New here? Click to review Part I and/or Part II.)

On the plus side, this post conveniently doubles as our 4th quarter update, because we stayed in Tennessee for these jobs, from mid-September all the way until December 24. Other 2017 quarterly reviews are at 1, 2, and 3.

December in middle Tennessee: it didn’t snow, but we endured several frosty windshields and overnight lows below freezing.

I am now typing at you from our frequent home base of San Antonio, TX, where we are looking forward to a delayed holiday celebration with my side of the family and both of our boys next week. Both of them!

Heh. And look at what we found, just three miles from where we’re parked.

But back to my Amazon Camperforce wrap-up. I’ll start you off with some statistics.

  • Where we worked: Amazon’s BNA-3 Fulfillment Center in Murfreesboro, TN
  • Department: picking
  • Weeks on the job: 13 (starting dates are flexible; we chose a 3-month window)
  • Number of days we reported to work (most, but not all, were full 10-hour shifts): 57 for Tim, 56 for Emily. I took one unpaid day off for my annual girlfriends’ weekend, which they conveniently held in Nashville so that I could maximize my escape/drinking time.
  • Number of hours worked: 562 for Tim, 552 for Emily. For each of us, 47 of those hours were overtime, for which we were compensated at time and a half. We also earned 5 hours each of paid time off, which we took on one gloriously lazy Thursday morning.
  • Gross pay at $11.50/hour (wage varies by Camperforce location and shift, so do your homework): about $6700 each
  • Completion bonus: about $575 each
  • Total combined gross earnings: about $14,550
  • Additional compensation: As part of the program, Amazon paid our campground rent for the duration, saving us about $1500.
  • Miles walked: 660 for Tim, 463 for Emily (average was about 8 miles/day), and yes, I literally walked my butt off. Had to buy all new pants!
  • Number of items picked: Maybe 800/day each? I’d love to be able to give you a specific total for each of us, but our numbers varied widely depending on which part of the warehouse we were working in, and neither one of us kept daily track of the amounts shown on our scanners. I can give you a range though: a “slow” day would be about 600 items over 10 hours. If we were really hot and got lots of multi-picks, we could handle upwards of 1000 items per day, each.
  • Most frequently-picked item: socks

But as Tim pointed out, there is a less labor-intensive way to do this. It just requires having a large chunk of cash lying around. “If someone had invested $50K in Amazon stock in mid-September, and sold it the day our jobs ended, they would have made as much money as Emily and I earned, combined.”

We had to work on Thanksgiving Day, but everyone was released a few hours early. These are our “pardoned turkey” faces.

So how’d I do with my three predictions from Part I?

  1. We will be using our time off for little other than subsistence chores and recuperation: cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, eating and rest. TRUE. We did all those things on our days off, and very little else. We broke with our usual travel tradition/preference and did no exploring of the area beyond running essential errands. Not only that, but our work evenings took on a very set routine of setting out the next day’s clothes, packing lunches, and doing everything possible to minimize morning trauma before our 30-minute commute and 0730 clock-in time.

    It’s harder for me to do this than you might think, but I managed to pull it off a few times.

  2. Social media and overall computer use will decline. Markedly. TRUE. OwnLessDoMore’s presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram dropped to 2-3 posts/week, instead of my usual goal of 1/day. Not only did I not have that kind of time, I also lacked resources on my camera roll, and photos are necessary to grab social media interest. We hardly went anywhere but Amazon, and we were not allowed to carry phones/cameras into the work areas, so I relied heavily on throwback posts and memories.

    When we did go out, we did our best to patronize locally-owned restaurants. One day it was a cute little cash-only BBQ shack.

  3. We will complete this deployment. By comparison to the ones Tim made during his military career, this is a short one! TRUE. We did it. We performed well, exceeding minimum requirements by far, and we stuck it out until the final clock-out at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 23. We’re proud of what we did, and we have no regrets.

    Also? I won a thing!
    There were raffles, contests, games and other incentives to keep employees motivated during Peak. Yay me!

That said, we also have no intentions of doing this again. I discussed a few reasons why in  Part II. Here are a few more.

  • This job is not a good fit for someone like me, who tends to hate all the things everyone else just loves and thinks are so amazing (I even hate the word “amazing”) and must have because they are trendy. Like tutus for grown women. Seriously? I guess those were a thing back in the fall, and I picked dozens and dozens, each one making me twitch a little more than the last. Actually, I’m not a big fan of things, period, and being surrounded for so long by so much evidence of consumerism took a mental toll.
  • On a related note, it didn’t even feel like we were helping deliver Christmas joy for the season, by picking things like children’s toys, winter coats, the year’s hottest electronics and games, etc. There were some of those to be sure, but mostly we picked socks (have I mentioned all the socks?), underwear, items for overindulged pets, and an occasional sex toy. Not that we’re opposed to sex toys — you do you, and have a very Merry Christmas while you’re at it  — but I’m pretty sure that was not in the proverbial brochure.
  • And finally, the way Amazon crams merchandise items randomly into overstuffed bins might keep their company-wide productivity and efficiency levels high, but it’s very difficult on the individual worker, worrying about making quotas, and knowing how much easier it would be if things were organized in a better manner. Many times, I became so frustrated, I had to mentally repeat the following mantra until I calmed the hell back down: It doesn’t have to make sense. I don’t have to understand it. I just. Have. To do it.

    Been there.
    Done that.
    Got the t-shirts.

I won’t end on a negative note, though. Here are some things we liked:

  • The Camperforce program makes it easy for couples to work the same schedule — a great perk for RV-dwellers, most of whom share only one vehicle.
  • Being on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder, we were able to leave work at work. All the pressure we felt to make quota disappeared the second we clocked out for the day.
  • The entire application process was handled online, and we were able to have our mandatory pre-employment drug testing done quickly and conveniently, where we were parked at the time in August.
  • Neither one of us got injured or fired, and Tim’s the only one of us who got sick, with a minor head cold during the very last week.
  • We made some great friends!

    Penni & Chip were our next door neighbors at the campground, and we all worked the same shift.
    What started out as the convenience of a daily carpool turned into a lasting friendship, and we look forward to crossing paths with each other again.

And hey, we now have a never-ending source of campfire stories. “Oh. You ordered something from Amazon today? Let me tell you a little bit about the time we worked there…”


This is the “After” installment in my trilogy chronicling our 3-month gig with Amazon’s Camperforce. Other chapters quite logically include the “Before” and “During.” All should be linked to each other now; let me know if I missed one.

For more information, feel free to dig around on the Camperforce web site, and to check out this exposé that appeared on Wired, or these articles from The Guardian, Marketplace, and Ozarks First. And if you search Google for “Camperforce,” you’ll also find a lot of personal blogs written by other RV’ers about their experiences. Mine is definitely not the only voice in the chorus!

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  1. Thanks for sharing part 3 with us Emily! We have been thinking of you and Tim a lot throughout this. Sure is a tough way to make money, can only imagine the mental burden of being surrounded by all that consumerism, not to mention the physical toll. But you guys did it, something to be very proud of! And we’re kooking forward to hearing more of those campfire stories when we see you!

  2. Thanks for sharing the before, during and after!!! Loved your chronicles from Amazon land.
    Note: although I have taken full advantage of Amazon Prime, I have never ordered socks, underwear, sex toys or tutus. I’m apparently a freak.

  3. Good to see you completed the CamperForce experience my wife and I did it in 2013 with about the same feelings. As you said in the post “Been there done that”. We decided we wanted to try the gate guarding thing next but some family things came up but we are now on a gate and learning the oil field industry. Like Amazon you think you know enough going in but you really are not prepared. We are enjoying most of it and have had a few setbacks but we are still here.


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