I live on a bus.
I’m still not entirely sure how it happened.
It’s been difficult – being both a vehicle and a tiny home, a bus comes with its own set of challenges. And it’s been liberating – with lower overheads both K and I have been free to change careers and, in my case, stay home with my baby for longer.
I’ve mentioned our strange living situation once or twice but I’ve never sat down and told you all about it.
So here goes.
In late 2016 we found out our rent was going up. We were already financially squeezed and both in jobs we didn’t like. (In both cases our co-workers were great, but a combination of management issues and low chance of career progression meant we both wanted to change careers). I also really wanted us to have a second child, a little brother or sister for our girl, CC. We felt stuck. Like we were never going to get ahead, no matter what we tried. Like we were never going to own our own home.
K found us our solution. His friend was selling a housebus, which, if we bought and moved into, would be much cheaper than renting a house. It was a tough decision to make – I really loved having a house with a garden. But it would never be our own house, our own garden. So we decided to try the bus.
The bus had been set up for travelling, as you would expect. So for several weeks K spent all his free time upgrading the kitchen, turning the dining booth into a sofa, putting in a new wardrobe, and converting the storage area into a bunk bed. We sold almost all our possessions, put the really precious ones in storage, and moved aboard. We live on a friend’s property, getting water and electricity from their woolshed (their home was once a sheep farm and most of the land has long since been sold off but the woolshed still stands).
Great handiwork here: all new laminate flooring, cupboard doors & counter. It’s never been that clean again.
As far as living in a field goes, it’s fairly luxurious.
We live, the 5 of us (2 adults, 2 kids and a dog) in a home 11 metres long and 2 metres wide. Every spare spot has storage – under the bed, under the sofa, at the end of the bunks, over our heads. It’s a former intercity bus, so there are luggage lockers you can access from outside – we keep camping equipment in there. We have a small shed for storage and a playhouse for the children. After the first year, we built a (removable) deck. I say “we” built it. K and his father did. The next year we (“we” again) built an awning over the deck. Each of these developments has led to more comfort, more space to manoeuvre, more happiness. The awning is probably my favourite – it gives us somewhere to sit in rain or intense sun and we can leave stuff there overnight. I keep plastic storage units for our shoes and many of the toys on the deck. It’s the dog’s favourite spot too – he loves to curl up in the moon chair and survey his dominion.
How do we all fit on board? Not well, but we manage it. The front is the toughest; the living room, dining area, play area, hallway, coat/bag storage, are all the same place. The dog’s bed sits up a little, on the engine mount. The driver’s seat has become my dumping ground for “stuff I don’t want to put away yet”. We have a table that folds away, though it spends much of the day out. The table is where we eat our meals, do school work, play play-dough or puzzles or Mr Potato Head, and it’s where I write in the evenings. For most play activities, I encourage the kids outside. Outside they can make as much mess as they like. Inside, if just one toy car is dropped it’s a trip hazard.
The kitchen is my favourite area. It’s as big as any I’ve seen in my former tiny London terraces and flats. I have cupboards, a pantry, a fridge, gas hob and electric oven, a tiny bin under the sink – everything we need. I even have a window basket with herbs. It’s still small, though. Our appliances are minimal and the breadmaker and stand mixer live under the bed, ready to be brought out when needed. Stuff I only use occasionally, like cake tins, live in a box in the shed. I also keep a pantry overflow box in the shed – tins of tomatoes and fruit, packs of soy milk, packs of crackers and so on.
Beyond the kitchen, we have a tiny bathroom with a full-size shower (gas heated – bliss!), sink and, my least favourite thing, a cassette toilet. I don’t like it partly because it’s plastic, which to me feels grosser than porcelain, but mostly because it gets stinky. We have tried every product and home recipe out there, but there’s no escaping that small. When the cassettes are full we have to take them to what’s called here a “dump site” to empty and rinse them. (“We” again. Who am I kidding? I never do that. K does it for us all. Thank you K.)
The kid’s bunk beds are opposite the bathroom: CC on the top bunk and Little T below. Until recently we had a sliding gate on Little T’s bed, but now we can trust him not to roll out of bed. (When we removed the gate he rolled out every night for a week before he got used to it.) At the end of Little T’s bed is space for a plastic storage unit with CC’s clothes. At the end of CC’s bed are storage cubes with many of her toys and books.
Then there’s the bedroom. We have our bed wedged against the back wall. It feels cosy, like you’re in a wee cabin. Which is great until someone drops a toothbrush or tiny yet inexplicably precious toy down there and I have to wriggle all the way under to retrieve it.) There are shelves above on all 3 sides, with books and baskets of K’s clothes. To the left is the wardrobe with my clothes and anything that needs to hang. To the right is a dresser with Little T’s clothes and my bits & bobs. Under the bed is a box of clothes K wears less regularly, our box of important papers, my writing box (a mix of books on writing, magazines, and my notes), a Memory Box for each of the children, a box of greeting cards and the aforementioned bread maker and stand mixer. When the dog was a puppy we’d often find him under there too.
One of the keys to living in a tiny home is to keep on top of our possessions. I keep a box in the car for the charity shop. As soon as some toy or item of clothing is outgrown, I put it there. With two young children this happens often. Seasonal clothing, plus anything I want to keep, goes in to boxes in the woolshed.
The woolshed is different from our little storage shed. It’s bigger, for one thing, and smells of possums (curse that settler who thought they’d be a great idea to farm in New Zealand!), and it’s home to the washing machine and freezer. I make several visits in Spring and Autumn to get out or put away the seasonal clothes. Plus I keep a box of clothes for each child in their next sizes. I like to shop in charity shops and on the sale racks, plus generous friends often give us their kids’ outgrown clothes, so I keep the clothes organised by having a box for each age. One last box is the party box: I keep plastic plates and platters, a cake stand, candles and a few other bits to make birthdays easier.
We spend most of our free time outside. (Also that is what the deck looks like most of the time. If you want nice things, don’t have children.)
My least favourite (apart from the toilet) thing about this life is that we are cooped up. There is no shutting a door to get some alone time and have a breather. If CC wants to do art and craft inside on a rainy day it takes over the whole sofa/table area. If Little T is playing with his cars and trucks it takes over the entire floor area, which the rest of us trip over, and which in turn upsets T. If I want a break I might sit in bed but I can’t bring a cup of tea with me.
My favourite part of bus life is what it has given us. It has given K and me the chance to change careers and for me to stay home for over a year with my 2nd (and last) baby. Country life is a gift too – we spend most of the day out-of-doors and the kids have learned to make their own fun: I almost never hear them say they’re bored. We’ve been here 3 years now, and what with taking time off and career restarts, we are still a long way off owning our own home. The kids are growing fast – soon they’ll outgrow their little bunks and then we will have to re-evaluate our situation, but for now we are happy. We have learned to make do with what we have. And each day is a reminder that what we do now will affect what we can do in the future. And for me, that makes all the tight space and small troubles worthwhile.