It was in March 2014 that 29-year-old Brian and his wife Starla, 26, of Renton, Washington, got tired of wasting so much money on rent. The apartment was over an hour away from Brian’s workplace, and he had to work overtime just so they could afford the rent. Plus, they wanted to be homeowners and spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos of people building their own tiny houses, or converting all kinds of things into comfortable living spaces. It was one of these videos that convinced them to take a leap of faith, so in April 2014, they bought a disused school bus for $2,800, and spent another $30,000 turning it into a home for their three kids.
“The apartment was about an hour away from Brian’s work and the commute was awful,” Starla says. “He would work overtime trying to pay the rent, then he would sit in a car for three hours and we would never see him, so we decided to make a change. We pay a third of the cost now and we have money to pay off debts and student loans!”
Inside the bus after they had decorated it
The video that convinced the Sullivans to move into their unconventional home was of a family who also lived in bus.
“There was this one video in particular – we called them the crazy people who lived in a blue bus,” Brian says. “Yet we just kind of looked at each other and were like, ‘Do you want to live in a bus with me?’ I thought she was joking, but no she was serious. I was at work the next day and I started to realize all of these benefits like being able to be mobile and being able to move if I got a job that was 20 miles away.”
Despite having no experience in construction or renovating, Brian and Starla spent the next year turning “Old Bertha” into a proper home. It wasn’t easy, but they actually managed to include all the amenities and furnishings they wanted.
They designed the layout to maximize the very limited space, and somehow succeeded in finding room for a full size bed, a kitchen with an oven, a washing machine, a composting toilet and even a bath tub for their three children. And best of all, they only pay $500 a month, a third of the rent on their old apartment.
“We are ridiculous people and this is a ridiculous lifestyle and it just works,” Brain said. “We now have money to eat the foods that we want and go to the places we want.”
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, as living in a bus full-time does have its drawbacks.
“We have had frozen pipes, no running water, we’ve run out of propane in the middle of the night and had no heat, no hot water, we’ve lost electricity,” Starla confessed. “Whenever any of those things happen, I’m just grateful that they haven’t all happened at the same time.”
And then there’s the constant challenge of managing this tiny space, which can be challenging for a family of five. “Living in a tiny space is really a test of your organisational skills and really a test of your discipline skills because you have to keep the space clean,” Brian added.
Still, they wouldn’t dream of ever going back to a conventional home. They plan on living in their cozy bus home at least until their young kids move out, and even then, they won’t be going back to an apartment. “I don’t see us moving from the bus into anything traditional. It would be something equally ridiculous,” Starla said.
The Sullivans are documenting their life in a bus home on their own YouTube channel, hoping to raise awareness that living in small, unconventional spaces is actually possible.
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