Posted on Oct 4, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome, Featured, Simple Living | 21 comments

{Disclaimer: this post is meant to address specific comments regarding how we manage to live in a bus without what some people consider necessities. This is not meant in any way to come across Holier Than Thou. This post isn’t a judgment on how the majority of North Americans live, but rather a moment to consider that even with a family of five in 300 square feet, we are lucky.}

I’m going to get a little heavy today and ask a big question: How do you know when you have enough?

How much do you need?

Where do you draw the line between necessity and excess?

Two weeks ago, Tiny House Blog featured our bus and posted about it on their Facebook page. Overnight Eliza Brownhome got a lot of attention. It was heart-warming and encouraging to read all of the many, many positive comments. There were also some quite legitimate questions about our situation because I haven’t been posting often enough to give the full scoop. To address the specifics of those questions, I am creating an FAQ page, but here I want to address the idea of whether or not a 300 sq ft bus is adequate for a family of five.

I’ll start by saying that in the months leading up to our move I was really anxious about that very question and I had dark moments in the middle of the night where I really thought that the answer was no. A month before we moved my stress level became physical when I broke out in eczema for the first time in my life. So, you know, I’m not crazy – I had the same concerns as some of you when I lay awake in bed in our 1900 sq ft 4 bedroom house and thought about what we were about to do.

But this afternoon (and most moments in the last three months), I felt differently. Aaron was at work. Rain was at school. Silas was napping on the bed in the back. I was reading a book on the couch and Noa was sitting opposite me, doing a puzzle at the table. The bus was clean, dishes done, floor swept, and a fire was burning in the woodstove. I thought to myself: “This is enough.”

Seriously, why do I need more?

Then some reality hit me. Like we don’t have a proper bathroom at the moment, and this is my laundry room:

laundry room

Well, it’s my laundry room as long as the sun holds out – which it has until now, but usually it starts raining in September so I’m already on borrowed time. Of course, our current sleeping arrangements aren’t for everyone either, and they certainly aren’t for me in the long term as well.

But then I took a minute to listen to myself, and I realized that all of these little things had come to mind prefaced by “It would be nice to _____________ (fill in the blank: have another bedroom, have a full bathroom, dry clothes on rainy days, etc.”

Sure, a lot of things would be nice. Sure, it was nice to live in a 1900 sq ft house last year. It was. It would also be nice to have an infinity pool. But the truth is, none of those things are necessities. Even the bathroom. I’m serious. We’ve been culturally conditioned to think otherwise because we are lucky enough to live in North America, but it isn’t true.

There are moments in here when it can get annoying. Try getting three little kids to sit up and eat dinner at a table where the seats are also a couch – just try it. Every kid who has ever eaten in here has tried to eat their dinner LYING DOWN – they can’t help it. Other than that, offhand I would say: I miss having a shower and proper laundry facilities. I miss having a decent size dining table (this is not a design flaw of the bus, just something we’ve never gotten to yet). I sometimes feel that it is really loud and crazy in here and there’s nowhere to step without tripping on a kid.

But all of these annoyances are fleeting and they are far outnumbered by all of the good things and by all of the moments where it feels great being here. They really are such small things, minor problems, and not nearly enough to make the whole of our living situation even close to unbearable.

It helps to have a healthy dose of perspective:

By dinner time the house was in order. The beds were neatly made on the floor. The wagon-seat and two ends of logs were brought in for chairs. Pa’s gun lay on its pegs above the doorway. Boxes and bundles were neat against the walls. It was a pleasant house. A soft light came through the canvas roof, wind and sunshine came through the window holes, and every crack in the four walls glowed a little because the sun was overhead.

Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder

People the world over have lived with far less than what we have right now. Families have lived in one room cabins, in yurts, in teepees, in huts, in igloos, and not just in the past either; Families the world over still live this way. Somehow the world managed to reach a population of 7 billion (i.e. parents have managed to have sex while living in one room homes). Sure, separate bedrooms are nice – but let’s be clear here: they are luxuries.

Amazon home, Brazil

Families have lived without showers, without running water. Many families live without clean water at all. I saw a Facebook meme recently, that while crude gets a point across about our privileged Western ways: a picture of what was presumably an African boy with the words, “You mean, you have so much clean water that you shit in it?!” I’m not really sure how I feel about this particular meme, but the point does hit home. Why do we fill our toilets with perfectly good drinking water? Is it really necessary to shower daily when some people have no safe drinking water?

Personally, I think we all shower too much and I find it a bit wasteful. I do find it inconvenient to not have a proper shower right now and I don’t mean to pretend that I’m some kind of saint or martyr. But consider this: in Little House on the Prairie, Laura’s family bathed once a week, on Saturday night. They didn’t have showers. They didn’t have running water. They had to heat all their water on a wood stove. It is possible to keep a family of five clean without a shower. You can swim in a river (we have a  couple clean beautiful rivers in our area). You can shower at the local pool. You can shower at a friend’s house. You can wash up at the sink. You can bathe children (and yourself, in a Rubbermaid bin or a wash basin. You can reduce how often you think you need to shower.

How much do you really need? How much space? How many showers? How many bedrooms? How much stuff?

Think about it. Is it just because you’re used to having so much or do you really need it?

Living in a bus or tiny house isn’t for everyone, but you probably could look around you and see ways that you could downsize (even just by showering every second day). It might be an adjustment at first, and it might be scary, but you would get over it eventually, and you might just free yourself up to let other things into your life.

We’ve been going through that adjustment and it can be uncomfortable at times. I won’t lie. It is tight. But it is enough.


  1. Enough is an interesting concept … one that I am also sorting through as my husband and I downsize our current town home (2100 square feet) to something else. Knowing what that “something else” is … the question we are grappling with now. Right now our focus is shedding the lifetime of things we have collected, but as some point – the question of “enough” will be ours as well.

    I am new to your blog, but your story is interesting as well as your thought processes. Thank you for sharing.
    Elaine Shanks´s last post ..Did you hear? BIG NEWS

    • Yes, “the lifetime of things” – particularly all those that are associated with memories. Good luck on the journey. I hope you find just the right space and that it feels like enough.

  2. This post could not have come at a better time. As I begin my own pare-down process this weekend I will be asking myself, “Is this necessary or is it excess?”

    Thank you for sharing your home with the rest of us.

  3. I am excited that I have more than enough. While I don’t live in luxury, I do have all my needs met and more. Thank you for this blog post, as sometimes I do get caught up in life and forget that I have enough and that is enough to be thankful for. I am new to your blog, but wish you lots of love, peace and good memories in your new home.

  4. Thanks! I love this. We are getting ready to move to Taiwan next year and I hear a lot of similar questions since we will be going from a 4 bedroom, 2 story home to a 1 bedroom apartment on the third floor with no elevator.

    • I love this too- My husband, son and I just moved to Taiwan and are snug in our studio with a sleeping loft. It’s enough.

  5. this my first time reading your blog. so, i am intrigued. i think that people really get caught up in the American Dream. I am so guilty of this. We think things are suppose to be a certain way because they have “always” been that way. People who buck the system are suspicious. i think that when you think about what one needs to survive and dare i say thrive it is not as much as we think. most things we consume are about appearances,ego and habit. i applaud you for questioning and finding your own path. i live in what i thought was/is a ridiculously small apartment. it is actually 680+ sq feet and we house two adults and a cat. most of this year, i have been feeling we needed to live somewhere with bigger kitchen. let’s face it a bigger kitchen would be nice but what would we give up to pay for it. why is the kitchen we have not enough? that is what i am asking myself. and you know what i am finding is that it is enough. good luck on your journey. you have given me much to think about. peace.
    keishua´s last post ..ordinary shoes

    • I’m glad that you are finding it enough.

      For me, the one place where I feel like I would like more space is also the kitchen…and the reason is that it would allow me to be more self-sufficient. A bigger stove and oven would mean I could can more, a bigger pantry would mean that I could store all the things I can, space for a deep freeze means that we can freeze the harvest, bulk buy local farm-fresh pasture fed meat. So while in some ways, living small is good sustainability, I personally wouldn’t feel guilty for going bigger on the kitchen.

      But it is amazing to look around and feel content with what we have, despite not having as much as others or as much as we sometimes dream about.

      I’ll have to ponder a lot on that idea of bucking the system being suspicious. I think you are right…but I’m not sure why we have that gut reaction.

  6. You ARE a saint. Any woman who has as much patience as you should be sainted. You should know that you are an inspiration to a lot of people. We are on the tiny house route, too. We are in escrow right now on 5 acres of vacant land with a creek bordering one side of the land. We want to start an organic permaculture farm. Our first mission: get an RV to live in while we build our earthbag house. Our county (shasta county, california) only lets you build a 12×10 structure without having excessively costly permits, then you have to pay an inspector $300 just to come inspect it to make sure it’s up to code. I did the math on all the permits (plumbing, electrical, etc) and the permits will cost us more than the house we want to build… NO WAY! The rental house we are in right now is only 800 square feet, my husband & I hang out in the garage in our patio chairs a lot. A few nights ago we decided that the garage was a comfortable space and we measured it. Yup, 12×20. So we are going to build TWO 12×10 structures with a breezeway in between. No permits. No local government involvement. Living small IS living big. Thank you for your blog, glad to see your space on TinyHouseBlog too!!! Keep up the mommin’ and the bloggin’ <3

    • Thanks Joey. Your projects sounds like a long haul (as ours has been). The two 12x10s connected sounds great. I’ve seen various ideas that make use of that concept. I look forward to following how your project unfolds.

  7. In the future, if the laundry/bath situation becomes intolerable, you could build a small shed with a composting toilet, self-contained bath and shower and a maybe washer and dryer.

    • You’re picking up our wave lengths Jeanette! We’re in the process of building a cabin addition which will include bathroom with laundry and some extra hangout space.

  8. Hiya. I spent my childhood summers in a log cabin running in and out of a lake. There was a wood stove an electricity, but no running water, no phone, no tv…

    I really appreciate my time spent there learning about what I need — what a family really needs. A warm place to lay your head, excercise, cuddling, a dog, popcorn, pajamas, a bathing suit, clean water, and toilet paper and toothpaste…

    I think when people are really focused on “needing” an wII fit or whathave you, they are probably forgoing some other very real needs, like wide open spaces to gulp fresh air in, and it’s damaging.

    • Yes! Certainly. You don’t really know what will come into your life until you open up the space. Love that popcorn is on your list of must haves!

  9. We are a family of 6 living in a 34 foot bus,we have been at it for 2 months and so far it has been a roller coaster ride,but I think the benefits out number the cons.We have 4 girls,1 almost 15,1 almost 13,1 that is 9 and when we were almost done with the conversion we found out about our little surprise she is 3 and 1/2 months.We are doing pretty good,the only thing we would change right now is my husband and I have to make our bed on the fold out couch and we sleep there with baby and it could be a lot more comfortable so we are brainstorming on how to change that. Oh and we do not have a toilet yet, so we have been renting at rv parks to ease the transition, But I love how our “ENOUGH” HAS changed for the better 🙂

    • Wow! Cool. I would love to hear more about your story. I was wishing you had linked to a blog. Are you guys traveling or stationary? How do your girls like it?

      The pull out couch business does get old after a while – definitely.

  10. My husband, 6 month old daughter, sister, sister-in-law and two labs are about to live on a 32 foot RV. Currently it isjust a shell ( no furniture but we do have appliances) but we have to be out of our house soon and have no other choice. Still I have lived in a tent for months before and in a shed in the back of someones yard so this is a bit of an upgrade 🙂 Really I hate when I move into the comforts of a big home because I all to quickly feel like I need more and more stuff to fill up an empty house. I am excited to be in something smaller again and to get rid of all the junk we have accumulated. Glad I found your blog right before we embark on this new journey.

    • Wow – that sounds like it’s going to be quite the adventure.

      Yes, I remember when we first moved out of the bus into a house four years ago. We spent months with many empty rooms, sitting on the floor…but somehow, in 12 months we had the place totally filled!

  11. Have so enjoyed spending some time on your site this morning! This idea of “enough” is something that’s been on my mind a lot this past year. My current home is 4,000 square feet for TWO of us…in any given week there are six rooms that we don’t even use at all. Fortunately, the house isn’t a financial burden, but it is a time and energy burden…and it doesn’t foster “togetherness” the way your home does. My grandparents raised their four kids in a house of 650 square feet, and I grew up as part of a family of four sharing just under 1,000 square feet. Both of those houses feel much more “homey” than our big echoing one.
    Brandon @ Southgate´s last post ..Reclaiming An Underused Space

    • Isn’t it interesting how much space used to be the norm for raising families and now it’s regarded as a major sacrifice to live in less than 1500sq ft with children?

      I’m glad you enjoyed looking around the site.

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