Why We Do It

Posted on Oct 25, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome, Featured, Simple Living | 8 comments

The Tiny House Listings blog recently asked Why Do People Fall in Love With Tiny Houses? I have a lot of thoughts on this ranging from financial freedom to humans are wired to like cute, diminutive things. Tonight, I would like to explore the question a bit and give some of our history at the same time.

I’m sure for most people who meet us or stumble across our story, there is a big silent (or not so silent) “WHY?!?” hovering in the air. On more than one occasion, there has also been some question as to whether or not we are doing this because we are poor, as one lovely 8 year old put it.

Why do we live in a converted school bus? Is it because we are poor?

No, we’re not living in a bus out of financial necessity per se. It wasn’t  a case of losing our home and having to move our family into a bus or be homeless. In fact, our previous rental was $1200/month and we were managing that.

And yes. We are too poor to buy into the housing market where we live. One of the “mistakes” we made was not getting into the market earlier with a starter home (a condo or an 800 sq ft 1 bedroom bungalow). Now, with three kids and a business with multiple business vehicles, our needs in a home have put us in position where all the suitable homes are far above our income level. Furthermore, with the rental market the way it is, we don’t have much opportunity to save a down payment while we’re busy paying the mortgage on someone else’s investment property. We also can’t afford to buy property and build our own home. Property values in our area are inflated by out-of-province and off-shore interests to the place where raw land is almost as expensive as buying a home in town leaving no extra funds for bringing in services and building a home, and the required down payment on land without a house further prices us out of the market.

Still, in a lot of ways, we don’t see any of this as a mistake, but rather a choice as I’ve discussed before in my post Just Renting. We have consistently made decisions to prioritize our family, rather than the financial success–whatever that means–of owning a home.

Why have we chosen to live in a converted bus?

  1. paintingFor Fun!! Yes, our initial motivation was because it seemed like a fun project. We were caught up in our new relationship (read: we were suffering from the impulsiveness of those newly in love). We were excited by the idea of doing the project together (as opposed to buying an RV). I personally (I don’t speak for Aaron here) was in a place of needing to do something different and shake up my life a bit as I was stuck in a rut.  Aaron had lived in a van for a couple of years while treeplanting and had seen some bus conversions. My parents had talked about bus conversions when I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. Aaron’s neighbour was a journalist who had recently interviewed some folks who lived in and around Vancouver (off-the-grid) in converted vehicles of all kinds (milk trucks, buses, etc.) and we were inspired and intrigued by what they called the Urban Technomad movement. This was before I had ever heard of the Tiny House movement and I can honestly say that our initial motivations didn’t have much to do with saving money or living lightly on the earth. Thankfully, all these years later, despite the inconveniences, we still do it because it’s fun!
  2. Finances. While the conversion itself cost more than we would like to admit (to the point where we actually stopped keeping track), we did appreciate the financial benefits that came with paying less rent. In the five years we lived in the bus in Vancouver, we paid off more than $30,000 of joint student loan debt. We could never have done that if we had been renting an apartment or trying to buy a home during those years.gate & flower garden
  3. Lifestyle. When I first began to downsize my stuff to move into the bus it was hard to let go but then I began to experience the space in my life when I had less things. Everything had its place and we were mostly self-contained (minus some things in storage and some tools). I felt mentally freer with less clutter. I love the cozy space, the many windows, the wood heat. I love that it takes no time at all to clean. We quickly came to appreciate the lifestyle once we were living in Eliza.
  4. Smaller Footprint. Living in the bus has been transformational for me. It opened my eyes to the concept of having enough. I began to look around and see how my former lifestyle, though conservative, might have been wasteful. We became more intimately aware of what we take (water, power, things) and what we leave behind us (gray water, black water, garbage, recycling). I love that we take up less space on the planet, that our home consumed less building materials than a conventional home, and that we simply don’t have the space to get caught up in the race to acquire and consume products. It was the first step in a journey that would make us more mindful of issues related to food, shelter, self-sufficiency, waste, environmentalism, consumerism and more.bus people
  5. Community. Again, this wasn’t a reason we originally tried out living in a bus, but it was such an amazing unexpected advantage that it has become one of our primary motivators the second time around. We loved being a part of the vibrant community at Trout Lake and were so blessed to raise our family in partnership with my sister’s family. Our long term vision involves reuniting with her family and creating a sense of community in our new location.
  6. Freedom. Independence. Security. In December 2006, there was a huge windstorm in Vancouver that famously devastated Stanley Park and left much of the city without power for several days. We were warm and comfortable in the bus. We had wood heat and propane for hot water, for cooking, and for keeping the fridge cold. My sister and her children ended up taking shelter with us in the bus when they got hungry and cold in their house. We began to realize the benefits of being independent of the grid (and this motivates us to complete the conversion). The economic downturn of 2008 also reminded us that though we don’t own a conventional home, we do own our bus and no matter what happens we will always have this home as a safety net without the strings attached of a mortgage. The minimal payments we make for rent and utilities allows us more freedom in work-related life decisions (choosing to be a single income family while our children are young, self-employment, career change and returning to school to name a few). There is also the potential to travel (either in the bus or to take holidays that we couldn’t otherwise afford) and of course to move our home with us to a new city (which we did in 2008).

All of this together creates a situation where we feel more control over what happens to us as a family–relatively free of the outside pressures of the economy, of interest rates, of employers, of keeping up with our society’s measures of success, and of doing what you’re “supposed to do” no matter how incongruous it feels in your gut. Ultimately, that has become the most important reason of all.

 

8 Comments

  1. The other day I was thinking along the lines of what you mention in your first point. Not only did you have the influences you mentioned, but many of our family members have lived in alternative housing arrangements. Our uncles built their own cabins on their gold claim, our cousin’s son lived in a tent outside his house…all in the name of freedom, fun, self direction.

    Not to mention, our own grandmother grew up homesteading on the prairies – maybe not so much for fun, but as a way for her family to build a life of their own.

    It’s a little less scary to strike out on your own like you have when you’ve been around (or read about) other people who are independent and self-sufficient. Hopefully your blog will inspire others to make the leap when they see what’s possible.

    Melanie
    (the ‘sister’)
    Twitter: melaniemcintosh

    • Yes, definitely. I have a post on that I’m working on actually. Thanks.

  2. I’m not about to move into a bus, and I have the good fortune of having bought my house at a time when prices were less than half of what they are now, but I quite honestly see the appeal. I aspire to minimalism, but I’ve also found that I have a natural tendency to expand to fill my space. With 1900 square feet, this means that we have more “stuff” than my husband and I would like, and not a lot of incentive to get rid of it.

    What I’m trying to say, I think, is that while this isn’t my lifestyle, and probably won’t be, I totally understand why you would do it. I see a lot of freedom in letting go of all the things we’re told we’re supposed to want, but that actually don’t enhance our lives at all.
    Amber´s last post ..Podcast: Kate Hopper on Writing and Motherhood
    Twitter: AmberStrocel

    • I think that this

      I see a lot of freedom in letting go of all the things we’re told we’re supposed to want, but that actually don’t enhance our lives at all.

      is a notion that’s beginning to sweep across our culture…not that everyone is going to move into tiny homes or buses, but that we are starting to look around feel like we are using and taking too much and that our lives are feeling cluttered in every aspect.

      • Such an incredible amount of time and energy is spent in the accumulation of stuff that is never or hardly ever used.

        This includes houses with never used rooms or houses that sit empty while their owners work to pay for it. I call this the “House God” syndrome. People run into the city and get money which they race back and feed to the House God. The House God is insatiable.

        • Oh the “House God” really is insatiable. I often think how sad it is that people have these big beautiful houses that are so expensive that they have to spend all their time working to pay for them and the only time they get to “enjoy” the house is when they are a) sleeping and b) cleaning and maintaining it.

  3. nice site. VERY nice bus. NO Mortgage, very cool.
    you should put some ads up on this site. Monetize it make some passive residual income.

  4. My fiance and I are trying to buy our bus as we speak! We want to spend the next year or so to renovate it and then take off to travel the country. We have been dying to get “off the grid” and experience freedom and adventure and hopefully find the place that we end up… somewhere with a true sense of this “community” you speak of. There is none here where we are currently and this society makes us sad. I don’t know exactly where we’ll end up (as we don’t plan on living in our Skoolie forever), but I do know we will have a lot of fun on the road there!

    P.S. BlueBird Momma, I would love done advice as to exactly how you decided what to keep and what to store and what to give away. I feel this is going to be the biggest challenge for me. I can admit that I have a tendency to hoard (just don’t tell my man. Lol!)

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