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?
- For 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.