Meet Eliza Brownhome: a 1974 Bluebird school bus that houses a family of five

October 4 | Guest post by Alison Wurts
All photos by Bluebird Mama.
This summer, after six months of preparation including writing a detailed lease, we moved our family of five back into Eliza Brownhome, our 40′ Bluebird school bus. We bought this bus ten years ago as a yellow school bus full of seats. We parked it in my sister's backyard and undertook the very lengthy conversion process. We lived there for five years and developed an amazing community of friends and neighbours. We had a view of a lake out our windows, we grew a prolific garden and our oldest son was born in the bed in that bus. There were challenges and joys and through it all, the abiding mutually supportive relationship of two families growing together. It was a transformative experience.

When I got pregnant with our daughter, we felt it was time to move on, both from the big city and from life in a bus. We moved to a small town and rented a house. That was four years ago.

Over the last winter, we developed a friendship with some local farmers and we've come up with an agreement where we will live on their farm at reduced rent and will help them with the farm. It's been a dream of ours to live a more rural, self-sufficient life for some time and this is an amazing opportunity — a giant leap in that direction. But after four years and the addition of two children to the family, the thought of returning to Eliza Brownhome has often felt extremely daunting.

I'm sure a lot of you are wondering how we can fit a family of five into 300 square feet, so I thought it'd be nice to give a tour. I am pleased to introduce Eliza Brownhome, our beloved 1974 Bluebird schoolbus:

First up, for your enjoyment, the scene the morning we moved in, when despite a lot of downsizing and sending boxes and furniture to a rented storage locker, we were still a little hard pressed to fit all of our belongings from a four bedroom house into our 7.5′ x 40′ new home.

Living Room

Fortunately, the scene on Sunday afternoon was considerably calmer as I remembered where we used to keep everything and re-discovered how much storage space there really is in here. From the front door, looking toward the back, our main living area with woodstove, kitchen and through the curtain at the back, a peek into our bedroom. The couch on the left can sleep one and the table can be removed so that the couch on the right can sleep two, not comfortably long term, but well-enough for a couple of nights.

We use our couches for storage — this one is a bit messy with the construction paper, but it also has a bin of sewing supplies and a bin of craft supplies. Some of the others contain office supplies and our extra linens, bedding.

One spot is an open storage cubby for toys.

And we keep our firewood under the couch by the woodstove!

Kitchen

The layout of this kitchen continues to amaze us — despite being tiny, it's well-thought out and very easy to work in, and everything is handy and within reach. In the past, we've had three people working in relative comfort at the same time. Also, wonder of wonders, I managed to fit almost everything we had in our last kitchen into these remarkably spacious cabinets.

We have had to get used to digging around to get things from behind other things, finding stuff in the very depths of the cupboards. We even found room to keep our ice cream maker and to store our canned pickles so it is worth it in the end.

As you can see, there's still some empty space in there. One of the storage solutions I've come up with is to use bins to store things wherever possible. It keeps things organized a bit better, and in the case of our some of our baking goods and tea, it allowed me to find a useable place to keep some of our larger Tupperware and baking tins when not in use.

Bedroom

This is a queen size bed with storage underneath to accommodate the tall size Rubbermaid bins. We have a lot of extra towels, off-season clothes and more under there. At the front, you can see our dirty laundry bag and a clear bin full of our cloth diapers for easy access.

The current sleeping arrangements have me and Silas (age 16 months) in the queen bed, our (almost) seven-year-old son Rain in the upper bunk, and our four-year-old daughter Noa in the bed at the foot of the ladder. My husband Aaron has been sleeping on the double bed (couch) in the living area and some nights, Rain joins him part way through the night. I'm sure these arrangements will be in constant flux over the coming months.

The bedroom closet has a light inside that acts as a night-light, shining through the corrugated plastic door panels, and also lights up the hall area which is the only place where we removed windows.

By day, we have a play area for the children with a little couch. The couch has storage under it for toys and dress up clothes. By night, this is where Noa sleeps.

Office

This is our office space, custom built using an IKEA desk top and a thrift store filing cabinet (with new drawer fronts). We run our own business so this space was crucial for us. We also don't own a TV so this is our media centre as well. The shelves on the upper part of the desk includes a place to tuck away the mouse and keyboard, leaving the desktop free for the children to draw or do puzzles.

Under the desk, there are more bookshelves and an extra shelf to store the laptop. I forgot to take a picture but the desk also features a built-in power bar at the back of the desk, with a flip top panel so that the computers, monitor, phone, stereo, cell phone, router etc. can all be plugged in and the cords can all be hidden from view.

If you have any questions about storage, the conversion process or the ins and outs of fitting 5 people in a 40′ bus, I will be happy to answer them! You can follow along with all our of adventures in Eliza here and check out photos from Eliza's early days on my blog.

  1. So… I have to ask… Bus sex, how does it work?!

    57 agree
    • Thank you for asking this first because I so was thinking the same thing as I was reading.

      12 agree
    • This question gets asked an awful lot and to be honest, I find it a little funny. Children sleep, our couch makes into a bed for two, and families around the world, in the past and still today, have lived in one room huts, cabins, yurts, etc. and somehow still managed to have more children.
      Also, a return question for you by way of answer: have you only ever had sex in a bed with the door closed? I didn't think so. ;)

      19 agree
      • I think the confusion is more… it's a bus. I'm not sure how sturdy that bus is on its tires, but I've SEEN a school bus with people having sex in it. Things got shaky.

        14 agree
      • Yeah, I'm a big OBM fan and responded on a few threads ("the bed is for sleeping, the couch is for sexing") – I think that as a parent of a light sleeper my mind was just slightly blown by the concept of putting kids to bed in the same room that you're gonna have your grownup time in. LOL! Great point about the historical precedent of one-room family living.

        2 agree
    • Blanket under the stars? If I lived somewhere my neighbors couldn't see my yard I would def have sex in it – even if I had my own room.

      9 agree
      • Lovely thought, but my yard also comes equipped with 2 big and affectionate dogs, a dozen inquisitive and over-affectionate barn cats who are very determined to have all human attention, mosquitoes, chiggers, and fire ants. Also the yard hosts occasional copperhead, skunk, or rattlesnake – although not as many snakes since the cats took over. Yardsex isn't happening, not even on the kids' trampoline. We've had to become diurnal, especially since the youngest just started pre-school. Ah, life on a farm.

        0 agree
  2. This was seriously my 9 year old dream. Thanks for the tour!

    4 agree
  3. I am super impressed with how organized this small space is! My husband and I live in a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom townhome and people are constantly asking us if we are going to move when we have kids. This just goes to show that you can make ANY space work for a family!

    8 agree
    • Thank you. So true. People around the world raise families in far less space than a 2 bedroom townhome. Small kids don't take up much room at all.

      3 agree
  4. A million percent not for me, but the space is gorgeous and I'm so glad it works for you and your family. But I must admit, I had the same question as Jill up there. Also, bathroom?

    8 agree
    • Our current sleeping arrangements aren't ideal, but it's manageable, and also temporary. We're in the process of building a small addition for our bus which includes a full bathroom, laundry room and loft for the kids to sleep in eventually.
      At the moment, we have a bathroom with chemical toilet which has to be dumped weekly in a septic tank, and we've been showering at friends' houses or at the pool etc. Again, this part is temporary.
      When we lived in my sister's back yard we had our own entrance to her house with our own bathroom. This was more than adequate during those 5 years.

      2 agree
  5. This is just more fuel for my dream to live an unwanted DC Metro car.

    10 agree
    • Yes!! The Metro cars are way bigger then my DC apartment. Do it! Then invite me over.

      10 agree
  6. uh oh… hubby has been trying to talk me into the bus thing. though, i'd really like one of those flxible buses. lol do you guys stay put or are you always on the move? gas prices is my biggest concern. hubs seems to think we can convert it to run off veggie oil. thoughts? hopping over to your blog to see if it's been addressed. haha also, absolutely BEAUTIFUL bus!

    1 agrees
    • Thank you.
      Our bus runs, but we haven't yet finished the conversion to make it self-sufficient. We're dependent on the grid for water and power etc. In the next couple of years we would like to add holding tanks, pumps, solar panels and batteries, and get some engine work done so that we could do a big trip. At the moment, it is a fun and affordable way to meet some of our other goals.
      You absolutely can convert buses to run on veggie oil. If you google it, I think you'll come up with families who've done this with buses and RVs and have spent years tripping around the States. I'm not totally certain but I think to do this, you need to start with a diesel engine.

      1 agrees
      • what about power? how exactly does that work? What happens with the heating system in winter when it gets really cold?

        by the way, this is a cool space.

        0 agree
  7. not really for me because i'm WAY too disorganized to make a space this small work long-term, but i think it's great that you can pull it off! i'd love something like this for an RV someday, so we can take extended road trips. *swoon* gorgeous space.

    2 agree
  8. I'm curious how this will work as the three children grow. Having three kids in this space is great, but what about when they are teens?

    0 agree
    • In general, we approach our life with the idea that we can grow and adapt as we need to, which means that in all likelihood, by the time our kids are teenagers, we will have moved on to some other type of home, but you never know.
      Our original purpose in converting the bus was to have somewhere to live while we built our own home because otherwise, you'd have to rent one home, while also paying a mortgage for property and incurring the costs of building. Eliza has always been intended to be part of the puzzle, not necessarily the house we live in forever.

      4 agree
    • I thought the same thing but small spaces kind of force you to be organised. I just moved into a tiny, one bedroom apartment with my daughter and I've found we make less mess than before simply because there isn't enough space to make mess. You have to tidy up as you go or there just isn't enough room to do anything.

      3 agree
  9. I dream of turning a Boeing 727-200 into a home.

    3 agree
    • I've seen some of these in the last couple of weeks. I hadn't thought of it before, must be harder to acquire one, but they are definitely spacious!

      1 agrees
  10. It doesn't say what part of the country you live in, but how does the bus fare during winter? Is it drafty? Did you insulate it? I'm in the northeast and I remember January bus rides as being pretty miserable :)

    12 agree
  11. Really cool idea! I like this a lot, and the space looks so… neatified.
    Weird question: legal issues with this, especially with housing taxes and such? I feel like there is a very simple answer but for some reason I can the IRS getting angry at people for doing something offbeat… I don't know much about the tax system but I know that where it can foul up something nice it will. :p

    5 agree
  12. I come from a family of "bus livers" as we call it. I lived on one as a small child with my parents and brother and my Aunt and Uncle lived in one throughout my life. Its an awesome way to live.

    1 agrees
  13. Love this article and the following discussion!
    I wish everyone read OBH. I am constantly fielding questions about living like this. We are a mom, dad, 7 yr old, 2 dogs family living in a 31' Airstream. We love it. My next move is to find a way to travel in our home and hopefully find a farm situation like you have! Thanks for the article.

    1 agrees
  14. heh. I just had a near-literal baskets moment. BINS and BASKETS in the kitchen cupboards!!! My shelves are currently a pile of bags, jars and cans…the garlic is even rolling around loose. Why didn't I think of this?

    So re-organizing my cabinets tonight.

    0 agree
  15. It makes me stop and look around at all the junk I need to pass on or throw away.
    Everytime I move, the house gets bigger and I still fill it ?!?!?

    2 agree
  16. I had a thought for extra storage of cloth type items use 2 pillow cases filed with coming soon to use things as extra couch cushions and the ones that would be better suited for everyone dogpile on bed for family movie night with Laptop and a good as all kids fall off to dream land you 2 could slip off to alone late night date time using an extra big sheet or 2 on bed for popcorn spills is good idea too

    0 agree
  17. Hello,
    I would really like to know just how deep your bottom cushions are, was thing 30 something?
    Thanks

    0 agree

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