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.
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!
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.
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.
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.