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Family of 5’s Debt-Free Marvelous Mess Bus

This awesome family of five finished their bus conversion in February 2023, and have spent the cold winter months on the road. They can return to their home base in Central NY during the summer, where they work and save up money again for another long-term trip.

They did the entire bus build without accruing any debt, just spending the extra that they had on what they could afford. It took them about 2 years, doing all the work themselves, to create their bus home. Enjoy the photo tour and be sure to read the Q&A we did with them below!

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They Live Half the Year In Their Skoolie

Here’s the family with their bus before the conversion.

They chose a slate grey color for the bus.

There’s a big skylight in their kitchen.

I love their cabinet color.

They have bench couches to seat everyone.

Lots of clothing storage and a washing machine.

I love the mushroom pillows.

They also have a nice little woodstove.

It looks pretty magical at night.

What a cool bedroom door.

Bunks for the kids.

The parents’ room.

They have a little composting toilet.

I love the fish scales in the shower.

Stoking the fire.

I love that tree trunk in the middle of the build.


What got you into tiny living?

We had been interested in tiny living for years after seeing documentaries and scrolling through social media. We had to decide on which option was right for us when we discovered skoolies. We also loved the idea of living off-grid, and being able to travel anywhere we wanted.

Did you build your home or buy it? How long did the process take?

In 2020, we decided to purchase a school bus. We did all of the work ourselves from gutting the existing bus down to bare metal to installing electrical, water, and solar. We had a layout planned, but once you start building your bus the layout changes a bit. We knew we needed space for our 3 children to sleep, but also enough storage and space to live comfortably. Our build took 2 years, and we hit the road in February 2023. While she is almost completely finished, we still have little projects we continue to work on.

How do you make money on the road?

We are so lucky to be able to have our home base in Central New York with property to keep our bus on. We travel half of the year during the cold winter months in NY, and during the summer months return home to work our full-time jobs. We save all of our money while working, so we have enough money to travel with. We would like to eventually look into work camping if we need extra money, but right now our lifestyle is a 50/50 mix of work and relaxation.

How has tiny living changed your life (for better or for worse)?

Tiny living has been amazing so far, we are able to try new experiences with our children from swimming in natural springs, to zip-lining in the trees.
We decided we didn’t want to spend our lives working 50+ hours a week and made many sacrifices to be able to enjoy the life we always wanted.

What’s the hardest part of tiny living?

We believe hardships will always be a part of tiny living, but they change constantly. It was extremely hard to build our home in a school bus. It was hard to downsize from a 2500 sq ft home into less than 250 sq ft. It’s hard being in such a small space with 5 people when you need to pass by in the hallway or need a little extra privacy, but in our opinion the hardships are a million percent worth the time we get to spend together as a family.

What’s the most rewarding part?

The most rewarding part of tiny living is the closeness with the ones you love. You are constantly working on communication because there isn’t enough room in the bus for grudges to be kept very long. Watching my children thrive and overcome obstacles, whether it be with their siblings or when exploring something new. Our oldest son is Autistic so the decision to go tiny was not only about us but about what he needed, and watching him persevere with things that once would lead to meltdowns, or severe anxiety for him is literally everything we could ask for during the move into tiny living.

Any advice for people looking to go tiny?

Choose what works best for you. There are so many options for tiny living, from homes on wheels to stationary homes. You need to definitely do research before committing and know what you’re getting yourself into first. We also think this lifestyle is meant to be debt free, so saving up money to purchase your tiny home or the materials to work on it is important. In our case, for 2 years all of our “extra” money would go into our build and now our home is completely paid off. And don’t be afraid to do what makes you happy, despite what other people may think. If you love the idea of tiny living, then go for it!

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Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk and the Tiny House Newsletter. She's a wife, and mama of three little kids. She and her family are homesteaders with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and quail on their happy little acre.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Liz
    April 11, 2023, 6:00 pm

    Might you have room for a rather mature child of 65 years old? That wood burning stove is the cutest thing ever. I bet it works like a charm though. Day or night, inside or out, this bus is absolutely AWESOME! These folks have it happenin’ in a VERY BIG way!!

  • Marsha Cowan
    April 11, 2023, 10:14 pm

    Couldn’t have said it better, Liz. Such a lovely home. I love the kitchen and the beautiful wood ceiling. You guys did an amazing job!

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