Since 2010 my wife and I have been renovating historic houses while living in them. As our family grew, so did the size of our projects. We purchased a 1600 square foot house while expecting our second child, a 3,000 square foot house just weeks after my wife gave birth to our fourth child, and finally this house a few months after having our fifth child:
This mansion is an 8300 square feet, was built in 1934, and has 9 bedroom and 11 bathrooms! It took us almost 4 years to complete this family DIY renovation to date, while I was also getting my “hard knocks” MBA starting and growing my general contraction company!
While we were completing the mansion renovation, we decided to purchase a 43’ school bus to renovate into a road tripping machine. This way our large family could visit all the national parks in style. At that same time, the world events of 2020 caused us to focus on (and fall more in love with) our local community. And instead of traveling, we had a strong desired to put down roots! We wanted our kids to grow up on land where they would have memories of building forts and playing in the creek.
The perfect land with the perfect house remained elusive, but the halfway completed bus project enabled us to purchase the perfect plot of land and move there in just a few months. Moving from an 8,300 square foot mansion to less than 400 square feet in a bus with five kids may sound crazy, but we are living the dream! Our kids are running free on the land, and we’re creating margin with our time and money that will enable us to design and build our dream homestead.
After living in the bus for a few months, I’ve realized it is more than just a means to an end, but it is also a wonderful, family-centered way to live. I’m learning:
1. I have too much stuff.
A family of seven can collect quite a lot of non-essentials over time. All the clothes you really need can fit in a medium sized storage bin. A kitchen doesn’t need tons of single purpose gadgets and small appliances to make great food. A fire pit and some camping chairs facilitate great conversation better than expansive large living rooms.
2. You don’t need a TV/screens
Our kids appear to be thriving (despite their dirty hobbit feet) with their imagination and the wildness of the land. The “Lego table” (a sheet of plywood) provides an all-weather option for them, but they spend hours at the creek, chasing chickens, or up a tree.
3. You don’t really need air conditioning, power, etc.…
We lived in our mansion for 18 months without central heat and air conditioning because we exhausted our savings to buy the house and no bank would loan us any money our first year as small business owners. We timed our move to the bus (before power was available at the land) with the mild spring weather, but we’re spending most of our time outside anyway. A few small solar panels, car batteries, and few propane cylinders are enough to power the water pump, water heater, and overhead lights. I’ll forever remember falling asleep in the bus as cool night air gently made its way through the bus windows
4. I need to show more grace to my wife and kids (and they will follow my example)
If I’m being impatient and not showing the kids grace, they follow my example. Living VERY close to the ones I love all the time is revealing my true character. The solution is NOT to send them farther away from me, but for me to deal with my sin and show more grace to them. I’ve told the kids dozens of times since moving to the bus, “God gave me to you, and you to me, so we can learn the exact lessons we need. I need to set a better example for how you sacrifice your desires for others. Now go give you sister back her Lego piece!”
5. I love my wife and kids.
It’s not all charter lessons. With my kids close I get to watch them problem solve, be creative, overhear their conversations with each other, and they ask me 12840 more questions a day. I am exercising life WITH them and get to see them grow in hundreds of ways each day. Most of these moments would be missed living in a mansion.
6. Life closer to nature (on land) is better than suburbia
There is a very real peace that comes over me when I turn off the black top onto the dirt driveway that leads back to my bus. It’s bumpy, the rain is always washing out portions of it, sometimes my wife’s van gets stuck on it, but being around dirt, trees, and streams feeds the soul!
7. Intermittent cell phone data/no internet is a blessing
When you can’t pull up a website on your phone or reload Instagram because you’re in the sticks: it’s a blessing. I can do my work at the office and leave my phone in the car when I get back to the “home” bus and plant a garden instead of refreshing my feed.
8. The good life is hard work.
If you’re doing what you’re called to do… it’s not going to be easy. It’s work. It’s hard. It’s worth it. Living in a mansion or a bus doesn’t change this, but in a bus we’re doing it all together.
9. I have more margin (time and $$)
The bus is still a work in progress, but it’s less to maintain than a mansion and I’ve had more time to sit by the fire with my wife (in the morning and/or evening) and talk about our dreams than ever before. We’re also renting all our houses (we currently have three), the cashflow pays for all the maintenance, and funds our farm bus life!
10. I’m not crazy
I’ve lost count of how many people have told me that I’m crazy for doing what we’re doing. That’s OK. They don’t know how awesome this experience is. I’ve also seen the envy in many peoples’ eyes that “get it.” The reality is that we’re willing to sacrifice some things when executing the vision that God has given us for our life and family. Every time we’ve made sacrifices in the past, God has compounded the blessings (and the financial yield). We have no guarantees about the future, but as my wife and I design our dream house, we’re excited that we’re making tangible progress today on the vision we have for our family and community.