This article was written 21.06.02. Please excuse any reference/joke about the pandemic that is longer applicable.
There are lots of different options to living small, which is great! But, if you’re a newb, how are you supposed to know which way is the best fit for you?
Not to worry, because today I’ll go through three of the biggest ways to live small, and explain the differences so that you can make a more informed decision.
Please note: this article isn’t the be-all, end-all of tiny living information. I always recommend you do your own research, and look at multiple articles, posts and even videos of people living these different lifestyles so you can hear from a wide range of sources.
You can technically call Skoolies and van conversions ‘tiny houses’ as well, but I’m going to use this term in this article to mean non-vehicle small houses.
‘Tiny house’ refers to homes that are (usually) 400 square feet or less, and are more stationary than a vehicle home. Tiny houses can be built either on a trailer (wheels), or right on the ground like a regular house. These homes are better suited for those who don’t want to travel very often, but who still want to reap the benefits of small living.
Most tiny homes I’ve seen consist of a kitchen, living room and bathroom on one floor, and then a bedroom and/or office/second bedroom built in a loft area. You don’t have to follow this formula however. It’s your house, so you can make it look however you want! Though, that does bring us to an important question: will you be building out the tiny yourself, or outsourcing to a company that specializes in building them?
Some companies have certain templates you must follow if you want to order a house from them. While DIY-ing your house gives you all the freedom and flexibility you may want, there’s a big risk involved if you don’t know what you’re doing. And sure, you could learn – there are many DIY-ers who built their own house – but building a house from literally nothing can be a huge project to undertake.
And, because this is a tiny house, there are even more logistic questions you’ll need to keep in mind, like:
– Will you build on a wheel base, or right on the ground?
– If building on a wheel base, are you able to conform your dream home to road safety standards so it can be transported?
– Will you make your house on or off-grid?
– Do you have a plot of land you can put/build the house on, or will you be renting a space?
– Are tiny houses even allowed in your city/country as the main living area?
I’d recommend checking out the laws wherever you are before getting your heart set on a tiny home. There’s nothing more crushing than getting excited for something, only to have the government say it’s not allowed.
‘Skoolies’ originally started out as a term to refer to converted school buses, but I’ve seen other bus lifers use this term to describe their non-school bus conversions, too.
Many people choose living in vehicles over building out a tiny home, because converting a vehicle gives them more freedom to travel. Since vehicles are already built to road standards, and you’re starting with a structure, some find converting a vehicle easier to do than starting from scratch.
Another benefit of converting a bus is the fact they come in many different sizes! Most buses range from 25 to 40 feet in length, which is a ton of space when compared to building out a van. Though, because the vehicles are pre-sized, one downside to bus conversions (and van conversions) compared to tiny houses, is the fact that they’re typically narrower than you may be used to. Most buses and vans are between 7-8.5 feet wide.
You can also usually find school buses for pretty cheap, since most school boards operate on an ‘age out’ system. This means that while the buses are still in great condition (because the school board has to maintain them) and have a few good years left, due to their age, the district switches them out, regardless. A similar thing happens with city transit, shuttle and even tour buses! Which is awesome, because that means more options for you.
A lot of buses also come with pre-built storage compartments, and some (such as coach and tour buses) may already also have plumbing and even Wi-Fi installed. This is great because that can help you not only keep the cost of conversion down, but may also help you finish your conversion sooner.
So, which bus should you get? Well, that depends on you and your needs. The biggest complaint I’ve seen with school bus converters is the fact that yes, they were able to get the vehicle for cheap, but they had to spend more on the conversion, because school buses aren’t meant for long distance drives. A common complaint I’ve seen with shuttle buses is the fact that they are slightly wider than most other buses, which can make driving down certain narrow roads a challenge. And while transit buses are good for long drives, these typically sit pretty low to the ground which again, depending on what type of roads you plan on driving down can be a problem.
That said, buses are a great medium for those who want a bit more space than vans allow, but more freedom than a tiny home. Also, no matter which tiny you choose, they all are going to have a list of both pros and cons. You just have to find the one that you think would work best for you.
Van conversions are arguably the most aesthetic of the three tiny home types, but just because they are flooding your Instagram feed doesn’t mean they’re the best choice for you.
Sure vans are more compact, which is great for driving and parking in regular spaces, but can you really live in 60 square feet? Think about how small that really is. A 10×10 foot bedroom is 100 square feet. Go ahead and look around (and possibly measure) your bedroom. Can you really fit everything you need in such a small space? A kitchen, bedroom, place to work and bathroom?
(Can’t fit a tub in a van!)
Due to their compact sizes, many van lifers have to choose to live without certain amenities, such as a proper bathroom and/or shower. Pre-pandemic, this was less of a problem, since there were open gyms, cafes, etc. that had free public bathrooms. Now though, you may want to consider giving yourself your own bathroom. Even pandemic aside, public bathrooms are not always the cleanest, and are also not always around when you may need one.
Boondocking is all fun and games until you need to pee (or worse). If there’s no rest stop close by, do you really want to pack up and leave your gorgeous, private spot, to drive who-knows-how-many-miles back down the road to the closest public bathroom? Or, are you comfortable popping a squat where you are? Is it even legal to do so in that area? (Yes, there are laws about this)
A lot of vans also don’t come with pre-installed storage, and again, because they’re smaller in size, you can’t fit as much in them. Sure there are some crazy conversions out there that have tons of storage, but there’s only so much you can do with a small body.
Another con to van life? Because of their increase in popularity, many people are catching on to the stealth camping techniques used by van lifers when staying in a city, and you may get fined (or towed!) if you’re parked somewhere you’re not supposed to be.
As said above, tiny living isn’t for everyone, and while you may love the aesthetic of the life, don’t get lost in the rose-coloured Instagram filtered pictures. You need to think out the logistics of living tiny if you want to have any hope of succeeding at it.
That said, if your heart is really in it, and you think you can seriously make it work, then go for it! Continue your research and plans for what you want your goal life to look like, and while I want you to be mindful of the realities of the lifestyles, don’t get discouraged just because it may be harder than you originally thought.
Everybody deserves to be happy.
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