TINY SPACE LIVING with the Mayes Family
Choosing to forgo convention and live an alternative life is never easy. Particularly when you’ve got four children in tow. But that’s exactly what Debbie and Gabriel Mayes did in the summer of last year. They moved their family out of a spacious 5000 sq. ft. home and into a converted school bus.
Tiny space living is a growing trend. More and more people around the world are scaling back their homes and their belongings. Influenced by economic, social and environmental concerns, they’re finding ways to make life smaller, simpler and happier.
In their old home, Debbie says, both she and Gabriel were “miserable and disconnected…Gabriel worked multiple jobs…And we very much believed that our value was based in what we did rather than who we were.” Inspired by another couple who travelled the world in their own converted school bus, Debbie and Gabriel decided that they needed a change.
For Debbie and Gabriel, this meant finding a skoolie, designing an ingenious layout and arranging a build. The bus now features a master bedroom, bunks for the kids, a full kitchen and bathroom and a pretty impressive roof deck. By the summer of 2017, they’d sold their house and most of their stuff and were ready to hit the road. As a start to their school bus life the family headed out on a road trip across the US from Oklahoma to California.
Their first journey turned out to be a bit of a disaster. It became clear that there were a number of problems with the renovations – the toilet and hot water weren’t connected, the brake lights were broken and the roof leaked. After some patch up work, they set out again only for the bus to break down at the side of the road. “We ended up spending three days living in a garage while they fixed the engine.”
Despite a rocky start, nothing could dampen the family’s excitement at their new way of life. They eventually made it to California, where they’d always intended to settle in time for the new school year. And there they started getting used to the day to day practicalities involved in squeezing their family of six into the 250 sq. ft. of the school bus.
Organisation is important. “We have systems for everything,” says Debbie, “Like, on the way back from school I remind the kids of everything that needs to happen. They need to take their homework out of their backpacks and leave their backpacks in the car. They need to put their shoes in the shoe closet. They need to grab a snack and sit on the couch with their homework. And so on. And then at bedtime we work from oldest to youngest, getting everyone washed and ready for bed.”
What would she say are the biggest downsides to living in such a small space? It can feel pretty small when there are six people stuck in there on a rainy day, Debbie admits. And she does occasionally miss a long hot shower and having a washing machine at home – travelling every week to get the laundry done definitely isn’t her favourite job.
But positives far outweigh any negatives. For the Mayes family, tiny space living means everyone spending more time together. “We used to always end up in separate rooms of the house. But now the kids read to each other in their bunks, they head off on biking adventures together and we all curl up on the couches for movie night.”
And it’s changed family dynamics too, “Life is so much simpler now. Stuff isn’t as important to us. We spend much more time outside or having fun experiences as a family. We’re also much more in tune with our emotions and the emotions of other family members… Being in such a tiny space can be stressful but we have so much more opportunity to talk it through and really connect.”
After making the big leap from traditional home to school bus, Debbie and Gabriel have been inundated with requests for their tiny living tips. “We get so many emails from people who are unhappy with their current life and want to change things up like we did,” says Debbie, “There’s always a but – a well-paying job, a disapproving family.”
She advises any aspiring tiny space dwellers to stop worrying about what other people think. And not to wait until they have everything perfectly planned out. “I try to tell them that they’re just one decision away from completely changing their lives,” says Debbie, “And sometimes starting small – minimising what you already have or choosing not to live beyond your means – can give you the momentum you need.”
As for Debbie and Gabriel, they’ve fallen in love with the corner of California they currently find themselves in and plan to stay long term. Their time aboard the bus is helping them to get out of debt. They then intend to buy a plot of land and build their forever home, creating a little more space for the kids as they get older.
The bus, however, is now a permanent member of the family. They’ll keep it for travelling adventures – Alaska and Mexico are currently in the running for this summer’s trip. And, says Debbie, “the kids already argue about who is going to have the bus when they grow up!” Moving into a school bus didn’t come without its challenges. But for the Mayes family, tiny space living has brought them closer, made them happier and given them the unbeatable sense of freedom they longed for.