Monday, December 17, 2012

Living Small

      "What a cool idea, but I could never live in such a small space."  This is probably one of the most common sentiments we hear. Our living space is exceptionally small by most American standards. The entire inside living area is only 8' by 25'. We recently acquired a small two horse trailer that gives us an additional 5 x 7 feet of storage space. I call it the garage. In 235 sq. ft, we contain ourselves, most of our possessions, our Shepard mutt named Ryder, and our fluffy orange cat, Lemon. By contrast, a 1500 ft2 home is considered quite small in our country. What we have is minimal, but we love it.
Everything must have it's place in a small home.
 Of course there are times when we tire of the odd sort of dance we've developed in order to navigate this space. With one person preparing food, the other filling the water tank and both animals begging for dinner, things can get a little tight. Mostly we've learned to avoid those scenarios so we usually don't feel cramped at all. We have everything we need and everything has its place. We've learned that sacrificing space does not equate to sacrificing quality of life. It has been an amazing learning experience.

       We didn't know what to expect when we moved on to the bus. We actually thought we were crazy too. When we started out, the bus was nowhere near finished, actually it still isn't, but the early days were truly minimalistic. The trip from Portland Oregon to an of grid goat farm on an isolated mountain in Kila, Montana launched us from an urban life to the back woods. We arrived armed only with a bed, a sink, a propane stove and two benches. Living out of boxes and a tent that we had erected as a make-shift storage facility, was neither easy nor simple. In retrospect, this experience gave us an abundance of new ideas.  We spent hours, days and weeks considering how to design our small home for the most efficient and convenient use of our space.  When you are confined, you realize that space is a valuable commodity! We've long felt that "less is more" but now we're learning  to do more with less.
The first dinner in our bus when it was little more than an empty shell.
I wont divulge too many of the specifics on how we designed and built our bus, because you can find more info then most would ever want to know by clicking this link: Wild Blue Bus Build (edit 8/13: due to unexplained phenomena, these posts have sadly been deleted by the administrators at . While you are there, check out some of the other bus projects, or "Skoolies" that people have dreamed up. Instead, let's discuss the virtues of small space living. Topping the list is efficiency.  Since we live completely disconnected from the grid, we have become hyper-conscious of our resource consumption. We've been astounded by how little we need to live a fairly normal and completely satisfying life. When water must be carried in 5 gallon containers to fill our holding tank, we do not let the water run continuously while washing the dishes, nor while taking a shower. Our toilet uses a spray type flush instead of gallons of potable water with every use. While the average American uses 80-100 gallons of water each day, our average is closer to 6gallons per person per day. Some adaptation has been required, but it has not been difficult. With electricity, we rely on the sun. Our solar electric capabilities are minimal but provide plenty of power for 8 LED lights, charging our laptop and phones, using small kitchen appliances and power tools occasionally. While we do not have a TV, we can watch movies and programs on the computer and our stereo is on most of the time we are around. The key here is having an accurate monitor. Our batteries, like our water tank, are a reservoir of a precious resource. Leaving lights on in areas that are not in use begins to feel like leaks in the energy tank, which they are. Together, Heidi and I use about  0.17 kWh of electricity per day. The American household average is 31.5 kWh per day. For heat we use wood. Even-though we don't have as much insulation as we would like, it still only takes 3 cords of wood (a couple weekends of labor) to heat our space. We stay very comfortable all winter even when temps drop to single digits. Our small space takes little to illuminate, little to heat and little time to maintain. We can deep clean our home from top to bottom in under two hours!
Fire wood to get us through the winter.
        Please don't take this the wrong way. In no way do I want sound pretentious or to cast a shadow on the way the majority of Americans live. After all, that is the life we had lived until very recently. I share these experiences because I had no idea how much energy I consumed with everyday habits. The simple change of monitoring my consumption and having a small pool to draw from has opened my eyes to a new reality. These are valuable lessons in a world of limited resources. The most important thing I've learned is that it's not that difficult to live a more efficient life. Living in smaller spaces and monitoring resource consumption are great places to start. No, I don't expect everyone to start living in motor homes. Maybe consider an inexpensive watt meter that can tell you how much electricity your appliances use. Or, if you are looking to buy new home reconsider how much space you really need. Small homes are less expensive in every way, and besides that, they are awesome to live in!

P.S. The "Follow by email" form on the right is now working. Simply enter your email address and complete the short form that pops up if you would to be notified when we make new blog posts!       

Here are some other sites that you might be interested in concerning small space living:

-Tiny House Blog
-How to create a small space homestead 
- Kevin's Micro Homestead
-Living Debt Free In a Tiny House
-Our Cascadia: The Living Bus Project

This post was featured on:  

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre



The Porter said...

Cool project! I checked out the thread on, neat stuff.

Any thoughts on the exterior white sheet metal panels? I think it would be great to paint them to look like the existing functional windows. Some black paint with a silver stripe across the middle = semi-stealth camper! (provided the chimney and solar array are down). Would be a good illusion when people stepped inside.

Good luck with the project, looks like fun.

Brandon said...

What you are doing is amazing. I also found your site through My family of seven, my wife, 4 children, dog and I just got done with a 4200+ mile trip where we were in our Skoolie Farold for 43 days. My dream is to go fulltime. Your story is truly inspirational. Would you mind if I posted your link on our site?

heidi said...

Thank you guys for your enthusiasm! We've got plans to paint the exterior of the bus but who knows when we'll get around to that. Brandon, please do post our link on your sight! We'd also love to hear more about living with kids on a skoolie...but again, who knows when we'll get around to that. :)

Kendra at New Life On A Homestead said...

Wow! Very inspiring. Thanks for visiting my site, and for inviting me to check out yours. Love what you guys are doing. Keep up the great work!!

Jami at 2 Cool 4 Skoolie said...

Thanks for visiting our blog. I LOVE the cabin feel of your skoolie. I originally wanted to do something similar, but the wood was going to cost too much. Maybe on the next skoolie ;)
Wanted to ask you how that shower stuff you used is holding up? I wish we had seen your skoolie earlier because we ended up ordering a shower and spending way too much money. It would have been nice to customize for a lot less.

Colin D said...

Hi Jami. Thanks for stopping by. Yeah we love the wood ceiling too! We were (and still are) building on a really tight budget as well, but we were fortunate to find a local supplier who gave us an incredible deal on the pine T&G. Actually we got lots of great deals just because people were so curious about the bus idea. Hydrobarrier is the product we used on the shower (basically swimming pool paint) and it has worked out great so far. It was a gamble because the sales person had never heard of using directly on interior plywood, but it is holding out really well.

Brandon, thanks for the link. What a great resource, we will be taking advantage of that one for sure!

Lisa Lynn said...

Great job of designing a small space to be very functional! Having a smaller space really does make you rethink what you need and what you just want. Way to help the planet out and your pocketbook too :)

Thanks so much for linking up to The HomeAcre Hop! Glad to have you along for the ride :)

Rose said...

I found your blog through the Homemaker Hop, and had to comment! We are a family of eight living in a converted semi trailer which is the same width as your home but twenty feet longer. We live off the grid on 20 acres in central FL, and it sounds like we have much the same ways of thinking when it comes to lifestyle. It is a grand adventure! Thanks for sharing your journey!

Wild Blue said...

Thanks for visiting Rose. Wow six kids! We should remember that the next time we feel cramped :) I checked out your blog and your home looks super cozy. It's great to hear about others who are happy living with less.

Lisa Lynn said...

Congratulations! Your post is being featured on this Thursday's HomeAcre Hop :)

I am including a link to your post and one of your images on the new hop to help send some visitors your way. Thanks again for linking to the hop this the post!

Wild Blue said...

Thanks Lisa. I enjoyed checking out the other posts at the first hop, so much great information! We are working on a new post about how we built our solar power system. Hopefully it will be ready in time for the next one.

Homestead Dad said...

Wild Blue,
Truly inspiring. We are in the process of downsizing our house by looking for something smaller. Not quite as small as you, but smaller. I was going to say that with four kids and a dog we couldn't do it, but then Rose went and did it with 6 kids so I guess I have no excuse. Your home is beautiful, and I plan to follow your progress. Thanks. Oh yeah, congrats on being featured on the homeacre hop.

Colin D said...

Thank you Homestead Dad. With kids I would want a bit more room myself. I think its really important to be comfortable in the space you have. I think what many people don't realize is they they could be just as comfortable in a much smaller space then they are used to, especially if they are not as worrying about high building costs, heating, electric bills etc.

Jami at 2 Cool 4 Skoolie said...

We'll let you know how it is with kids in a skoolie. :) Move in is scheduled for the end of the month, though we will not be "done" converting. We have three kids and feel as though we've set up the space well to where everyone can have their own little place. By having a smaller home, we hope that we are forced, in a way, to get out more and see creation.
We are trying to adopt a Norwegian saying, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad equipment," and attempting to spend as much time as possible out of doors, only coming in for rest and necessary inside chores. I'm surprised that many things we do like school, cooking and laundry can all be done outside (and let's not forget playing!). If it sounds idealistic, that's because it is, but it is a strategy to be able to keep our home cozy and peaceful.

Homestead Dad said...

I was wondering how tall you are and how much headroom you have in the skoolie with finished floors and ceiling? I am 6'3" and would love to convert a skoolie at some point but wondered about height. Thanks

Wild Blue said...

Hey HD, I'm afraid you would feel pretty tall on our bus. I am only 5'8" and I've got quite a few inches on Heidi. When we bought the bus, the headroom was just about your height exactly, after insulating the ceiling and floor there is only about 5'11" left. If you don't need to insulate, you might be alright. Another more ambitious option is to raise the roof which entails cutting the top off, welding extensions on to the framework and covering the gap with sheet metal. A friend of mine recently had this done to his bus he is 6' tall. It would likely cost you more then the cost of bus (unless you can DIY), but the end results are pretty awesome. I have also seen some really neat conversions done to box trucks and bread trucks which have a lot more head room. Check out for ideas.