Seattle's Child

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alternative living

2 moms, a toddler and a dog — living in a former school bus

Meet a family living in a converted bus, and loving it.

Alternative living: Two mamas, a toddler and their border collie live in a school bus converted into a tiny house on wheels. Home sweet dream home for the Storey Tumlin family is 34 feet long by 8 feet wide.

“It’s really nice to have everything you need in one space — and nothing you don’t,” says Melanie Tumlin. “We’re very intentional about every square foot of this space.”

Their skoolie (the term for a school bus-turned-home) is a 1993 Thomas Saf-T-Liner, chosen specifically for its interior headroom (Tumlin is 5-foot-11). Tumlin and her partner, Sarah Storey, bought the bus off Craigslist last July and started the renovation in September.

They gutted the inside, put in flooring, built walls, cabinets and finishes. Construction wrapped up at the end of January, and they’ve been living full-time in the bus ever since.

Storey spent a month’s worth of naptimes fiddling with the configuration of their 240 square feet on graph paper. The couple chose not to do an open layout, so everyone would have their own space. There’s a queen bed (with room to stash 97 gallons of water underneath), separated by a wall, and 21-month-old Baylor Storey Tumlin has baskets for his toys under his twin bed.

“It gives him the space to lie on his bed and read books. And nine times out of 10, he and the dog end up sleeping on the bed together,” Storey says.

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

All of the comforts of home, on four wheels.

“We were both pretty minimalist already. When we found out we were having a kid, we knew we didn’t want to change that. The biggest learning curve has been keeping the grandparents at bay. Buying things and sending things. Christmas was difficult.”

Tumlin lived on a school bus in graduate school and has built tiny homes before, so she brought her expertise to designing and building their bus. The skoolie has water and electric hookups, solar panels and a composting toilet. It’s parked in Langley, on Whidbey Island, as the family figures out their next move. Tumlin works on Capitol Hill, so they are looking for a location within a reasonable commute that also has outdoor space.

The best perk of living in a tiny home on wheels? “For me, it would be mobility,” Storey says. “The ability to take just take our home anywhere, really.”

The family moved to the Seattle area from Atlanta, where Tumlin worked at a nonprofit and Storey worked in retail management. Both of them regularly logged 70- and 80-hour weeks, including holidays and weekends.

“At some point, we just decided our lives were better served if we could have more adventures and more family time,” Tumlin says. “I didn’t want to wake up one day and he was 5 or 20 and think, ‘What was I doing?’ ”

This story was first published in the April/May/June 2020 print issue.

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