What do you get when you cram a Beagle, an Italian Greyhound, a Burmese Cat and a married couple into an old school bus? In Laura Banks’ case, the answer is a warm home filled with love, and a lifestyle that’s far more aligned with her values. Laura sits down with Bonnie van Dorp to explain why she decided to downsize her possessions so she could maximise on her happiness.
In 2015, Laura and her husband Matt Tucker decided to renovate their house and flip it.
“We had both grown up near the ocean — my husband grew up on a yacht literally on the ocean –and we just weren’t happy living in the middle of suburbia where we had bought our first house,” Laura said.
After the couple sold their first home, they weren’t sure about what they wanted to do next. They tried looking at a few houses in a suburb they were interested in, but ‘the prices were getting ridiculous’, so they opted to inspect blocks of land instead in hopes of finding the perfect spot to lay down roots.
But having just undertaken a massive renovation project, the pair say they just weren’t keen on building at that stage. Not long after the inspections, Matt came up with a living solution that ticked all the boxes…
So Laura, tell me a little bit about the moment when you and your husband decided to just sell your house and move into a house bus?
I was in Melbourne speaking at an event and I got a text message with a photo of him in the driver’s seat of this bus going “We bought a bus”, I thought “Ok, here we go…”.
Did you have to do a big clean out of your house? Is the rest of your stuff in storage? Or did you just get rid of it all?
I’ve found the downsizing process has gone in stages. When we sold our house we got rid of a lot of stuff as we moved into a smaller rental. Then when we moved onto the bus we went through another process of getting rid of things and downsizing. Initially, we had a storage unit and a tent pitched next to the bus which had our stuff stored in it as Larry (the bus) was an empty shell.
Since then we’ve slowly been downsizing and consolidating further. We have a small storage unit with things like all our books which we didn’t want to sell but also didn’t have room for either; our sporting equipment and camping equipment which we can put on and off the bus as we need.
We tend to go through a process where every few months we’ll look at everything we have; either on the bus or in storage and think ‘Have we used it? Does it still seem important?’ and a lot of the time we can get rid of even more.
How have you adjusted to your new down-sized lifestyle?
I love it! Life is much simpler and easier. I love the feeling of less clutter and less maintenance. Of course, there is an adjustment period as you need to consider things like how much power and water you’re using, where you’ll park etc. There’s no gardening (which, let’s face it was never either of our strong points); it’s a small space so it doesn’t take long to make a mess but it doesn’t take long to clean up either. Also, because we move around everything has its place, and that has actually had a big impact on the ‘mind’ clutter. You know exactly where everything is when you need it. No random piles of things or drawers stuffed full of bits and pieces.
The other thing is that living in a small space like this has made us really consider our possessions. The things we have now either fulfil a specific purpose or they bring us joy. Compared to when we lived in a three bedroom house and we had all this space, we just filled it with….stuff.
I saw this quote the other day by William Morris that said ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’ and that sums up how we live now, and it feels really good.
‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’ – William Morris
You mentioned when we first met that your pets also live with you on the bus, how have they adjusted to it?
They love it! We have a Beagle, Italian Greyhound and Burmese cat who live with us. The doggos love it because it is a small space we are always together, no one is too far away so they can keep an eye on everything all at once. They all love it because of the sunny spots. We’ve always taken them with us whenever we can – on camping trips and away on the boat, so they are pretty used to living a nomadic lifestyle and being in different environments.
What are your future plans for the house bus? Do you intend to take it on tour any time soon?
We have loads of plans! Our biggest is that while we love living in Tasmania, I’m not the hugest fan of the cold; so our plan is to take Larry on the ferry every winter and come north for a couple of months. Otherwise, there is so much to see here in Tassie. We love the outdoors so we are looking forward to exploring our own backyard!
How long did it take to retrofit? Who was in charge of the renovations?
This question makes me laugh. My husband used to be a carpenter, so he was definitely in charge of renos although we designed the layout together and I was responsible for finishes. He told me it would take three months to make it livable, which he would do before we moved on. The night we moved on it was literally all our belongings and nothing else. No bed, no toilet, no lights…nothing. Our friends lent us their tiny caravan for the first month until we had a makeshift kitchen and bed. I had to shower at the gym or at work for a few months.
All up it has taken us 18 months to go from buying the bus to being fully certified and all finished; although we have a few additional (but not essential) things we’d like to do, like build a deck on the roof!
Do you miss life on land at all?
The only thing I miss about life on land is having a bath! Otherwise, there is honestly nothing I miss. I walk into regular sized houses now and they feel huge to me and all I can think about is how much work goes into maintaining them and how grateful I am that I can spend my time (and money) doing other things!
What’s the bathroom situation like? Does the plumbing work the same way as in a normal sized house?
So we have a standard-sized shower and a regular vanity. The hot water is gas heated and we have two tanks under the bus; a 270L one which is our water storage tank and our greywater tank (for used shower and sink water) is 90L.
The toilet is in its own separate room, and it’s a composting toilet, the same sort used in a lot of eco-houses/accommodation just a smaller version. So effectively from a ‘user’ point of view it’s the same as a normal bathroom, you just don’t flush the toilet!
What kind of advice would you give to people who are wanting to follow the same lifestyle as you?
I would encourage people to really consider the reasons why they want to do this and what changes it will mean to their lives. I think it can be easy to romanticize what living this lifestyle will be like, but it has been – and will continue to be – a learning curve and there have definitely been times where I’ve felt very much pushed out of my comfort-zone and questioned if it was the right move.
Ultimately, we made the decision to do this because living this lifestyle lets us live a life that is aligned to our highest values – which for us is freedom, flexibility and exploring, /adventure/outdoors.
Something I am really passionate about is exploring what living to our fullest potential looks like. I believe that to live our best, most fulfilled and epic lives; the lives we’re truly meant for — as opposed to the ones we think we’re supposed to live — we need to align our life with our highest values.
‘I believe that to live our best, most fulfilled and epic lives; the lives we’re truly meant for — as opposed to the ones we think we’re supposed to live — we need to align our life with our highest values.’ – Laura Banks.
Sometimes that means stepping outside of our comfort zone and living in a way we never considered or thought possible for us. That’s the journey that my husband and I have been on over the past few years. That’s the journey that led us from having a three-bedroom house in the ‘burbs with permanent, high paying job, to starting our own businesses, selling our house, buying Larry and starting this new adventure.
So I would encourage people to think about their highest values and what sort of lifestyle aligns with those values and then to back themselves and go for it! It may not be the same as what we’ve done, but above all it needs to be right for you as an individual, couple or family unit.