I am two and a half years deep into the biggest project of my fairly short life. I bought a school bus to gut, completely refurbish inside and make into a full time home. I am finally starting to see it come together.
It has been the most humbling few years of my life. I decided to buy the bus in my early twenties, after 15 years of having this dream sparkling in my heart. I'd always had the idea that I was going to learn to do everything myself and do it all with my own two hands; wood working, metal working, plumbing, and electrical...and everything in between. I thought, "This is going to be the best learning experience of my life, and I will be so damn skilled when I finish the bus in 6 months. Maybe I will even become so skilled I will want to become a wood worker, or welder by trade!"
First off, let's enjoy a nice laugh together. Super sweetly naive previous Me was extremely gung-ho and "I can do it" to the core about the skoolie conversion. (Insert image of Rosie the Riveter here) And I have worked countless hours in the bus; sweat and bled and laughed and cried my way to a gutted, and now more than halfway converted bus. I have learned how to use an angle grinder, a screw driver, a hole-saw, a chop saw, a table saw, a jigsaw, and so many other tools that allow me to create with my hands in a way I never knew before. Through the process of continuing on a project so much bigger than I have ever taken on (and now that I am 28 and super grown up and wise and stuff) I have realized a few huge things. I not only don't have to do everything myself, but I actually don't want to or need to! Asking for support and help from friends and family and partners during this huge process has been so uncomfortable and amazingly freeing. I have been learning to surrender to what my true gifts, skills and talents are, as well as allow others to step in to share theirs.
I believe whole-heartedly in the healing powers and empowering nature of learning to make and fix things ourselves. The important thing I've learned is to be honest with myself. When it came to the projects like plumbing and welding, I had to ask myself...do I want to spend the long time, focus, energy and possibly money it takes to master this skill and do it well and right and then apply it to the bus? Or do I want to hire/trade with someone or enroll a friend who is skilled at their trade, and have them show me the beginnings of what this entails? Since when did I have to do EVERYTHING myself? Since never. I don't want to be a welder. I don't want to be an electrician. And figuring those things out in the past few years has been relieving and has allowed me to focus in on what I truly enjoy. I truly enjoy writing poetry, singing with my sweet heart, going on hikes, stretching and doing yoga, spending time with friends and family, and continuing to learn about psychology and all the other things that get my wheels going. I don't need to be good and knowledgable about thousands of things! Nobody does. We can choose to specialize, and learn something deeper than we could if we did a hundred things at a surface level.
I feel like there are so many options for young people in our society these days, which is such a privilege. It can also feel completely daunting and overwhelming. I am obviously a DIY kind of lady, or wouldn't have made it thus far with the school bus conversion. And I have gotten to check in with myself about what I really want to spend my time on, and where my energies are best used. I have never really built anything in my life before the bus. Each project within the bus project (and there have been 1 million projects it seems) has been an entire emotional roller coaster for me. There have been ups, downs, in betweens, resistance and surrender.
People ask me how it is building out the bus, and in all honesty, it has been the most challenging, heart exploding and frustrating thing I've ever taken on.
And it has also been the most exciting, giddy inducing, creative learning experience I've ever had. I can only recommend it for those with relentless determination, a fierce vision and a partner in crime. I've cried so many tears, nearly given up, almost sold the bus, wanted to leave the country, left the country, came back, went back to school full time, graduated, hated the whole project, and continued on despite all the resistance and wanting to give up and simply buy a travel trailer or move to France. Damn, I feel proud just writing that. That's a good feeling, because today I told myself I'd work on the bus, and instead did other work that needed to be done.
Sometimes I forget how much I've done (and friends and family who have helped! Thank you all!) And then I look at photos, or stir a memory of when I first got the bus from southern California and how dirty and nasty it was as we stripped the seats out. Children's gum, dirt and sticky candy from 30+ years. So many hours have gone into planning the design and layout, procuring the tools and materials, and then...actually working in the bus!
I could never have imagined how much time and creative energy it would have taken, but I am so grateful that we are so close and I never truly gave up on the seed I planted of living in a bus 18 years ago when I was 10 years old.
If you are deciding on whether or not to take on a school bus conversion, tiny house build out, or any big life project for that matter, I would only encourage you to make a commitment to yourself and nobody else, and stick with it like a marriage vow (one that you intend to keep). Coming back to a project again and again, despite your frustrations or confusion, is an amazing lesson and metaphor that can transfer into so many realms of our experiences as human. I think that anyone who has completed something that they thought was going to take so much less time can understand the humbling nature of a large project. And maybe you are a serious kinda person with the resources (time, energy, money, etc) to make things happen at lightning speed, and more power to you. But for the regular Joanna and Joe-shmo, it's not always so simple as just "getting it done." There are emotions that need to be tended, and side jobs that need to be worked, and degrees that need completing, and songs that need to be written, and vacations that need to be had so that you can come back refreshed! As much as I thought I'd be done in 6 months, it is now nearly 2.5 years from my bus purchase date, and I am finally approaching the move in day. *sighs in relief*
I am so grateful for all the help of my community in the process of the bus, I would never have gotten this far without Ariel, Matt, Tim, Justin, Jake, Ash, Stem, Trevor, my Dad (hugely) and all the wonderful friends who participated in our work-party days. Check in soon for more blog posts from the Skoolie Margarit, and MagicBusLife. I hope to catalog the realities of my journey in the process of making a school bus into a home, and then my real life inside the bus.
I will never sugar coat it, and I will always keep it real here. Thanks for reading. I'll catch you later.
This is a photo of the bus last winter before we realized all the windows were leaking, and decided to remove them all and put in sheet metal and new RV windows.
The front of the bus transforming with a little blue paint and some leftover wood from the ceiling.
This is my sweetie Justin and I adding the first pieces of sheet metal to the bus a few months back.
Gwenivere Weiss is a California native. She is a writer and musician, and is currently building a home in a bus. She got tired of waiting for her dreams to find her, and is creating a life that she loves. Join her on the journey. She likes to keep it real.