Adventures with Dorothy, or Tiny Living Lite

Hi, I’m Pia, and I’d like to share with your readers how I accidentally fell headfirst into, and headlong in love with, living Tiny.

I had been infatuated with Tiny houses for about 5 years before I found Dorothy. I have a background in Architecture and I’ve lived in lots of beautiful and unique homes and places, though never ever for long enough. Overall, small, clever spaces just have a practical appeal, plus they’re absolutely gorgeous and romantic (tiny handcrafted wooden hobbit mound? Yes please!), and what nomad doesn’t secretly pine for a nice, lockable, four-walls-and-a-roof combination to call her own. If that particular combination happens to be technically portable, even better.

However, with custom Tinies coming in at tens of thousands of dollars, and the ideal of crafting my own being delayed by my resolute singleness and complete and comical lack of skill with heavy power tools, I’d consoled myself to Cabin Porning and Float Home-creeping and Tiny House Blogging…for the next few years, anyway.

Dorothy exterior with glorious mountainscape

Dorothy exterior with glorious mountainscape

That was until the end of the ski season in Canada had me pining for a nice, practical van to move my diverse collection of used snowboards and dancing shoes across the country. I came across and advertisement for a 1989 Chevy bus, freshly retired from ferrying disabled kids to and from school, in pristine condition, and going for a song. A vintage, golden shortbus, all boxy windows and brown vinyl interior cannot, once seen, be unseen (obviously), so I rang and emailed and rang some more, until she had been promised to me, and my plans had all changed. I was going to buy a school bus. I was going to cut out the seats and put in a bed and curtains of every color, and I was going to live in it. Because I was young and free, dammit, and I was absolutely smitten.

Dorothy exterior with riding ensemble

Dorothy exterior with riding ensemble

And guess what? In defiance of all probability and rationality, that’s exactly what I did, and it was, and is, the best thing I have ever done. I gathered handy roommates and gave them borrowed power-tools and we cut out rusted seats and fossilized bubblegum on early spring afternoons, salvaging seat-belts and selling the frames for scrap. We named her Dorothy, and cleaned her down to a blank, spare shell, then raided thrift stores and yard sales to fill her back up again. Friends heard what we were doing and turned up with blankets, houseplants, fairy lights, and candy. I had a personal shopper at Home Depot who patiently sold me, and then processed returns on, most every possible tie-down in the store, until we achieved the perfect balance of securely-anchored to girly-handmade and effortless-appearing. I tried to minimize the damage to Dorothy’s original body in our renovations, using existing bolt holes and finishes where possible, and covering things with removable screws and stickers, rather than permanent glues and paints. I knew that Dorothy would not be mine forever, and that her future owners could have as much fun taking her back to basics and working with her original bones as I was. With a lot of love, a lot of magnets, a lot of string, and a whole lot of good luck, we were ready to take her on the road within a fortnight.

Dorothy exterior with trendy vintage bike

Dorothy exterior with trendy vintage bike

Since April, Dorothy and I have stayed in ski carparks, playgrounds, backyards, driveways, RV parks, vineyards and riverbanks. We stayed, memorably, for a week in the industrial estate in Banff when her starter broke, and we’ve been towed twice, by the same handsome tow-truck driver, because I am terrible at timing stops for the auto propane she runs on/guzzles. She’s carried dogs, cats, bikes, and up to 10 people (I have wall-attached seat belts for 8), and she’s slept up to 3 people in relative (very companionable) comfort. She’s delivered us safely and uncomplainingly on a road trip through British Columbia and Washington State. And everywhere we go, she makes people smile. Little kids wave from the back window of their family wagons, and sweet gas-station attendants always have a story about their own van or caravan that they had when they were my age. If I drive her at night, drunk people always try to flag us down, and I swear I only get 20% of the parking tickets I deserve…

Dorothy foyer with ferns

Dorothy foyer with ferns

This summer we’ve lived in the rear driveway of a wonderful friend in the Calgary suburbs, where I can honestly say that I live in utter luxury: it’s like I have a perfectly-sized bedroom in the back alley. We run an extension cord from the main house for my lights, heat, music and electronics, and I use the kitchen and bathroom in the main house. There’s a beautiful big yard with dogs and vegetable gardens, and a big back deck that has become the main communal area for the house. I try to keep Dorothy parked up as much as possible, because driving around means I have to stow and secure my mess, not unlike if one were on a boat, but when I do decide to go a-visiting I need really only fold up my bed, grab my toothbrush, and remember to unplug my power. And remember to get gas.

Dorothy hand-made lamp with treasure-map

Dorothy hand-made lamp with treasure-map

Life with Dorothy, I feel, falls somewhere between glamping and Tiny House living. I have an utterly indispensable Eliminator power pack for lights and music when we’re on the road, without which life would be not nearly so luxe, and a propane camping stove for cooking franks and gluhwein when it’s chilly out. We are otherwise not really self-contained without water or cooking and toileting facilities: there has been talk of fitting a wood-burning stove for winter adventuring, and I dream of covering the adorable curved roof with solar panels to get off-grid, but I honestly haven’t the know-how yet to embark upon such modifications. Right now, I’m just so happy I discovered how easy, comfortable and magical it can be to live in my own perfect Tiny space.

Dorothy interior morning sunshine

Dorothy interior morning sunshine

Dorothy interior morning sunshine

Dorothy interior morning sunshine

Dorothy interior with extremely capable pilot

Dorothy interior with extremely capable pilot

Dorothy interior with mess 2

Dorothy interior with mess 2

Dorothy interior with mess

Dorothy interior with mess

Dorothy interior with sunshine and storage solutions

Dorothy interior with sunshine and storage solutions

Dorothy room with a view

Dorothy room with a view

Dorothy sari curtains

Dorothy sari curtains

Dorothy under-the-bed library

Dorothy under-the-bed library

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Wilbour - October 21, 2014 Reply

Looks like you have a lot of fun…and that’s what counts. Took me while, but I now see that the first photo was taken using your phone and a mirror. Otherwise all the emergency exit information was printed backwards and the lad at the back door is wearing a “ladies” shirt.

Marsha Cowan - October 21, 2014 Reply

Looks like you had a lot of fun renovaring this bus, amd you are having a lot of fun living in it and traveling around. Good job! Be happy!

Terry - October 21, 2014 Reply

I love Dorothy! You’ve done a great job with her and she is downright cozy!! Congrats!

Becca - October 21, 2014 Reply

Seriously awesome! Love it 🙂

Olga - October 21, 2014 Reply

Hi Pia – Love your spirit of adventure! If you and Dorothy find yourselves near the mountains of Western North Carolina, you’re welcome to come visit us at High Cove. We’re an intentional community focused on arts, environmental stewardship, and lifelong learning. We welcome tiny houses–and short busses.

Jenny - October 25, 2014 Reply

Your enthusiasm just emanates in all directions from your article. That is the best pitch for tiny living. More power to ya.

Piglet - October 26, 2014 Reply

This is so beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jim Reeves - October 26, 2014 Reply

I have a short bus and a tiny house. I get inspiration and information at the website skoolie.net There is much information on the mechanical aspects of plumbing, solar/ DC wiring, etc. there. It really isn’t that hard to be off grid in a bus. Thanks for posting!

Brookesy - October 26, 2014 Reply

Pia Mia, You’re now more famous in Canada than you are in Australia.
Happy everything,xxx

ACL - October 26, 2014 Reply

Great article! Great BusLyfe cuz!!

Steven Pitchford - November 3, 2014 Reply

OMG! I’m blinded by interior decor. But, I love a gal with guts and it easy to tell you got’em. Just obligate yourself to your dreams and keep on trucking.

Happy trails,
SteveP

Pia - January 4, 2015 Reply

Thanks for all your support and well-wishes, everyone!!
Love, Pia and Dorothy

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