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This family of 6 converted a school bus into their home — here's how they did it

The Mayes family moved from a 5,000-square-foot house into a 250-square-foot home on wheels.
Courtesy of The Mayes Team
/ Source: TODAY

If you've ever wondered if you could actually downsize, this family of six will inspire you.

When Debbie and Gabriel Mayes of Redding, California, wanted a fresh start, they purchased and renovated an old school bus, moved into it with their four young children (ages 3 to 11) and traveled across the country.

The school bus cost $38,000 to convert into a tiny home on wheels.Courtesy of The Mayes Team

“We were living in a 5,000-square-foot house with Gabriel working multiple jobs,” Debbie Mayes told TODAY Home. “Things emotionally started to fall apart. We were both miserable and disconnected, so we needed to change everything about our life.”

At the time, the Mayes family was living in Oklahoma. Debbie Mayes came across a video on Facebook about a couple who refurbished a school bus and traveled across the country.

“I instantly knew we would rock that lifestyle,” she said.

They purchased their bus in 2017 for $5,000 and hired a company to build out the 250-square-foot space — a renovation that cost them $33,000.

The kitchen and living room are an open area. Courtesy of The Mayes Team

After three months, the bus was ready. It includes a fully functional kitchen complete with a stove, sink and fridge. There's also a bathroom with a small bathtub and shower, two couches that convert into a full bed, four bunk beds and a master bedroom with a full bed and door.

The bathroom also has a mini bathtub.Courtesy of The Mayes Team

The minimalist black-and-white color scheme makes the space feel clean and airy.

Of course, not everything was picture-perfect in the beginning.

“The first journey we took was a disaster,” Mayes said. “When we got the bus back to Oklahoma, we realized that the right brake light and blinker were broken, the toilet and hot water were not connected, the plumbing was not done right and the roof leaked terribly. We got those things patched up enough to drive, and within hours we broke down on the side of the road.”

The Mayes kids pose in the converted school bus.Courtesy of The Mayes Team

The Mayeses ended up spending three days living in a diesel garage while the engine got fixed, and then the plumbing leaked everywhere. But, after all the hiccups were fixed, the family got back on the bus and lived in it full time for 22 months, making their way to California, where they live now.

Living on the bus completely changed us,” Mayes said. “Life is so much simpler now. Stuff is not as important to us; we spend much more time outside or having fun experiences as a family. We are much more in tune with our emotions and the emotions of the other members of our family.”

The kids shared a bunk area while living on the bus. Courtesy of The Mayes Team

They also used the time to get out of debt and save money so they could build their forever home in California.

“The best thing is how connected our family has become. We used to find ourselves all spending time in different rooms of the house, but now the kids read to each other in their bunks, go on biking adventures, and we all curl up together on the couches and watch movies," said Mayes.

The couple also learned something about parenting while on the road.

“Having a good attitude when the unexpected happens, like breaking down, and being able to communicate that you need time alone are all things that I needed to learn to do for myself first, and then the kids naturally followed that and were able to do those things themselves,” she said.

Follow more of the Mayes family’s adventures at