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Design Ideas
Downsize Detour: A School Bus Conversion
How the Mayes family realigned their values and priorities with the road-trip of a lifetime.
When life is a turmoil of to-do lists and detached relationships, how much are you willing to change your lifestyle to bring your family closer together? Blogger Debbie Mayes decided her family, The Mayes Team, was in dire need of a life detour when she felt disconnected in her marriage and from her children in... Keep Scrolling
Written by Dani Grace
Photography by Debbie Mayes


When life is a turmoil of to-do lists and detached relationships, how much are you willing to change your lifestyle to bring your family closer together? Blogger Debbie Mayes decided her family, The Mayes Team, was in dire need of a life detour when she felt disconnected in her marriage and from her children in her 5,000-square-foot Illinois home. After watching a Facebook video of someone’s school bus conversion, Debbie jumped at the opportunity for her family to scale down their living space and bought her own school bus.

“It just felt like the perfect way to travel and have something long term, but also not feel tied down to a place to actually live,” she said.

a white school bus on a dirt road
The Mayes Team lived in the school bus for about two years! Debbie didn’t want to homeschool the kids, so they took trips every weekend they could.

Debbie’s family realized that the kids didn’t need as many toys and the parents didn’t need as many gadgets. The Mayes Team is now more content with a few nice possessions rather than a huge quantity of items.

“We now live a minimalist lifestyle,” she said. “We just recognized that stuff isn’t really important to us.”

Related Reading: Living with a “Less Is More” Approach

Debbie called Skoolie Homes, a bus conversion company, who picked up the family’s dilapidated school bus in July 2017. Four months later, the Mayes Team had a new home. Take a look at the changes they made!

a white and grey kitchen with green accents
Sometimes trendier design components can thin out your wallet faster than run-of-the-mill materials. But Debbie said she could buy more expensive materials than she would for a normal home because she had less square footage to cover.

School Bus Style

In rental houses, your decor is often limited to paintings hung with Command strips and (maybe) furniture. Debbie said she wanted to grab the design reins during the school bus conversion. She landed on Scandinavian Modern, characterized by a simple black, grey and white color palette, dotted with organic splashes of green.

“Our last house had all wood cabinets and countertops that were brown, and I always felt like my space didn’t really reflect me,” she said. “I love having the bus completely reflect my style. That was the first time that’s ever happened for me.”

Related Reading: How to Budget for a Custom Build

brown leather seats on school bus
Debbie started out with an old school bus in need of a serious style boost. This “before” picture is taken from the back of the bus!
white and grey couches with baby sitting nearby
During the remodel, the Mayes family replaced the old seats with chic flooring and neutral colored couches. But neutral doesn’t mean devoid of fun: check out their patterned throw pillows and piping on the couch cushions!

Debbie was steadfast when deciding to keep all of the existing windows in their mobile apartment.

“A lot of times people will cover up some of the bus windows when they do these kind of conversions,” she said. “For me, it was important to be open and bright.”

Overcoming Obstacles

When uprooting your family and moving to a portable household, challenges are inevitable. But Debbie said the obstacles during the school bus conversion felt insignificant compared to the unhappy and disconnected feelings in their previous home.

Debbie said their family learned to enjoy the time they could spend together – even in the face of maintenance problems, when the group had to stop on the side of the road.

white dishes sit on a wooden countertop
The Scandinavian Modern style calls for lots of neutral colors. We love the pairing of shiny white tile with the soft wooden countertop. Your food will really pop in a neutral kitchen!

“The dream of getting connected was so much more important than the different hiccups we felt along the way,” she said. “We always knew it was going to work out, it was just time was the factor. We learned to go with the flow and that everything would get figured out eventually.”

The Next Phase

After traveling down the coast of California, road-tripping from Oklahoma and living in the bus, the Mayes Team now resides in a 750-square-foot transition trailer that sits on seven acres of California land. The family plans to build a small home on their new land, maintaining the minimalist mindset in both size and decor.

Debbie will carry over the Scandinavian Modern design, using a subtle color palette and adding massive windows, but most of the floors will be concrete. Plus, she’s looking forward to taking care of live plants!

“The bus didn’t have very consistent air conditioning, so all my plants would die, so I only had fake plants!” she said.

white bunk beds with grey bedding
The children’s bunkbeds sat right outside of the master bedroom. Debbie said her family learned to work through hurt feelings or emotions because they were always physically close.

But the quintessential tenant Debbie wants to uphold in their new home is appreciation for each other and for how simple life is with fewer material items.

“The bus just transformed our idea of what a home should be like. Bedrooms don’t need to be massive, you don’t need a big bathroom and all those kind of things,” she said. “We want to keep the connection our family has gained by being in this small environment.”

Thinking about downsizing, but don’t know where to donate all of your extra possessions? We researched the best ways to donate anything after a remodel!

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