When her partner Sarah Storey first suggested they move out of their tiny apartment in downtown Seattle and into a bus, Melanie Tumlin thought she was joking.
It was 2019 and the couple was living in a 250-square-foot studio with their newborn son Baylor and their dog Lump.
"We thought, 'Why are we paying what we're paying in rent to be in this micro-studio?'" Tumlin, 35, tells PEOPLE. "It wasn't the smartest layout, and one day, Sarah kind of jokingly said, 'Hey, what if we move into a bus?'"
Then, as Tumlin and Storey recall, fate seemed to nudge them closer to a life on the road. They found a listing for a retired school bus in Washington state in excellent condition with working electricity, a toilet and an RV title, which would allow the family to use the bus as a motorhome. "Everything kept lining up perfectly," Tumlin, an education consultant, says.
They spent that summer designing and renovating the inside of their new home with the help of family and friends. "I would sit down with graph paper and Pinterest and sketch out every square inch," Storey, 30, says.
Storey and Tumlin have documented their experience on their Instagram account @mamaswandering, which has more than 1,200 followers.
The couple wanted to keep the colors and overall style "subtle," she adds, with neutral walls and a pop of color here and there — "a red pillow, a fun rug," Storey says. They embraced some of the bus's original features, too, leaving its high ceilings and keeping many of the bus's windows open and exposed for natural light.
In January 2020, Storey, Tumlin, Baylor and Lump moved into their new, 240-square-foot home full time.
Storey and Tumlin maximized the space in their tiny home by installing clever storage throughout: pantries under their two couches, hanging shelves and hidden kitchen drawers.
Behind the driver's seat (which doubles as a home office!) is a small kitchen, which has a two-burner propane stove and an air fryer toaster that runs on electricity.
Storey is a coordinator at Camp Craft Cocktails, a cocktail kit company based in Jacksonville, Florida. Both she and Tumlin have been working remotely from the bus since the beginning of the pandemic and take turns with childcare.
Past the kitchen, there's a bathroom with a compost toilet and shower, and the kids' rooms. Baylor, 2, sleeps on a twin bed across from his four-and-a-half-month-old sister Hayes, who has a cozy bassinet on top of a wooden changing table.
Storey and Tumlin's crisp, white bedroom is in the back of the bus, raised above a 90-gallon water tank and battery array for solar power.
With limited space, Storey says, "we're so much more intentional about what we bring into our home."
She continues: "Growing up, everybody in my family went into their own rooms and watched TV by themselves after dinner, and I hope we're raising our kids to not have that experience … [tiny home living] really forces us to be together and be present."
Though the couple spent most of last year in Washington state due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they're currently traveling through Oregon, then California, eventually making their way to Virginia to visit family.
"The broader surrounding of our home gets to constantly change, which is incredible," Tumlin says. "Our home gets to park by a beautiful river, or beaches, or the desert, so that feeling of being able to move our family and home to all these different, beautiful surroundings is one of my favorite parts about living here."
Right now, the couple plans on living in their converted bus for the next 2-4 years. They're hoping to have more children and move their growing family into a bigger, but still tiny, home on wheels.
"It's brought us together in a lot of ways," Storey says of the experience. "I think it's made us better humans, especially for our kids."
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