Home is a Purple School Bus: Local couple embraces tiny living

By Jasmine Jones

When Kara and Evan Steffens drive by a schoolyard full of buses, Evan points at the rows of yellow and jokingly exclaims, “Look at all those houses!”

It’s because the couple has transformed a 68-passenger school bus, which they bought in September 2020, into their full-time home. Many people said the couple was “crazy” for taking on this project, but the skepticism didn’t stop Kara and Evan from working on the bus almost every weekend for two and a half years before they officially moved in this year on April 2.

“Some people think it’s super cool [that we live in a bus],” Evan says. “That’s what I’ve found with people. They either think it’s super cool or we’re super crazy.”

Kara and Evan Steffens stand outside of their home, a renovated school bus. The couple has worked on renovations for the past two and a half years to complete this project. (Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer)

Evan says he has always been interested in alternative living, including container homes, converted grain bins and school buses. He says “everyone gets married and builds a house,” but he wanted to try something different.

When Evan first came to Kara with the idea of renovating a bus, she came back with a long list of questions about how to make it work. She was interested in the idea and wanted to “seriously consider it,” but also wanted to plan for all of the practical challenges of living in such a small space.

“It’s an adventure, and it’s something we got to do together,” Kara says. “Not every couple can build a house together, and I’d say even fewer can build a bus together.”

Kara’s least favorite part of the renovating process was sanding down the exterior of the bus; every inch had to be sanded before they could repaint. While she was sanding, Evan was busy with his least favorite job — finding and fixing the rust. Evan says when there’s one patch of rust, that typically means “it’s everywhere.” This was just one of the many problems the couple ran into during the renovation process.

“The hardest thing wasn’t solving the problems here and there. It was just staying focused and getting it done, and luckily, I’m a pretty devoted person,” Evan says. “On [Facebook] Marketplace, I see a lot of halfway–converted school buses, and I totally relate to that, ‘cause it’s so hard.”

Evan and Kara Steffens describe their excitement at having a gas stove in their new home. Their previous apartment only had a hot plate. (Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer)

Evan and Kara took a break from renovating to use the vehicle as a “party bus” for their wedding on Dec. 4, 2021. For the occasion, they lined the interior of the bus with quilt-covered hay bales for their friends and family to sit on and enjoyed driving them around in their soon-to-be home.

When the couple completed the major structural renovations, the next step was to plan out the interior. Kara used 3D-modeling software to complete a floor plan for the 200-square-foot bus, ensuring they could fit everything they needed for day-to-day living, such as an oven, shower, toilet, washer and dryer. For some of these necessities, the couple scoured the internet to find appliances that would fit.

They bought a combined washer and dryer to save space and purchased a small shower meant for a camper. For their bathroom, they invested in an incinerator toilet, so they wouldn’t have to hook up to a sewer system or empty the toilet’s contents every week.

The couple renovated the bus almost completely on their own — including plumbing, electric, heating and cooling — with some help from family and friends. Kara says Evan was the “brains and muscle” of the operation, while she focused on the sanding, painting and design elements.

Kara and Evan Steffens’ wood-burning stove stands in their home, which is a renovated school bus. The stove is something Evan always wanted. (Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer)

One major lesson Kara and Evan learned is that space and the way you use it matters.

“Try to think of the things you don’t think of, [such as] where you put your trash. You take it for granted, but it takes up space. Wherever you’re living, it’s taking up space,” Evan says.

The school bus may have limited space to get creative with, but Kara and Evan have found ways to customize it to their personalities. For example, the kitchen cabinets are painted bright turquoise, because Kara loves bold colors. There’s a full spice rack on the wall, something Kara always wanted, and there’s a tiny wood-burning stove, something Evan always wanted. They left spots on the walls for hanging photos and art. And of course, they painted the outside of the bus a deep shade of purple — an allusion to the Knight Bus from the Harry Potter franchise.

Kara and Evan joked that when they’re ready to sell the bus, they could drive it down to Harry Potter World in Orlando, Fla., and put a “For Sale” sign on it. For now, they plan on living in the bus for at least one year or longer.

For most people who renovate buses, Evan says the goal is to constantly travel, work from home and be on the move. Evan and Kara plan on traveling in the bus, mostly to show it off to their friends and family in St. Louis and Illinois, but both of their jobs require them to be located in Southeast Missouri. So for now, the bus is parked in a gravel lot next to Evan’s business, Steffens Repair LLC, in Altenburg, Mo. The couple is living in a bus simply for the adventure of living in a bus.

“At some point, it was just the determination of people saying we can’t do it, so we’re going to do it,” Kara says.

Kara Steffens shows her and her husband Evan Steffens’ washer and dryer that they use inside of the school bus they renovated and live in. The machine is a combined washer and dryer to save space. (Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer)

The couple agrees that when you’re living in any small space, you have to “live differently.” But so far, bus life has treated them well. They’ve enjoyed baking pies and casseroles in their oven and firing up the woodstove on cooler nights. This project has been the couple’s life for years, so although it’s strange to finally be living in it, now is just the beginning of their adventure.

The Steffenses recently found out they’re pregnant, expecting their first child in November. And yes, they plan to continue to live in the bus. Evan already has plans for where to put the crib.

Evan Steffens lifts up the bed in his and his wife Kara Steffens’ renovated bus home to show the storage space they built beneath it. The Steffens say the key to tiny living is to not let any space go to waste. (Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer)

5 Tips for Tiny Living

From the Steffenses

1. Go through your belongings and cut the clutter. “You don’t need as much stuff as you think you do,” Kara says. Before moving into their new home, the couple either got rid of the items that didn’t fit inside the bus or stored them at their parents’ homes.

2. Utilize open storage. This allows you to see what you have and arrange it with more flexibility. Basically, ban the lids and drawers.

3. “Think of your day-to-day life,” Evan says. All of those items you use daily such as laundry hampers and trash cans will need a place to go. Make a plan for where these items will live before moving into your new space.

4. Don’t let an inch go to waste. Kara and Evan realized they had a small open panel in their bus; instead of leaving it empty, they added a spice rack.

5. Think of where you spend the most time. Evan built a tiny shower, since they’ll spend the least time there. This allowed them to use more space for their kitchen, so they could have a full oven and lots of counter space.