The demands of serving with Special Forces can leave military members feeling disengaged from life back home and from their family. When one Marine found himself unexpectedly leaving active duty after 13 years, he and his wife took advantage of the opportunity to revise their life—and how ‘big’ they lived.
It’s no secret that the “tiny living” trend has started. There are television shows dedicated to showing how people are choosing to downsize to tiny homes, RVs or vans transformed into livable spaces. But for many of us, this is just a fascination — wondering how people can sell all of their belongings and cram a family of five (or more) into such a small space. One military family has decided to make this trend a reality, moving their family of six humans and two furry family members into a remodeled bus.
Military families often get creative when they are preparing to move, sometimes opting to sell off belongings and travel to a new duty station in a RV-style vehicle — and after the most recent brutal PCS season, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Though, many of us still live the traditional lifestyle in a home with several bedrooms, a large kitchen to fit every appliance and gadget possible, and a dedicated career room with all your spouse’s memorabilia (we all have one).
However, for the Bissonnette family, this wasn’t always their dream. Mom, Shiang-ling, had thoughts of minimalism here and there but it mostly ebbed and flowed with the mountains of laundry that piled from her four kids and MARSOC husband.
“I just hated the cleaning,” she says, “There was always something to clean and stuff to move. It was exhausting.”
But in January of 2018, the Bissonnette family got news they weren’t expecting: coming straight off of a deployment, her husband was to be involuntarily separated from the Marine Corps.
“We weren’t expecting it,” husband Johnny states. “I always thought I’d do my 20 and get out. I was 13 years in, and now I was being told I had to go.”
At this point the family had a choice to make because their family was going down to one income. Shiang-ling’s marketing business, The Hive & Co, was successful but it wasn’t enough to cover $1,900/month mortgage plus all the other living expenses. Johnny was working odd jobs to help make ends-meet, and it just wasn’t enough. That’s when she re- introduced the idea of “going tiny” to her family.
After some late night discussions, research, and “the black hole of YouTube videos,” as Shiang-ling says, they decided to make the leap. They had to act fast, too. Johnny was to be EASed by April, a full three months sooner than a normal timeline. They bought a Thomas-built school-style bus from a reputable dealer.
Since May, they have worked to convert their bus into a home, adding beds, appliances, flooring, custom ceilings, and more. Having only been living in the bus, affectionately named “Buzz,” for a few months now, they still have some finishing touches to complete — including installing solar panels.
The decision to sell all their belongings and move onto a bus wasn’t as hard as one might think.
“We looked around,” says Shiang-ling, “and life just wasn’t what we wanted it to be. Johnny was always exhausted so when he was home he physically just couldn’t be as engaged with the kids. The kids had bad attitudes towards each other and constantly secluded themselves from the family. It just wasn’t the life we wanted.”
Education played a big factor, too. At the time, their four children were attending the local schools and the Bissonnettes had pretty much left their education up to their teachers.
“I found myself disengaged from my kids,” says Shiang-ling. “I work from home so I couldn’t go in and volunteer as much I’d like, and we found that they were just being pushed along in their education with no real value.”
Now, the Bissonettes homeschool full-time, with their kids taking the lead on their education.
And their oldest, Alexis, 10, has her own business making clay magnets. “She is with me learning business practices, finances, and marketing,” says Shiang-ling.
She will even help make the sales materials for the family’s blog and vlog, The Bhive Family, down the road. Their oldest son, Matthew, 8, came to them and said he wanted to learn about combustible engines. “I don’t know where he heard it, but that’s what we’re talking about now during school times,” she adds.
Financially, the decision made sense, too. With their income significantly reduced, they needed to make a change. Although Johnny is in the Marine Reserves now, which offers some cushion, their mortgage and regular expenses were just too much. “It’s stressful paying the mortgage on one income,” relays Shiang-ling. “We’ve spent $5,000 so far [to convert the bus]. We think we have another $1,000 to go.”
Last fall, the Bissonettes sold their North Carolina home, which had some damage from Hurricane Florence (but “the bus did not,” Johnny triumphantly declares). Shiang-ling has continued to work with her remote marketing and branding business. Johnny is finishing his bachelor’s degree, and hopes to move into remote teaching while serving in the reserves. The family wants to travel the country, hitting each state at least once, and living “off the grid” for a while.
The family recently left Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, where Johnny completed his reserve training, and drove their home on wheels to the Florida Everglades for one of many family adventures to come.
“Everyone is so much happier now,” say the couple. “The stress and fast-paced life is gone.”
The entire family dynamic is much more content with Dad getting to spend actual, quality time with the kids. “They have real, deep discussions now whereas before they were just ships passing,” says Shiang-ling.
They always wanted their family to be deeply connected and to have more than the work-school-work-school life, but they weren’t able to with Johnny’s high-tempo pace at MARSOC. Financially, the Bissonettes are in a better place, too as living on the bus is significantly cheaper than living in a traditional house. With absolutely no regrets, the couple agrees that although being involuntarily separated was not in their life plans, it’s the best thing that could have happened to their family.
“Now we have a saying [that we use] all the time: ‘Instead of getting busy surviving, [get] busy living.’”
Follow the Bissonnette family as they document this new chapter online.Read comments