A tiny home enthusiast has revealed how she built her own mini home for just $13,000 by taking what was once a Fedex van and continuing to devote herself to building.
Tiny houses are becoming increasingly popular as an unorthodox but more affordable form of living.
While traditional American homes sell for at least $300,000 or more, a smaller shed or RV site can be converted into a mini home for $15,000 or less.
In a recent Tiny House Giant Journey YouTube video, a tiny home lover shared her story of how she built her own house for just $13,000.
Tori shared with Tiny House Giant Journey host Jenna how she converted a van into an all-around comfortable home on wheels.
The cheap but cozy unit was lived in and remodeled at a relatively reasonable price, in what Tori describes as her ongoing “commitment” to constantly watching small YouTube videos from home.
The interior of the van prioritizes utility and comfort while allowing Tori a nomadic lifestyle where she can travel anytime, anywhere.
“The minimal setup was the perfect balance between what I need and what feels good, open, and spacious,” Tori said.
IN THE HOUSE
Tori said she’s nicknamed her tiny home on wheels ‘Jenny’ and it has everything she could need as a young woman leading a nomadic lifestyle of travel and discovery.
As a 2006 T1N Sprinter Van, the vehicle achieves approximately 22 miles per gallon, but doubles as a fully functional mini home.
The tiny home guru first became interested in the lifestyle after spending ten months traveling internationally.
While all of her friends were getting apartments and getting their first 9-to-5 jobs, Tori didn’t feel quite ready for any of that.
Instead, she opted for the flexibility and minimalism that comes with an RV.
The van was previously used as a FedEx vehicle, so Tori said she knows it’s well-maintained.
“I didn’t need a big room,” Tori said. “I think a larger vehicle would have been too big for my lifestyle.”
When Tori started, she was generally a novice when it came to building a house.
“Each step of building the van required three to four hours of watching YouTube videos,” she said. “You can really do anything with dedication.”
Choosing mostly natural materials, Tori opted for recycled natural wood for her cabinets, beds, and storage shelves.
The total time to build the van was about a year, but Tori spent several of those months traveling or working full-time.
Because Tori started building vans before the pandemic, she was able to purchase the equipment for as little as $13,000, and lumber came at standard prices.
“I really kept my budget as low as possible because I was fresh out of college and didn’t have a lot of money to work with.”
Tori only invested $7,000 in the building process, which meant her entire house only cost $20,000.
BUILD THE HOUSE
As Tori started her tiny journey home, she knew she wanted to add a third buckled seat, anticipating traveling with more people.
Installing a jump seat made her feel safer, Tori says, than having visitors just hover around the back while the van drives.
Just above the seats, Tori showed off her wardrobe – she said the best way to use the space is by using sloping baskets.
“It’s really important that your clothing is accessible,” she shared.
Tori also has a curtain that separates her from the front for privacy and isolation at night.
Next, Tori ushered viewers into the kitchen of her van.
The all-wood kitchen offers more space and wood than Tori initially expected.
“An aesthetic kitchen was very important to me because I really love to cook,” she said.
Luckily, the kitchen has a lovely porcelain sink with a bronze faucet that Tori found on Facebook Marketplace for just $30.
Under the sink, Tori has a fresh and gray water tank and an electric water pump.
Hidden above the sink are two cabinets that open to reveal snacks, noodles and rice utensils.
But the heavier supplies like canned goods, pots and propane end up under the kitchen counter.
When Tori wants to cook or heat up some food, all she has to do is open one of the secret cabinets and pull out her portable stove.
Because she uses propane gas for the stove, Tori says the fan is always on, keeping the house free of bad odors or chemicals.
Jenny’s van unit also features a fridge full of space for snacks, Tupperware and any other ingredients Tori might need on a road trip and everyday.
In the sleeping area of the van you will find two seats with additional storage space for shoes, bathroom items, art supplies and technology.
“The most important thing for me when designing this space was to keep it as open as possible,” Tori said.
“I purposely started minimal and figured I could always build on that over time.”
While Tori said she hopes to eventually get a composting toilet, it’s currently out of her budget.
At the moment she tends to use public toilets, campsite toilets or just the plain old wilderness for all her needs.
Above the bed is what Tori calls her “little library shelf,” which has been converted into a towel storage area.
Originally, the little house guru wanted to have the space for all her favorite books, but she found it too heavy when she was out and about, so she used the space for towels and toiletries instead.
The bed itself is both luxurious and spacious. Tori says it sleeps up to three girls and even comfortably accommodates her partner, who is 1.90m tall.
Above the bed, Tori enjoys her two plants that add some character to the van.
“Just having a little bit more of this life makes me feel calmer and more comfortable,” Tori said.
The van offers even more storage space under the bed. At the moment it only houses Tori’s yoga and emergency equipment, as well as spare water tanks and the electrical system.
Almost everything in the van was economical, from the linens to the pillows, which Tori says allowed her to create a deeply personal and unique home.
THE KEY TO EASY TRAVEL
Living in the van she affectionately calls “Jenny” has allowed Tori to travel and experience new things that she never would have done in a traditional residential unit.
“I’ve been to a lot of incredible places in Jenny,” Tori said. “We’ve been through a lot together.”
One of the van occupant’s fondest memories is of driving through California to Oregon and exploring the coast with no set itinerary.
“When I first bought the van the idea was to have a very flexible lifestyle, to be able to travel abroad when I want, have a home when I want and not have to pay rent where I want it don’t want to,” Tori said.
Jenny has served all of these purposes and more.
AVOID THESE MISTAKES
While Tori was exceedingly happy with her life in Jenny across the country, she also regrets it.
For one, Tori said she would like more ventilation around the bed as it can get a little warm there.
“During the building process I kind of thought that was going to be a problem, but I tried to ignore it and wished I hadn’t,” she said.
Sufficient air circulation is ensured through both the front window and the fan, but it can still get hot and stuffy in the sleeping area.
If you want to start your own little journey home, Lowe’s offers a starter shed for just $12,000.
Also, check out a tiny shared apartment where residents only have to pay part of their income.