Real Homes Stories: See how this woman skipped an expensive mortgage by turning a van into her home

Would you trade your house for one on wheels?

white van on street
(Image credit: Future / Barcroft)

 If you caught this year's Academy Award-winning film Nomadland, the idea of packing your house in for a van probably crossed your mind. It’s not a lifestyle choice that will suit everyone, but for commercial photographer Eileah Ohning, it was one of the best decisions she ever made.

Eileah made a choice many of us would never even consider, trading her expensive rent for a van that she plans to be her forever home. ‘I had to make a decision. It was either stay or grab hold of this crazy idea I couldn’t seem to shake. So I decided to go for it,’ explains Eileah. 

Like many young Americans, Eileah had originally planned to eventually save up one day for a house. However, high rents and crippling student debt took their toll on her finances. ‘I was renting at a really high rate, and just because of the current state of economics and what millennials are up against at the moment, I didn’t have the ability to build capital or to make a down payment.’ 

If your not sure about what mortgages you will be able to afford as a first-time buyer, take a look at our advice guide.

Instead, Eileah began looking into tiny homes and minimalism, searching for a more affordable living situation. Eventually, she made the leap and turned her car into her first mobile home, where she lived for a year.

‘I would say back when I did the car for a year, the first maybe three nights I was a little nervous. But I think that was maybe because I didn’t know what to expect, and there is this stigma out there that as a woman I am extra vulnerable,’ she explains. 

‘I tended to only park in neighborhoods that I am comfortable with and I already feel safe in, that is the luxury of your home being on wheels, you can move it if you don’t feel safe.’

Within a year of moving into her car, Eileah not only saved money but eradicated her $42,000 student loan debt.

Eileah moved into her van in 2014, which she has built out to include every home luxury you could want in a tiny home. When the build is complete it will not only have floor-to-ceiling hanging space but a shower with hot running water. 

‘So there will be running water in here, hot water and cold water. There will be a freshwater tank inside that will be under the kitchen cabinets and we will have to do plumbing that will come across the top of the van, over into the shower area here,’ Eileah explains. 

The entire project has cost her under $20,000, a drop in the ocean compared to the price of buying a brick-and-mortar house. However, Eileahs lifestyle choice isn’t without its critics.

‘A lot of people respond by saying, oh that’s amazing, but I could never do anything like that. There are so many people who just don’t get it, and they think it’s really weird and strange, they just think I’m an oddball.’ 

However, the critics haven’t deterred her. ‘I don’t know that I ever see myself going back to traditional housing. I just think that there is a better way to do housing in general. I don’t need a house. I don’t need something that big. I don’t need a mortgage that eats up most of my monthly income.’

‘I realised that a lot of the things that came along with having an apartment or owning a home that I just didn’t have to deal with anymore. That gave me more time to spend it where I wanted to spend it.’

One thing we’ve learnt from Eileah is that whether you live in a four bed suburban house or a tiny van, your home is wherever you make it.

Rebecca Knight
News Editor

Rebecca Knight is the News Editor on Real Homes. She graduated with a Masters degree in magazine journalism from City, University of London in 2018, before starting her journalism career as a staff writer on women's weekly magazines. She moved into digital journalism and developed an interest in homes and interiors when she joined the Ideal Home website team in 2019. Since then she has written for a range of gardening and interior websites including Town and Country, Homes and Gardens and Living etc. As a flat renter, she is always looking for smart DIY hacks that can be easily removed without annoying her landlord, whilst also helping her save money towards her first home.