back window of camper trailer

11-year-old girl buys a dated camper for $400 and turns it into the cutest tiny home

Kids, like most adults, enjoy their space. Forts and clubhouses are magical areas where kids could play and relax and feel entirely themselves. There’s something special about having your own tailor-made space in an adult-run world. In a way, kids were the groundbreakers of the tiny house movement.  

Lauren Nelson, an 11-year old from Attica, New York, craved a nook for herself and her family to play during the lockdown from the current pandemic.  

Lauren Nelson camper outside
Courtesy of Aimee Nelson

I kind of just wanted my own space,” Lauren said. However, the cold hard fact is that clubhouses and such are expensive. 

The specific ideas she had in mind would have been costly. She also wanted to buy toys from American Doll that resembled an Airstream and a VW Bus, which was $650. Her parents said she could buy a real camper for less money. They thought they were dissuading Lauren from her dream, but little did they know, she loved that idea. [1] 

inside camper
Courtesy of Aimee Nelson

Buying a Camper to Create the Perfect Playhouse 

So Lauren bought a camper with her own money that she had saved from birthdays, Christmases, and other events. 

“I had an envelope where I kept all my money from birthdays and Christmases, and I saved it all up, and that’s what I bought the camper with,” said Lauren. 

inside camper kitchen area
Courtesy of Aimee Nelson

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The family taught their kids a system they learned from expert Dave Ramsey. Each family member was given three envelopes to hold money, one for saving, one for spending, and one for giving. Lauren used the contents of both her spending and saving envelopes, which contained $400 altogether. 

As fate would have it, a neighbor down the street was trying to sell a 1988 Sunline Sunray camper. Lauren recalled squealing when she heard about it. Lauren was able to negotiate the price down from $500 to the $400 she had. 

Lauren Nelson painting inside camper
Courtesy of Aimee Nelson

“It wasn’t very hard. He said $500 and I said $400 because that was the money I had in my bank account and he said sold,” said Nelson.  

I’m going to live in this forever,” Lauren said when she toured the bus for the first time.  

Renovating the Camper 

The dream was far from completion, however. The camper was full of mice, feces, and garbage consisting of old camping gear and clothes. This didn’t deter Lauren, who put in a lot of effort to clean out the space and renovate it into her play area. She found four mice nests under the beds and in the oven. 

windowsill in camper
Courtesy of Aimee Nelson

I thought the mice were adorable,” Lauren said. “I was very sad that we possibly brought home a camper without their parents as they were not doing very well when we found them.” 

Fortunately, another neighbor helped the Nelsons clear out the mice and dispose of the feces. Then came time for deep cleaning. Lauren’s father caulked the leaking windows, and the family scrubbed the mattresses and cushions outside with rug shampoo.  

eating area renovated in camper
Courtesy of Aimee Nelson

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Choosing Decorations for the Camper 

Then came the fun part: the decorating. 

Lauren said, “I got to design it, and I got to pick whatever I wanted for it.” She got much of her interior decorating ideas from Pinterest once she settled on a beachy, boho aesthetic. Her mother, Aimee Nelson, assumed she wanted a design with shells and starfish, but Lauren, already the interior decorator, explained that she wanted an aesthetic with bright colors and greenery. 

kitchen renovated in camper
Courtesy of Aimee Nelson

While Lauren worked on the décor, her family chipped in an extra $500 for the renovation. Aimee also uses the Dave Ramsey’s money envelope system, and she had saved up to send Laurent to sleep-away camp, but it was canceled because of the coronavirus. So Aimee used that money for the renovations. 

The $500 covered new flooring, paint, cushion covers, and a peel-and-stick backsplash from Home Depot. Plus, Lauren picked up a picture frame from Dollar General. Lauren shopped around her house as well. For example, she took plants from the garden and driftwood from her dad’s taxidermy office.  

She was very frugal,” Aimee said. “She didn’t buy much.” 

sleeping area in camper
Courtesy of Aimee Nelson

The Camper Becomes the Dream Clubhouse 

After two months of hard work, the camper is a beautiful, clean, and inviting playroom for the family to enjoy. The family keeps the camper in their house’s front yard, and Lauren loves to hang out in it during the day. She said it’s the clubhouse that she’s always wanted. 

The camper is equipped with an oven, fridge, and sink, although it’s not connected to any power or water now. However, Lauren plans to fit it with solar panels in the future. Additionally, the camper has four beds, perfect for napping and chilling.  

I just love to relax in there and take a nap,” Lauren said. 

Lauren Nelson in renovated kitchen in camper
Courtesy of Aimee Nelson

Using the Camper in the Future 

Ever since she has finished fixing the camper, she has rented it out for $50. The money went straight int other savings envelope, but that’s not the end of her business ideas. Lauren also plans on make an American Girl Doll tea party with a $25 admittance fee. 

“She has a lot of plans,” Aimee said. “She even has a business plan written up.” 

When she gets a little older, Lauren plans to live in the camper while she’s in college to save money on housing by parking it near the campus. 

Whatever happens in the future, Lauren is extremely proud of her camper, and so is her family. 

“I feel more grown-up now,” Lauren said. “We do not have a large house, so the camper gives me a small space of my own to draw, read, and create.” 

This was always something she wanted. It was a lot of fun to work with her on the space and to follow her lead,” said Aimee. “She had great ideas and a vision right from the beginning, and we were just there to help her achieve her dream.” [2] 

Keep Reading: Wait Until You Peek Inside These Colorful Little Campers


  1. “11-year-old Attica girl buys and renovates her own tiny home.” Taylor Epps. WKBW. August 19, 2020. 
  2. “An 11-year-old girl bought an old camper for $400 and turned it into a chic tiny house on wheels — here’s how she did it.” Frank Olito. Insider. August 26, 2020.

This article originally appeared on The Hearty Soul in October 2020 and has been published here with permission.