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lauren.grace.official via Instagram

11-Year-Old Buys an Old Camper Van, Turns It Into Dream Space

Stories

| LAST UPDATE 06/07/2022

By Lia Thomson

Lauren Nelson was determined to buy her own camper and turn it into a place she could hang out with friends. After two months of hard work, her home away from home was finally done. Here's her renovation journey.

Meet Lauren

We've seen dozens of couples turn a bus or a van into their moving home, but we had never heard of an 11-year-old girl turning an old camper into her very own paradise... well, that was until now.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

During her summer break from school, Lauren Nelson spent the majority of her time working hard on her dream project. Her success just goes to show that no matter what age a person is, if they are willing to put their mind to something, it can always be done!

Taking Action

Nelson had always had the idea of renovating something she could buy for cheap so that she can make it better and sell it for a profit. Unlike many adults with similar intentions, this go-getter didn't spend long thinking of her plan before putting things into action.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

The youngster was able to buy a used camper van and somehow managed to turn it into a magical place where she could spend many days relaxing. After revealing the outcome on the internet, Nelson's project went viral, giving fans a chance to enjoy it as well.

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How It All Began

Back in 2020, when basically the whole world was unfortunately placed under lockdown, Nelson's school informed her that she would need to be homeschooled at her home in Attica, New York. Since she was spending more time indoors, the pre-teen took an interest in reading books.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

There was one type of novel that left an impression on her - and that was outdoors-themed books. Nelson especially felt a connection to My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George because she felt a connection with the main character in the storyline.

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The Storyline

The middle-grade book that captured nearly all of Nelson's attention followed the life of a young boy who has to survive all on his own up in the Catskill Mountain of New York. The 1959 novel goes on to show how the protagonist is able to become independent.

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@averyofgreengables via Instagram

The boy's fearlessness sparked something in the young girl reading the book. That was when an idea popped into Nelson's head. She thought to herself that she could go out and build forts in her backyard to somehow try and recreate the storyline of the book.

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A Much-Needed Getaway

After accomplishing her fort idea on her family's 50-acre land, Nelson wanted to go on and make bigger and better creations. The freedom and self-succinctness she achieved from having her own space inspired the idea of making a treehouse. "I kind of just wanted my own space," she revealed to Insider.

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@treehousejenda via Instagram

Unfortunately, when she went out to the store to buy all the materials she needed, the youngster realized that this project was much more costly than her previous one. She was bummed out that her treehouse was not gonna work out - but that didn't mean that Nelson was done. She was just getting started.

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A Bright Idea

Her treehouse plan had sadly not worked out. Little did Nelson know at the time that a new idea was just around the corner. Instead of dwelling on her failed project, she asked her parents if she could expand her American Girl doll collection by getting a new Volkswagen Bus toy car.

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WKBW TV | Buffalo, NY via Youtube

Nelon's mother, Aimee explained to WKBW, "She showed us a $650 little VW bus that they sell. My husband was like, 'That's ridiculous - you could buy your own camper for that price.'" And that was the moment a brand new proposal popped into the young girl's head. 

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Finding A Way

Nelson knew her father was right: with the kind of money she needed for a new tiny car toy, she could just purchase a huge old camper. Meaning she could have her own space, the thing she had wanted all along! Now all she needed to do was find the funds...

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

Despite being just a middle schooler, Nelson had saved a lot of cash throughout the years that she had received from friends and family during birthdays and holidays. She needed to ensure that the envelopes with money tucked away in her room had enough to buy a used van.

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Sourcing the Funds

There were three different types of envelopes filled with cash: Nelson and her family used the savings system created by finance guru Dave Ramsey, which believes that people should be saving their money in three separate categories: for spending, saving, and giving. 

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@stufflikelyss via Instagram

After investigating how much money she had in her respective envelopes, Nelson discovered that the ones labeled "save" and "spend" combined had a total of around $400 dollars. But it was almost like this plan was written in the stars because that was just the first thing out of many that worked out for Nelson...

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Moving Out

Nelson was beyond excited that she had enough to get herself a van, except now she needed to find one! Luckily for her, her neighbor had a camper parked right outside of their house. But before she got a chance to ask if it was for sale, they packed up and moved away.

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WKBW TV | Buffalo, NY via Youtube

Except they left the used vehicle! Meaning the property's new owners took ownership. She hoped that the new tenants wouldn't want it. Based on reports from Girl Camper magazine, Nelson even told her mom, "I doubt they're going to want the camper. They're probably going to sell it."

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Camper For Sale

And as luck would have it, she was right! It didn't take long before a "For Sale" sign was put up against the windshield. But Nelson didn't know yet that she had the option to buy it, because her mom tried to keep it a secret. Anytime they went past the vehicle, Aimee attempted to distract her so she wouldn't see the sign.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

Aimee revealed to Girl Camper her reasoning, "I wasn't against her having it. I just didn't want her to be disappointed if she didn't get it." But of course, she couldn't hide it from her daughter for too long. Before she knew it, Nelson noticed the sign. "She squealed all the way home," Aimee recalled about Nelson's reaction. 

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“Going To Live in This Forever”

Her excitement only grew from there. After finally getting a closer look at the 1988 Sunline Sunray camper, Nelson knew it was the perfect one for her. Despite the fact that it was extremely run down and battered, the young girl wanted to buy it. "I'm going to live in this forever," she said.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

Now all she needed to do was ask her neighbors the price of the 20-feet van. They told Nelson $500 dollars, meaning she was $100 dollars short. Thankfully it didn't take much for her to negotiate it down to $400. "It wasn't very hard. He said '$500,' and I said '$400,' because that was the money I had. And he said, 'Sold.'"

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Getting to Work

Now that Nelson was the proud owner of her own camper, she needed to get to work! The first thing on the list was to clean that bad boy up. It hadn't been used in a while, so it was a complete mess, filled with dirty camping gear and mice dung left behind by a family of 4 mice living in the van.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

Surprisingly, she wasn't bothered by the rodents. Nelson told Insider, “I thought the mice were adorable. 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.” Aimme said to WKBW, “We brought home a family of mice. So, there was a lot of deep cleaning.”

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Making Progress

The amount of cleaning they needed to do required more than two people, so with the help of a different neighbor, Nelson and her mom went into full sanitation mode. From washing the cushions to moving the mice to a new home, slowly, the camper was looking better and better.

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WKBW TV | Buffalo, NY via Youtube

Now the fun part came - it was time for Nelson to design the space. "I got to design it, and I got to pick whatever I wanted for it," she said. "She builds the furniture for her dolls and will make her own couches out of cardboard," her supportive mom revealed to the New York Post. "We always just let her run with it."

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Choosing the Aesthetic

The youngster spent hours searching Pinterest and other social media apps, looking for inspiration. Until finally, she chose to go with a boho theme. The camper would give off a beachy bohemian vibe anytime someone went inside. She planned to incorporate many plants and pastel colors. 

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

With a design plan in mind, all that was left to get was the money for material. Luckily for her, Aimee was willing to use her own envelope money to help make her daughter's dream come true. The extra cash was meant to be for summer camp, but since it was canceled due to the lockdown, there was no use for that anymore.

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Time To Get Decorating!

On top of everything she had already saved, Nelson was given an extra $400 dollars to buy all the decorations that she needed for her home away from home. It took around two months for her to finally accumulate everything she needed to complete her dream project.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

Nelson went to Home Depot and bought flooring, cushion covers, paint, and a peel-and-stick backsplash to use for the kitchen. Everything was starting to come together. Aimee revealed to Insider how her daughter was able to get so much with a few hundred dollars, “She was very frugal. She didn’t buy much.”

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Feels Like Home

After finishing the difficult parts of the interior, it was time to decorate with pretty things like soft pillows, plants, and pictures of her friends and families. And luckily, the sheets, rugs, etc., were all reused, so Nelson didn't have to spend any more money.

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Aimee Nelson via Facebook

Each day it felt more like her own place. When it was complete, Nelson spent most of her time inside it. She told Insider, "I feel more grown-up now. We do not have a large house, so the camper gives me a small space of my own to draw, read, and create." So it became her very own world — parked right in front of the house!

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Cooking Area

The camper even came with a full kitchen, including a fridge, oven, and sink. The only issue wasn't it wasn't connected to electricity, so Nelson couldn't use it quite yet. But like she did with nearly all the other aspects of the project, she had an idea.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

She decided to get solar panels. The young lady explained to the Post, “I love the kitchen the most. It’s so beautiful, light, and airy. I can just sit in it and feel very relaxed. Once we get the solar panels up, we can actually get them up and running. That’s what I’m saving up for next. I love cooking, especially lasagna.”

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Camp Hygge

Eventually, she even gave her new home a name. Nelson settled on "Camp Hygge" because in Scandinavian, that means "cozy," and clearly, that was the vibe she was going for with her transformed van. But even though she adored hanging out there, her original plan was to make a profit.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

Instead of selling the camper, Nelson came up with the idea of hosting tea parties where each person pays $25 dollars to get in and enjoy a warm beverage and a few snacks. It was brilliant! Aimee told Insider, “She has a lot of plans. She even has a business plan written up.”

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Young Entrepreneur

Just as she feels relaxed in the van, Nelson wanted other girls her age to also feel that. Aimee said, “She would like to host up to four girls and make it into an American Girl doll playhouse where they can come with their dolls. She will braid the dolls’ hair to match the girls’ while the moms sit on the back deck and relax.”

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

But beyond that, Nelson was also babysitting younger kids to earn even more cash. Talk about a little entrepreneur! After getting her babysitting certificate from the Red Cross, she welcomed many at Camp Hygge to have a fun time playing with toys and enjoying yummy lemonade that she made in the kitchen.

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Making Money Moves

After seeing how much other people enjoyed her camper, Nelson decided she wanted people of the "tiny home nation" to get a chance to stay at Cap Hygge. "I will be renting out the camper! You can come hike trails and pet the animals! Text my mom if you want to! It's twenty dollars a night!" she posted on Aimee's Facebook.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

And she didn't even stop there! The preteen revealed to the Post, "My big plans are to sell this camper to someone who really loves it and get an RV to renovate. I might try a bit more modern style with it, though." It looked like it was time for her to move on to a new project...

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The Adventure Continues

But before another lucky individual got the chance to own Camp Hygge, Nelson needed to take it out so that she should show off her sweet ride to everyone on the street. But although the van was capable of doing so, the Nelson family had yet to take it out on a drive.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

Aimee explained, “For this year, it is only a playhouse. But it is road-ready, so we shall see!” Maybe a family trip will be in the works? Because after all thanks to her 11-year-old daughter, the camper had everything needed for a road trip, from a functioning kitchen to a closet full of clothes and toys.

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Glimmer of Hope

The journey to getting to Camp Hygge may have been quite impressive, but it wasn't always easy. Aimee shared with the Post, "I was diagnosed with cancer last summer, so I was going through radiation and to doctor's appointments. We were really thinking this was going to be our summer since we didn't get one last year."

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Aimee Nelson via Facebook

Sadly Aimee thought she and her family would have an eventless couple of months, thanks to the quarantine restrictions and her diagnosis. But she had no idea that things would quickly turn around and her time would be filled with many projects and adventures.

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Endless Memories

With Nelson's creative mind and her desire for the experience and novelty, she truly was able to turn that summer into one that the family would never forget. Especially when Camp Hygge was finally finished, and she blew up all over social media for her talent!

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

The proud mother admitted to the Post, "This camper gave us all something to do and really made a great summer." Aww, no wonder this story went instantly viral and warmed hearts everywhere. One small decision can truly impact many people's lives in positive ways. 

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A Dream Come True

During the start of the project, Aimee was very involved. Although her daughter was in charge of the plans, her mom was willing to always lend a helping hand and jump off Nelson's ideas. There was no doubt that she was feeling proud of her 11-year old's accomplishments.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

It's not often that a kid turns a camper into a dream spot. She said, "This was always something she wanted. It was a lot of fun to work with her on the space and to follow her lead. She had great ideas and a vision right from the beginning, and we were just there to help her achieve her dream."

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Inspiration To Others

Seeing how Nelson was able to turn her dream into reality inspired Aimee, and she knew that thousands of other kids around the world probably had similar ideas - they just needed that extra support. She encouraged other parents and kids to pursue their desires.

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Aimee Nelson via Facebook

She confessed, "I really hope that kids want to do this and follow their dreams. They should start saving their money and have fun doing it." At the end of the day, the project didn't cost much - in fact, it ended up helping her make a profit! Setbacks shouldn't hold kids back from having fun and being independent.

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One Year Later

Camp Hygge not only gave Nelson a place to enjoy her time, and extra cash flow, but also a major career opportunity! Her camper transformation was circling around the internet, and eventually, it landed in the lap of a modeling agency that thought the girl would be perfect for the industry.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

A year after renovating the camper and Nelson was signed with the agency. Who knew an old van could lead to so many opportunities? It clearly meant a lot to her since she ended up keeping the vehicle - and even gave it an entirely new makeover which she now documents on Instagram.

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A New Look

The social media account may be run by her mom and dad, but that doesn't mean they don't constantly give updates to her followers that are eager to learn more about Camp Hygge and its renovations. "Last summer, a couple of months before I turned 11, I bought a camper for $400," she wrote in a caption.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

It was a mess — see before pics on my first ever IG post! This summer, the outside was painted, my dad helped my sister build a deck — I stained it — and I planted flowers and made a garden.” Who thought that the camper could become even better?! Not us, but obviously, Nelson was capable.

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Going Viral

Nelson's IG posts are always filled with numerous comments from supporters and fans inspired by the work that the young girl has accomplished. Many make sure to congratulate her successions in both the world of old vehicle renovations and in modeling.

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

Aimee has even shared a few different articles that were published about her daughter and Camp Hygge - some were even in different languages! It proved what an impact and inspiration she was that she managed to reach people from all over the world. What a legend!

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"So Surreal"

Some users were so touched by Nelson's project that they just had to share how they felt. The family's social media started to blow up. Julie Mancuso wrote to the young girl's mother, "Aimee — this is so surreal, and it could not be happening to a sweeter child — and family."

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@lauren.grace.official via Instagram

Another individual named Tracie Baker Cooley wrote about how Nelson's happiness just radiated through the screen, "Since the moment I met you and your family, I knew how incredibly special you all are!! You are truly blessed!" Indeed they were, because the young girl went from camper renovator to fashion model - what a whirlwind!

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Staying Humble

All the positive feedback and fame could have gotten to Nelson's head - but instead, it did the opposite. The young girl didn't get too wrapped up in everything, and people took notice. Susan MacPherson Woodruff commented, "This just blows my mind! I love the way she is handling it too. Lauren is such a sweet girl."

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WKBW TV | Buffalo, NY via Youtube

Jan Nelson mentioned how powerful the web can be, "Just wow. The internet can be an amazingly good thing." We couldn't agree more! We cant wait to see where Nelson's next adventure will take her. And in the words of a user named Holly Costantino-Sharpe, "So exciting!"

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