Shotgun Shack: Mortgage Free in 320 Square Feet

by Kent Griswold on June 1st, 2011. 57 Comments
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Kirsten from faircompanies.com just sent me her latest video, which I promised you a couple of weeks ago. More on that in just a moment. First, I want to introduce you to Debra and her family.

Debra says, “I have never been a ‘hippy’ type – I like painted fingernails and makeup :-) – but more and more I can relate to a lifestyle of simplicity and sustainability. My husband and I lived in a small town in the amazon jungle for six years, and an Andes Mountain top city for three. I know now how to live simply, and how to be happy because of it. It has influenced our lives now that we are back here in the states.”

Two years ago, Debra and her family lived in a nearly 2000 square foot home on an acre and a half of land. Then her husband lost his job and they began to work 4 jobs between them to pay the mortgage, until one day they remembered they had a choice.

Before having their son, Debra and her husband Gary had spent 9 years living in very tiny homes in South America. Living small hadn’t felt like a sacrifice, but a way to stay focused on what is important. They decided they wanted to get back to that.

They stopped working so hard, sold or gave away all of their extra stuff and began looking for the perfect tiny home.

Debra had always liked the Mississippi shotgun style homes, but they decided the 100-square-foot places that are “kind of curious at the moment” were too small.

They considered converting a shed or an old school bus. They decided RVs or mobile homes were too expensive. One day, while browsing craigslist, they noticed an ad for a local Arkansas company custom building tiny homes for a price that could mean an end to house payments.

Six weeks and $15,000 later they had their own fully paid-off dwelling. Today, Debra, her husband and 13-year-old son live in a 320-square foot home that is not a sacrifice, but exactly what they need.

They have a walk-in closet, full-sized appliances and even an antique bed. Their son has his own lofted bedroom big enough for sleepovers.

They’ve done a bit of DIY to create a custom sofa that becomes a guest bed so their home now sleeps “6 people comfortably, probably 8 to 10 people uncomfortably”.

They even have a separate studio next door for their home business where they make tiny baby gifts “made by hand in a little cottage”.

[This video was shot entirely by Debra and is a response to our call for submissions for tiny homeowners interested in filming their homes to be edited for our site and the Tiny House Blog.]

Thank you Debra for sharing your story and thank you Kirsten for pulling it all together into a video we can enjoy.

The builder is Scott Stewart who I have featured many times his website is http://slabtowncustoms.com/ Slabtown Customs in Arkansas.

You can reach Debra with questions at her email address: minkeebabygifts@gmail.com and visit a couple of her websites here: Store: http://www.minkeebabygifts.com and blog: http://www.minkeebabygifts.blogspot.com .

57 Responses to “Shotgun Shack: Mortgage Free in 320 Square Feet”

  1. Maria S says:

    Wow! It’s awesome to see this… I’m inspired.

  2. frank says:

    fantastic ! i would love to see you one day beable to bye lande insted of renting a space.and have the land afordibly priced acordingly to the size of the house.not the other way around like we have it today were you are forced to bye more land then is reqwired and then have to be enslaved by it till you die.

    • Debra says:

      I agree, Frank, that a land purchase would be a great way to go. In our case, the ‘mobile’ aspect of our small home appealed to us as we are semi ‘gypsies’. We want to be able to move in a few years without the worry of having to sell the land. Our business is online and mobile, theoretically we could live wherever we want!

      So, I guess each family has to weigh and consider their options and goals, and go from there.

      Debra

      • Rain says:

        Debra,
        I would love to learn more about how you can find rentable land. Did you rent the land from a farmer? I don’t know where to begin because I know that in Minnesota most of the land available is under strict rules as to what can go on the land. Where my parents are, you are not even allowed to park an RV outside of your house.
        I am struggling to find a lot to put something like this on.

        • Mobile home parks will usually rent to you. Try putting an ad on craig’s list or local “penny pincher” papers in an area where you would like to live. I live in south Louisiana on 2 acres, and I would rent to you! Who would not want to have extra money each month? Especially knowing that it would cost you money to move the tiny house. Most people would probably buy the house from you—then they could make more money renting home & land. Or, you could pay to have home moved, when you bought land. Land, would be the least of your problems!

      • ginmar says:

        That looks awfully nifty and comfy.

  3. MJ says:

    Great story! I really like the family aspect of it as well.

  4. Gigi says:

    Very inspiring indeed! I like your tiny living, the “sofabed” and your son being home schooled. My husband and I are thinking of the same thing. More power!

  5. Zer0 says:

    I’d like to get in touch with the builder if that’s doable. The house looks lovely and I’d like to buy something like it.

  6. Dennis says:

    Thanks for posting this. It helps so much to be able to see how the layout works in real life.

    I’ve always thought that a great way to expand the space of a small home would be to build a wraparound porch; and I mean all the way around! And this home would suit itself to the idea perfectly.

  7. Dave says:

    Fantastic! I am curious, how do you heat (+cook) and/or cool your home? I saw some vent pipes on the wall there in the bedroom, and a wall air conditioner.

    • Debra says:

      Hi Dave,

      I cook on a 24 inch stove and oven just like I had while we lived in Ecuador. I cook three meals a day (no eating out, if you know what I mean) and it works just fine. I have girlfriends who have 3,000 square foot homes, and restaurant style outfits in their kitchen, but they rarely eat at home because they are always working!

      As for heating and cooling, we use two small window units to cool with, and we only cool where we are at the moment (kitchen, bedroom). For heat we have a vented gas wall unit (10,000BTU) that can be switched to propane should we move and it be necessary. We put a duct with an in-line vent fan in the bedroom, through the closet and into the kit/lr, and it pushes the heat through to the other side. Not perfect, but it works.

      • aaa says:

        What happens if you lose electicity for days in the winter? That happened to us years ago, but we had two huge fireplaces. Our home was about 4,000 square feet and we had so much fun in it. My folks were older, so they spent plenty of time around the house. I remember all the cookouts and food just about every night. I’m glad I lived in a bigger home. No offense, I don’t like homes that small. But I’m curious to know what would happen if the electricity goes out in the winter for a long time. Where I live now, it went about for almost a month, along with the phone lines because of a hurricane and tornadoes that spawned in the area. We had no electricity, phone, cable or Internet. I had to take cold showers for awhile. No big deal cause I’m from up North, but now I have a big garage with a backup generator to hook-up a portable air-conditioner, should we lose electricity for that long. And you never know. We have a big gas grill etc. You need plenty of storage area for that, and my house is big enough for that. So what happens if a tornado blows down all the electrical lines like it did where I live? You try taking cold showers for a while and see how good you do, especially in the heat. It’s not the end of the world, but if you lived in an area where it’s cold and lost electricity, how would you warm up? I heard people froze to death in situations like I described when we lived up north in our big home with 2 huge fireplaces. Where I live now you’d never freeze to death, but you’d be really uncomfortable taking cold showers without a backup generator!

        • Jeannie says:

          a small house such as this is naturally “green” requiring much less electricity than a traditional home, so IF THERE WERE A POWER OUTAGE, it would be way easier to meet the electrical needs w/ a 1,000-2,000 watt generator (Yamamha & Honda make very quiet/small ones)that feed juice into some marine batteries which could power that house perfectly. I am INSPIRED by the mantra in this vid,”it’s about what we have, not what we don’t have” a lesson that MANY PEOPLE NEED TO HEED!Shame on anyone who criticizes this lovely family & their choices!

  8. et says:

    I hope there’s more than one exit from the loft. Think emergency, fire.

  9. Jasmine says:

    This is perfect! I loved seeing how you live, not just the plans and pictures that we see so often. It’s truly inspiring. I’ve shared this on Facebook in hopes my family won’t think I’m so nuts for wanting to live small1

  10. jay says:

    I am pretty sure that video link is not working any more. I don’t even see it in the page source.

    Can you help? Relink it or something?

    Thanks.

    • Benjamin says:

      Hi Jay,

      I didn’t get a video link at first either, but I reloaded the page and voilà it was there!

      • Kent Griswold says:

        I edited the post and added some links and WordPress messed up my Youtube link, so I had to put it back in. Sorry about that! -Kent

  11. Joanne says:

    I love your video and your house! Its been a year im looking at tiny home plans and pics but its hard to visualize a small home. Its awesome when people send videos. Now im even more certain this is what i want. i have 4 more years left to pay off my land and plan on saving for a tiny home in the meantime and im done with the city….

  12. Sue says:

    What’s the name of the company in Arkansas that built it?

  13. Harry says:

    Hi Debra,

    Thank you much for sharing a real life perspective of a tiny house. I must admit , I would like something a bit bigger- may be 600s/ft with the workshop on the side. Im semi retired and my wife is working in a job that she hates- sounds familiar?? We live in a mobile home here in silicon valley and the mortgage + space rent (you do not own the land in a mobile park and you have to deal with constant “rent” increases) combined is roughly 1800 per month. to make things worse- we are “under water”. At some point in the not too distant future, we will have to make a decision to move and do something– Perhaps the “Tiny House” is the way to go.

    You have shown people that there are options out there- rented land or not. Ideally I would like to own 1/8 acre, plant my veggies maybe, have a few chickens, run my web based business and enjoy my life.

    NOTE: The major down side of NOT owning your land is the tax deduction and the “restrictions” that you might run into as a renter. plus the potential of having the land sold out from under you.

    Best Regards

    Harry

    • Debra says:

      Harry – there are lots of Californians in Arkansas now! I wonder why? I am from California myself. There is plenty of space here…..Come on over, we’d be glad to have great neighbors!

      We did the math, and the tax deduction you get for owning land in our case really offers no advantage. But our real reason for renting is to be mobile. With land, you are tied down. After Katrina, we had lots of friends volunteer in the reconstruction, and had the best time. We decided that we would simplify in case the opportunity ever came up again to so such a thing. Joplin is nearby – no need to move, but we are prepared just in case!

  14. Carol says:

    I loved your Video,your little house is exactly what i would love,and it looked so pretty,i currently live in a very small unit in Adelaide,Australia,i rent it,for a very small amount of money,but i do love your’s,thank you for sharing that.

  15. Tara says:

    Debra, I remember stumbling over your blog~I think~ from some comments you posted here, and I was very inspired then. Now to see the whole video and your lovely family is even better. Thank you for sharing your story and lifestyle.

    One teeny question–do you not watch TV? I did not see one, only in your sons loft.

  16. Angie says:

    I am so glad to see this video. I’ve book marked her site from other posts, and find it a beautiful, homey place. It inspires me. And I love the paint job you gave the inside.

    Angie

  17. Meg K says:

    Thank you so much! I’ve been searching for families living in tiny homes to see how it’s done. My fiance and I are planning our life, aiming for less and debt free, but that also includes kids :) Thank you again and I appreciate the detail in your video.

    Meg

  18. Me'chelle says:

    Sweet place, I talked on the phone yesterday with Scott and he told me this would be on here today.

    I like it.

  19. Shea says:

    THIS is what the ‘tiny house’ movement is all about: not just the physical challenge of CREATING an all-in-one (shooting for the minimum 100 square feet or less) box a human *could* live in, but the very real challenge of a FAMILY (or individual) downsizing to a simpler, ‘tiny’ life, whether that meaning their simple needs will require a 250 to 500 square foot ‘box’, or smaller. It’s the actual HUMAN aspect of this ‘downsizing’ to simple/tiny that appeals to ME, and seeing real people in real ‘simple’ homes, as this vid did, allowing me to sample its interior as if I were there, visiting, even giving me a glimpse of the very real SIZE of the space, of how cozy (and yes, in some ways, cramped) it would be to LIVE within that space.
    Kudos, to Debra and her family for allowing us, via video, a pleasant ‘visit’ to and into their home.

    I *almost* heard the birds singing in the tree just outside the window, felt the warm summer breeze wafting by on the shady front porch, smelled the lasagne in the tidy oven, tasted the iced tea in those sweet cobalt blue goblets. ;-)

  20. Bonnie says:

    This was great, but my immediate takeaway is the “broom closet.” I can use that idea!

  21. alice says:

    As interesting as the living space is I’m equally impressed with the work space. This could be a great solution for other business ideas without having to rent or disrupt your regular household arrangements. The ability to ‘pack up and move’ without actually having to pack up is a big plus! Love that guest sofa idea too. I’ve been tossing around variations of the same thing but this is the simplest and easiest version yet and it makes both sides level when unfolded much better than some of those slide out things.

  22. am surprised that says:

    am surprised that there is no use of pocket doors to the bedroom…
    i would have a concern witht he front door being blocked with the opened bed. unfamiliar space with unfamiliar people could be problematic in emergency. would be fixed if the door opened OUT.
    From what I could see it opens in… Yes i see a door inthe bedroom but to get to it, you go thru a door that closes the wrong way from the ‘common’ areas…

  23. Jordan says:

    Well done, Debra!

    I’m wondering how it will go when you decide to relocate – with the house 10′ wide, do you have to get a permit from the DOT to tow it on public roadways? How did it go getting it to the current location from the builder?

    Thanks for the glimpse, I can smell the lasagna too.

    -Jordan

  24. Patti says:

    I could live in one of these too; would be so awesome if my first (and last) piece of owned property was brand new, mortgage free, clean, simple, and uncluttered. No more packing, and the only moving would be if I were to move the whole house! /dream

    If someone with a large chunk of land wanted to have a nice side (or even full-time) business/income, I wonder how hard it would be to zone it for THs? It would be sorta like an RV or trailer park (the nice ones), with individual water and electrical hookups but other community amenities (like laundry, pool, maybe even post office and regular security patrol). Residents could pay on a monthly basis, long- or short-term. We need more places like that (esp here in northern Clark County, NV) ;)

  25. Grace Rinaldi says:

    That is the sweetest little house. I love it!

  26. Amanda says:

    I love this one. Especially seeing a family living in a small house! Lots of ideas for myself, but I do think we’d have to go a bit larger (like 400-500 sq ft?) as there are 5 of us and we’d need an extra sleeping space for my daugter and a bit more space in the living/dining/kitchen so we could all be in there and sit down at once. Beautiful home though! I love the fact that no space is wasted with the hallway/bathroom. I also love that you have full size appliances and that you cook at home. That was one thing that always bugged me a just a little a bit about a video I saw with Jay where he said that he doesn’t cook at home much – kind of a must for a family, especially if you are doing this for simplicity, financial reasons or health reasons!

  27. LuAnn says:

    A lovely tiny home! I want one very badly. But will have to wait in 2013 when dauther graduates HS.

  28. Rich says:

    Well… I applaud these folks for making a lifestyle choice that suits them. There’s a lot to be said for that.
    The layout and square footage, though, is pretty relative. 300 sf in Tokyo would be considered dead average. In Manhattan: again, pretty standard issue.
    In Appalachia: it would be remarkable only for having the door on the front, instead of the side; and the absence of wheels.
    Again; hurray for courage and clarity in establishing priorities.
    But “innovative”? … It seems like a dog-bites-man story to me.

  29. Very Impressive! Makes me want to simplify!!

  30. Jenna says:

    Our 1300 sq foot home is currently for sale because we felt there wasn’t enough room for us and our son. TOTALLY inspired us to rethink selling and make the space we do have more usable. Not being a slave to your mortgage and enjoying what you DO have is far more appealing than working your ass off to keep up with the Jones’! Thanks for the inspiring story!!!

    • Amanda says:

      Jenna, It is definitely all relative. We have lived in around 1000-1200 sq ft the last several years with me, my husband and three children. It is all in how you use the space and what your priorities are. For us there is no way we could be mortgage free (even our 1000sq ft house was over $300K and it’s pretty bare bones and a little ramshackle). We are working towards buying a piece of land for cheaper though and building or buying a 600 sq ft house, which would make us mortgage lite at least.

  31. Jen says:

    I noticed in your video you were dressed up in a skirt and husband and son with a tie. This is odd in this day and age, but nice to see. What were you and your husband doing in Ecuador?

  32. Heather says:

    Lovely house! I wonder how well it would hold up to a nomad lifestyle, such as moving about once a month to a different city. Anyone know? Or would a travel trailer be better for that purpose?

  33. Lori says:

    What a great tour – very watchable and informative, especially those of us who are interested in small space living with kids. I appreciate that it is not only shows economy of space, but a lovely asthetic as well. My only complaint is that I didn’t have this video about 6 years ago. I could have *really* used it, especially that clever fold-out bed! That’s just wonderful!

  34. [...] example this story: ‘…Debra and her family lived in a nearly 2000 square foot home on an acre and a half [...]

  35. Marykay says:

    Wonderful story! I purchased a 450sqft home 1 1/2yrs ago that I have been remodeling. I feel like I live in a French inspired doll house, everyone adores it. The home sits on a full basement, which allows for utilities and extra storage space. I have entertained here, with up to 12 people, without a problem. I spend my nights planning my next project, it’s a constant work in progress. (I am a decorator, so it my fun time)
    I concur with you on the excessive spending on clothes, shoes & other things, that really are not necessary. The prior owner lived here alone for most of her life. She was 96! I fell in love with my lil house from the moment i drove in the driveway. When I stepped inside, it felt like home. It has everything I need. It feels wonderful, not to be buried in a huge mortgage.
    Many blessings to you and your family. I believe you have found true happiness! I know I have :)

  36. Kathryn says:

    I LOVE IT!!! That is my hope one day is to build a tiny home on my own lot where I can have a small garden. My car is paid for but my car needs a few thousand dollar repairs.
    I like the idea that you don’t have a mortgage. That’s what I want one day!
    Very nice!!! Thank you so much for sharing!
    Kathryn

  37. Cassie says:

    I love this story. I can hardly wait to start building my tiny house. Once you’ve been the victim of a horrible housing scam and divinely find something like this the light bulbs brighten that much more. I’m building a tiny log home but before I do I think I’ll build a tiny house about this size. Log homes are much more expensive and if I’m going to spend much more money I want to do it right…debt free and extremely nice quality materials. Nestle in the blue ridge mountains it will pay for itself 100 times over. Love your house!

  38. Sheryl says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this. You have done an amazing job making the most of your space. Love the couch that converts to a bed. Thanks for all the helpful tips on how to live graciously in a small house!

  39. jipsi says:

    I have seen this story before, and thought I had already shared my utter love for this perfect ‘little home’ (a step up from a less-than-200-sq ft ‘tiny’, but smaller than a ‘small home’ of 500-999 sq ft?). Even as a single, disabled person, I love that there is comfortable space, overhead, for hosting a guest or two overnight, more if I include a sleeper-sofa in the little living area, and that it houses full-size appliances (AND a washer/dryer!) puts the icing on the cake! Thank you for sharing… I have definitely added this builder to my list of ‘someday-contacts’! ;-)

    • jipsi says:

      ooops. It looks like I DID (already comment)… oh well. Can’t say enough about how GREAT this ‘little house’ is, I guess. ;-)

  40. JimN says:

    Glad to see the reference to the Katrina cottage, which may have had some influence on the small house trend-lose everything & startover small. Also Elvis started his life in a 2 room shotgun house. This was very common in the south.

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