In the past few years, more and more people have started living in “tiny homes.” These residences are typically less than 500 square feet, but for those who don’t mind living small, a tiny home offers a place of your own for a drastically smaller cost.
But Charlotte Sapwell, from Victoria, Australia, wasn’t being trendy when she decided to live in a tiny home—it was a last-ditch, desperate measure. The 27-year-old’s marriage had just fallen apart, and when her ex-husband could no longer pay their rent, she found herself scrambling to find the right living situation for herself and her two young boys.
“The housing market doesn’t really look at single stay-at-home mums,” she explained to Nine.com.au. “I even looked into getting a home loan, it would have worked out cheaper than my rent but, basically, no chance.”
“I was on the brink of homelessness.”
A home loan would’ve taken years for Sapwell to pay off, and it was a debt she wasn’t willing to take on. With no other options, she was sleeping on her parents’ couch.
But then, her grandpa proposed an idea: To construct a tiny house, right there in the backyard.
“It’s not something I had ever really thought about,” Sapwell told Yahoo7. But she was sold on the idea.
Her grandfather was very experienced with house flipping, and offered to take on the project himself to save on labor costs. However, he had one condition: that his granddaughter build it alongside him.
While Sapwell had no experience, she agreed, and the two got to work building a house.
Sapwell and her grandfather converted a rundown construction site office, but building it into a home was still an exhaustive effort. Sapwell said the process could be a real challenge—as someone with little experience with tools, she felt thrown into the fire.
“It’s definitely hard work,” she told Nine.com.au. “My grandpa doesn’t let me slack off because I’m ‘just a girl’ or I had no experience.”
But she knew all the effort was worth it. Not only was she saving a ton of money on labor costs, she felt it was a genuinely transformative experience.
“I was a bit vapid before, I liked material things but since the tiny house I’m more about getting outside and having experiences and getting my hands dirty. I’m also more aware of what I’m physically capable of.”
“I’ve learnt so many skills but I’ve learnt more about myself.”
Not only that, Sapwell began to see her efforts pay off.
After a few months of hard work, the site began to look like a real home.
My house isn’t like other tiny houses- it’s really hard to photograph of the due to the layout of the house, I am extremely proud of what the house has become but no photo will ever do it justice. That is why making the inside so homely and beautiful was so important to me. At the end of the day ‘it’s what’s on the inside that counts’. Just know that this old site office was full to the brim on junk that had been collected over the years, I cleaned and sold everything inside to get my start the first intention was to actually sell the office and then grandpa said let’s turn it into a tiny home.. I’m not very good at visualisation, so I couldn’t see a square metal box becoming a Home. I removed a window to add a door, I removed the door and turned it into a wall and I cut out a hole in the back wall and those were the first steps in creating my home. #tinyhouse #tinyliving #workwithwhatyouvegot #stepone #stageoneofcreatinghome
But in addition to the difficulties of the construction, living in the new home was initially a challenge itself—especially in the early days, when the family didn’t have things like running water.
“The first few weeks were hard with three people living in a box,” Sapwell told Yahoo7.
But the hardships made Sapwell appreciate the little things even more, and each new development in the home felt like a huge accomplishment.
“It was so exciting to have other things become important,” she told Nine.com.au. “Brand new flooring, running water, flushing toilet, a shower!”
One room, in particular, meant the most to the young mother:
“For me the proudest moment was the boys room,” she told Yahoo7.
“Giving them their own space filled me with an incredible sense of achievement.”
We are swinging into the future and very excited about what’s coming next…! The weather needs to improve here before I can show you a photo but let’s just say we are about to produce something very exciting. #singlemum #swing #ikea #intheroomthatmumbuilt #theboysroom #exciting #ourtinyhome #ourtinyhomeadventure #dinosaur #dinomad
The total cost of construction was $13,000, a fraction of the price of a new home on the market—and now it’s there’s for good, with no rent or loans to pay off. It’s a dream Sapwell never could’ve imagined when she was on the brink of homelessness.
“We had entered a position no parent ever wants for their children or selves to be in, building the tiny house was out of necessity,” she wrote in an Instagram post.
“But now I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I see that anyone can build their future if they have someone believe in them. And I believe if you’re willing—you too can build a future.”