Tiny houses: you’ve seen the TV shows, watched the documentaries, and maybe even taken a tour. There’s a reason why tiny houses – which are usually defined as homes which are less than 400 square feet – have become so trendy. It has to do with being economical, saving money, and learning to live with less. A single mom in Australia illustrates how important the tiny house option can be for people who are trying to get back on their feet after a tumultuous time. 

17. Meet Charlotte

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

Charlotte Sapwell’s story of building a new home for her family and how it transformed their future might just inspire you to do something similar. Read her amazing story of how she went from nearly homeless to homeowner all with the strength of her own two hands as she built a home for her sons.

16. A Tough Time

Image: DailyMirror

Charlotte Sapwell was once married with two children. But after a divorce left her and her children out in the cold, despair sank in. The family did not have a home to call their own. They had nowhere to go and nothing but debt. But rather than taking on yet more debt, or moving in permanently with relatives, Charlotte found a third way. She wound up with much more than a home: she gained a lifestyle and a career.

Charlotte was living a typical life in a typical house with her husband. But at age 27, her marriage broke up and she suddenly was confronting homelessness. No mother wants to experience such hardship, but the cost of housing and other expenses sometimes leads families to fall into the abyss.

15. Feeling Lost

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

Charlotte told the blog Simply Fiercely that she felt like a failure. “It was one of the scariest, most depressing times of my life, I felt like a complete failure. Financial struggles can be super embarrassing and having to admit it was so hard, I’m not one to ask for help. I always thought I had to do it alone, I’m a mother they’re supposed to keep a roof over heads, food on the table etc. Instead, there I was feeling like the WORST mother on the planet because my financial situation changed out of the blue and I wasn’t prepared.”

14. Few Options

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

Charlotte tried not to panic. She started running through all her options for creating a secure home for her kids. For a short time, Charlotte and her kids lived in a small apartment after the divorce. But the costs were not sustainable over the long term. A mortgage in the area would have made her house-poor: the average mortgage was $400,000 AUD (about $300,000 USD).  Even if she could get a loan, there was no way she could afford the monthly payments. Charlotte turned to her family for help. Thankfully, her grandfather threw her a lifeline.

13. A Lifeline

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

Charlotte’s grandfather also lived in the area. He wanted to help her however he could. He even offered to loan her money. But grandpa certainly did not have enough money to help Charlotte buy an expensive house, nor even a downpayment. He also lived in a small home of his own and there simply wasn’t room for Charlotte and her children. What was she do to?

12. Tiny House to the Rescue

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

One day when Charlotte was hanging out at her grandfather’s house, she stared out at the backyard. Then she had an epiphany: the yard was large enough to fit a small cabin on the property. Her grandfather suggested a tiny house. Finally, an option that seemed promising: she would build a tiny house and live in the backyard. Although she didn’t have any experience in building tiny houses, she was aware of their popularity. Charlotte had a can-do attitude, even though she failed woodworking in ninth grade! Her grandfather was a handyman, so she figured he could help fill in the gaps in her knowledge. She had two kids to support, so she believed that no obstacle was insurmountable if she tried hard enough.

11. A Small Loan

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

Charlotte accepted a $13,000 AUD (about $10,000 USD) loan. This is not much money to build and outfit and entire house. But Charlotte had studied other tiny houses and knew it was doable. She chose a space of about 10 x 20 feet. She sold many of her possessions online, raising extra money and downsizing to make it easier for three people to fit in such a small space. It was both exciting and terrifying to contemplate going tiny.

10. Saving Money, Saving Space

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

Charlotte purchased the building materials from Bunnings Warehouse. Most of the money was spent on construction, insulation, and furniture. Charlotte purchased most of the decor from IKEA and Kmart, which saved plenty of money. Most of her purchases were inexpensive, except for some fancy linoleum for the floor. After just five months, the project was complete. But could the family stand to live in such a small space?

9. Sacrifices

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

The house contains two main rooms for three people to share. The boys share a bedroom, while Charlotte has her own room. However, charlotte’s space is also the living room, kitchen and dining area. Charlotte believed it was more important for her boys to have a private room than it was for mom. To ensure that everything fit in the tiny space, Charlotte had to make tough choices.

8. Downsizing

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

Gone was the king-sized bed and headboard that Charlotte had used for years. There was simply no place for it in the tiny house. “At first I was so against a ‘double’ bed but like everything else I was forced to downsize…I made it high enough to fit storage boxes underneath,” Charlotte wrote on Facebook. She was able to adapt faster than she thought. There were other changes, too.

7. No Privacy

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

A 10×20 space doesn’t leave much room for privacy. The kids and their mom had to give up their notions of personal space. “The kids are right there all the time and we are so close. Yes it means we have virtually zero privacy from each other but I love it,” said Charlotte. The experience has brought them closer together. And Charlotte still finds room to have family over for dinner!

One other great thing about the tin house was that it avoided Charlotte being shackled to mountains of debt and eliminated the constant worry about paying the bills. The tiny house move was a huge change, but it was for the better.

6. Building Self-Confidence

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

Charlotte’s experience found her building more than just a house; she built self-confidence. “I knew I couldn’t give up because I have two little boys that were watching their Mum do everything within her power to give them a new home.”

She also thinks that witnessing their mom build the house was a great thing for two young boys. “Some days I wanted to quit, some days I’d just sit and cry but then as the build started to come together I started to be proud of myself, the boys were proud of me and not once did they think I couldn’t do it. Having a reason to keep going and having people believe in me, that’s how I kept going.”

5. Changing Hearts

Image: Share Abode

“I went from living in a massive home with my husband and kids to a tiny rented unit to this small space, and out of all the places I’ve lived this is my favorite,” Charlotte observed. “It is all mine.” Charlotte believes that living tiny will also have a significant impact on the way her children grow up, leading them to value experiences over things. “I want my boys to know – it doesn’t matter if you are a boy or girl, anyone can build their future.” The tiny house project has also given Charlotte new skill sets in building that she hadn’t had before, which led her down a new path.

4. New Skills

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

With her new building skills, Charlotte found herself making other things, like wooden toys. She even built an ice cream stand for her sons to use, and then a barn door that closes off their bedroom. It was then that Charlotte realized that the skills that she developed could also turn into a viable business. Her current plan is to pay back her grandfather first. She also wants to build and sell tiny houses in the future.

3. New Ideas

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

Charlotte isn’t one to rest on her laurels. She is already planning and pre-building elements for another tiny house. This one will be a prototype for a future business, but she is giving the house to her grandmother. Charlotte shared her story in the hope of encouraging other women and single mothers to take control of their future. “I just want other females to know they are capable of anything,” she said. But that’s not all she has on her plate.

2. Activism

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

Charlotte has also turned to activism. Her story went viral and her city, Ballarat, invited her to speak at a youth forum on homelessness. She eagerly accepted. “There are so many single mums in the same boat, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one but this fact alone makes me even more aware of Australia’s housing crisis- and I would love to help in any way!” she said.

1. Inspiring Others

Image: Charlotte Sapwell

Charlotte has also started a website including a regular feature called “My Tribe, is Our Tribe,” which is meant to feature other inspiring moms. “It’s a new series that talks to single mums and women who I believe are an inspiration. A lot of women don’t understand that they are an inspiration and don’t have to build a house to be inspiring- it might be brushing their hair, a co-parenting success, running a business, taking kids grocery shopping. I believe in every single person and it’s really easy to feel alone, like you’re doing a terrible job, that no one feels the way you feel so through the web series I aim to create a place that shows you aren’t alone via positivity, reliability, honesty and inspiration.” By any measure, Charlotte is a big success.