In the Spotlight

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People often ask if families live in tiny houses. They do and this Friday we’re introducing you to Renee Singletary, her husband Harold and daughters Marianna and Malaya!

Q: Please introduce yourself to our audience. Where are you located? We are the Singletarys: Shanequa Renee, Harold, Marianna, and Malaya. We live in the beautiful historic and coastal city of Charleston, SC. After graduating from the College of Charleston, I spent my earlier years in sales support roles, which has led to me having my own sales & marketing virtual assistance company for the past 5 years. Most recently I became a certified herbalist and delight in providing herbal consultations and launching a line of herbal products (lotions, creams, teas, syrups, etc.). And somehow I manage to work while homeschooling my two girls, ages 6 & 11. My husband, like me, is an entrepreneur. While he works full time as the CFO for a major construction/renovation/vacation rental company, he also manages his own small accounting firm. We are a vibrant and on-the-go family, going from volleyball, basketball, and swim practices & games, to board meetings, networking events, social soirees, traveling, and more!

Q: What inspired you to build a Tiny House? Is tiny living more of a dream or necessity for you? Shortly after the birth of our second child I realized how little money we had to enjoy as a family. Between a mortgage, health insurance, childcare for 2 children, 2 car notes, 2 car insurance payments, house insurance, groceries, gas, utilities, student loans, cell phones….there was nothing left for my family. It didn’t make sense how both my husband and I could work full time jobs, and along with his seasonal accounting business still not have money for a family vacation. So, here I have it in my mind that I’ve got to come up with a way for us to save money and start enjoying our lives more! A few months later I’m at work and I stumble across a webpage of container homes and tiny homes. I immediately thought, ‘that’s the answer! That’s how people are able to do more…they’ve chosen to spend less on housing!’ So I started doing some research, making notes, collecting images and nearly 5 years later began constructing our tiny.

At first, I saw living in the tiny as a necessity for my family to scale down, save money, and be able to travel more. It was truly the means for us to end our financial chaos. But by the time we’d come around to having the funds to build, it’s become more of an experience that we’d like to have.

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Tiny Herbalista

Q: Is there anything from your youth growing up/family experience that may have also played a role in your decision to live tiny? Not really. I spent half my childhood in a 2 bedroom apartment (approx 700-800 square feet) with just my mom. Once she married, we moved to a larger 2 bedroom house of about 1000 square feet.

Since selling our first home, we’ve moved around quite a bit. I consider us urban nomads! But the moving has allowed us to really take inventory of what we own and to scale down to things of function & things of meaning.

Q: What concerns, if any, did you have in/with your decision to go tiny? I never thought about the social perception of our decision. And honestly it wasn’t until I began to tell people that I realized not everyone shared our enthusiasm. Despite our reasons: save money, more family time, possibly work less, less bills, less stuff, more travel….despite all the positives, people still frowned with disbelief or disapproval. We had several concerns: privacy, respect of space, paring down. But that didn’t stop us.

Q: In reference to question #5, how did you resolve those concerns? Paring down was the biggest concern! When we started construction on the tiny, it really forced us to take a look at what we wanted to put inside of it. So one day, we went to our rented storage unit and cleaned it out. Seriously, we had to rent a U-haul to basically throw away about 1/3 of the contents of the storage unit, we donated a little more than 1/3, and we kept very little. We realized that we’d been paying for this storage unit and there was only a small amount of items that had any real value to us.

Q: How did your family and friends receive your decision to go tiny? While they thought we were crazy for wanting to live in such a small space, again, despite all of the positives, they were very supportive. I believe they saw how determined we were and how our focus was on creating a better environment and livelihood for our family.

Q: Who designed your home and how did you determine the design for your tiny house? Our home came from the Tiny House Build plan, put together by The Morrisons. I spent many a sleepless night looking over layouts, designs, plans, images and finally my husband said “If we’re going to do this, we need to pick something!” At his urging to move forward, I showed him several of my recent top favorites and we both agreed on hOMe. We chose it for several reasons; it was easily customizable, it came with a DIY set of CD’s where the designer guides you step by step through the build process, it was large enough to accommodate a family of four, and it could accommodate a full size stove and washer dryer (major in a tiny!)

Q: How long did it take to begin to build once you’d made the decision to go tiny? We purchased the set of plans in September 2014. In January 2015 we headed to Florida to pick up our custom trailer and construction started in late February. Because we didn’t have a dedicated crew working on the tiny, the build took about a year. However, there’s still a few interior things that need to get completed, but nothing that would stop us from living in it.

Q: What was involved in building it? We had licensed general contractors guiding and working on the project in their spare time, which was often after their normal 9-5 job and/or on weekends.

Q: What, if any, challenges did you run into? Since most of our builders were constructing the tiny outside of normal working hours, there were times that my husband and I had to act as project manager, coordinating work efforts between different companies. We are currently working with city officials in properly categorizing our tiny home so that we can get hooked up to municipal sources (water, sewer, electricity).

Q: What was your process for simplifying your life and getting rid of your excess possessions? How’d the process feel? Once construction started on the tiny, I slowly began to get rid of excess possession. Each week I was committed to getting rid of one bag of clothes, toys, games, and anything else in our house that didn’t serve a purpose or hold special meaning. Within a few shorts months we’d gotten rid of nearly a ¼ of unnecessary items. A couple of months later, we tackled our storage, which was the most transformational process every! It was amazing to see the stuff, often times junk, that we were holding onto. And to no longer have that monthly storage payment was a huge plus! It was definitely stressful in the moment as you’re going through 200 square feet of things you’d accumulated over the years, trying to figure out just how important it was to keep each item. It was time consuming, but so worth it in the end.

Q: Do you consider yourself a minimalist? I do not consider myself a minimalist, although most people are amazed that I have 3 pairs of shoes, no need for a closet, and all of my clothes fit neatly into 2 drawers! To many people this is definitely minimizing behavior, but my overall lifestyle hasn’t reached that point, yet.

Q: What do you love most about your new home? What are some specific touches you decided on, aspects of the interior and exterior that make this home a true expression of who you are and your personality? My favorite element of the home is definitely the color. It’s a SW color titled ‘Refuge’ which is what I think of every time I look at it.

Q: Did you use salvaged or reclaimed materials in your build? As soon as construction began, I started picking up salvaged or reclaimed materials that I thought would be needed. I had a builder friend who was working on a renovation project that allowed me to come and remove some needed items: hardwood flooring, insulation, kitchen cabinetry. From visiting several salvaged material shops I was able to purchase a front door, floor tiles, kitchen & bathroom sink, a few windows, and even a few shingles. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to use many of these items.

Q: Is your home mobile? Do you plan to travel with it? What is your tiny house parking situation? Early on we made the decision to go with full size electrical appliances (full size fridge, washer/dryer combo unit, full size cooktop, incinerating toilet). This caused our need for electricity to exceed a 50amp power source. Therefore, in order for our tiny to be operational, we need to be set up much like a regular home, in regards to electrical needs. This limits us from traveling. Currently, our tiny is parked in a mobile home park that has dedicated space for camper trailers.

Q: So much of society focuses on having more and making more to have more. People of color are often focused on having more when they begin to make more because they haven’t had, somewhat like the Jeffersons’ “moving on up” lifestyle. Why have you chosen this path instead? I’m answering this question while the Jeffersons’ is on!! And it’s the first time I’ve seen this show in years…how ironic! Anyway, I believe we all have the tendency to associate ‘purchasing power’ with happiness and prosperity. The idea that the more you can buy and show represents success is definitely expressed amongst people of color, sadly. For us, we’ve never given much thought or concern around what is socially encouraged, especially when it comes to how we spend our money. Even as a child I was encouraged to not follow what everyone else was doing, but to create my own style, sense of worthiness, etc. I honestly think the more you travel and are exposed to different cultures, the more you realize what people do without and lead an extremely happy life.

Q: Do you plan to live in your tiny home long term or is it a temporary solution for a bigger plan? Our tiny is a temporary solution for a bigger plan. The time we spend living in it provides us the opportunity to work on our family dynamics, bring us closer together, save more money, and acknowledge what we can do without and still feel comfortable.

Q: Where do you see the tiny house movement going? Where do you see the movement going for people of color? I see the tiny house movement as a major opportunity for people of color. Tiny houses offer a means of home ownership & financial freedom that may be harder to attain by traditional means. Let’s look at it in comparison to renting a 2 bedroom apartment for $900 per month. After 7 years, you’ve just put $75,600 into a structure that you’ll never own or have rights to. Now, imagine if you were to save $30,000 (that’s less than 3 years of renting at $900) and use that to purchase a tiny house…now you have something that you own, can move as need be, and you’re not paying rent!! Right away that’s $45,000 that could be saved over the next 4 years. The math may be a little simple, but I hope the point comes across. There is money to be saved and ownership to be gained through the tiny house lifestyle, especially for families looking for financial freedom.

Q: Why do you think more POC haven’t joined/are reluctant to join the TH/Tiny Living Movement? I think people of color are reluctant because there’s not enough of us represented in the images of the tiny house movement. It’s kind of like doing something you’ve been told that POC don’t do, like: ski, snowboard, surf or listen to country music. It’s a matter of being comfortable knowing that you’re not the only one(s) of your type. So I honestly believe that the POC that aren’t swayed by social acceptance will certainly consider tiny house living as more images of POC are shown living the lifestyle. Living tiny is a mindset. It’s a way of life. It’s a choice. And it requires some conformity to gain and experience the many freedoms of life, but you have to be mentally ready and accepting.

Q: Do you have any additional comments, maybe advice for future tiny home owners/builders or dreamers? Do your research! Know your state/county/city codes regarding setting up and placement of your tiny. Know what your tiny home will be classified as (camper trailer/ RV/ manufactured home) and know where you will be permitted to setup. Many states don’t have legislature that acknowledges the tiny house structure, so speak to your building and zoning departments prior to buying, building, or even purchasing land for your tiny. Unless you plan to be tucked behind someones house out in the country, finding a place to set up can be a real legal struggle (and they don’t talk about that on the tiny house TV shows!).

We thank the Singletarys for sharing with us this week and wish them well on their Tiny House Journey! You can keep up with Renee and the Singletarys on Instagram as the Tiny Herbalista and be sure to check out a great short video that talks about tiny houses and their benefits and features the family. Renee put this together with the producers of the SCETV series, Palmetto Scene: Moving East: Tiny House Movement in SC.

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