In The Spotlight

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We had the pleasure of connecting with Shan Shepard, a born and raised Georgia Peach, who lives in her tiny house in the ATL!

THTB: Please introduce yourself to our audience. Where are you located? 
My name is Shan and I live in Atlanta, GA where I happen to be from. I am 37 years old with an 18-year-old son that lives with me in the tiny house until he graduates from high school. I currently attend Kennesaw State University where I will graduate in the Spring with bachelors in Human Services specializing in Case management. My goal is to attend graduate school for Social Work in California or Canada in the fall. I am currently employed as an Accounts Payable Specialist and have been employed with my current employer for the last 12 years though I am resigning from my position with the company in December. I recently became a Realtor, a Travel Agent and trying my hand at blogging in order to supplement my income while finishing my last semester in school.

THTB: What inspired you to build a Tiny House? Is tiny living more of a dream or necessity for you and your family? While attending Kennesaw State, I took an Environmental Science class, which made me think a lot about my ecological footprint. From taking this class, I sincerely wanted to do my part to help Mother Earth. My friend had said something to me about these tiny houses and I brushed her off.   While I was taking the class though, I saw an episode of a Tiny House show and I was intrigued. It made me think differently about how we have so much stuff and don’t even use half of it. How we constantly overspend. The concept of minimalism was introduced. It all made sense. Since moving out on my own, I have not stayed in a place longer than a couple of years. I grow bored and in need of a change of scenery. Of course I dislike moving, but I like being in a new space more. Surrounded by new things. While searching for things within my life, I realized I had been looking in the wrong places this whole time. It was never about things or where I lived, it was about enjoying life and enjoying what I had and needed.

Construction!

THTB: Is there anything from your youth growing up/family experience that may have also played a role in your decision to live tiny? I don’t know… I never really felt like I belonged. I have always been content either being in my room or the living room. If most people think about it they are the same way. Most people prefer to be in their “special” room. Whether it’s the kitchen, bathroom or bedroom. What if they focused their attention on what they truly wanted and chose to live simply? Growing up, my parents always said, “Go to work, get a job and save your money.” You were supposed to get a house and live the dream. This was never my dream. Owning a home in that way never appealed to me. I was afraid it would keep me in one place all the time. Even though I am from Georgia, I have always wanted to move to another state or country even.

THTB: Describe your previous home. The last home I stayed in was very different from other places I’d lived. It was 3 bed/2.5 bath. The master was on the main. There always felt like something was missing when I was in this home, but my favorite place (next to my bed) was the closet. I stayed in there and did homework. It was quiet, calm and cozy.

THTB: What concerns, if any, did you have in your decision to go tiny? My concerns were if it was just a fad for me. Would I be able to pare down? Would I really be able to live in such a small space? Would I be able to pull the house like I wanted? Would I revert back to my clutter-filled days?

THTB: How did your family and friends receive your decision to go tiny? I was told I was crazy. I was constantly asked if I was serious. Another thing that people always said was “Why don’t you just buy a house?” There was a lot of scepticism and negativity, people thinking I wouldn’t be able to do it.

THTB: Did anyone make any comments or express any concerns specific to being a person of color? “Black people don’t live in tiny houses!” was a comment made as well. The tiny house movement is seen as a “white” movement or thing. Just recently my friend and I went to a tiny house festival and she asked me if any black people would be there. I told her there would. She was thoroughly surprised at how many black people were at the festival. I have never thought about it as a black or white thing, but I would like to see and know more people of color who live in tiny houses.

THTB: Who designed your home and how did you determine the design for your tiny house? How long did you spend working on your design? I purchased a book of tiny house designs, but didn’t quite find what I was looking for. From my list of haves, the builder that I chose, drew 3 different designs and I changed some things around.

THTB: How long did it take to begin to build once you’d made the decision to go tiny? I made the decision to go tiny 2 years ago. My issue was when. I felt like I didn’t have the funds and I wouldn’t have time to build it myself so it was just a dream.

THTB: What was involved in building it- DIY/Partial DIY/Builder? How long did the entire project take? The decision to build kind of just happened. I was conversing with a builder and he was just answering all my questions about tiny living. I liked the fact that he would answer my questions without a contract or hassle and was very open to answering my questions. The build itself took about 10 weeks and honestly, my house is still not completely finished.

THTB: What, if any, challenges did you run into? This was the builder’s first time using the metal frame and it took longer than he expected to go around the metal. The water heater didn’t come when it should have. In the middle of the project he had to replace his electrician and plumber, so this also played a part in the delay of the build.

THTB: What was your process for simplifying your life and getting rid of your excess possessions? How’d the process feel and do you consider yourself a minimalist? I read Goodbye Things and started reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I started getting rid of things I hadn’t used in a long time. I gave most things away. I put most things I was giving away on Facebook or Instagram and mailed whatever I needed to whoever wasn’t close. I left all of my furniture in the house where I was living because my ex and I were living together and I was like she can just have it. All the clothes I gave away, I just put in clothing collections in parking lots.

The process of getting rid of things felt great! It was definitely a clearing mind experience. We get so attached to things, but I can truly say that if a fire broke out all I would rush to get is my bag with my wallet in it. I could care less about clothes or anything because it can be replaced.

I am in the process of becoming a minimalist. I am not there yet. I find myself still thinking that I may need some things.

THTB: Are all of your belongings in your tiny home, do you have storage elsewhere? I still have a cabinet at my ex’s house that I stored all of my shot glasses in. This is the only thing that I planned to sell. All the furniture that I left I feel is no longer mine. So everything I own (other than the cabinet) is in the house or my car.

THTB: Has moving into a smaller home been a big adjustment? What did you learn from doing this? What would you advise those who are thinking of downsizing? For me, the biggest adjustment has been living with my son in such close quarters. My conversations are no longer private and that is what I don’t like. Another adjustment has been using the stove. The small space for the gas oven and the carbon monoxide detector going off is not going to work for me. If cooking while leaving the window open doesn’t work, I will be changing to electric. Maybe the problem is my method, but I’m trying to follow directions and I’m not a “real” cooker, so…

I definitely learned a lot! I would question builders more about their process. I would get a clause in the contract for the delivery date. I would be more involved with the building process. I would make sure I know where the internet installer would put a hole in my house! I learned that the trailer needs a lock in efforts to try to keep someone from stealing. This was news to me, now I’m a little nervous about someone trying to steal my house, when this was something I hadn’t thought about before. I learned that the house must be leveled when I was thinking I could just put it somewhere. If the house isn’t leveled properly, the plumbing may not work correctly.

I would advise them to make sure they research the area they choose to live in. They should know and understand zoning laws. They should think all their decisions through. They should ask any and all questions and not hold anything back. They should definitely do their best to speak with other tiny house owners in order to get a better understanding. Looking at the shows can cause a certain type of euphoria and may not be completely real. The shows are good for design and storage ideas. They should go to any and all tiny house festivals that they are able to go to. They should know what they want. They should try their best to pay for their home without financing, unless the financing is coming from their builder. They should have a plan if they are not willing to totally pare down. What does that look like? Will they acquire a storage space? They should make sure they have a plan for all “just in case” situations, this will make their life easier if something falls through. This way they will be expecting it. Always expect the unexpected.

THTB: 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? Any special features? I absolutely love my new bed! (or should I just say mattress?) It is a Lucid 10” gel memory foam. It is very comfortable and I am so surprised that it is, I didn’t know what to expect.

I decided to do white walls on the inside. I like the cleanness of them. If, in the future, I decide to paint, I will not have to do anything extra, just paint. I knew that I didn’t want my bathroom next to my kitchen, so they are on opposite ends of the house. I chose to paint the outside of the house and include metal paneling because I don’t like the cabin look. I chose two different kinds of roof lines because I didn’t want the house to be uniform. I haven’t decorated yet, so I don’t think my true style comes out in the house just yet.

THTB: Any regrets about your decision to live tiny, anything you’d do differently? I’m thinking of changing the oven. Initially I was adamant about not having a microwave, but I think that was a mistake. I would have created my bathroom a little bigger. I would have designed space for a bedroom downstairs like I initially planned.

THTB: Did you use salvaged or reclaimed materials in your build? If so, how’d you go about sourcing those materials? The only thing I know that ‘s reclaimed is my bathroom door. I was open to using reclaimed materials. I was in search for a glass stained window, but never found one that that fit me or what I was looking for.

THTB: Is your home mobile? Do you plan to travel with it? What is your tiny house parking situation? Yes, it is mobile. I do plan to travel with it. I will graduate in the spring and the plan is to move to California or Canada and just move my house with me. Hopefully, by then I will have a truck and I can stop at places along the way. If I don’t have a truck, then I will just hire a company to move the house for me. I am currently parked in a mobile home community. Originally, I was going to my parent’s back yard, but that didn’t work out. So, I got on google and called mobile home communities to see which ones accepted RVs and here I am!

THTB: Do you/did you have any safety concerns with your decision to go tiny? Mobile home parks are often not the best looking communities. The ones that did look good, didn’t accept RVs or the lot space was soooooo small. As a single woman, I am always thinking of safety. Eventually, I will get an alarm and a gun. It’s not about being in a tiny home, it’s about being in a home alone.

When I was looking online for a RV Park or the like, I came across some reviews that said the property managers were racist at a couple of properties. I don’t know. I felt that this would always be my issue because I’m black. The remarks did, though, deter my decision from looking into those mobile home parks.

THTB: Is your home on or off grid, eco-friendly, green in any way? Do you use a composting toilet, if so how was that transition? My home is currently not off grid, but I plan on it being. I already have the fresh water tank for when I go off grid. I had the toilet plumbing set up to where when I decide to switch to composting, it would be easy for the plumber. The solar paneling price that I was quoted was out of my budget, so I will have to wait. Hopefully, it won’t be too long, or the price that I was quoted was astronomical and I can find a more realistic place to install the panels.

THTB: So much of society focuses on having more and making more to have more, success looks like bigger, more, better. Often people of color are 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? Laughter, traveling, and fruitful relationships are truly the most important things in life. I love having a good time, going anywhere I please, and spending time with the ones that genuinely care for me. I will feel that I have arrived when I can move closer to the ocean. Tiny living will assist me with this dream. I mean having a tiny home was one dream so I’m that much closer to my beach dream. I feel at peace when I am on the ocean. Everything is right with the world. Maybe in one of my past lives I was a mermaid or something. It has always been my goal to live closer to the ocean, now I just already have a home to put there. I honestly think this path chose me. I have been searching all my life for simpler living and didn’t even know it. We have so much stuff and are so wasteful. I just want to do a better job of being a good human while I have the pleasure of having access to Earth.

Bigger is better, where I come from. If you have a big house, a fat check and a luxury vehicle then you’ve made it. This has never been the case for me. Even when my parents came over, my dad was like you should have just gotten a “real” house. I didn’t want a “real” house, I got what I wanted. Other people’s perception does not have to be your reality. I think when my people begin to stop trying to please other people, then they will please themselves.

THTB: Do you plan to live in your tiny home long term or is it a temporary solution for a bigger plan? I honestly don’t know. I guess it depends on what the future holds for me. I don’t think I would go back to more than 600 sq ft. I was actually thinking I need something smaller! Once my son graduates and does his own thing I think I might downsize, but I don’t see me getting rid of this house. She is my baby, my first born kind of.

THTB: Where do you see the tiny house movement going? Where do you see the movement going for people of color? I see more and more people choosing to live life tiny, but I also see the government trying to stop it. If it doesn’t benefit them, then it doesn’t make sense. Tiny houses on foundations will be approved because property taxes can still be assessed. With THOW this will not be the case, so the government will do their best to stop the TH movement. It will not be impossible, people just will have to get more creative.

PoC will begin to become more active. I have already seen more PoC at the festivals! I am so excited for them.

THTB: Why do you think more POC haven’t joined and/or are reluctant to join the TH/Tiny Living Movement? I always hear how someone could not live tiny because they need more space. Why? There is plenty of outside space for everyone! Women need space for their clothes and shoes. If my people would just open their eyes sometimes, they are trapped by a system and don’t even know it. They are a slave to things and that’s not how I want to live my life. Like I said earlier, a lot of us stay in one room in the house anyway. I think more PoC could live tiny if they opened their minds and thought outside the box more. If they just saw the potential in living tiny, I think they could have more abundant lives.

THTB: Do you have any advice for future tiny home owners/builders or dreamers? If you’re thinking about living tiny, make sure it makes sense to you and then if it does DO IT! Everyone won’t agree with your choice of lifestyle, but who cares! Do not listen to them! If possible, use your own money instead of financing.

Dreamers, you were given that idea for a reason, YOU WERE MEANT TO DO IT! If an idea comes to you, it’s because it’s yours and no one’s vision is yours. Take it and run with it! Don’t waste the vision.

Builders: make sure you help educate your clients, just because something is pretty doesn’t mean it would be sensible to have it in their home. Just because you build regular things does not mean that you should build tiny homes. You have to believe in the movement. Before you begin building, you should have a team already in place. You should have your plumbers, electricians, designers, etc. Don’t put your clients through the delay of having to wait on another electrician or plumber to come through to finish the job. They should be secure in the knowledge that you already have a team in place to build their home. Even though it’s a tiny home, it is still one of the most important purchases this person will make in their lifetime. Always call your clients with any updates regarding the progress of their home, especially a delay, DO NOT SEND THEM AN EMAIL! I know you’re busy, but picking up the phone will only take five minutes, they will appreciate it more.

THTB: Any thoughts or comments specifically for PoC? Don’t be afraid of failure, you can’t fail if you don’t even try. Get your house built or pick a home that suits your needs. Don’t let your family and friends talk you out of your reality. It is your time to live life! Don’t be an old woman or man and think what you could have done, live it so you will have something to share with your grandkids. If someone is not respecting you, don’t give them your money. Speak up about things that are going on in your community. If you stay silent, you are a part of the problem. Get involved. Volunteer at local festivals. Help educate people about the movement via social media or some other platform. A lot of times we want to do what we want to do, but just want to stay to ourselves, we must begin to help each other.

You can connect with Shan on Instagram @shanpeace and be sure to follow her blog at: www.blackgirlsjourney.com

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