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Single dad turns shed into cheap/DIY/debt-free tiny home


This is the story of a single father who wanted to simplify his life after divorce by living in a tiny house with zero debt so that he wouldn’t have to stress about money and be able to spend more quality time with his daughter.

So he converted a shed into his very own debt-free tiny home and has been living in it for over three years. He was even featured on HGTV! You can enjoy a video tour of his tiny home plus enjoy an interview with him below thanks to the folks at Our Journey to Bliss.

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Single Dad Turns a Shed into his Debt-free Family Tiny Home

Single Dad Turns a Shed into his Debt-free Tiny Home

Images © Our Journey to Bliss via YouTube

The kitchen is nicely organized with open-shelving.

Single Dad Turns a Shed into his Debt-free Tiny Home

 A miniature refrigerator to keep the groceries fresh.

Single Dad Turns a Shed into his Debt-free Tiny Home

Wall storage is a life-saver in tiny spaces.

Single Dad Turns a Shed into his Debt-free Tiny Home

The more you can hang, the better!

Single Dad Turns a Shed into his Debt-free Tiny Home

It’s a 12′ x 20′ shed with a bathroom and kitchen.

Single Dad Turns a Shed into his Debt-free Tiny Home

The living area doubles as a walk-in closet, and even triples as bicycle storage.

Single Dad Turns a Shed into his Debt-free Tiny Home

It all started with a $4,000 shed.

Single Dad Turns a Shed into his Debt-free Tiny Home

And he built from there. An additional $6,500 was spent (not including elbow grease) to make it home.

Single Dad Turns a Shed into his Debt-free Tiny Home

Images © Our Journey to Bliss via YouTube

Video Tour and Interview… He Turned a $4,000 Shed Into A Tiny Home

Highlights

  • 12 x 20
  • Approx 360 sq. ft. including loft space
  • Started with a $4,000 shed
  • Materials to build/convert approximately $6,500
  • Something similar to this can be replicated for $10,000-$12,000 if you do it yourself
  • His motivation was to spend more quality time with daughter, travel together, and be able to pay cash for their home
  • The tiny house features a kitchen, bathroom, living area, and two lofts

Please learn more using the links below. Thanks!

Sources

  1. YouTube
  2. Our Journey to Bliss

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Alex

Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!

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{ 45 comments… add one }
  • LaMar Alexander
    September 11, 2018, 1:06 pm

    Good job! You can buy a prebuilt shed or build one even cheaper. Make great off grid cabins.

    • e.a.f.
      January 24, 2020, 8:53 pm

      the pre cut sheds are a great way to start especially if you’re not world’s handiest person or want to get the build done faster. I’ve seen a number of sheds turned into tiny homes and its a great way to go. Get the shed up and have a roof over your head while you finish. Makes sense, spend less money, have more time.

      • Terrym
        April 28, 2020, 4:33 pm

        Shipping containers are also an excellent way to accomplish an inexpensive tiny house and quickly expandable

  • Patty
    September 11, 2018, 10:41 pm

    My congratulations to Jim for a well thought-out home. Living mortgage free would be a great deal. It’s nice to see someone changing their lifestyle to be better. I hope Jim & his daughter have some memory making times together. Blessings!

  • Alison
    September 12, 2018, 6:38 pm

    I loved the interview and tour. And I am delighted by this man’s joy and enthusiasm. His tiny house has virtually no “style,” but it is just right for him. It is very encouraging–people who have only basic carpentry skills and not much cash can create a really liveable space. You could always fancy it up later, if you’re into that.

  • Dave
    September 19, 2018, 6:10 pm

    Looks great Dad! Wonderful job teaching your daughter that material things are not what life is about.

  • Elva
    September 19, 2018, 8:28 pm

    I would love a basic home to get started. Something like this would be ideal.

  • Dominick
    November 6, 2018, 4:51 pm

    Nice layout, But the place needs WINDOWS ! Badly.. that’s all

  • Kurt
    December 17, 2018, 3:14 am

    Sure beats living in a tent.

  • Angela
    February 26, 2019, 7:47 pm

    Exactly the kind of thing people want to see. You can tell from the comments it’s a little rough for some, some would want more windows, as for me, I’d need a Murphy bed or convertible sofa rather than a sleeping loft. But it’s doable. You have a sense of where to start. You have the basics, and you can put in your own details!

  • JC
    June 21, 2020, 12:58 pm

    Nothing like being debt free, the best thing I have ever done for myself.

    • Natalie C. McKee
      June 23, 2020, 6:29 am

      That’s so awesome JC! Congratulations!

  • David Michael
    June 21, 2020, 1:50 pm

    Great tiny house, especially for the cost! And, allowing you to spend more time with your daughter. I’d also miss the lack of washer and dryer…or a washer and dry clothes on a line. The big problem nationwide is that the states and counties have not caught up with the Tiny House Movement. I suspect with a huge increase in homeless over the next few years, that the subject of housing is going to change big time. Government needs to change to the realities of today’s living.

    • Natalie C. McKee
      June 23, 2020, 6:28 am

      Totally agree, David.

    • Lantz
      June 29, 2020, 4:30 am

      In 1950 the average size home was 750 sq.ft. A 1500 sf home was huge. Families were larger back then, yet they all managed. The McMansions started showing up in the 70s/80s. So today you live your whole life on average buying 3 homes, the starter, the family and the dream home. On average refinancing every 7-10 years, paying off the majority of interest in the first half of a 30 year loan, so that you pay more interest then principle on all these loans.

      I’m now 60 and have asked my son, his wife and child to take over the house because I’m sick of stuff and would like to put a tiny house on our 2 acres. Then I could spend my retirement playing with my grandson and traveling with my wife.

      • Peggy
        March 4, 2021, 4:51 pm

        Lantz, What gov’t zoning hasn’t realized is 25+% of retirees want what you want. But few have acreage available. I would say 80% of single retirees would be happy with a tiny home on a small lot. But zoning regulations force singles to remain isolated in small apartments or homes they no longer want/can physically or financially maintain. Groups of 4 – 6 tiny homes on a typical urban lot would create appealing places to live while having reasonable walking or biking distances to town services and stores.

        • Eric
          April 6, 2021, 4:37 pm

          Unlike New Zealand… now its tiny houses everywhere, alongside McMansions.

          Slums of the future and at exorbitant prices, like NZ$ 1 million and up. Thanks to Covid and expats returning home in a god almighty hurry.

  • David Harriman
    June 21, 2020, 3:08 pm

    Typical bloke space; a bike hanging up with his shirts which to my mind is both practical and space-saving! I love it, and would do the same with my bike if I could get away with it.

    • Natalie C. McKee
      June 23, 2020, 6:21 am

      Definitely creative haha

  • Melissa
    June 23, 2020, 3:27 am

    I have been contemplating this journey myself. I have taken many screenshots of different types of sheds. I love the idea!

    • Natalie C. McKee
      June 23, 2020, 6:07 am

      Me too! Very clever.

  • peter t petrali
    June 23, 2020, 3:58 am

    Hi, Great video. My question is always where can you locate these things?
    Zoning? Size limitations?
    Thanks.

    • Natalie C. McKee
      June 23, 2020, 6:07 am

      Hi Peter — that’s a great question, but quite complicated. You would have to ask our local town offices what is permitted where you live. The more rural you are, the better chances this would be allowed.

    • Lantz
      June 29, 2020, 4:39 am

      Many of the counties are now allowing “granny or mother-in-law” cottages as second dwellings on properties. Great for retired family members and when they pass away you have yourself a rental or airBnB.

      • Natalie C. McKee
        June 29, 2020, 1:12 pm

        Yes our town just approved that, in fact!

      • Marsha Cowan
        June 20, 2021, 10:55 am

        Yes, finding an elderly person who lives alone and offering to rent a spot in the corner of their yard is one way to go. It gives them somone nearby for emergencies and makes them feel safer in their home (Often, your local church will know someone who is looking for a person to live on their property). Then, if you ever decide to move out, they have a tiny house they can rent out to someone else or a caretaker. If you put your tiny house on wheels, though, you can move your home with you if you ever need to move out, and since one mobile home is usually allowed in one yard in most cities, a tiny house on wheels may be easier to accomodate than a regular shed as it is mobile. Another plus to tiny houses on wheels is that you can live in an RV court where you will meet people, some who are there monthly like you, and some who are travelers sightseeing the area. I have met so many people from other countries with wonderful stories while living in an RV court. It also will have ammenities like bathrooms with showers, laundry, and even little stores with basics, so your tiny home can be really basic as you don’t have to accomodate a bathroom, and you can have a nice portable deck for living outdoors more. So you have a couple of options for where to put your tiny house.

        • Marsha Cowan
          June 20, 2021, 11:05 am

          One more thing. . .if you can get by without plumbing in the walls or wiring in the walls, you will not have to worry about codes or inspections. Running an RV drinking hose through the wall to the sink is a simple way to get pottable water without plumbing, and add a sprayer head for control of the water. Using a composting toilet would negate the need for black water plumbing, and in most places gray water can be run off into a mulch pit. NOCO port plugs, the kind used on boats, are a way to have electricity without having wires in the walls. Port plugs (14 gauge) run straight through the wall, attaching on the outside, and having a 11″ cord on the inside to which you can plug a 3 or 4 plug adapter and run several things at once like a fan, stovetop, tiny refrigerator. On the outside, you hook up a 14 gauge extension cord from the main house, or from an electrical RV type hookup. However, AC units would need their own plug and extension cord as they pull a lot of power. I am just saying that there are simple ways to get water and electricity without breaking any codes or laws which we would never want to do. Any these things can be temporary fixes while you wait for clearance to pursue regular electrical and plumbing ammenities.

  • Sheila
    August 31, 2020, 1:01 pm

    I would live in this. Love it. As long as a place is comfortable that is good enough for me. This is done beautifully.

  • Anion
    August 31, 2020, 2:00 pm

    We did exactly this for my dad two years ago. We took over his house, refinanced in all of our names (and took $45k out of it), and used most of the money to buy and finish a cabin shell for him to live in the backyard–the cabin is attached to our house via the porch, and a breezeway which we plan to enclose (the rest of the money went to updating the main house, especially the kitchen, doing most of the work ourselves).

    Zoning laws here mean he can’t have a full kitchen–check your area’s zoning laws!!–but as he didn’t want one, that works out fine; he has a microwave and an electric frying pan, which he uses for most of his meals (and gets plenty of leftovers from us). We spent $6k on the 10×20 cabin shell which the shed company built onsite for us, and another $13k or so finishing the interior. Again we did most of the work ourselves but hired an electrician to do all the wiring etc. and a plumber to do all the, you know, plumbing. He has a grinder/upflush toilet (which saved us almost $4k by eliminating the need to dig a new pipe trench to tie into the sewer) and a full shower. We framed the walls for the bathroom and hung all the drywall, put in the flooring, painted, hung a bar for his clothes and used plywood to build storage above the bathroom. I tiled the bathroom floor and waterproofed behind the shower (which is a fiberglass unit with glass doors). A “Mr. Cool DIY” mini-split AC/heater unit keeps him comfortable year-round for very little cost (and we were able to install it ourselves easily–it’s a great unit. Even the men who came to do our big traditional HVAC in the main house were impressed with it), and I bought a super-efficient bathroom exhaust fan with a heater to make sure his bathroom is extra toasty in winter, too.

    Daddy didn’t want a loft bedroom, so his bed is in the main area, and I am currently working on designing and building a storage bed for him. I wanted him to go to 12 x 20 or even 14 x 20 for the cabin shell; he resisted but now admits he wishes he’d listened. So go as big as you can! We’re considering building a small addition for him, actually.

    It’s worked out really, really well. Dad contributes a couple of hundred a month for rent & utilities, but the rest of his retirement income is all his. We, especially I, love having him right here with us, and he loves it, too. He has his privacy and we have ours, but we’re all together, too. He gets to spend time with his granddaughters, and they get to spend time with him. We walk the dogs together every day. Back in the spring he was working in the garage and overheated himself, and passed out; thank goodness my husband and I found him only a couple of minutes later! I am grateful every day not only to have this time with my dad but to know that I’m here if he needs anything or has any problems; he’s still a very strong, healthy man, but he did just turn 76.

    I can’t recommend this enough, I really can’t. Were we to do it over, we would do some things differently; I would have built a cabin from CMUs for him rather than the wood shell, and attached it to the house differently, and again we would have gone bigger. But like I said, I am constantly grateful to be here with him and have him here with us, and he *loves* his little cabin. He has two big TVs on the wall so he can watch two football games at once, lol.

    The cabin shell and skilled tradesman were our biggest expenses, and the companies we went with weren’t the cheapest (but they were excellent). We probably could have done it all for about half the cost if we’d made different choices/decisions, but overall it was worth it. (I’m now trying to get my brother and his wife to do the same for our mom (in another state) or get them out here to do the same in ours.)

    I hope that helps! Really, don’t hesitate. Talk to your kid(s) now, and get the ball rolling. We are so happy we did. Best of luck to you!

    • Eric
      April 6, 2021, 4:47 pm

      Kiwi here, so what is a grinder/upflush toilet, and also what are CMUs ?

      • James D.
        April 6, 2021, 11:50 pm

        Grinder/Upflush Toilet = Maserator Toilet

        CMU = Concrete Masonry Unit a.k.a. Concrete Blocks

  • Anion
    August 31, 2020, 2:16 pm

    Peter, definitely go to the town hall in your town/city and talk to the building inspector or zoning official. The laws in our city say only one dwelling is allowed on a lot, and a dwelling is defined by having a bathroom, kitchen, and sleeping area. Dad didn’t want or need a full kitchen (just a microwave and hot plate) so it it didn’t really matter, especially because by semi-attaching his cabin to our house it became part of our dwelling–the law says if it’s all under one roof, it’s one dwelling, so we tied in the roof of his cabin to the roof of our back porch (and will cover the breezeway between them soon, it’s just one of those things that keeps getting moved to the bottom of the to-do list). One dwelling, no worries! But it’s something to be aware of. (I think every city has a process for applying for zoning exceptions, though, too, which is something to look at if you/your family member really needs or wants a full kitchen.)

    I’m currently planning to build a workshop/office/guest cottage in another area of the backyard, though, and am keeping the restrictions in mind (so no kitchen there, either).

    Our city inspector was very helpful, and so was reading the city’s laws myself on their website.

    In our city you need a permit for anything 200 sq ft or above, and they require engineer-stamped drawings (one reason we went with the pre-made shell, as the company–Ulrich Barns–could easily provide those). Every city varies, though.

    There is a law–I believe it’s a Federal law–that allows the building of “granny units” for elderly family members, but that law requires the unit be removed or destroyed after the death of said family member. We didn’t want to do that, so we chose not to apply under that law. As others have said, though, lots of cities are now changing the rules to allow for families to take in elderly members without the need to destroy their homes after they’re gone.

    It’s a bit of a pain to figure it all out and learn all the rules and such, but it is SO worth it! We/I love having my dad here with us, and we/I love that he has his privacy and we have ours. I am grateful every day for it.

    Best of luck to you!

    • Natalie C. McKee
      August 31, 2020, 3:34 pm

      Thanks Anion! This is so helpful.

  • Anion
    September 1, 2020, 2:28 am

    You’re so welcome, Natalie! I’m so glad to have been of service. Please feel free to ask, if you have any questions. I’ve turned on notifications for this thread, so you can ask them any time (not just right now, I mean).

    • Marsha Cowan
      June 20, 2021, 11:08 am

      Thanks, Anion! Lots of great ideas and information.

  • Cyndi Lopriore
    September 15, 2020, 4:39 pm

    I feel that your Tiny House is so neat, it has most all
    that I would need except for w/d. Yes, you did say that
    yourself Jim. I think your freedom to have more for you and your daughter was a courageous move, but so good regarding your profession also. Thanks for the personal
    tour Jim from a Tiny House friend. 🙂

  • Tracee Pettee
    September 17, 2020, 7:06 pm

    Jim- Saw your you tube interview. You did an excellent job on your tiny Home and explaining everything as well! One of the best interviews i’ve ever seen! I have been researching Tiny Homes for about 4 years now. Anxious to build and have a more relaxed and simpler life. The dilemma is being paralyzed and stuck in a power wheelchair, finding the right space design to accommodate! I would have loved to have caught a glimpse of your daughter and heard a little from her. Best wishes on your Tiny Life and glad you found freedom from so many things. You must have wonderful friends that let you live on their property! Tracee’ in Arizona

  • Bobby Gambill
    September 21, 2020, 3:11 am

    Video well worth the watch. Really got me thinking and more motivated. I am currently doing a tiny shed build, and this video, in particular, helped me.

  • Alex
    November 23, 2020, 1:50 pm

    Love the idea behind the tiny house, the priorities, and the execution. It was really nice seeing something affordable and practical for a change, instead of just cute and expensive.

    I think I would prefer more windows, but like he said that something they realized later.

    Question though, wouldn’t it get hot up in the sleeping lofts?

    Hot air rises and I have a hard time seeing that air conditioner installed in the wall downstairs doing a great job of cooling the lofts thru the ladder access. When it’s cool enough, you could use the windows upstairs for cross ventilation, but I’m wondering about the summers.

    • James D.
      November 23, 2020, 10:39 pm

      Yes, lofts will generally be warmer… Can compensate with properly placed fans to get air circulation or you can even duct the AC to the loft and add a fan at the end to boost airflow or add a window AC to the loft just for the summer but when doing it for low cost there is often compromises for budget and this was only meant to meet their needs for now but isn’t how they will keep it long term…

      • Marsha Cowan
        June 20, 2021, 11:13 am

        What a great story and a great dad! But let’s not forget that amazing daughter who was willing to give all this a try and who seems very suppportive of her dad. It’s a great example to us all of how little we need to be happy, healthy, and living well. God bless you both!

  • Francine Rico
    March 4, 2021, 4:49 pm

    For me this perfectly epitomizes what a tiny home means. The only thing he needs is a Ninja Foodi. That thing does EVERYTHING! Aperfect example of not having the kitchen taking up a third of the space available.

  • Brandon Diehl
    April 6, 2021, 5:11 pm

    ……what nobody is going to say GREAT job @ being a DAD, wanting to spend more time with his kid and be free from financial stresses of owning another home with a hefty mortgage.

    • Natalie C. McKee
      April 7, 2021, 2:14 pm

      Absolutely!

  • Robyn Kress
    November 15, 2021, 8:25 pm

    I too am a single parent however my son is now grown. I’ve been considering a tiny home for the same reason you did. I WANT TO TRAVEL! Living in CA housing costs are ridiculous and even tiny house living has restrictions as a far where you can put them. Your comment about ‘just do it and you’ll never go back’ resonates with me. I already live very simply in a 2 bedroom house where I only use 1 of. So I think the transition for me would be pretty easy. Thanks for talking articulately and candidly about tiny house living. You’ve inspired me and may have even pushed me to doing it!

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