This is a very special family whom I’ve still yet to actually meet in person, but our hearts have knit together on each of our own “Light Life Journeys.” Meet Andrew and Crystal Odom and their adorable little girl, who are former “tiny house dwellers” and are in the process of making the switch over to full time RV life. Read about their story into debt and their current journey out and how they are reclaiming their freedom and their lives through living light. They remind us all to live intentionally, that it is possible live small and love it, and the importance of reclaiming our lives back from the grip of American culture and it’s pre-occupation with status and defining our lives by material possessions. I know you will find their lives and their story so encouraging and inspiring, just as we have.
The first home I owned cost just at $52,000. For that price I got a 2-bedroom, 1-bath, fixer-upper that was on .35 acre in the middle of a post-war neighborhood in Norfolk, VA. It was built in 1953 at a time when America was reestablishing itself. Men had returned home from the war and were now firmly rooted in their post-war career. Women were homemakers and mothers, not CEOs and business owners. Homebuyers were encouraged to look to the future and stretch themselves as far as they could to buy a house. It made more sense then.
Fast forward to 2009.
The nation had been in a recession for nearly three years and unemployment hovered at a thirty year high. The real estate market had recently tanked and homes were considered a risky investment if not a ridiculous one. Many homeowners were waking up to find themselves stuck in a vicious cycle of working to pay for the house they sleep at at night and live in only long enough to get up and do it all again the following day. The average home size in the United States was a bloated 2,670 sq.ft. and in 2010 we would see 2,871,891 foreclosures alone! The world had indeed changed from just a decade or two before.
Somewhere along the line the American Dream became defined by owning more stuff than your neighbor and having more than those around you. Many times that meant relying on credit cards with lofty interest rates. But was that the way to go? Was that the new truth? Did my new bride and I need a bigger house, a better car, or a large salary to find happiness? And just what was this elusive happiness we had been conditioned to believe in? Would it come about when we sacrificed our dreams for the pursuit of stuff?
On February 21, 2009 I married Crystal in the mountains of North Georgia. It was a small wedding in what would be one of our first financial decisions together, as a couple. We invited less than a handful of people and got married in front of the fireplace at the cabin we were staying in. Our officiant was a lifelong friend of mine and an ordained minister. Our photographer doubled as my best man. My sister was the maid of honor and our reception was little more than finger food found locally and a bottle of champagne. Our total cost was just under $1000 (including my wife’s dress which we found on eBay). At that point though saving that $1k was a huge deal. Along with my hand in marriage and a promise of for better or for worse I also came with just over $40,000 in consumer debt. For the past 14-16 months I had been trying to keep a struggling business afloat, living off credit cards, and using retail therapy to help me cope.
I was a financial mess and being so would color our immediate future.
Almost immediately after getting married we began to figure out our next step. Both being raised in the South we felt like a good truck, a “starter” house, a kid or two, and perhaps a membership in the local congregation would be the ticket. We were stopped short though when we searching for the house. We had found a cute little bungalow in town that was listed at $86,000. It needed work but we were up for the challenge. When we sat down with the lending agent though we could sense things were about to change. With my salary of just $10/hour for 40-hour weeks and Crystal working only seasonally at the local college we weren’t prepared to hear that we had qualified for a home loan of $179,000. It was a dream come true! As a man I was beside myself with pride knowing I could buy the house my wife and I wanted and provide as I had been taught to do. After just 48 hours though my wife told me she had good news and bad news. I opted for the good news first. She told me we could buy the house. I couldn’t imagine any bad news then. Turns out we could buy the house but we would have to sell our car, eat just 3 meals a week, do without lights, and possibly shower at the local gym because water would not be an option for us. The American Dream had let us down and was even willing to suck us in even more. We did the only thing we knew to do. We started praying about a new situation; a new opportunity!
That opportunity came in the form of a 190 sq.ft. house built with rustic charm and set up on a tandem axle trailer. Pictured on the website of Tumbleweed Tiny Homes it look near perfect for us. After all, we had met as missionaries and had for years lived in backpacks, guest rooms, and questionable accommodations. This hand-built mini-mansion would allow us to skirt around a mortgage, have an interesting and stylish home, be mobile, and work towards better financial decisions (which by this point meant paying off the debt I brought to the table).
From late-2009 until even now my wife and I have worked hard at simplifying our lives. We have minimized the number of clothes we own, the types of food we eat, our dependency on cars, the number of square feet we need to exist indoors, the amount of books we surround ourselves with, the number of CDs and DVDs we buy (largely for one-time use), and the overall debt we have amassed.
In this exchange we have maximized our quality of life, our love for each other, our concern for the world around us, our ideas of entertainment, our health (mentally and physically), and our general dispositions. Things didn’t stop with just a dream though.
In 2012 we broke ground (or should I say rolled in our trailer) on what would become our home. After researching a number of tiny house trailers, small homes, cottages, tee pees, yurts, and other non-traditional structures, we settled on a single-level, 240 sq.ft. tiny house trailer built on a 30′ long by 8′ wide, tandem axle trailer. We were also working on the size of our family having added our daughter to the mix in 2011. Our debt had been over half paid off, I was working a new and more lucrative job, we had spent much time in prayer and meditation discerning need -vs- want, and we had saved money to begin our build.
The entire process took nearly 14 months and is intricately documented over at Tiny r(E)volution but on January 3, 2013 we officially moved in to our tiny house. Our dreams were coming true and while the real estate market had been steadily bouncing back and the job market was getting better we were focused on a new American Dream. We were focused on OUR American Dream.
In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. Ours sounded more like “life will be better for us because we realize that our life is a gift from God meant to be lived investing in others and the world around us. Our opportunity should be one without monetary value and presented to us in accordance to our giftings and our passions.” We had been passionate about getting out of debt so we honed in on the problems, outlined a solution, and dove in. We had been passionate about a home that fit our needs so we created plan and built a house. We had been passionate about having a small family so even in our mid-30s we enjoyed the blessing(s) God gave us as a couple and then in the form of a beautiful baby girl. None of these took place because we are holier than thou or because we worked harder than anyone else or because we are in anyway more exceptional than anyone else. They took place because we believed in them, we believed in ourselves, and we wanted a life free of obligation and consumer stress.
As I write this we are now living in our “new to us” 27′ Aruba travel trailer preparing to become full-time nomads (my employment allows me to be location independent) and experience the nation as God lays out for us. We have reduced our consumer debt to just a handful of payments (I can literally count them on one hand), a small loan for our travel trailer, and a truck payment for the beautiful and reliable truck we just financed to tote us around the US. Our living room has become wherever the sun rises and sets and we have found in each other a love deeper than we ever thought possible. Our daughter is about to turn 3 and has no idea that we aren’t exactly….well, “normal.” She is smart and well adjusted and is slowly learning the lessons it took her old man thirty years to catch on to.
Money can’t buy happiness. Credit can’t change your mood. But friends, love, and laughter – all blessings from above – can make your days worth living and your adventures more exciting!
Founder of Tiny r(E)volution and author of the popular book ‘Your Message Here :: GAINING CORPORATE SPONSORS for your tiny house project‘, Andrew Odom is a social media strategist and content crusader amongst other things. He is also an accomplished photojournalist with work seen in Details, Relevant, South, Kitchen Drawer, and Tiny House Magazine. His proudest accomplishment however is his adoption and current advocacy of the tiny house/small house/unconventional house community as a designer, builder, and dweller. Having recently sold their 240 sq.ft. tiny house Andrew and his wife (as well as his 3-year old daughter) live and travel in a 27’ Aruba travel trailer.
You can follow them on Instagram @tinyrevolution
We welcome you to leave any questions, comments or well wishes for the Odoms in the comment section below!